Putting their heads together

Putting their heads together

While IT companies now wear their weird names with pride, circumstance had far more to do with Pineapplehead's mantle than clever marketing.

"We spent quite a few nights with a few beers wondering what we would call the company," Kourambas explained. "We came up with Lakovision, which is LA for Lamb and KO for Kourambas, then vision. We thought ‘fantastic' and went and spent all our money producing business cards and letterhead. Low and behold, the first call we got was someone who said, ‘Lack-o-vision is a really strange name for a computer graphics company - what's that about?'. That was our humble beginning."

What started out as a friendship has evolved over the last 10 years into a successful business partnership. Lamb and Kourambas met while working on a coalmine project in Queensland in 1982.

"I had just graduated from university and I was working in civil engineering," Kourambas said. Peter was working in computers on the same project managing cost control - a career he moved into after starting out as a television cameraman for Channel 9 in Tasmania.

"We formed a friendship and then we went our own separate ways for a few years - we went back to Melbourne and worked in different areas, but we had a bee in our bonnet about starting our own business."

From their beginnings producing graphics slides for corporate presentations, the two moved into video editing and multimedia distribution, then sports animation, successfully listing their company on the ASX at a time when tech stocks were plummeting. But despite their various trials and tribulations over the years, the directors say they remain the best of mates.

"We have our moments," Lamb conceded. "It is more akin to a marriage in a sense because you spend so much time together. But suffice to say, our friendship is as strong today as it was 10 years ago."

These days Lako Vision - the distribution arm of the company - comes under the banner of parent company Pineapplehead. But the latter title has proven so memorable that the directors are planning to change Lako Vision to Pineapplehead distribution. The name originated from one of their first 3D projects - an animated TV commercial for a Melbourne nightclub.

"We were trying to work out what we were going to call the new company. There was a pineapple in the middle of the table - it was one of the models we were trying to create with 3D graphics. I flippantly said, ‘why don't we call it Pineapplehead?' and everyone looked at me and said ‘that is absolutely stupid'."

But at the business registration office, the two decided Pineapplehead was fine. Their only other available choice was so forgettable that even the directors can no longer recall it.

"The girl at the registration office didn't even need to search the database for availability," Kourambas recalled. "You've got to put it in context, because when we came up with that stupid name, it was substantially different because Sausage Software and Bluetooth and all the other names that are out now were not around. So we were sort of trailblazing in our own way without realising it.

"It is probably the best piece of marketing we have ever come up with, because whether they like it or hate it, nobody ever forgets it."

The two have watched the multimedia industry grow from nothing to become one of the defining factors in the IT industry and have contributed to that growth along the way. Indeed their distribution business arose from the very beginnings of the digital picture industry.

"Peter had bought a package from the US called Concord. In fact, it was probably the first multimedia authoring package on the market and about five years ahead of its time," Kourambas said. "It had interactive demo disks which worked with your computer the way a CD-ROM or the Internet does today. Back then it was very primitive - we had 5 1/4 inch disks and 16 colours on-screen and various challenges we had to try and overcome. Peter went off and developed an expertise in building these applications.

"It was a total precursor to the multimedia industry - in fact I remember having a screaming match with the organisers of the PC show in Sydney saying "You need to build a section for multimedia!". They couldn't understand why. We needed a category to go under because they only had hardware, software, telephones and photocopiers back then. That obviously changed."

As the two tinkered with multimedia authoring, they found they needed products that were not available in Australia. Not deterred by this, the two founded a company in Boston which made authoring tools and brought a card back to Australia. The product turned out to be exactly what Canon, which had just launched its precursor to the digital camera, was looking for.

"The output from the camera was a video output - not serial or parallel. So we would take pictures and plug our video capture card in from the US and we could capture still pictures in 256 colours. We were the only guys in Australia doing this and Canon approached us and asked if we could buy the capture card on their behalf and import them into the country. We became Canon's southern state distributor by default."

Again, Kourambas and Lamb's friendship turned to advantage, as the partners were easily able to change the focus of their company.

"Because there have always been two of us, we have been able to divide the responsibilities quite easily," Lamb said. "We have had a few trying moments, but it has worked out well."

And while you won't see Pineapplehead's 3D sports graphics being used in the upcoming Olympics coverage, cricket fans will no doubt soon become familiar with their scoring graphics, due to be launched this summer.

"We don't go into anything half-baked," Kourambas explained. "We must be totally confident that we can succeed.

"But we will be at the Olympics in Athens," he vowed, only half joking.

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