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Acer: From Humble Roots to PC Giant

With revenues reaching over $25 billion and ranking among the world’s top 5 PC vendors, Acer has firmly established itself as a leading force in the global tech industry. The Taiwanese multinational is now a ubiquitous household name, supplying PCs and electronics used by millions worldwide. But Acer came from very humble beginnings – starting as a small operation in a cramped apartment. The journey from scrappy startup to PC titan is directly thanks to the vision and ambition of Acer’s founders.

Taking a Leap of Faith in 1976 Taipei

Acer HQ

The seeds of Acer were first planted in 1976 in Ximending, Taipei by a trio of forward-thinking entrepreneurs. Stanley Shih, his wife Carolyn Yeh, and a friend called Leonard Liu believed there was opportunity in leveraging Taiwan’s hardware manufacturing capabilities to build a successful PC company. At the time, Taiwan’s technology industry was still in its infancy and the global PC revolution had not yet exploded. But the founders saw the potential and took a leap of faith by founding Multitech in 1976 with just $25,000 in capital.

At first, the company started as nothing more than a small apartment operation with Carolyn Yeh soldering components and assembling PCs manually. The company’s first product was a microprocessor training kit that taught electronic engineering skills. But the founders had much bigger plans to build Multitech into an innovative computer brand.

Within a year, Multitech shipped its first branded desktop microcomputer in 1977. The MT-01 was an all-in-one PC built from scratch in Taiwan aimed at local business and government customers. While crude compared to modern PCs, the MT-01 demonstrated Multitech’s capabilities in designing and manufacturing complete computers just a year after founding. This early success proved the founders were on the right track.

Pioneering Taiwan’s PC Industry

In Multitech’s early days, the company focused aggressively on technology R&D to build a competitive edge. A major breakthrough came in 1979 when Multitech released Taiwan’s first 16-bit microcomputer, the MT-02. This allowed the company to break free from simply cloning competitors’ designs and show its own innovation. To ramp up R&D, one of the founders, Leonard Liu, established the Multitech Institute of Technology in 1982 to nurture engineering talent.

Multitech quickly grew into one of Taiwan’s premier computer hardware brands throughout the 1980s. The company achieved many industry firsts including Taiwan’s initial laptop computer in 1984 dubbed the MT-55. Multitech also released early portable PCs like the MT-100 laptop in 1989 featuring innovative power management and battery technology. These achievements put Taiwan on the map as an emerging force in cutting-edge electronics.

By the late 80s, Multitech expanded internationally to the United States and Europe to accelerate growth. At this point, the founders decided a new brand name was needed to appeal worldwide. This led Multitech to rebrand itself as Acer in 1987, derived from the Latin word for “sharp, acute, and vigorous”. The name change marked Acer’s ambitions to compete globally in the PC market.

Going Head-to-Head with PC Giants

Now operating under the Acer banner, the company set its sights on breaking into the ranks of the top global PC vendors in the 1990s battled by industry giants like IBM, Compaq and Dell. Acer unveiled its first IBM-compatible PC in 1990 and later released the popular Aspire series aimed at mainstream consumers. The founders’ business savvy helped Acer grow both organically and via acquisitions like U.S. PC maker Counterpoint.

A major inflection point came in 1996 when Acer merged with Texas Instruments’ PC division to become the world’s third largest PC maker almost overnight. The multibillion-dollar deal made Acer a titan going head-to-head against Compaq and Dell. While risky, the deal displayed Acer’s founders ambition to play with the big boys of PCs.

This aggressive growth strategy paid off by 2000 with Acer cracking the top 5 PC vendors worldwide. The company also branched out into new product segments like servers, smartphones and LCD monitors to diversify its business. By the late 90s, Acer employed over 10,000 people and reached nearly $5 billion in yearly revenues. The leap of faith Stanley Shih and partners took back in 1976 had turned into one of Taiwan’s largest global tech enterprises.

Passing the Torch to a New Generation

After leading Acer’s tremendous growth from startup to PC heavyweight, Acer’s founders decided to step down in the 2000s to let a new generation lead the company forward.

In 2005, founder Stanley Shih retired as CEO and passed the reins to Gianfranco Lanci who ushered in a new era focused on simplicity, strong branding, and stylish designs. This helped rejuvenate Acer’s image through hit products like the ultra-thin Aspire S3 laptops and sleek Veriton desktops.

While no longer involved in day-to-day operations, Acer’s founders continued serving as advisors and board members to guide the company strategically. Their imprint on the company culture also remained in Acer’s entrepreneurial spirit and willingness to rapidly seize new opportunities. This led Acer into new directions like Chromebooks and smartphones while retaining its core PC business.

Still Innovating Today Across multiple Tech Sectors

Today Acer has evolved into a diverse technology conglomerate spanning PCs, electronics, cloud services, artificial intelligence and even e-sports. The company retains strong positions in areas like gaming PCs, monitors and projectors. But Acer also keeps innovating into new product categories from virtual reality, to electric vehicles, to smart homes.

Under the leadership of current CEO Jason Chen since 2014, Acer recorded revenues of over $25 billion in 2021 and employs around 8,000 people globally. The company has come a very long way from Carolyn Yeh soldering parts on their living room floor back in 1976. Acer is now recognized as one of the world’s leading PC and electronics brands serving customers in over 160 countries.

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From pioneer of Taiwan’s PC industry to a mainstay of the global tech landscape, Acer’s rise has been fueled by the ambition and vision of its founders. What started as a dream among a few entrepreneurs has been built into a electronics powerhouse thanks to their technical ingenuity and business acumen. Even after passing the torch to a new generation, Acer’s founders left an indelible mark that still defines the company today. Their bold leap of faith over 45 years ago put Taiwanese technology on the map and brought affordable computing to millions worldwide.


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