Sell to Autodesk, tempting but no

Not too long ago, I got the following email:

Vern Blog Post 2 Image

[Note: I turned down this offer before signing a non-disclosure agreement (NDA). So unlike the licensing deals I have made, I am actually able to, I believe, show this email.]

I wasn’t exactly sure what the email meant, although I did have some inklings. Being as it was AutoDesk, I quickly got in touch with the author of the email message. Dina was very straight forward. In our first phone conversation, she said that AutoDesk wanted to “buy my company” —mainly due to our graphing calculator. It turns out that AutoDesk wanted to incorporate the calculator into its flagship product, AutoCad.

Cool, right? I mean, who hasn’t used AutoCad! What an awesome idea–a program that I know and have used, AutoCad, would include a button to pop up meta-calculator! Such were the first thoughts that swam through my inflated head.

My lawyer Booker, who has a lot of experience representing small companies negotiating with big ones, advised me to quickly be upfront about any non-negotiables in order to quickly identify any potential deal breakers. Well, a deal breaker did soon emerge. After a few more phone calls, I was told that I would need to be part of the purchase and work at AutoDesk. And, upon reflection, my head cleared. I realized that my idea of hitting a button in AutoCad and seeing meta-calculator was not realistic. Instead, meta-calculator would be wiped off the face of the Earth and replaced with AutoDeskCalculator!

The thing is, I didn’t have the calculator created simply for it to become a small widget in a larger product; no matter how big and impressive that could be. My vision for meta-calculator was to create an online student calculator that could be used as a replacement for the TI-89 graphing calculators that are a) very expensive and b) ubiquitous in schools. Why should students have to shell out $100 to get a quality calculator. You might be saying to yourself that there are lots of online graphing calculators. Well, that was not the case when I first had the calculator created. At that time, there were a few shoddy Flash apps; none that could graph implicit equations like meta-calculator. Though that has changed and other online calculators can now graph implicit equations. To my knowledge, there still is no other credible online replacement for the TI-86/Ti-85 handhelds except our own. Meta Calculator was and continues to be a resource for the needs of a typical high school or college student. As such, it can do the common types of formulas and calculations that these students need.

In the end, I just didn’t see myself being happy as AutoDesk’s “calculator widget guy.” It was clear that meta-calculator would be completely re-purposed. Even though it would be part of a large international product, the calculator would no longer have anything to do with  the original vision I had for it – to be a free online replacement for the monopoly of the TI hand calculators in schools.