I read a press release in the Blind News (link above) distribution this morning that informed me that AI^2 got swept up in the merger and acquisition mania hitting the AT industry and that founder and president, Ben Weiss will leave the company in the middle of October. The new owners, identified by a very generic sounding group called, The Investment Capital Corporation (TICC) and an unnamed private investor claim they will keep the current AI staff and management team (sans Ben) up and running in Vermont and will leverage its great success into the future.
Over the years, I got to know Ben Weiss as an industry leader and a colleague. He and I co-chaired the ATIA AT/AT compatibility committee and worked together on a number of other ATIA related activities. Ben, as an individual, is one of the brightest and most eloquent people on the AT circuit today. He has also led the top low vision business in the industry for fifteen years.
Making a screen reader is a lot easier than making a magnifier. Most blind people have similar needs: speech and/or Braille output from the screen. Software for people with low vision related disabilities needs to address a huge array of different visual acuities, many of which are completely incompatible. Ben Weiss and his team at AI^2 have solved many divergent problems for many different types of vision disability and have commanded an enormous share of the market by making ZoomText, their flagship product, the de facto standard in the low vision industry.
Unlike some businesses who, when they reach a commanding market share with one product, AI^2 did not “milk” the estimated 90% market share held by ZoomText while spending their loyal consumers money on new initiatives but, rather, fed their evergreen and kept it very healthy. The end result is that, although Ben was in the position to sell his business, he did so with an ethical approach that did not cause him to lay off a bunch of his guys or stop ZoomText development to show an increased profit line and, therefore, an increased selling price for his business. Ted Henter acted the same way with HJ which is the likely reason that FS has continued to do so well with its software product line since the merger.
One sad thing, industry wide, though, is that with Ted Henter, Dean Blazie, Jim Fruchterman, Russell Smith, Gil Papin, the Alva guys and now Ben Weiss, the trend toward diminishing influence from those who created this industry continues to drop. Relative newcomers, Eduard Sanchez of Code Factory and Mike Calvo of Serotek remain the only founders with a major public presence and influence over the future of their products. FS made a promising move by putting Jonathon on the payroll but his efficacy has yet to be noticed.
So, Blind Confidential and I on a personal basis would like to thank Ben Weiss for his more than fifteen years of service to our community, for his leadership in innovation in the area of technology for low vision users and for his unfailing dedication to quality software for people with disabilities. I will add him to the Blind Confidential Hall of Fame, a membership that currently includes only Ted Henter so now Ted has someone to chat with during hall-of-famer meetings.
I hope that, in some capacity, we continue to see and hear Ben Weiss in our industry and that his genius and focus remain part of our community for a long time to come.