And let the dueling interviews begin! Yesterday, we heard from Nicholas Negroponte on Marvell's $5.3 million dollar grant to the OLPC Foundation, and today, we have Chuck Kane and Walter Bender promoting the OLPC Association in a Xconomy interview.
OLPC Foundation is Donations, OLPC Association is Sales
The main insight I got from the interview was the real split between the OLPC Foundation and the OLPC Association. Here is how Xconomy describes the two:
The OLPC Foundation, led by Negroponte, is continuing to develop a next generation computer while also pursuing new opportunities to bring laptops to places like Afghanistan, Iraq, and Gaza - parts of the world where, in Kane's words, "our intention is to provide by way of some kind of donation computers to the children in those areas." That work, he says, is proceeding apace - and we will have more from Negroponte in the next few days.
The other big block is the OLPC Association, which is what Kane is part of. It is basically the business end of the enterprise, working with customers - most of them so far in South America - that buy computers rather than acquiring them by way of donations. This is the side of OLPC that handles sales, manufacturing, the supply chain, and so forth
It's interesting to note who is where in these two organizations. Nicholas Negroponte, ever the charismatic salesperson yet short on implementation vision, is focused on giving XO's away to those that are desperate. Yet the Association is a bit more practical, being that its dealing with paying customers who expect a bit more than a drop and run.
OLPC Association Makes a Profit on XO Laptop Sales
In addition to the description of the two organizations, Chuck Kane told of the OLPC Association's new approach to XO laptop sales - the inclusion of a profit margin. Chuck Kane says that OLPC Association now includes a "very small" profit on every XO sale.
My feelings on this are very simple: it is about damn time!
OLPC Association needs to make a profit on XO sales, that's the only way it can become self-sustaining over the long run. Now profit doesn't need to mean "the maximum the market will bear" like normal computer manufacturers. It can be the minimum total needed to run OLPC divided by the number of XO's sold.
And OLPC needs to get that profit going fast. The $5.3 million dollar grant from Marvell went to the OLPC Foundation, not the Association, I don't see Uruguay, Paraguay or Peru donating to non-local OLPC organizations, and in this economy, there isn't much corporate largess for either OLPC entities.