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Small company finds comfortable co-existence with Microsoft

October 20, 1998
Web posted at: 5:25 PM EDT

By Detroit Bureau Chief Ed Garsten

(L to R) Friends Everett, Gray and Hile founded Hilgreave in 1980.   
MONROE, Michigan (CNN) -- Hilgreave Inc. is a small company that makes the communications program "HyperTerminal" found on every computer that uses Windows 95.

Hilgreave isn't some Silicon Valley giant, it's a collaboration of three friends: John Hile, Matt Gray and Bob Everett. Their little company is based in Gen. Custer's hometown of Monroe, Michigan.

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CEO Matt Gray talked about the company's humble origins. "In 1980 the three of us founded Hilgreave. We were sitting on John's porch drinking beer and decided it would be a great thing to start a company of our own."

So they did and quickly found out it took more than a good "beer buzz" to start a business. They had some lean times in the beginning, but with barely two dozen employees and a sense of the future, the three pals decided to specialize in something giant software publisher Microsoft all but ignored: communications software.

The Hilgreave founding trio says Microsoft recognized their expertise and agreed to do business with them. That's what has kept the company from being overrun like Custer.

The company's latest hope is Dropchute Plus, a new program that allows the instant exchange of files across the Internet without going through e-mail.

With sales in 1997 of just $1.5 million, Hilgreave amounts to a microbrewery compared to "mega" Microsoft's software brews.

Gray isn't sure it would be such a good idea to cut the software giant down to size. "It's not surprising a company as large and aggressive as Microsoft might occasionally overstep the bounds of fair play, but they're a good company to work with and they deliver a lot of value to mankind."

That's a lot of value to Hilgreave too, since the company is a vendor to Microsoft.

There's no doubt the verdict in the antitrust trial will affect computer colossus Microsoft, but the folks at Hilgreave believe that no matter what happens, their lives and business will change. And that's OK, says the Hilgreave triumvirate, because change is the one thing a little company can do well.

And the company's founders hope it can be nimble and change direction quickly enough to hang on to its share of the software pie, even it it's only Microsoft's crumbs.

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