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Exelvision
 

Untitled Document

 

Sophia Antipolis

Jacques Lapacuer, Christian Petiot and Victor Zebrouck, three "Texas-Instrument France" employees decide to give life to the project they had been working on but which was canceled when TI retired from the micro-computer market.

Palpacuer recalls : "It's around 1979 / 1980 that all began. At this time I worked for Texas-Instrument. With two friends, we started to conceive a machine during our spare time. At first, it wasn't serious at all, we were almost thinking of it as a joke : conceive a cheap system, efficient, original and above all modular. But little by little we realised that such a machine was possible to realise.
When it started to work, we spent all our week-ends and money on it. It meant no holidays, no restaurant and no new car.
"

During the whole 1982 year (february 82 - january 83), they are in negotiations with Matra (big french company), but this doesn't give anyhting...

"We made thousands of phone calls, traveled with our money, without any success. Then there was a serious contact with Matra. Discussions lasted for months but finally came to nothing as Matra signed a deal wth Tandy Radio-Shack (MC10/Alice). We went on searching as we liked more and more our product. I then wrote to the industrial minister : "You keep repeating that we must undertake, create businesses but we have been looking for capitals for one year, without any success even though we have a good product". And so I was received to the minister which put us in touch with the CGCT (Compagnie Générale de Constructions Téléphoniques) which was just nationalised and was looking for diversification. We didn't have enough money to invest into a factory and they didn't fully used theirs. Now they are making the systems, and Exelvision do the research, development and marketing. That means a lot of work but also offers us a lot of liberty."

It's then in august 1983, after several months of negotiations, that the team moves from their "garage" to Sophia Antipolis, the first scientific park in France, near Nice (south of France). From the beginning Exelvision develops its relationships within Sophia Antipolis. For example, the "arabisation" of the EXL-100 was made with the help of the "Institut national de recherche en informatique et automatique" and the processing of satellite pictures was developped by the "école des mines", both based there.

"Since our move to Sophia Antipolis, we started to work on the definitive version of the EXL-100 and looked for staff. From three persons, we evolved to five and then twelve engineers at the start of 1984."

In 1983, bankers are convinced that this small and young company can do something with the help of CGCT, and indeed the investors are more than happy when the EXL-100 is finally ready. It's a good little machine, not too expensive and full of innovative features like the built-in speech synthesizer.

Unfortunately, everything becomes different when Amstrad introduces its first computer, the CPC-464, on the market, delivered with a monitor and for an "asiatic" price. The CGCT passivity prevent Exelvision from reacting quickly enough, and it's the start of the troubles...

First the media : apart from some magazines (Décision Informatique, 01 Hebdo, Tilt and Hebdogiciel), nearly no one is talking about Exelvision.

Then comes the famous "Informatique pour tous" plan (IPT), a vast governemental project to provide computers equipment for a majority of french schools. Jacques Lapacuer thinks then that he's gonna sell a lot of EXL-100, since french computers are announced to have priority. But Trigano, the person in charge of selecting the "winners" of the IPT, doesn't even want to receive Exelvision !

Lapacuer is furious. It loads a lorry with about ten EXL-100 and goes straight to Paris. He takes hold of an IPT room, and installs, without any authorization, its computers with 10 educative software loaded and waits for someone to come and see him ! Imagine the mess in this typical french administration... "made people have forced a room and are running their computers"... Finally, the officials are convinced by what they see and order 9000 EXL-100 for the IPT plan !!

Meanwhile, the FNAC (very important french store) is not motivated to sell EXL-100. Nearly two years after the launch of the EXL-100, only 14 computers were sold throughout the 21 FNAC stores ! Lapacuer sent "spies" to the stores and heard the FNAC sellers advice the potential buyers against the EXL-100 ! Lapacuer is convinced that Thomson (their main competitor in France) put pressure on the FNAC to kill Exelvision.

Lapacuer also sent spies to infiltrate Vifi-Nathan, the main developper of french educative software, to know why they don't want to develop on the EXL-100. The spy, who passed himself off as a Vifi-Nathan retailer, asks directly the question to Michel Motro, the chairman of Vifi-Nathan. He then answers : "Exelvision is dead, we must not sell for them and we will not develop anything on this computer" ! Err....

Satellite picture displayed on a EXL-100

 

TIME LINE

 

August 1983
Jacques Lapacuer, Christian Petiot and Victor Zebrouck, three former "Texas-Instrument France" employees create their own company, Exelvision, with the help of the CGCT.

March 1984
The EXL-100 is unveiled at the "festival du son et de l'image" in Paris.

September 1984
The EXL-100 is commercialised.

January 1985
Exelvision has sold 15 000 EXL-100 in 1984 and plans to sell 50 000 more units in 1985.

April 1985
The "Telematic Pack" is available. It is an EXL-100 sold with a new keyboard (full-stroke), a monochrom monitor, an Exelmémoire (16k), the Exelmodem expansion box and the Exelmodem software (on cartridge).
The price is 4990fr.

June 1985
Exelvision employs now around 30 persons, half engineers and half administrative employees. After a negative turnover last year, the company has now reached a balanced point with a turnover of 150 million francs (15% software, 25% peripherals, 60% computers).
The number of machines sold in France reaches now 40000 units from which 9000 are placed in schools.
5000 systems has already been sold in Spain and the arabian version of the EXL-100 has been approved by the arabian confederacy as being in accordance with the Isoarab standard.
The "Exelement vôtre" magazine has already 5000 subscribers and a spanish edition has been created.

Jacques Palpacuer says :
"In Automn, we will launch a revolutionary product. But we stay extremely cautious for the moment. At Exelvision, when we say that a machine is ready, it is also available in shops. I think the market can only accept systems for under 3000fr ($600). The others do what they want. We are not interested by the hobbyist and luxury market, we focus on the consumer market. Our next machine will be completly compatible with the EXL-100. The past customers will be able to re-configure the old model to match the new power."

New peripherals are developped : an Antiope (kind of teletex through TV) decoder and a real time clock to date-stamp the files.

Exelvision also develops telematic services with two servers. The first one is full of quiz (educative and general culture) to download (1 franc per minute) and is mainly aimed at schools. The second server is dedicated to programs of all types (games, applications, Basic tutorials, etc.)

Jacques Palpacuer : "People buy the service not the technology. Our servers is an additional argument to sell our machines. In France, people love quiz games (!), and for downloads, our goal is to offer the maximum number of games for the lowest price possible. Even if these are simple games, they are still fun to play. Exelvision gives service. Everyday, even on sunday, people can call to get informed.".

November 1985
A new version of the EXL-100 is announced. It will be a "smart phone" for under 3000F with efficient communication software. A gas company (which one ?) might be interested to equip its gas stations with this new model. Exelvision people say there is no need to buy an IBM PC to daily transfer simple information to the company's central computer. This new version of the EXL-100 is planned for the end of the second trimester.

The 1985 turnover is positive thanks to the 9000 EXL-100 sold at the National Education and the 10000 sent abroad (Moroco, Tunisia and Spain). 28000 EXL-100 were produced in 1985. From january to october 85, only 7000 EXL-100s have been sold in France and 3000 in Spain.

Exelvision which will broadcast 60 TV commercials until christmas, hopes to sell 19000 EXL-100 packs. They are also finalizing their long awaited private network : more than 500 software are already available (liar !), ready for download from the future server which should be ready for Easter or september...

September 1986
The new version of the EXL-100 is announced. It is basicaly an EXL-100 with an Exelmodem built-in. It should be composed of a main unit, a mechanical keyboard, a monochrome or color monitor, a 16k Exelmémoire, a tape-recorder, Exelbasic and a new software called Exelearn, for 3500F (monochrom version) or 4500F (color version). This is quite similar to the "Telematic Pack" of the EXL-100, except for Exelearn. This software enables the access to the Telematic service offered by Exelvision which should be operational the 15th august 1986.

Exelvision announces a new Exelmémoire for the end of the year with a memory capacity of 64kb.

Arabian EXL-100 October 1986
Exelvision just signed a distribution deal with the spanish store "Corte Ingles" which owns 60% of spanish computing market. The company must deliver 15000 EXL-100 before the end of 1986. The software sold with the EXL-100 will use the speech synthesizer in spanish.
Exelvision also plans to introduce the arabian market and have already signed distribution options in Tunisia and Morocco.

November 1986
The Exeltel should be available in november 1986 in 40 bookshops, in hypermarkets, at Darty and La Redoute. Exelvision hopes to sell 25000 Exeltels in one year.

December 1986
A spanish version of the Exeltel (adapted to Ibertex) is developped with Corte Inglés and La Telefonica. 5000 models are already ordered. Exelvision plans to sell 100 000 items in 1987.

January 1987
Official launch of the Exeltel.
The monochrome version cost 3590F and the color version 4590F.

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