Like so many other startups, National Instruments, co-founded by James Truchard and Jeff Kodosky, began in a garage—Truchard's. "We had been hooking computers to instrumentation for a long time," says Kodosky, "ever since we were students. We realized that we should view software as an extension of the instruments, which led to the concept of virtual instrumentation."
They had already started designing their first product when they picked a name for the company. Suggestions included Texas Digital, Longhorn Instruments, and several permutations of their initials. All were rejected when they submitted their application for incorporation. In the next round of submissions, "much to our astonishment," says Truchard, "we received our first choice—National Instruments."
The company's flagship product is its LabView graphical development software. "We're seeing LabView used more in the design chain," says Truchard, who has served as president and chairman since the firm's inception in 1976. "For engineers to get the most value from their designs, the tools need to work very well together." PCs are both faster and bigger (with 120-Gbyte hard drives) than most traditional instruments. "Obviously," Truchard notes, "we can put multiple design tools onto one PC, which means these tools can now be much more tightly integrated than they had been in the past."
The two men sold their first unit on a cold call to Kelly Air Force Base in San Antonio. Kodosky remembers that the real breakthrough for them came with the Macintosh graphical interface. "This really inspired us to exploit those graphical tools—not only user interface developments, but design and program development," he says.
Kodosky, the company's vice president for research and development up until 2000, now has the title of Business and Technology Fellow. This means that he has no operational responsibilities. "I just brainstorm all day," he says. Truchard, who has received several entrepreneurial awards over the years, doesn't believe that it's more difficult to be entrepreneurial in today's business climate than when he started the company with Kodosky. "I think this current business environment gets us back to the good old days, where we had to be a little more scrappy," he says. "So for me, it's acting more like we used to when we were a startup."