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Profile: Tom Guthery IV

March 10th, 2012

The Association of Software Professionals started out in 1987. Our members invented the way that software is sold today, as pioneers in try-before-you-buy marketing.

Here’s another in our series of profiles of our members. All we asked was this: How did you get started?

Tom Guthery IV, of Flix Productions, joined the ASP on January 5th, 1995, and is online at www.flixprod.com


Tom Guthery IV was born in Middlesex England, where his father was stationed in the United States Navy. After graduating high school, Tom joined the United States Air Force and was stationed at Bergstrom AFB, Austin TX, where he worked as a computer operator for four years. Upon his honorable discharge he received the Air Force Commendation Medal for meritorious service. He soon went to work for the State of Texas as a computer operator. In the meantime, he developed his skills as an animator, doing classical, hand-drawn, animation. (His first film was completed while he was still in high school.) He did some work for television advertising, but decided this was not the field he wanted to pursue.

With the aid of three film grants from the National Endowment for the Arts (administered by the Southwest Alternate Media Project), Tom was able to further his development in the field of animation, producing several animated films which won international awards. By 1990 the personal computer had matured to the point where Tom could combine his interests in both computers and animation. As an animator, he had not been impressed with the quality of the graphics and animation in most of the children’s software available at that time. Producing full-screen, high-resolution animation on the PC’s of 1990 proved to be quite a challenge. But after nearly six months of effort, and with the aid of the GRASP (GRaphical Animation System for Professionals) language, he completed his first animated educational program, “Animated Alphabet”, on his birthday, May 21, 1990. Using thousands of drawings, Tom’s programs give smooth movement and detailed animation to a degree that many programmers had thought impossible at the time.

Tom’s company, Flix Productions, is really a family affair. Tom focuses on the design, animation and programming, while his wife Deborah handles most of the administrative chores. Their three children, Tommy, John and Kelly, are the main “beta testers” and also get paid for stuffing envelopes and formatting disks. Tom’s mother, who has taught first and second grade for over 20 years, has been his primary educational consultant.

The Guthery children have also served as inspiration. According to Tom, “Before I had children, I would have probably exploited this ability to do silly or strange cartoons (most of my grant films could be described this way). But after reading ‘Mother Goose’ to my children several hundred times, and playing innumerable games of ‘Uncle Wiggly’ and ‘Candyland’, I suppose something must have rubbed off. I decided that since I couldn’t find any children’s software I was happy with for my own kids to use, I would write my own. The humor that I used in my animated films became a big part of the animated children’s software I eventually developed. Years later, I read about a study Children’s Television Workshop had done when they were preparing to develop ‘Sesame Street’, and among its findings were that children were engaged by humor, especially humor derived from incongruous situations (an elephant jumping out of a compact car, for instance). I had stumbled across the same universal truth by watching the reactions of my own children as I developed my first program, ‘Animated Alphabet’, and the element of silly comedy has remained a mainstay of all my programs.”

In addition to online and shareware marketing, several of Tom’s programs have also been made available to the public in LCR (low-cost retail) packages, published by SofSource. Additional programs have been produced exclusively for retail (available at Sears, K-Mart, CompUSA, Osco, Waldensoftware, Best Buy, Electronics Boutique, Computer City, Software Etc., Office Max, Babbages, Eckerd Drug, Meijers, and many more outlets).

Coincidences

Have you ever read C.S. Lewis’s “Screwtape Letters”? There’s a neat passage in there about how God works through what seems like coincidences–people expect big miracles, but most often it is through things that just look like chance.

My little journey in shareware came through these “coincidences”:

We got a PC for my wife to do a typing biz, but it didn’t work out, so we had an expensive PC sitting around and nothing to do with it.

My dad gave me a book about shareware (I had never heard of shareware before).

My neighbor brought home a shareware catalog (I didn’t know shareware catalogs existed before that).

I got a modem and discovered 100’s of Austin BBS’s and shareware.

I discovered the GRASP animation language on BBS’s.

I found a copy of GRASP ver. 1.10c in a shareware catalog.

It was an old version and when I tried to register it the letter came back address unknown.

I spent 6 months trying to track down GRASP – I knew there was a newer version, but I didn’t know where it came from (they had version 3.2 run-times on BBS’s). A guy on a BBS newsgroup (or whatever they called them in those days)told me that GRASP was published by Paul Mace.

I contacted Paul Mace Software and found that the newest version of GRASP (3.5) didn’t require royalty payments for each copy distributed. Had I found GRASP six months sooner the royalty requirement would have killed the possibility of shareware–imagine paying a royalty for each copy of a shareware program on a BBS.

I didn’t have the $350 to buy it, but my Dad needed some work done and paid me $350.

The rest is history 🙂

If any of those things in that chain of events hadn’t happened, or in some cases happened when it did, I wouldn’t have jumped into the untested waters of spending a ton of time creating “Animated Alphabet” in the hopes that someone would buy it.

Oh yes, one more “coincidence”. The reason I got into shareware was financial–I hadn’t gotten a promotion from my job as a computer operator for the state of Texas in 6 years. Guess when I finally got the raise? Two months before I quit my job because shareware was doing well and because a guy in NY saw my shareware on a BBS and hired me to do medical animation (I worked for him for 10 years). If I had gotten the raise sooner I wouldn’t have tried doing shareware.

Interviews, Uncategorized

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