In spite of owning a few hundred patents
When George Eastman quit his school to start work as an office boy in 1868 in an insurance company at $3 a week he was fourteen years old. And when Eastman quit his job at Rochester Saving Bank in 1881 he was getting $1400 a year. By then his photography business was already 4 years old and he was ready to “put all his eggs in one basket and then watch that basket”. He purchased his first camera in 1877, it cost him $49.58 and he had to pay additional $5 for lessons. With tent-load of equipment carry and knowledge of tedious film development procedure, photography was either a professional business or at least a serious hobby.
Initially, Eastman and co concentrated on developing and patenting what they viewed as the three basic elements of photography: the film, the process of filmmaking and the roll holder. He also went at great lengths to buy patents of others. Eastman entered into pools to control price and output. Until 1887 or 1888, Eastman and his employees were working so intensely, especially on the delicate problems involved in the preparation of emulsions for coating plates or film that there was no time for the big picture. Eastman pushed his colleagues with such forcefulness that a rather large number of them collapsed under strain. What happened next is no less than a “paradigm shift”.
Eastman began working on a simple camera which targeted mass market in the summer of 1887. By December, his “little roll holder breast camera” was ready for a name. He called it Kodak. He wanted a brand-new unique word in order to meet the trademark requirements in
Kodak never stopped filing patents; in fact he developed a strong relationship with MIT which ensured a stream of talent kept coming to Kodak. By 1900, Eastman brought out a more compact version called Brownie. It was selling for $1.00 with roll of film for an additional $0.15. Kodak was to sell millions of them. It would take another 91 years after Brownie was launched when a 35 year old William Gates Jr. would profess in Buffett Group meeting that “Kodak is toast”. Funny part is, the same Bill Gates, would actually buy additional 8 million shares of Kodak with his personal money 17 years later (Dec 2008). Bill is the last guy to underestimate the value of a century old brand. (Primary source for this article: Giants of Enterprise by Richard Tedlow)