Fred Cutler: A Life Behind the Scenes of the Computer Revolution

I reached out yesterday to Fred Cutler’s family  for a little more information about Fred’s career, how he came to San Diego, and what he did after supporting technology entrepreneurship for three years at the helm of Connect. As I’ve reported, Fred Cutler died Dec. 2 in Madison, WI.  His son Dave responded with an e-mail that pretty much  stands on its own. With small edits here and there, what follows is his entire note.

My father’s professional history is actually quite fascinating from the context of the evolution of the computer revolution. I’ll try to give you the abridged version, but there are obviously a lot more stories behind the stories.

He got his true start in technology at Mattel Electronics and was heavily involved in the “Aquarius” which was Mattel’s answer to the Commodore 64 and Tandy TRS-80 early home computers.

From there he went to Digital Research in Monterrey, working directly with Gary Kildall on DR LOGO and of course CP/M. He was with Bill Gates during his infamous visit—the “non-meeting”—with IBM that eventually led to IBM going with the DOS operating system for their IBM PC.

From there he was one of the early guys at Compaq in Houston, working with Mike Swavely and Rod Canion, among others, helping to drive marketing. He spent seven successful years there helping grow the personal portable computer space. I still have the only surviving prototype of the first commercial notebook computer, the LTE.

Fred G. Cutler

He left Compaq to get back to California and went to work for Oracle in their early days, working directly for Larry Ellison. He spent a few years there, and left to help Scopus (eventually bought by PeopleSoft) go public. He finally got back to SoCal to start a company called Digital Style that was bought by Netscape. From there, he was part of the transition team to America Online. Lots of good Netscape and Andreesen stories, including the fact that Mark bought my parent’s house in Palo Alto as his first real house after starting Netscape.

After Netscape/AOL, he started getting more active as an angel and mentor for startup companies, including ProFlowers and many others. [ProFlowers later became Provide Commerce, a public company that was acquired by Liberty Media in 2006 for $477 million.]

It was at this time he joined Connect. After Connect, he decided to spend more time near his grand-daughter (my daughter) and bought a house in Delavan, WI, near where we live in Oak Park, IL. My parents then came back and forth from San Diego to Wisconsin, and he got more active in the Midwest technology community, becoming an entrepreneurial professor at the Illinois Institute of Technology, helping many startups through Cayenne Consulting and personally. Up until his last days he was still helping numerous startup companies get funding, build business plans, etc.

He was in Wisconsin when he was diagnosed with a rare and aggressive form of Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma – T-cell so he decided to have is treatment done near family and stayed in Wisconsin. We’re holding the memorial this weekend in Oak Park because that’s where I live with my family and we thought it would be easier for people to fly into Chicago than to get up to Delavan, WI.

Lots of details I know. A whole lot more interesting stories from behind the scenes of the PC revolution, as I’m sure you can imagine.

Bruce V. Bigelow was the editor of Xconomy San Diego from 2008 to 2018. Read more about his life and work here. Follow @bvbigelow

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