“In 1989, I walked away from 32 years devoted to marketing semiconductors. I’d started in early 1957, when germanium alloy transistors showed enough promise to hope that “solid state” might one day displace vacuum tubes, and I ended up by pushing custom hybrid microcircuits for military and space applications. And it was time to go. I was stale, my analog smarts were obsolescent, and new foreign owners had wrecked the pioneering company that I’d been with for 19 years.
I wasn’t rich enough to retire, and at 58 I was too old to land a new job in my hi-tech niche. The only other thing I knew much about was photography. That had been a casual hobby for many years; it stimulated on reading John Shaw’s first book in 1986.
I’d recently purchased the Arca-Swiss ballhead and was frustrated with the poor fit of their generic-style quick-release plates for my camera bodies and long lenses. The challenge was clear: Design really right stuff—make and market optimized plates that were all Arca-Swiss compatible.
In October 1990 we pumped our savings and my remaining retirement account into the birth of Really Right Stuff. We created a 22 page catalog about our prototypes and the merits of our concept, and we piggybacked an offer onto a George Lepp mailer to send our catalog to anybody who’d mail us $2. We still have a fat stack of those glorious dollar bills!
Our goals were simple: Make good parts—show a profit every quarter—finance all expansion from cash flow—and sell out in 10 years, before age 70. This dictated a tight ship and a no frills business model that was vexing to some, and my own “straight talk” style was not what every caller expected. But our plan worked—we met every goal except the last. It took us about 12 years, and I was 71.”