Interesting Story of How CPC Got Started
People often ask, how did CPC get started? How have Dr. Dilip Som and Sid Hoffman, the two hands-on owners, run the company for 25 years, and still manage to remain friends to this day.
Here is the story.
New York City, 1975
By chance or fate, in 1975 Dilip and Sid attended the same graduate school, City College, in Harlem, New York City.
By even greater chance, they chose to live in the same apartment building, 89 Fairview Avenue, in Washington Heights, New York. (There is a current hit Broadway show called “The Heights” about Washington Heights).
And chance also played another role in bringing them together as friends.
A water leak leads to a new friendship
Sid lived in apartment #31 on the third floor. Dilip lived in apartment #41, on the fourth floor, the apartment directly above Sid’s. Now here is the interesting part. Every time Dilip took a shower, the water leaked from his bathroom down to Sid’s.
One day, Sid went upstairs to complain. Sid and Dilip got to talking, and eventually became friends.
Note that after years of asking the building superintendent to fix the leak, the leak was not fixed, and Sid’s bathroom ceiling came tumbling down. Fortunately Sid was not in the bathroom at the time the ceiling collapsed.
Sid and Dilip were paying $125/month rent for their 2.5 room (the bathroom counts as .5 room) apartments at the time. In nicer neighborhoods, $125/month is what people were paying for a parking space for their cars.
An armed robbery, mugging and burglary
The building was not the best, and neither was the neighborhood – although both had a lot of “character”. For example, Dilip was in the neighborhood bank during an armed robbery, and his apartment was burglarized once. Sid was attacked by a mugger with a knife, and his apartment was burglarized twice.
The same age and not the same age – huh?
Dilip and Sid are actually the same age, although officially, Sid is three years older. How is that?
Well, it turns out that Dilip was born in a small village in India. So small, in fact, they didn’t bother with formalities like birth certificates. When a family friend registered Dilip for school, he needed to enter Dilip’s birth date. The friend thought it would be helpful later in Dilip’s life if he was officially three years younger than he, in fact, actually was. So he entered a birth date three years later than his actual birth date. That “official” birth date has stuck ever since. Dilip will collect social security three years later than Sid, but Dilip’s life insurance rates are down, because he is “officially” three years younger than Sid.
Stickball, Seven Stones and other cultural experiences
City College was an exciting, multi-cultural experience for both Dilip and Sid. On the first day of school, Sid noticed that a person was stealing the light bulbs from the bathroom. He told that to a fellow student, and was promptly informed that the light bulbs were not being removed for their inherent value, but rather to make the bathroom dark, so it would be easier to mug someone in the bathroom.
This and many other interesting neighborhood experiences helped them develop street smarts, which have served them well in business.
Dilip eventually earned a Ph D. in Physics, and Sid earned two Master’s degrees, one in Audiology, the other in Computer Systems.
They also shared many inter-cultural experiences, as Dilip grew up in Howrah, a suburb of Calcutta (now Kolkata), and Sid grew up in Queens, a suburb of Manhattan.
There was the day Sid introduced Dilip to stickball. Stickball is a city game, in which a strike zone is drawn onto the wall of a building, and the pitcher tries to pitch into that zone. The only problem was that when Dilip pitched, he threw the ball at Sid, instead of at the strike zone. It turns out the reason was that in Seven Stones, which is played in India, you pitch the ball at the batter, instead of at the strike zone.
Dilip introduced Sid to the sport of kite fighting. This is a sport in which shards of glass are glued on to the string of your kite. You then maneuver the kite so the shards of glass cut the string of your opponent’s kite. Sid never got good at that.
How the business really got started
By now you may be asking yourself, how did the business start? OK, this is how it started.
While in graduate school, Sid supported himself by running the teleprompter at CBS, ABC and other studios in New York City. He worked on soap operas like “One Life to Live”, and “All My Children”; and news and sports shows including “The CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite” and “The NFL Today”. See how Sid looked in 1976 on the YouTube video. Advance to 2:10. Click on the closed caption (CC) to turn the captions on.
The teleprompter consisted of typed papers, which were taped together with scotch tape. If an edit was made, Sid literally cut the paper with a razor blade, and taped the paper back together again. The paper was rolled up, and a variable speed motor pulled the paper under a video camera. The image from the video camera was sent to a monitor mounted on the television camera facing the talent. This image was finally reflected onto a 30% silvered mirror in front of the camera, which the talent read from.
The system was dated, especially in an age in which computers were coming to the fore.
One thing lead to another, and Dilip and Sid formed Computer Prompting Corporation, which developed the first PC based teleprompting software in 1986. They thought they would revolutionize the industry with their CPC-1000 teleprompting software, quickly get rich in the process, and retire young. Well, as you can imagine, it did not turn out quite that way.
Even though they had developed a better mouse trap, organizations were not eager to change from a technology that although older, was a technology that worked, and one that everyone understood.
For the next four years they ran the business from Dilip’s 2.5 room apartment in Washington, D.C. To make ends meet, Dilip worked on material science for an organization that was a NASA subcontractor. Sid worked for one of the secret three letter (FBI?, CIA? – he still won’t tell) Washington D.C. government agencies.
A 16 hour work day – and no assurance of success
A typical day in Sid’s life back then was as follows:
9am – 3:30pm work for CPC
3:30pm – 4pm ride bicycle to downtown Washington D.C. to “real job” at government agency
4pm – 12:30am work at government agency
12:30am – 1:00am ride bicycle home
Dilip’s days were similar, although he did not ride a bicycle.
For those four years they were selling their teleprompting software, but not making enough money to support themselves with the profits from those sales. (There were not really any profits).
The first CPC captioning software
In 1986, CPC made a technological breakthrough when they released the first PC based simultaneous closed captioning/teleprompting software. This major breakthrough did not translate into major increased sales.
In 1988 CPC developed stand-alone closed captioning software. Again, no major increase in revenue, although many schools for the deaf were thrilled that they could finally do their own captioning.
Finally, just as chance or fate brought Dilip and Sid together in 1975, in 1990 it played a similar role in their business.
A stroke of good luck
In 1990 the ADA (The Americans with Disabilities Act), and the Television Decoder Circuitry Act (requiring that all TV sets 13 ” or larger have a built-in closed caption decoder) were passed by Congress.
These laws vastly increased the market for closed captioning. Dilip and Sid had nothing to do with the passage of these laws, but their closed captioning product line ready to meet the suddenly increased need for closed captioning software.
A regular pay check – at last
In 1991, for the first time, and after six years of work, Dilip and Sid received a regular paycheck (it was not large, but it was regular). By then they no longer worked two jobs, and concentrated all of their efforts on CPC.
Coincidently or not, 1991 was the year Sid got married.
What is the”inside story ” of the years from 1991 to 2009?
Hey, this is the story of”How CPC Got Started “. If we get a lot of requests asking about what happened in those later years, we will post it on this site.
Dilip and Sid today (June, 2009)
Dilip and Sid are still friends. They come to work every day. If the need arises, they even pitch in and pack orders.
They live in modest homes in the Maryland suburbs. Dilip’s two sons are grown. He was recently re-married, and has an exciting life with his new wife. Sid is married and has a 13 year old son and an 11 year old daughter. As anyone who has had a 13 year old and 11 year old knows, Sid has no time to pursue his own interests, but living with two kids of that age makes for a lot of excitement.