The "space travel is way cool" discount.

2004-09-15 21:11

So, my company (Plethora Internet) builds computers. Not very many. We don’t do much in the “we need a computer for under $700” market. We don’t do swarms of identical 1U servers.

What we do do is moderately specialized systems. We built a couple of machines that got used by Internet2. And, a while back, we sold a machine to NASA.

This left us with a problem. We have discounts for educational and non-profit organizations… But, while NASA has never turned a profit, they aren’t exactly a “non-profit organization”. And we certainly don’t want to give a discount to “government agencies” in general.

So.

I declared, by fiat, the “space travel is way cool” discount. This discount applies on sales to organizations or entities doing space travel and related research. It’s the same discount we give everyone else (10% off, leaving us with no profit margin after warranty)… But it’s the “space travel is way cool” discount. It’s the special discount we give for space travel.

Building computers is a lot of fun. The deal is, I like shopping for hardware, and I enjoy speccing things out. Building computers is a way to do this on someone else’s dime, and it’s not illegal.

If you’re curious, a few caveats:
1. No laptops. There’s just no cost-effective way to build a laptop from parts.
2. We are not competing with e-machines.
3. We will not sell a machine without ECC memory and a motherboard that supports ECC memory.
4. No VIA chipsets. We got burned on a VIA-based board that claimed to support ECC memory, but actually, merely allowed you to use it – no error correction. We’ve also had problems with keyboards, with strange problems powering up VGA cards, and a dozen other things. No VIA chipsets. Never again.
5. While we can, if we really push, get a system’s price down a ways, what we’re best at is the medium-heavy-duty servers. Ultra 320 SCSI, a gigabyte or more of memory, and a solid (if somewhat pricey) motherboard.
6. We don’t sell parts. We sell systems.

The deal is… It’s really hard to compete on parts without buying in bulk, and that’s not particularly viable as a side project business model. On cheap systems, you’re still basically competing purely on price. With the more expensive systems, you can make some money with just a small markup on parts… But because those systems are no longer partaking fully in some of the economies of scale, that’s where a lot of vendors have their biggest markups, and thus, one of the niches where we can compete with the Big Name vendors.

But… We can make at least a few boxes, and we can make some small money in the process.

And even when there’s not much profit in it, well… Space travel. Is way cool. Good enough for me.

Peter Seebach

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Comments

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