Ben Dyer, courtesy photo.

Publisher of Silicon Hills News

Embrace the big idea and do a big fat startup, Ben Dyer, successful entrepreneur and mentor, advises new entrepreneurs.

In the last six and a half years, Dyer has seen at least 10,000 startup plans since he’s been in Austin. The free beer app is not a worthwhile pursuit, he said.

“It’s just as easy to work on a consequential idea as it is to work on a free beer idea,” Dyer said. “At the end of the day, you feel like you accomplished a lot of good for some people out there that are your customers.”

To new entrepreneurs, Dyer advises them to really start out working on something worthwhile and work with people they enjoy working with and being around. Dyer is featured in this episode of the Ideas to Invoices podcast recounting his experiences as a pioneer in the computer and software industry. And a big fat startup is flush with cash and plans to spend it to scale its business. Dyer prefers it to a Lean Startup.

And Dyer has a lot of experience starting and scaling tech start-ups.

In the 1970s, Dyer got introduced to four electrical engineers from Georgia Tech who had opened a computer store, Computer Systems Center, in downtown Atlanta, the third computer store in the country. They were selling the Altair 8800, a Microcomputer designed in 1974 by MITS and Ed Roberts, based in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

“They needed someone like me,” Dyer said. “None of them had any business experience at all.”

Dyer graduated from Georgia Tech with a BIE degree and went on to earn his MBA in finance from Georgia State University.

“I joined them and just had a blast inventing an industry there,” he said. “I got to deal with what I call the pioneering customers who made our industry possible.”

But it became evident that people needed something to do with the computers and that’s when the software division came into being.

“It moved from a hobbyist market to a real business opportunity,” Dyer said.

In 1978, some people in the company wanted to open more computer stores and some wanted to work on software development. So, on Labor Day, they met with lawyers and divided everything up and Dyer joined the software business as president and founder.

The name Peachtree came from an expensive PR person who came to the offices of the software business located on Peachtree Street and told them to name the company, Peachtree Software, Dyer said. There are a couple dozen Peachtree Streets in Atlanta.

“Outside of Atlanta it was a really good brand name,” Dyer said.

In the early days, Peachtree Software had one competitor and they happened to be based in Austin, BPI, Dyer said.

Peachtree Software had a very rapid rise, Dyer said. In those days, Dyer sold the software to a couple dozen computer manufacturers lined up on Ventura Blvd. in the San Fernando Valley in Southern California. They would package the software to sell with the computers. Peachtree had licensed its software to Vector Graphic, which IBM chose to reverse engineer to make the IBM PC.

At the COMDEX Computer Expo in Las Vegas in 1980, Dyer met with IBM executives and they wanted to license Peachtree Software for the new IBM PC.
Shortly after COMDEX, Dyer was in Boca Raton, Florida where a “skunk works” team inside IBM created the IBM PC. It was called the KGB project and it was under special key codes and Dyer didn’t have access to the room where the hardware was kept, he said.

Shortly before the debut of the IBM PC in August of 1981, Management Science America, based in Atlanta, heard that Peachtree Software was to be included in the launch of the IBM PC and they bought the company.

After selling Peachtree Software, Dyer founded Comsell, an early computer imaging, and interactive media company. It was a great technology for computer aided selling of real estate.

An executive from Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. approached Dyer at a trade show and told him he had exactly what he needed.

And Dyer said, “Yes I do.”

He had no idea what the guy needed but yes was the right answer, Dyer said.

Turns out Murdoch’s News Corp. wanted the technology to sell travel services to consumers. They bought the company in 1987.

“I called them the Murdochians,” Dyer said. “My employees and I traveled the world with them.”

After the Comsell acquisition, Dyer took a “low tech” sabbatical and became the president of a bank in Georgia.

His next major venture after that was going back to digital media and the CD-ROM. He created a company called Intellimedia that developed sports education and training products using CD-ROMs to display images and videos. The company worked with Cox Media Group, based in Atlanta.

“We had a good run with that until 1995 when AOL caught on,” he said.

The last part of the 1990s the company did a lot of Internet development work. Dyer got involved in venture funding in the next decade and then did a little investment banking.

Dyer came to Austin in 1998 with his oldest child. His son enrolled at the University of Texas at Austin in the fall of 1999. And Dyer’s daughter also attended UT seven years later. His daughter graduated in 2010. Dyer decided to move to Austin in 2011.

He worked as an entrepreneur in residence at UT with Longhorn Startups and he chaired a committee for the South by Southwest accelerator. He also served as a mentor to dozens of companies.

He’s still on two Georgia Tech boards and he goes back and forth a lot. In 2014, he got involved in a life sciences startup based in Atlanta. He spent two years working on that project.

Today, Dyer serves as an advisor to Polygraph Media, a Facebook advertising and marketing partner with Facebook, founded by Chris Treadaway. He is also an Entrepreneurial Advisor at the Cockrell School of Engineering at UT.

“I actually prepped myself for this assignment by binge watching Mad Men,” Dyer said. Something comes up almost every day where he can relate today’s advertising agencies and industry with the fictional one depicted in Mad Men, he said.

Dyer also writes TechDrawl, a tech, and business blog for the past 12 years, based on his experiences. He is currently working on a new book called Startup Decision Making based on his experiences.

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