Seeding demand for Handspring

By Published on .

Visitors often apologize for carrying a Palm handheld computer when they visit Ed Colligan at the headquarters of Handspring, makers of rival Visor.

"I tell them it's OK. We created that product, too, and we think it's fantastic that it's doing so well," says Mr. Colligan, one of the three Palm Computing founders who left the company in 1998 to create Handspring.


The handheld market is still in the embryonic stage and any growth in the category lifts all boats, says Mr. Colligan, 39, senior VP-sales and marketing at Handspring. He held a similar post at Palm. As Handspring's Web site says of the PalmPilot, "[Handspring Chairman] Jeff Hawkins invented it, [Handspring CEO] Donna Dubinsky built the company that made it and Ed Colligan marketed it."

Despite Mr. Colligan's hearty views on Palm's continued growth, all his energy is now focused on making Visor No. 1.

Since arriving in Silicon Valley in 1984 and glimpsing one of Apple Computer's first Macintoshes before they were released, he's been hooked on being part of the newest new thing at a series of marketing and strategy jobs in high-tech companies. Handspring is his fifth start-up. (Before joining Palm in 1993, he was VP-strategic and product marketing at monitor maker Radius Corp.)

Mr. Colligan's first mission with Visor has been seeding demand in selected retail outlets; this fall a new $20 million print campaign themed "Visor is" broke, foreshadowing the beginning of a bigger campaign to create a personality for the multifunction handheld.


It won't be easy for Handspring or its agency, Leo Burnett USA, Chicago. Palm, industry reports say, has an 80% share in the handheld market with 7 million units in consumers' hands and widespread retail and online distribution. The Palm name has become entrenched in the culture.

But fewer than 1 million Visor units have been sold and the product got off to a rocky start when delivery problems plagued its initial Web site direct-sales effort. Visor also faces mushrooming competition in the handheld arena.

Mr. Colligan says Visor recovered quickly from its initial snafus and is now selling at a good clip at a limited number of retailers including Best Buy Co., CompUSA, Fry Electronics and Staples.

Limiting retail distribution was Mr. Colligan's idea.

"We want to control delivery and meet expectations. Plus, we're driving traffic to these retailers and building great partnerships," he says.

Handspring licenses Palm's operating system for Visor. But Visor's edge is its expansion slots, allowing the $149-and-up device to instantly convert into a cell phone and modem, an MP3 player, a global positioning system unit, a pager, a digital camera and a videogame player -- if consumers buy those accessories.

Previous efforts to sell all-in-one devices have failed: Apple's Newton was derided for its Swiss Army Knife-like features and Palm's early distinction was its focus on doing just a few functions extremely well. Mr. Colligan insists Visor's many facets will not overwhelm consumers.

"Visor is so simple it floors people. It becomes whatever you want it to be," he says.


Demand is strongest so far for the cell phone and MP3 modules; future advertising and marketing will focus on Visor's chameleonlike qualities, Mr. Colligan says.

Starting over at Visor has been "easier than doing it the first time. We've been through this before. We're working smarter, not harder" this time around, he says.

Of the dynamics among his co-founders, Mr. Colligan says, "We tend to take a contrarian view of things and don't try to do things the way everyone else has done them. We know where we want to be and we always manage to find the right way and the right product."

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