Russians at Apple: how we got our contract for millions using Beatles and “some Jerry” songs

    There is such a well-known fact in the history of Russian IT: in 1991, the Moscow company Paragraph managed to conclude a major contract with Apple .


    It was not only the first, but also, perhaps, the last our technological achievement of such a scale. No other Russian company will be allowed so close to the creation of a key innovative development of Apple.

    Perhaps it is not surprising that the circumstances surrounding the conclusion of such a legendary contract are no less surprising. It all started with a business meeting with a naked man wrapped in a towel, and ended with the signing of the papers a month before the August 1991 putsch.

    About what happened between these two events, and will be discussed below.

    All recorded from eyewitnesses and restored on the material of publications in the press.
    My name is Maxim Kotin, I am the author of the books "Chichvarkin E ... genius" and " And botanists do business ." And I continue to publish on Habré chapters from my book about Paragraph, the first startup from Russia that conquered the world. In general, you can read about the idea here .

    The book is called "Pioneers of Silicon Valley . " She is still in the works, but you can get all the chapters written (in epub or pdf) by subscribing to my free newsletter - 13 chapters are currently completed.

    New chapters I send to subscribers as they become available. Sometimes I also share in my newsletter my observations about business, start-ups and self-development, but not more than once a week (for example: How to deal with hellish tasks). Welcome, if that.

    Chapter 8 below is published with minor abbreviations.
    * * *

    Oddly enough, but only after returning to Moscow from America, the Paragraph team was able to establish first contact with the American company Apple.

    However, this happened under circumstances that could hardly give hope that the creators of a joint Soviet-American enterprise would be able to establish at least some kind of cooperation with this renowned computer company.

    In the summer of 1990, Abel Aganbegyan, who helped set up the joint venture, told Stepan that Apple Vice President Al Aizenshtat had arrived in Moscow. Academician also conveyed valuable information: the name of the hotel where the high-ranking guest stayed.

    Stepan, without hesitation, went to the meeting.

    Even in the ninetieth year, the hotel, where foreigners stay, for ordinary Soviet citizens was a fortress that had to be taken by storm - with risk, if not for health, then for their well-being.

    The authorities diligently protected their citizens from contacts with foreigners, therefore, on the way of random people at the entrance to such hotels were doormen, whose mission was not so much to open the doors as to slam them in front of all kinds of rogues - that is, simple Soviet citizens.

    Hiding behind the name of the Academy of Sciences and their joint venture, Pachikov, however, managed to break through inside. However, when he knocked on the door of the room and it opened, it became obvious that no one was waiting for him.

    Stepan saw in front of him a naked peasant wrapped in a towel.

    There was nowhere to retreat, and Pachikov gave a prepared speech: Aganbegyan, Academy of Sciences, a joint venture, handwriting recognition ...

    Given the mise-en-scene, it was difficult to tell what impression this made on Ayzenshtat. The conversation turned out somewhat crumpled. However, Stepan left the hotel with a business card in his hands.

    On this piece of cardboard, in addition to the name of the boss Apple, which was already known to Pachikov, the telephone number of the American office of Aizenshtat was listed. And owning a business card gave the right to call this phone someday.

    Pachikov understood that the artifact he extracted can be used effectively only once, and therefore he decided not to hurry, but to wait for the right moment.

    In the fall, the Paragraph team went to the States again - to take part in the Comdex autumn exhibition, which was held in Vegas.

    This time, Soviet developers could demonstrate to the public their own handwriting recognizer, which could work not only with scanned text, but also with an inscription made with an electronic pen. And with this functionality, the program looked much more attractive.

    Many thought that electronic pens and tablets were the future of the computer industry.

    For Stepan’s good luck, the Paragraph’s stand was even visited by Mich Kapor, the creator of the popular Lotus program. Today, this name is known only to connoisseurs, but at that time he was no less famous as an IT entrepreneur than Bill Gates or Steve Jobs.

    Pachikov with pleasure showed him the recognition technology. Kapor scored a few words - and, fortunately, the recognizer was able to solve them.

    “Look, Jerry, this thing really works!” Mitch was amazed, turning to his companion.

    Pachikov realized that fate had given him a chance - and they should be taken advantage of. Directly from the stand, he called Aizenshtat and recalled the meeting in Moscow and the recognition technology that Paragraph was working on.

    “We just had Michie Kapor with some Jerry here, almost having forgotten half of the English words for excitement, Stepan said into the phone. - They tested our recognizer. And Mitch said this to Jerry: it really works. ”

    Having mentioned "some Jerry," Pachikov was a goofist: he knew perfectly well what kind of Jerry it was.By that time, Stepan was already well-versed in the faces and trends of the global computer industry to learn Jerry Kaplan, the founder of Go.

    He also heard that Go developed his own computer with a pen. It was rumored that Apple is also actively exploring the prospects of such a device.

    Both companies participated in a secret and hidden race from the public: the one who first solved the problem of recognition of italics, got a chance earlier to enter the market and hit the jackpot.

    Stepan's calculation was justified: the mere mention of “some Jerry” made Aizenshtat forget about all the oddities of acquaintance with the founder of the Paragraph in a Moscow hotel.

    Fifteen minutes later, Apple got a call from the Apple with a proposal to arrange a meeting with another vice-president of the company, Larry Tesler.

    Stepan understood that the matter was taking the necessary turn: if Aizenshtat was a financier and was responsible for relations with investors, then Tesler was engaged in product development.

    At one time, he was part of the Lisa computer group, which went on sale in the early eighties and turned out to be a commercial failure - and a technological breakthrough in many areas of the computer industry.

    To celebrate, Pachikov allowed himself to relax a bit - and went to the casino for new, previously unexplored sensations.

    In the Soviet Union, gambling was banned, like other bourgeois vices. Even playing cards at home for money, you could get under the article. There was no question of throwing a couple of coins into the machine and playing “One-armed Bandit”.

    The only outlet for a Soviet citizen, thirsting for thrills and quick money, was sweepstakes on racecourses, as well as the weekly All-Union Lottery Sportloto, in which it was necessary to guess five numbers out of thirty-six.

    The results of the draws "Sportloto" announced on central television. The optimal strategies of the game were discussed on the pages of the popular science magazine "Science and Life."

    Apparently, due to the lack of worthy alternatives, each Sportloto draw ranged from ten million tickets. There was no other way to play for money.

    And here, in Vegas, both “one-armed bandits,” and tables with the game “twenty-one,” and poker ... Everything was not just perfectly legal and easily accessible - everything was arranged in such a way that the path from any point “a” to point “ b »always went past some gambling amusements.

    Pachikov often reflected on the nature of good luck in life and business - his own fate gave a lot of material for this. He had reason to consider himself one of those favored by fate.

    Stepan decided to test whether his luck speaks English, and sat down at the gambling table.

    All casino players were treated to a free gin and tonic. Even if I don’t take the jackpot, he thought, I won’t stay at the same time. To relieve the stress of the day with a glass — others never hurt.

    In general, Pachikov came to his senses only in the morning. The hall is almost empty. My head was buzzing. Not a cent left in the wallet - he lost seven hundred dollars. All the money that was with you. The salary of the Paragraph director was seventy dollars a month. Thus, within a few hours, Pachikov lost an amount almost equal to his annual income.

    His mood was, to put it mildly, not very. He not only left his wife and children without gifts, but also received a blow to his pride: after all, fortune does not favor him as much as he would like to believe.

    Returning to the hotel, Stepan, out of habit, began to empty his pockets, laying out his keys, wallet and other small things on the bedside table. Reaching into a secret pocket, he found there three thousand dollars.

    It was the money of the company for which he was going to buy a powerful computer in the USA.
    And then Pachikov realized that, after all, luck had not left him. Life and taught a lesson (play - do not drink), and saved from the really big trouble. If he knew that he still has three thousand dollars, he would have lost not only his money, but also the money of the company.

    Due to family difficulties, Scott was unable to join the Paragraph team, which went to Apple headquarters immediately after the completion of Comdex. Pachikov, Chizhov, Losev and Pashintsev had to meet with Tesler and his team without the support of his American partner.

    The demonstration began horribly: whatever the word was introduced by the Americans, the program could not recognize it.

    Scientists explained: recognition accuracy is provided by checking against a dictionary, and a good English dictionary in the Soviet Union was not available.

    In order to somehow get out of the situation, the authors of the recognizer made their own dictionary for the test - from the words used in the Beatles songs.

    Beatlemania did not bypass the Soviet Union, despite the censorship. The Beatles' recordings were copied on tape recordings and passed from hand to hand, and the lyrics were reprinted on typewriters even before personal computers were distributed.

    With Beatles, Pachikova also linked a personal story: as a student in Tbilisi, he managed to publish one of the first positive articles about the English group in the official Soviet press.

    To push it into print, Stepan focused on the political gesture of musicians who abandoned the Order of the British Empire in protest at the support provided by Britain to the Americans in their Vietnam War.

    Over time, the popularity of the "Beatles" reached such heights that the authorities surrendered and in the seventies stopped scolding the Liverpool four in the press. In the eighties, Melodiya even released an A Hard Day's Night record in the USSR.

    In Russian, the name of the album was not much out of the style of the Soviet pop art, which addressed the aspirations of the working class: “An Evening of a Hard Day.”

    It was easier to find a disc with Beatles texts in the USSR than any other electronic text in English. Having scanned all the lyrics of the rock group, the developers of the Paragraph received a self-made dictionary of four thousand seven hundred words. He was sewn into the recognizer.

    Larry Tesler took the tablet and wrote on it I'm the walrus- the name of one of the strangest Beatle songs that John Lennon wrote to give thought provoking to the school teacher of English literature, who in class learned with the class the lyrics of a rock band.

    The recognizer worked flawlessly: the line “I'm the walrus” appeared on the screen, typed no longer in italics, but in printed, “computerized” letters.

    Apple managers began to write other lines from Beatles songs - and things went.
    The development of the Paragraph clearly impressed the bosses of Apple. However, the Americans nevertheless were not ready to go straight to discussing a serious contract with the Pachikov team.

    Who knows these Russians? Maybe they are KGB agents? Maybe this is not their development? Maybe they really scammers?

    Or maybe it’s true, they are just those who claim to be - that is, outstanding scientists who worked at the USSR Academy of Sciences, found a solution to a complex mathematical problem and took advantage of the chance that Perestroika gave them to create their own company?

    As a result, the team Pachikova offered a contract for a relatively modest amount - seventy-five thousand dollars. True, for this money, Paragraph didn’t need practically anything - neither transfer the development of Apple, nor do something else for Americans.

    For seventy-five thousand dollars, the Paragraph simply had to provide a reception in Moscow for an Apple representative and give him the opportunity to see what was happening on the spot.
    Before proceeding to any action, Apple managers wanted to make sure that the Paragraph actually existed.

    The mission is feasible, but dangerous - to fly across the ocean, get to the capital of the Soviet empire and conduct reconnaissance on the ground - instructed the employee of the corporation, Serb Rush Bazhenovic. He once studied in Moscow, spoke Russian and was also considered an expert on pen-based computers.

    Bazhenovic found the “Paragraph” in the center of the capital, not far from the main circus, in a two-story building with a rusty roof and a long not painted facade, from which plaster had crumbled.

    On the ground floor windows were iron grilles, welded roughly, but firmly: there were computers for tens of thousands of dollars inside this inconspicuous building. Fans cooling system units spun and buzzed from dawn to dusk.

    The startup participants spent all their time here, working on a wide variety of projects, including a handwriting recognition system.

    Even for lunch, they did not leave their strange "office". In Soviet Moscow, a normal cafe still had to be searched, and here for the employees, there was a canteen that prepared dishes that far exceeded the gastronomic claims of most developers.

    Exploration on the ground, conducted in two weeks by Bazhenovic, revealed that the Paragraph exists, works, and is a typical software enterprise that is in the process of transition from a garage startup to a full-fledged development company, in which dozens of employees already worked.

    Well, except that when adjusted for Soviet specificity: the staff of the Paragraph, for example, included a person who knew nothing about computers, but had another very valuable quality —  he could get food .

    Other Soviet citizens had to spend hours in stores in lines even for the most primitive products. Deficient goods - such as smoked sausage or chocolate candy - needed to be reached through acquaintances. Filling their refrigerator in the USSR was a task that required labor, perseverance and ingenuity.

    However, due to the presence in the staff of the professional purchaser, everyone who worked in the Paragraph was spared from these fascinating occupations and could plunge into the work.

    What the majority of the company's employees did was with dedication, quite understandable for people who spent most of their lives in the stuffy offices of Soviet scientific institutions, and now plunged into the merry chaos of their own business.

    During the two weeks that the Serb spent in Russia, he was provided with such a cultural program that few people had any doubts: the report on the Paragraph will be released in the most positive way.

    At Apple, at the same time, an event occurred that had far-reaching consequences - in early 1991, Apple CEO John Scully, during a working trip, was one on one on board a private jet with marketer Michael Tchao.

    The manager used this opportunity to present his idea of ​​a revolutionary handheld computer to his boss.

    Tchao was part of the Apple team, which was already working on a secret device: it was supposed to be a computer with a pen input. However, what engineers have puffed over for three years was more like a laptop, only without a keyboard.

    Michael also believed that the revolution will make a handheld computer, more like a notebook.
    Presenting the idea of ​​Scully, the manager took a huge risk. He walked over the head of his immediate superior - the very Larry Tesler, with whom the Paragraph team met at Apple headquarters.

    Tesler led the "secret team." He did not believe in the idea of ​​an electronic notebook.
    If the CEO of the company did not support Tchao, the marketer could easily lose his job for breaking the chain of command - or at least ruin the relationship with the boss. However, everything turned out differently: Scully immediately appreciated the potential of the idea of ​​a handheld.

    Even before the landing of the aircraft, the fate of the project was decided: he received full support "at the very top".

    Thus, Apple began to develop Newton - one of the most daring and ambitious devices since the invention of the personal computer.

    Shrinking the screen made the problem of information input and recognition even more acute - and Apple's interest in Paragraph technologies only warmed up.

    However, the Americans at first thought that it would be better to acquire the achievements of Soviet scientists and bring everything to mind.

    You do not know our system, they said, one port of the recognizer to the operating system for our computers will take months.

    Hearing this, the Paragraph team asked for some time to think about the proposal. A week later, she returned to Apple with a floppy disk on which a new, ported version of the recognizer was written.

    Another obstacle for cooperation was the distance. Still, to embed the recognizer in the American device, Apple and Paragraph engineers needed to work side by side.

    Soviet scientists said that these difficulties are surmountable - they will open an office in the United States and, for the duration of their work, will transport their key personnel responsible for the technology of the recognizer to Silicon Valley.

    Finally, the Americans surrendered. The Newton project received the highest priority, and they were unable to find another team capable of solving the recognition problem.

    In some incomprehensible way, the Soviet team, despite the iron curtain, isolation from the rest of the world and the antediluvian technique, was able to create a technology that was an order of magnitude superior to everything they did then in the Western world.

    It took several months to agree on all the details of the contract - and then the co-owner of Paragraph, Ron Katz, who knew a lot about well-developed contracts and properly established workflow, played the leading role.

    For example, he had a habit of logging every business meeting. Even after meeting in a cafe to discuss current affairs, a few days later he sent a note to all participants, in which he gave a brief summary of what was discussed, who expressed the opinion and what decisions were taken.

    The original memorandum was sent to its archive - to be extracted from it in the event of any disputes or legal proceedings.

    In the Soviet Union, citizens did not sue among themselves - they were usually judged by the state. Therefore, the very essence of what was happening to Pachikov was not very clear.

    Looking at the items that list all possible problems and conflicts that could arise during the course of cooperation, he wondered: why write about this if the partners trust each other and are interested in working together?

    After reading the contract, you might think that it is signed by the worst enemies.

    So the founder of "Paragraph" learned the true mission of any contract. When everything goes well, nobody needs it - and they don’t even look at it. The contract is needed only in case everything goes downhill.

    And the more negative scenarios it describes - ranging from a “slight misunderstanding” to a “total catastrophe” - the better.

    As a result, in July 1991, Pararaph signed a license agreement with Apple for several hundred thousand dollars. Subsequently, cooperation with the Yabloko will bring the company millions, but even these hundreds of thousands were space money for Soviet scientists, whose monthly salary in the joint venture amounted to tens of dollars.

    After just a few weeks after the signing of the papers in the USSR, a coup d'etat took place. The KGB generals and the army removed President Mikhail Gorbachev from the leadership of the country and took power into their own hands.

    They set themselves a goal to stop the reforms, to abolish the freedoms granted by the Perestroika and to return the order of things familiar to Soviet people, in which the desire to create private enterprises and earn hundreds of thousands of dollars was considered a crime.

    To be continued ...

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