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Lessons from Commodore 64’s legacy

Robert Lane, a former executive at Commodore, brought a wave of nostalgia to Communitech during a recent visit to the hub in Kitchener. In 1982, Lane worked for the company when it introduced the Commodore 64, which revolutionized the personal computer market, democratized access to computer power and made it more affordable for the masses.

“The Commodore was a game machine,” said Lane. “The number one use for computers is playing games. We very rarely use computers for business applications.”

From the offices of Commodore and other corporate giants such as GE and Nortel, Lane has witnessed the tech sector evolve over the decades. While technology has changed over the years, Lane believes the drive to bring innovative solutions to market is always there. Lane’s visit also brought attention to Communitech’s role in the community and the tech ecosystem over the past 27 years.

“[Communitech] was among the first to recognize that technology was an important factor,” said Lane.

Commodore computer keyboard

Lane addressed the importance of innovative solutions and the need for tech startups to seize business opportunities. He offered advice for founders at all stages of their journeys, highlighting the value of strategic planning, perseverance, and knowing when to pivot.

“Stick to your core, get some good advice, and know when to get out,” said Lane. “Don’t sell out too soon, and sell out for the right reasons.”

Based in Toronto, Lane currently serves on the advisory boards of several North American companies. Reflecting on his own experiences, Lane acknowledged both opportunities and challenges in the tech industry, including the need to adapt to changing market dynamics.

“I think you’ve got to be tough in some of the decisions you make in business,” said Lane. “The downfall of Commodore? We stayed too long with our software platform when we should have gone to DOS.”

Commodore computer

Commodore ended operations in 1994, but the Commodore 64 left a lasting legacy, sparking a culture of innovation and experimentation that continues to inspire technologists today. The Toronto PET Users Group, for instance, was founded in 1979 and describes itself as “the longest continually operating Commodore users group in the world.”

As interest in retro computing grows, alongside a booming startup culture, Lane is optimistic about the future of technology. While acknowledging the potential of generative AI, however, he emphasized the importance of human intelligence and collaboration.

“AI will never replace [the human brain],” said Lane. “There are lots of people who say machines will think for you. But you have to program them, tell the machines what to do. That’s the basic software, the instructions, the platform it operates on.”

Looking ahead, when it comes to technology, there’s one thing Lane thinks we need to focus on more than anything.

“The greatest thing is the network in which we operate,” he said.

"Communitech helps tech-driven companies start, grow and succeed. Communitech was founded in 1997 by a group of entrepreneurs committed to making Waterloo Region a global innovation leader. At the time it was crazy talk, but somehow this community managed to pull it off. Today, Communitech is a public-private innovation hub that supports a community of more than 1400 companies — from startups to scale-ups to large global players. Communitech helps tech companies start, grow and succeed in three distinct ways: - Communitech is a place – the center of gravity for entrepreneurs and innovators. A clubhouse for building cool shit and great companies. - Communitech delivers programs – helping companies at all stages with access to capital, customers and talent. We are here to help them grow and innovate. - Communitech partners in building a world-leading ecosystem – making sure we have all the ingredients (and the brand) to go from a small startup to a global giant."

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