Back in 1991, four engineers from HP took a leap of faith to start their own company, with the goal of creating better user interfaces (UIs). Fast forward to 2021, two co-founders are still working day-to-day at Altia—Mike Juran is the CEO and Tom Walton is the Software Engineering Fellow.
The early years
Before starting Altia, Mike, Tom and the other co-founders were working on prototyping next generation Hewlett-Packard (HP) equipment focused on test and measurement, like logic analyzers and oscilloscopes.
Screen-based interfaces were becoming more complicated—and HP’s competitors were outpacing them on usability. HP tasked Mike, Tom and their team with making HP’s UIs better. After a broad market search for tools to help HP design better user interfaces, this team decided to build their own prototyping software. Once their tool was in use with HP, they realized the tool could be used by other companies, not just HP.
They decided to spin off their prototyping software business from HP—and Altia was born.
A leap of faith
When thinking back on that choice to leave HP and start a new company, Mike Juran shared, “I always thought I’d love to run a company. In the back of my mind, that was the direction I was going to go.” Tom agreed, sharing that Mike was always the one good at negotiating—he even negotiated free computers from HP when they left.
Tom also conveyed that as engineers, they were all at the top of their game, so why not start a new company? “We were using C++, which was cutting edge at the time. There was only one other company that had commercial products that were C++, so from a software engineering standpoint, it was now or never if we were going to take a leap.”
In 1991, it sure seemed crazy to leave such a tech giant like HP. A lot of their friends made sure to let them know that! But in the end, they knew they had something special. HP even wished them well in their ventures, ultimately becoming Altia’s first customer.
The first demo
Like most startups, the founders worked nights and weekends to get their product ready. Mike Juran created and coded Animation and Stimulus—which were the core features of the very first Altia user interface. And on one stormy night, they took a computer to a vacant office to create a video demo on a VHS tape. Call it irony or fate, but that demo was of a car instrument cluster, which was not Altia’s market at the time.
Mike shared, “We did over 1,000 takes and it was truly just a big old VHS camera on a tripod, pointed at a screen, and Tom walked through the demo over and over again. I can still here hear Tom saying, ‘So let’s take the car for a little drive.’ Tom had to do everything perfectly. If he made a mistake, he had to start all over from scratch—we didn’t have an ‘undo’ button at the time.”
Starting from the bottom
Just like HP began in a garage, Altia’s beginnings were humble too. The first Altia office was located in a founder’s basement. Mike was commuting from the Denver area and he would regularly pull all-nighters, nap on an extra mattress in the basement and make sales calls from the water heater room. The original office led to strategic planning for sales calls while home repairs were in process and delivery men excited the family’s dog.
The new Altia
Today Altia is a multimillion-dollar business, with over 100 employees located in Colorado, Detroit, Germany, Japan, South Korea and all over the world.
What began as a prototyping tool has evolved to become a complete HMI development and deployment solution—used by leaders in automotive, consumer appliance, medical and industrial device companies.
Let’s review the milestones that brought Altia to where we are today:
- 1991: Four software engineers spun off from HP to start Altia
- 1992: First revenue, Altia Design licenses sold to HP and Fluke
- 1993: Key customers—including Fluke, HP, GM and Ford—drive Altia profitability
- 2000: Altia released first Automatic Code Generator purchased by Visteon
- 2007: Apple released the iPhone, setting the stage for touchscreen GUI mass market acceptance
- 2008: Great Recession enables Altia to pioneer per-unit license business models to GM and Chrysler
- 2011: Altia takes on angel investors and positions itself as a growth software company
- 2015-2019: Major enterprise-wide wins including FCA, Renault, GM, Ford, Whirlpool and Hyundai
- 2020: Altia releases in the Cloud; wins Toyota; shifts to high-growth software company
…and we’re only getting started! We’re excited about Altia’s next steps in innovation—with the goal of getting Altia HMIs in the hands of all eight billion people in the world.