Anybody who owns a Macintosh knows the name OWC, or their longer moniker, Other World Computing. Found in 1994 by Larry O’Conner, OWC is a premier maker of Macintosh storage and connectivity peripherals, drivers, and other accessories. The company enterprise-level hardware to those looking to maximize quality and performance in areas like multimedia editing. Dan had the opportunity to talk with Larry last week about innovation. His insights offer food for thought to entrepreneurs, technology leaders, and fellow CEOs.
Daniel W. Rasmus (DWR): First, how do you define innovation?
OWC CEO Larry O’Connor (LOC): As you know, solving a problem that a customer has, or proving somebody’s ability to use the technology and resources that they have.
DWR: Do you differentiate between incremental innovation? When you do innovation consulting, you tend to have people who are looking for a breakthrough. How do we create the next unicorn thing versus how do we make a better hard drive enclosure? Right? So how do you think about balancing those two?
LOC: We’re always planning for the future. We’re very customer-driven, certainly in the now, but that also drives an understanding of where things are going in the future. Our focus is more about making sure that the workflows they already have invested in continue to be productive and useful and have longevity, as opposed to saying well everything you have is great now, but you’ve got to throw that all away and buy something new.
From an innovation point of view, a lot of our products meet the needs of today—they’re already future-proof. Between different software aspects, and hardware design, simple solutions exist but with additional applications deeper under the hood. That keeps them relevant for a long time to come.
We’re not trying to be a company that has a flash-in-the-pan and clickbait headline; we’re really trying to be there for what our customers really need. The best innovations are things that serve the customers’ needs and don’t try to dictate to the customer a different way of doing things. And that’s not entirely true. It’s a different way of doing things behind the scenes but keeping it as simple as possible for the user—giving them the benefits without giving them the headaches.
DWR: Right. And one of the things that strikes me about your innovation, at least how I think about innovation, is that you go the extra mile to actually make things look good, including aesthetics. What drives that thinking? The difference between your hard drive enclosure and somebody else’s is yours is a much more elegant-looking, beautiful piece of machined engineering versus the plastic box from Amazon Basics. What drives that for you?
LOC: There’s a practical aspect to that as well. And actually, there’s all sorts of aspects. First of all, there’s a customer trust aspect in terms of what they hold in their hand. But a bigger piece of that, why are we using metal and some of the shapes that we use, as opposed to just a cheap plastic box, is that it dissipates heat. A big part of the design is heat dissipation and vibration reduction—all those aspects go into that design. And it’s great that we can put it into a form factor that you like versus the other enclosures.
When you look at our portable solutions, those literally can be almost run over by a tank and survive functionally. And even if they end up being crushed, the drive inside is amazingly still functional, and the enclosure keeps the little blade inside unscathed. So those are certainly aspects that go into the design that you don’t get with just putting a crappy bridge inside a cheap enclosure.
The other element of that is the power supply that comes along with all our solutions. When you buy one of those inexpensive drives you referred to earlier, they typically have a little tiny wallboard type power supply, which is enough to keep the drive spinning and it has a peak power output that’ll be enough to spin the drive up. But it’s using peak power, and if you do anything with audio, like turn up the amplifier, the closer you get to the max power of an amplifier, the more noise, the more distortion, and the less quality the output is. Further, more distortion can damage, even harm your speakers.
I’d say from our in-house philosophy for our drive enclosures, we build our power supplies as solutions to last as they come with a hefty power supply in terms of the DC going in the power circuitry inside the enclosures, which is very robust and more than adequate to support the highest load of the drive, not just the continuing load. We build these things so that our bridge and our power supply are not points of failure, which often can damage the drive and cause data loss.
Also, some people love the look of it. We do real pictures for products; we don’t do renderings as I always hate it being compared to a rendering of someone’s drive and to see that same product in person doesn’t look quite as nice. The looks are by design, really intended to support the functionality—again, heat dissipation, airflow. And we’ve done a lot with quieting the drives. We certainly can’t totally get rid of the head clicks, fan airflow and even dissipating drive noise, but that’s all in that design.
– Daniel W. Rasmus, Serious Insights