Connect Interviews: Rahul Sood

In a new thing we’re calling ConnectInterviews, we pulled off an excellent and lengthy interview with Rahul Sood. If you don’t know Rahul, he’s the founder of Voodoo PC and the CTO of the Global Gaming Business Unit in the Personal Systems Group at HP. We asked him about the future of PC gaming and the HP/Voodoo partnership.

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In a new thing we’re calling ConnectInterviews, we pulled off an excellent and lengthy interview with Rahul Sood. If you don’t know Rahul, he’s the founder of Voodoo PC and the CTO of the Global Gaming Business Unit in the Personal Systems Group at HP. We asked him about the future of PC gaming and the HP/Voodoo partnership.

1. First of all, how did you get your start in the gaming PC business?

Shortly after graduating from high school in 1991, I enrolled at Mount Royal College in Calgary, and in three months I realized that the computer science courses were lacking in substance. For me, learning WordPerfect for DOS as a prerequisite was not inspiring.

I remember it like it was yesterday: I was quite bored after high school, and sometimes I would roll out of bed at 11 a.m. with no desire to go to class. Luckily, my fiancé inspired me to take a major risk—I started Voodoo with $1,500 on a credit card and an $85 ad in the newspaper. After selling eight computers in my first week, I simply stopped showing up to classes. I didn’t even bother to drop out.

After a year or so, we landed a successful workstation contract with a large marketing company. I then acquired a heritage home more than a century old in downtown Calgary with a small shed in the back. We renovated the site and restored the old character of the building. We ripped the old kitchen out and built a new manufacturing space which we coined the “Quote Kitchen.” Even though we had to cram way too many people into our old 900 square-foot house, it was an incredibly cool place to work.

Eventually we realized that our passion was around gaming. At the end of each night we would lock up and hang around playing games like Wing Commander, when we first started, and eventually led to competitions playing games like Command & Conquer. We even had a trophy that we’d pass around to whoever was the C&C champion of the week. Over the years we built some lifelong friendships, and Voodoo has always been an inspiring place to work.

2. Where do you see computers in general in 10 years?

Computers are becoming a seamless part of our everyday lives. The word “computer” will be somewhat obsolete as we will eventually no longer go to a specific device to perform the tasks we need to perform. Our lives will be filled with devices that have some sort of processor inside, and rather than worrying about what they do, they will simply make our lives easier.

3. Do you believe that PCs still have a stronghold in the gaming industry with the introduction of products such as the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360?

Any time you get new consoles and new content coming to consoles, people always talk about the death of PC gaming and they do that prematurely. I don’t believe for one bit that PC gaming is in trouble. I think that it’s just changing. It’s not dying, it’s just changing. If you drill down the numbers PC gaming is actually growing. The genres and distribution model of the games is changing.

The other thing about PC gaming that’s changing is the need to create platforms that are stable and that just work. Lately it’s been to the point where companies have been launching new GPUs and new initiatives like multiple GPUs in a system without really factoring in the overall stability of the machine. That was a big blow to PC gaming, the lack of stability, especially after Vista, but now we’re starting to see a change for the better. Companies are starting to push back to ensure that new technologies being launched are stable and running up to our standards.

4. When and how did the collaboration between HP & Voodoo start?

In late 2004 we realized that there was a ceiling to our growth. More competitors started to jump into the space, and even though we felt we offered some advantages, we couldn’t ignore them. We reached a point where it became a challenge to innovate based on our volumes. Even though we were first to market with certain technologies, vendors would eventually make them available to everyone in order to facilitate volume. We could either follow our competition by going downstream and increasing our volume, or we needed to come up with another strategy to innovate. Thus it made sense for us to partner with a larger company.

Prior to partnering with HP, Voodoo had discussions with other companies, as well. But because HP is the only PC company with a true heritage of innovation, and because innovation has always been important to us at Voodoo, HP was our No. 1 choice. There’s no doubt that HP has embraced the Voodoo brand. It has given us the freedom to express ourselves and stay true to our roots.

We know that as time goes on the one thing that will bring value to shareholders of HP is innovation. I believe we play a significant role in the innovation at HP.

5. Is there anything that makes HP or Voodoo gaming products different from the rest on the market?

Since the beginning of the HP Voodoo acquisition, we have been crystal clear about our strategy: to bring together Voodoo’s first to market innovations and design with HP’s R&D to create the most exciting PCs ever. Even though the HP Blackbird 002 was launched in September of 2007, it is still a product beyond compare. This speaks volumes to the level of engineering and innovation that we put into the Blackbird, and HP’s commitment to excellence. What we offer is the perfect combination of performance, quality, and innovation.

6. Do you have any final thoughts on HP’s direction with VoodooDNA and future products?

Over the past few years we have experienced a few really big moments: joining the HP family, creating a start-up business within HP, launching Blackbird, and more recently introducing the Omen and Envy 133. Now, Voodoo products are no longer going to be stand-alone entities, but rather they have been welcomed into the greater HP catalog.

Ultimately, this means that Voodoo and Voodoo-influenced products will be easier to buy, faster to get, they will feature local service, and they will have the full power of HP’s marketing and sales channel behind them. The bottom line is we have ignited the brand and sparked big excitement; so we are now integrating our organizations to fuel our growth. We’re lucky to be part of an organization that appreciates everything we have built and accomplished so far.

The big challenge now is, how do we take the cool stuff we do, the innovation and engineering at HP, and combine it with the larger scale execution engines at HP to grow the Voodoo products globally, methodically, and meaningfully? Stay tuned for more.

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