Innovia’s Story, Part 1: Why ABC Computers?

Hello, all! I recently sat down with Steve Waltz and Jeff Pergolski on the Innovia Conversation podcast to talk about the history of Innovia Consulting. It was a blast to share my memories of how this company came to be, but I didn’t want to stop there! Today, I’m starting a short blog series on our company’s history and my part in that story.

Today’s post will conclude with the answer to the question I’ve been asked over and over again: Where did the name ABC Computers come from? So, read on to find out!

From Programmer to Salesperson

The best place to begin the story of Innovia Consulting/ABC Computers is my own early career beginning about six weeks before high school graduation. Many of my friends were heading to college, but I was not quite sure what I would be doing. A guidance counselor asked me what I enjoyed doing, and I recalled that I really liked a programming class I took. “Great,” the counselor said, “why don’t you go to tech school to learn that?”

So that’s what I did, but I found out early on that I was not a great programmer. I loved doing it but struggled to do it well. I stuck to it, though, and graduated. However, after a few interviews, it seemed clear that a programming job wasn’t in the cards.

That’s when I discovered that I was better at selling computers than programming them. I interviewed with a guy selling Apple II+-compatible computers. After a great interview, I got the job and started selling the computers out of my car and at fairs in the surrounding area.

One fun story about this time was that I had purchased a 1964 van in the early ‘80s to carry all my equipment. One county fair was holding a tractor pull that I wanted to see; however, they were sold out. Disappointed, I walked away but noticed a spot where I could park my van and where I could see the event if I got on the roof.

So I did, and it didn’t take long before someone else noticed and asked to come up since he could not get a ticket. Following my sales instincts, I asked for $5, which he was happy to pay. Before long, my van’s roof was full of people, and I had recouped my investment in the van and then some!

Selling What a Computer Can Do

I discovered that this job came naturally to me. Many of my customers were insurance agents wanting to track various factors and run calculations. I had a knack for finding ways to use the spreadsheet and word processing programs that came with our computers to formulate the solutions they needed.

It was this experience that first taught me something that has followed me in my career ever since:

In order to sell somebody a computer, I have to sell them something it can do.

 

It wasn’t enough to just say, “Hey, I’ve got the latest model. Do you want one?” I had to identify what they were trying to do and show that what I was selling could help. If I could do that, the computer was as good as sold!

My First Taste of Accounting Systems

After discovering this truth about technology sales, it didn’t take me long to start thinking that if the software could do more, then the hardware would be even easier to sell. We discovered an accounting system called Red Wing Business Systems, which was developed for Apple computers and sold on a 51/4-inch floppy disk, and started selling it, too.

We marketed it to customers to solve their accounts payable, accounts receivable, and inventory issues. I felt right at home in this market because, although I hated it at the time, I had taken three semesters of accounting in school.

Our market grew fast! At the time, my boss and I were primarily focused on selling to farmers so they could do field calculations and various other functions, so we called the company Agribusiness Computers.

The Birth of ABC Computers

About six months later, IBM came out with its PC. The owner of Agribusiness Computers wanted to start selling IBM, but he needed a lot of certifications to do so. He decided to move and merge with another company to make it happen. He asked me if I wanted to come.

I really liked the Waupaca, WI, area and did not want to leave, so I decided to hang my own shingle. I took the risk to start working on my own. After getting a big contract with a school, I walked into a bank told them I wanted to start a business.

“Great,” they said. “You’ll need a checking account. What do you want to call it?”

I hadn’t thought about that … So, I thought for a moment and then said, “What about ABC?” I think my mind was thinking of an acronym for AgriBusiness Computers, and the name stuck (until later, which we’ll get into in another blog!).

The Foundation Laid … The Journey Begins

With that, I was officially an entrepreneur, and the company that would one day be Innovia Consulting was born. I hope this has been as fun of a read for you as it was for me to tell the story!

In my next blog, I’ll discuss the early days of ABC Computers, including how we found our way to Navision, which is the same product we sell today as Microsoft Dynamics 365 Business Central. In the meantime, I invite you to listen to the podcast version of this history (or you can watch it on our Youtube Channel). Be sure to subscribe to the podcast feed while you’re there for more great content from Steve and Jeff.

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Donavan Lane

Donavan Lane

Donavan Lane is Founder and Chairman of Innovia Consulting. For more than 35 years, he has led the business with strong core values such as integrity, teamwork, empathy, fun, and dedication. These commitments have form the foundation for what makes Innovia unique and lead the company to continue exceeding customer expectations.

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