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Long before they were launching GeForce graphics cards and powering A.I. engines, the founders of the graphic chip manufacturer were focused instead on things like Moons Over My Hammy and pancakes as they sat in a booth of a bullet-ridden Denny’s near San Jose, not far from CEO Jensen Huang’s home.
A report in the Wall Street Journal looks at the origins of the tech powerhouse. And the popular diner was a key meeting spot for Huang, Chris Malachowsky, and Curtis Priem, who collectively dreamed up Nvidia.
Huang had actually worked at Denny’s long before those coffee-fueled meetings. As a teenager, he waited tables, and he says taking customer orders helped him learn how to communicate with people he doesn’t know and find compromise when things get tense.
“I was incredibly shy,” he told the New York Times in 2010. “The one experience that pulled me out of my shell was waiting tables at Denny’s. I was horrified by the prospect of having to talk to people. You want customers to always be right, but customers can’t always be right. You have to find compromises for circumstances that are happening all the time and you have difficult situations… You can’t control the environment most of the time. And so you’re making the best of a state of chaos, which was a wonderful learning experience for me.”
Malachowsky and Priem didn’t have that tie to Denny’s. But when they were formulating their business, they couldn’t meet at the office of their day job at Sun Microsystems. Huang, similarly, couldn’t offer up room at LSA Logic. Denny’s was a convenient meeting spot in 1993.
“We were not good customers,” Malachowsky told the Journal. “We were going to show up for four hours and drink 10 cups of coffee.”
Eventually, the trio was asked to move to a room in the back, where police were often found working on their reports. Once they noticed the bullet holes in the front window, though, the founders agreed to find a different place to make their plans.
That turned out to be Priem’s townhouse, which lacked air conditioning, but let them focus enough to determine what Nvidia would be.
Even after the company was up and running, its offices weren’t a big step up from that Denny’s or the sweltering townhouse.
“It was a small office. We had lunch around a Ping-Pong table. We shared a bathroom with another company,” Jeff Fisher, the company’s first salesman and currently an executive vice president, told Fortune in 2017. “The Wells Fargo bank that shared our parking lot got robbed two or three times.”
It took investors a while to get on board. And even family was skeptical. When Huang told his mother the trio was starting a company to make graphics chips which people could use to play video games, she replied “Why don’t you go get a job?”
Last week, Huang saw his personal value jump by $6 billion in one day.
This story was originally featured on Fortune.com
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