Tilting at the Giants, Ability Plus Software Aims for a Niche
Jun. 20, 1995
NEW YORK (AP) _ Gordon Lewchuk brought his whole company from North Carolina to New York to take on the software industry's giants at PC Expo Tuesday.
Well, almost the whole company.
``We left one back in Charlotte to answer the phones and take orders,'' said Lewchuk, chief executive, president, lead investor and cheerleader for Ability Plus Software Ltd.
The 17 employees from Ability Plus, their light blue shirts all but lost in a sea of Microsoft purple and Lotus gold, touted an integrated suite program _ word processor, spreadsheet, database, fax and more _ that is simply called Ability Plus.
Such programs are the core of the office software business and the three largest PC software companies _ Microsoft Corp., Novell Inc. and Lotus Development Corp. _ have prominent products.
But Ability Plus is aiming to reach small businesses and home businesses that its leaders think are poorly served by the biggest providers in the industry. The company's package sells for $179, several hundred dollars less than the major companies' products.
At a time when more complaints are heard about software taking up too much storage space or processing power, Ability Plus said it has taken more care in design and engineering to use fewer resources of a computer.
While the Word Perfect part of Novell's PerfectOffice product alone can take 32 megabytes on a hard drive, Ability Plus in total resides on just 20 megabytes.
``It's a powerful program with minimal overhead,'' Lewchuk said.
Nonetheless, the company faces a steep climb in an industry where first is more important than better.
``That market is pretty entrenched,'' said Ann Stephens, analyst at PC Data, a software market research firm in Reston, Va.
Microsoft's Office product accounted for about two-thirds of the market last year, she said.
``Lotus has been trying for years and they don't even have 10 percent,'' Stephens said. ``Novell, with its huge installed base (in networking and word processing) isn't doing much better than 20 percent.''
Ability Plus' experience illustrates the money and audacity it takes to make a splash in computer software today. Newcomers lately have had success only in games and Internet-related programs.
The company is spending more than $100,000 on its booth space, brochures and travel to PC Expo. Its overall marketing program, which includes trade magazine ads and even a giveaway of 500,000 sample discs in PC World magazine, will cost more than $1 million, Lewchuk said.
An attorney from Toronto, Lewchuk two years ago gathered about 60 investors to revive Ability, which first developed an integrated suite back in 1984. That product garnered a following but ultimately languished through poor marketing, Lewchuk said.
Besides the convention, the key to its current marketing is the disc giveaway. Each contains the full Ability Plus program. But after 30 days of use, the program crashes unless a person calls the company with a credit card to make the purchase.
The disc warns a person for several days before that happens, though, Lewchuk said.
With the din of the Microsoft booth just a few steps away, Ability's display at PC Expo looks pretty small. A single four-sided column with posters depict the look and features of the software. On one side is a projection screen used for demonstrations every 30 minutes. In the corners of its floor space are computers for people to test it out.
``We don't have any dreams of being a multibillion-dollar company,'' Lewchuk said. ``We want to serve our niche and be an effective player.''