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Andy Grove’s Less Remembered Intel

Andy Grove’s Less Remembered Intel
by Sumit Sharma on 03-29-2016 at 12:00 pm

 The following paragraphs present another one of those articles that I wrote for a Cyber Media publication, probably in the year 2000. It’s been almost fifteen years since then. When I read Sunit Rikhi’s glowing tribute to Andy Grove, a few grey cells stirred in my brain and I recalled that I had written something about the Intel that Andy Grove had shaped. Luckily I managed to recover it from my archives. Intel is known as a Tech giant. This article which I had christened “No Sympathies for the Underdogs” presents a different facet of Intel that not many have talked about. Enjoy for sheer nostalgia…

Ever wondered why people support the underdogs? After all shouldn’t the guys who have made it to the top after a lot of hard and smart work be the favorites always? Why is it that people often tend to develop a soft corner for the closest rivals of such giants? Why do so many people hope in their heart of hearts that an AMD displace or put an Intel in its place? Or that someone give Microsoft the shivers!

The examples of Intel and AMD make interesting case studies. The manner in which Intel has gone about monopolizing the processor market (almost) is commendable. It has not allowed itself to be restricted as a pure technology company. In fact it has paid as much attention to marketing and promotion as it has to technology. It kept its ears to the ground and was quick in responding to market feelers. It might have made mistakes from time to time, and had its share of problems, but the speed with which it has responded as well as proactively defined the market is amazing.

Not too long back, a Cyrix and a K6 seemed to be vying with each other to put Intel’s offerings in its place. People welcomed these moves and hoped that finally they would have a fair choice. The more enthusiastic ones predicted that Intel’s days were over. When one of Intel’s key guys switched over to competition, ‘pundits’ proclaimed that Intel’s fate was sealed.

Despite such sentiments for the underdogs competition has not been able to break Intel’s strangle hold on the market. And here reasons may be related more to marketing than to technology.

For one, Intel was quick to bring out a cheaper product itself in the form of Celeron. When Celeron didn’t quite sweep people off the ground, it was quick to make amends and improve upon the product. Additionally, its marketing arm burnt the midnight oil to make sure that AMD and Cyrix got compared with Celeron and not with Pentium. It thus created a niche for Pentium, which remained unrivaled.

From an Indian context, Intel’s presence in this market also played a key role. The competing organizations seemed to have missed the importance of the Indian market. And that made a significant difference. Nor were these organizations imaginative enough to do a number on Intel without being present in India.

In stark contrast, Intel masterminded a strategy to make deep inroads into the fastest growing ‘assembler’ segment. By starting what it termed the GID movement (Genuine Intel Dealer), it sought to bring respectability to a hitherto ostracized lot. The results were amazing.

Since then, Intel has never looked back. And its competition has never seemed sure of itself. To put the last nail in its rivals’ coffins (pardon the phrase, for in this business, you never know when the dead will rise again), Intel did something that a component maker is hardly known to do. It addressed the end user market with such vehemence that computers almost got synonymous with Pentium.

Many scoffed at Intel’s initial attempt to woo end users. But Intel persisted with its campaigns. In addition to advertising in the print media, it also made its presence felt on TV and featured in popular programs. It found novel ways to attract families to fairs organized by it. (It had recognized the pulse of the Indian parents who would do everything in their capacity for their children’s education.) And to make sure that it made an early impact on the young minds, it had something going on for students.
So complete and devastating was its marketing act that competition seemed no where in sight. Even its worst detractors, I am sure, could not have helped admiring the manner in which Intel systematically demolished competition in the price conscious Indian market.

Being good is not enough. You must also be known to be good! Not only did Intel have a good product. It made sure, the whole world knew. (Or at least in the Indian context, all of India knew.)

At the end of the day, people care only for what they get. And even if they harbor a soft corner for the underdogs, all that they will give them is their sympathies.

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