Today I see, via John Gruber, that Pantone has been acquired by X-Rite. In 1995, I gave Pantone’s CEO some advice that might have made them a lot of money. He didn’t take it, but it’s an amusing story.
What happened was, I was a Vice-President and founder of Open Text, then mostly in the search and retrieval business, which was at that time part of the publishing business. We’d long been attendees of the “Seybold Seminars”, for many years the Conference that Mattered in the publishing-tech business. When Open Text suddenly hit the big time in 1995 with one of the first Web Search Engines, I became something of a Web Authority, and spoke regularly on the subject at Seybold.
That year, we had a partnership with Yahoo! (the employee count was still in the low double digits, but they had white-hot buzz). At that fall’s Seybold, I was invited to the “Founders’ Dinner” at a really nice San Francisco restaurant. I called the hosts and asked if I could bring Jerry Yang from this weird new Web-Startup world along. Jerry got a lot of attention; the Web was absolutely Terra Incognita to those guys at that time.
Later in the evening, I was chatted up by the Pantone CEO, a grizzled guy in a rumpled suit. He asked “Is there anything Pantone could do to make its mark on this new Internet thing?”.
The answer seemed obvious. I said “Well, color online mostly sucks, and that’s partly because computer geeks mostly totally don’t understand it. Why don’t you guys write some software that takes a Pantone number as input and really works hard, using everything it knows about your computer and operating system and monitor and video card, to come as close to that color as you’re gonna get, on-screen.”
He asked “Well, how do I make money?”
I said “Give the software away to Netscape and Microsoft (for IE). If it’s good, millions of page designs on the Net will be specced in Pantone numbers. Your upside is huge.”
He looked at me like I was completely fucking nuts. To his credit, he was polite, but it was obvious he thought I was from another planet.
I dunno, I think it might have worked. And we might have better-looking Web pages too.
Postscript · Writing this made me feel nostalgic for the Yahoo! of way back then. I did some poking around, and the original directory that fueled the first stage of that particular Internet Rocket is still there. But you really have to look to find it.