IT WAS GAME 2 OF THE 1986 WORLD SERIES, the Boston Red Sox were battling the New York Mets, and Sox fan Henry Yuen set his VCR to record the contest. Or so he thought. Yuen, a research scientist who holds degrees in mathematics, applied mathematics and law, played his tape later that evening only to find a fuzzy haze where his game was supposed to be. “I was so angry,” he says. “Not only is programming a VCR time consuming, it’s error prone. The worst part is, you don’t know where you made the mistake.”
So, Yuen, 42, teamed up with fellow scientist Daniel Kwoh, 42, a coworker at TRW Space & Technology Group in Redondo Beach, Calif., and set out to take the pain out of VCR programming. The result: VCR Plus, a hand-held device that lets you set up a recording simply by punching in a 4-to 8-digit code number. The device works with all wireless VCRs. All you need do is look up the code for the program you want to record (codes are printed in the TV listings of 350 newspapers and in TV Guide) and grab the gizmo.
Since the system’s introduction in November 1990, some 3 million VCR Plus units have been sold (at about $60 a pop) in the U.S., Canada and Britain. Yuen and Kwoh’s Pasadena-based Gemstar Development Corp., launched in 1986 with a $50,000 bank loan, now employs about 100 people and earned about million last year. Licensing arrangements could eventually add another $10 million in royalties annually—and that’s before Yuen and Kwoh begin planned expansion into Europe, Japan and South America.
None of which, however, has changed the lives of the two Shanghai natives who met as graduate students at the California Institute of Technology. Now co-owners of Gem-star with six other major investors, they still run the firm from a modest Pasadena office suite and have kept their TRW jobs besides. Yuen, who, like his partner is married with two children, even has a third job, working twice a week as a business-law attorney. “We’re very successful,” explains Kwoh. “But we don’t assume it will always be that way.”