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Startup’s New Sage Advice Comes With Hint of Apple

How does a little-known startup land one of the biggest names in tech on its board of advisers?

If you’re Andreas Haas, chief executive of hardware manufacturer Axiotron Inc., it took a well-connected friend to net Steve Wozniak, the co-founder of Apple Inc.

Haas, who co-founded Axiotron in 2005 with his wife, was wildly enthusiastic over his new adviser, the man known in tech circles as “The Woz.”

“I’m from Germany and we’re not a very expressive people,” he said. “But the closest I ever came to being a fan of someone was Steve. I look at him the same way some people look at Picasso.”

A representative for Wozniak, an author and philanthropist no longer directly involved with Apple, did not return a request for comment. In a statement, Wozniak called Axiotron a company with products “that improve and advance our digital lives. I look forward to working with Andreas and his team to further this vision.”

At first glance, Axiotron might seem an odd place for someone with such a high profile. The El Segundo company builds tablet computers on the Mac operating system.

A company spokesman declined to specify how many employees Axiotron has, but said it was “pretty small.”

Haas said a mutual friend introduced him to Wozniak a couple of months ago. Wozniak, who was a fan of the original hand-held Apple Newton, was impressed with Axiotron’s tablet computers and ordered one.

Haas hand-delivered Wozniak’s tablet, meeting him at a Coco’s Restaurant. The two engineers hit it off immediately, delving into the finer points of computer manufacturing.

“Have you ever seen two nerds meeting for the first time?” Haas said. “That’s exactly what it was like.”

Since then, Haas has consulted Wozniak informally on a number of projects. In mid-December, he finally worked up the courage to ask Wozniak to join Axiotron’s advisory board.

The company’s already received a boost from its newest board member: The Woz appeared alongside Haas at Axiotron’s Macworld Expo booth last week to tout the company’s new products.


Too Much ‘Guitar Hero’?

To those who speculated that lower-than-expected sales numbers for “Guitar Hero: World Tour” spells trouble for Activision Blizzard Inc.: Not so fast.

Analysts contacted by the Business Journal dismissed talk that consumers were suffering from franchise fatigue that might doom future “Guitar Hero” titles.

The music rhythm video game has been the star performer for the Santa Monica-based publisher, racking up over $1.7 billion in sales. Activision released the series’ latest iteration, “World Tour,” in November. Talk about franchise fatigue picked up the next month, when NPD Group, a New York research firm, released figures showing that “Guitar Hero” sold 1.9 million units in the United States in October, down 19 percent from the same period last year. (NPD will release December sales figures this week.)

But analysts said other factors were likely at work:

– The $190 price tag of “Guitar Hero” bundles packs that contain the video game along with the guitar, drum and microphone controllers. “If your purse strings are tight and you have just $5, $10, $15 to spend, why not go online and download a few ‘Guitar Hero’ songs?” said David Riley, an analyst with NPD. “Consumers still want to play the game, they just don’t want to spend $190 right now.”

– Stiff competition from other quality video games. Mike Hickey of Denver-based Janco Partners Inc. said World Tour” launched against other premiere titles, such as Microsoft Corp.’s “Gears of War 2” and Bethesda Game Studio’s “Fallout 3.” “You just had game after game that won its share of critical acclaim.”

– The ability of gamers to download additional “Guitar Hero” songs over the Internet, prolonging the life of older versions of the game. “The nature of the game is that people will buy it once they’re done with ‘Guitar Hero 3,'” said Michael Pachter, an analyst with Wedbush Morgan Securities Inc. “They aren’t going to rush out and buy the new one right away.”


Cell Phone Flicks

Coming soon to a cell phone near you: film clips.

Mogreet Inc., a startup that develops video messages for cell phones, has signed a licensing agreement with Fox Searchlight Pictures, a unit of Fox Entertainment Group Inc.

The agreement will allow Mogreet to weave film clips from pictures such as “Juno,” “Sideways” and “Napoleon Dynamite” into its mobile messages. Some of the messages are free but supported by ads; others cost 99 cents.

The agreement should boost the profile of Mogreet, which is based in Venice. Analysts speculate video messaging will be a large growth area in the next few years, and Mogreet is trying to position itself to lead.


Staff reporter Charles Proctor can be reached cproctor@labusinessjournal.com or at (323) 549-5225, ext. 230.

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