July 9, 2013
He reminded me of Francis Ford Coppola, with the salt-and-pepper beard and the smart-guy glasses. He was famous as a pioneer of personal computing and the founder of Citrix, but I got to meet Ed Iacobucci because of one of his (rare) high-profile failures.
DayJet was supposed to be an on-demand charter business for air travel. As Iacobucci envisioned it, a fleet of Very Light Jets based at third-tier airports would operate across the nation, connecting people not to big hub airports but to smaller communities. Passengers – meaning anyone, not just the rich – would sign in on a home computer, smartphone or at an airport kiosk and negotiate a trip with computer software adapted from the trucking industry. Within seconds, a remote server would match your trip with an airplane and a crew, and you’d get a reservation, along with a firm price quote. The more flexible you were willing to be about departure and destination times, the cheaper the price.
I stowed my objectivity in the overhead compartment after one meeting with Iacobucci, and found myself hoping he’d succeed. After all, success was what he was used to. At IBM he led the teams that produced software for some of the first personal computers, and he invented the “cloud” long before server-based computing became popular. He launched Citrix to provide business with a universal computing platform to tie an enterprise together, and when he began to get his arms around data aggregation – gathering huge volumes of numbers to compute solutions – it was just a short walk to DayJet.
Although you couldn’t call him an aviation guy — really, he was just a passenger who thought travel could be improved upon — the DayJet concept is as close to an ideal travel system as anyone has come up with. There are thousands of business and general aviation aircraft that spend most of their time parked and tied down. Give the public a way to put that fleet to work, and you’d really have something. Granted, it wouldn’t serve everyone (any more than the airlines do now), but it would reach into smaller towns and take a big step toward expanding general aviation’s user base from the very wealthy to the middle class. DayJet was launched in 2007, not long before markets collapsed around the world. By September 2008 it was all over.
What I’ll most remember about Iacobucci is the intensity of the man when he was teaching you something that he understood and wanted you to understand as well. His eyes would search your face as he spoke, waiting for that glimmer. And he didn’t stop teaching until you got it. I’ll miss knowing that he’s there, and the world will miss a man who understood how to make computers serve humanity.
Ed Iacobucci died in June. Here’s a nice memorial video put together by family and friends: