The name of our company was inspired by the science-fiction novel Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury, originally published in 1953. The idea for the company name itself was thought up by Simon Carruthers – one of the four founders of the company, along with John Abbott, William Fellows and myself – in a pub we used to frequent called Cedar Tavern on University place in Manhattan, just below Union Square, where we did a lot of our ‘planning’. The site of Cedar Tavern is now a condominium building.
In the dystopian world portrayed by the novel, books are burnt by firefighters as a type of censorship but people keep those books and the stories they contain alive through an oral tradition by reciting the books aloud. One of the values we had at 451 was allowing its analysts to maintain their own distinct voices – not for us was a strict bland template with three bulleted items and a short paragraph. Instead, we wanted to write an analysis of the technology industry that people actually wanted to read rather than thought they merely had to. To this day we still have clients telling us this is exactly how they still feel about 451.
The name is also reflective of the time of the company’s formation. It was late 1999 and we were based in New York City; specifically in what was known as Silicon Alley on Broadway just below 23rd Street where so-called ‘new media’ companies were having money thrown in their direction by venture capitalists keen on cashing in and the first wave of the New York technology boom. That boom didn’t create many successful companies but one was DoubleClick (long since subsumed into Google), whose sign welcoming people to Silicon Alley blocked the view from our eventual sales office at 920 Broadway.
Another prevalent meme at the time was that of the paperless office and all things digital. And so 451 represented a plan to be a completely digital analysis service. We launched in April 2000 with a website and multiple email newsletters. But more importantly from the 451 branding point of view and being at the cutting edge of innovation we had a WAP site and a channel on the AvantGo service that distributed content to handheld devices known as personal digital assistants (PDAs) – the precursors to smartphones.
In the company’s early months, people confused us with the 415 San Francisco area code and the 411 directory assistance service in the US. But we persisted and gradually 451 became a well-respected name in the technology industry analyst market.
And that dystopian future? I guess we were 20 years too early co-opting that idea.