|★ AMSTRAD CPC ★ SOFTOGRAPHIE ★ FIRST PUBLISHING ★|
First off the mark
Christina Erskine talks to Sara Galbraith of First Publishing
For sometime now, people have been waiting in the wings for the games craze to end and for micro users en masse to demand more useful things to do with their machines. Last year. Triptych Software decided the time was right with its Brainpower range.
This year, Sara Galbraith reckoned, will see a mass market being created for serious software - a demand which she hopes her company, First Publishing will fulfill.
At 26, Sara is too old to be the archtypal computer whizz-kid (“It all began when I built the ZX80 from kit form in my bedroom”) and too young to be the seasoned entrepreneur (“The corporation looked at the latest figures for micros and we reckon it's a high growth, hi-tech industry”).
In fact, she started her high growth, hi-tech career as a restaurant cook at 16 years old. "It was good fun, but after a while I realised that I wasn't going to get very far if I carried on drinking so much. What with boozy lunches and people sending drinks into the kitchen all evening while I was seeing to the meals, and then nightcaps to relax afterwards, I was looking aged at 17," said Sara frankly. Actually, she doesn't look the least like the sort of person to be weaving temperamentally over a charcoal grill with a bottle of sherry in one hand and a Chateaubriand in the other.
She looks the very image of the successful business woman - an image carefully cultivated, since as she admits if you don't look successful, no-one will believe you are.
First Publishing eventually came about as a result of frustration. Sara had spent two years at Peachtree and Precision Software, following her stmt as a chef and a further period as a secretary. She felt that both the software companies were lacking m flexibility.
"Peachtree was full of very able, experienced men - with all the flexibility of an iron bar. I was working on the educational software division, and felt that not enough money was being put in to that side of it.
"I moved on to Precision, where the product was good, but the marketing non-existent. It was easy to see what they should be doing, marketing-wise, but again difficult to get people to act on it.
"There was one incident particularly; I had suggested the name First Base for one product - I thought it would be especially good for the American market - which wasn't taken up. When I started First Publishing 1 used the title myself, only to discover Precision had just brought out a product called First Baser
So, in order to be able to implement her own ideas - of which she had and has plenty - Sara decided to set up on her own. The German company Data Becker put up the capital for her to start. "After writing begging letters for capital, which didn't work, I met Becker himself in Germany and discovered he agreed with my ideas.
"With the packages we release, I want to establish a reputation for quality -become the Marks and Spencer of software, if you like. That's why 1 feel the branding and packaging is very important, because I want it to be instantly recognisable."
The packaging is distinctive - blue and yellow the theme through the whole range. The range itself consists of word processor, databases, speadsheets, assembler/monitor, Pascal and books, which complement and integrate with the software.
Why. I asked, are these any better than similar products brought out from other companies, apart from the fact that they're cheaper, ranging from £19.99 for the Assembler/Monitor to £35.99 to Firstword 64 and FirstBASE 64.
"FirstBASE, the data manager, is just as good as Superbase (Precision's flagship product), but at a third of the price. First WORD is a very easy-to-use word processor about the only one you can load and use right away.
"PowerPLAN 64, which is £44.99, is extremely powerful, and the Pascal has been very highly praised."
So far, all First Publishing's releases have originated from Data Becker and been translated at First Publishing from the German. Is this relationship set to continue or will First be using software from other sources?
"Both," said Sara firmly. "Firstly, I'm taking Data Becker's product because I want to. There's nothing in the contract that says I have to use it - the companies are entirely separate. However, the product is so good, that I definitely do want it.
"Then I want to branch out and use freelancers over here too."
Had she anyone particular in mind?
"Well, I'd love to get Simon Tranmer to do some writing for First - unfortunately, he's not freelance, he works fulltime for Precision."
And what about writing for other machines? The Commodore has a vast user-base, but it would seem a good idea to take advantage of the newer machines looming up.
"We have plans to convert and rewrite to the Amstrad and the Atari ST - in fact, the first Amstrad product should be out very soon."
Sara obviously has faith in Jack Tramiel's ability to deliver exactly what he says he'll deliver when he says he'll deliver it. "Well, I'm not sure about the timing, but yes, I have faith in the machine. We have someone at Data Becker working very closely on the Atari ST in Germany, so we know a little about its progress."
The decision to go with the Amstrad and Atari is largely tied up with the Data Becker relationship. Three other companies, in France. Holland and the US. also work with Data Becker in the same way as First Publishing.
Atari and Commodore machines are popular in all five countries - Amstrad does well in Germany and the UK.
First Publishing has now been established for six months and has grown to eight staff - how does Sara view her achievements?
“We did have problems at first - I expected our first releases to be out last October, but they didn't appear until December, so we lost three months of prime selling time.
“But sales have been good - surprisingly good. I have two permanent sales staff, who are out on the road selling straight to dealers. I prefer to sell direct, although we do use Micro Dealer UK for some distribution.
"My first objective is to make the company stable - I intend to be around for a long time - then I might start taking risks.
"People may not be using their micros for our applications in any great number just yet, but I want to create a mass market for serious software, even if it's non-existent at the moment.
"Looking back, I can't imagine really why I Bet up on my own. It certainly isn't easy, and I do wish at times that there was someone else to blame occasionally when I make the wrong decisions."
Sara admitted, however, that at least she can take all the credit as well when things go right.