Metering the Infobahn
October 1 1995 by Judith Rehak
The colorful and oversize paintings that hang in the
No one ever accused Sprague of being unwilling to take a chance. And with sevenyear-old Wave Systems, his chips are again on the table. The
In August, Sprague signed a deal with Hughes Network Systems and wire service providers Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News, PR Newswire, and Businesswire, which collectively will sell information to desktop subscribers, who will pay for downloading.
The venture, based in
In a departure from his free-wheeling past-when he was juggling two or three companies at once-Sprague resigned his post last May at National Semiconductor to focus exclusively on Wave Systems. He faces a formidable challenge. Wave’s success rests on his ability to sell th both publishers and users. “We must convince users to put in the chip, and they won’t do that unless publishers are willing to supply information,” he says.
For the company to fly, Sprague also must convince PC makers to ship their computers with the chip already installed. Indeed, he reckons it will take 10 million chips in the marketplace to reach critical mass. That means he will have to sell the idea to PC manufacturers-who operate on razor-thin margins-by paying them a share of revenues from the back-office operations.
Clearly, Sprague has placed a hefty bet: He and his family own 2.8 million of the company’s 14 million outstanding shares. (Wave went public at $5 a share in August 1994, and recently was trading around $6.) He thrives on such risks. In any case, he’s hoping that in five years and with myriad technical and logistical issues resolved, “Wave will be the dullest company around: We’ll be just a service provider.”