NVIDIA Corporation (NVDA 2.54%) is the industry leader in graphics processing and controls 70.5% of the discrete desktop graphics processing unit (GPU) market, which covers PCs, workstations, and servers. Investors are already well acquainted with the company's dominant position in that industry, but here are a few things they might not know about the GPU giant.
1. The birth of an industry
Founders Jen-Hsun Huang, Christopher Malachowsky, and Curtis Priem hatched the idea that became NVIDIA at a Denny's in San Jose in 1993 over coffee. The modern graphics processor didn't exist then. Huang was an avid gamer, and they believed there was a vast opportunity to improve upon the rudimentary graphics available on PCs of the day.
2. NVIDIA almost went bankrupt
NVIDIA was founded in 1993, and when it released its first chip in 1995, the NV1 was a $10 million failure. The company had only been around for two years and was forced to lay off half of its 80 employees. It wasn't until two years later, with the release of the RIVA 128, that the company struck gold, selling 1 million chips within four months of its release. This GPU was 400 times faster than any other GPU available and was the company's first breakout hit.
3. NVIDIA developed the first graphics card called a GPU
Video cards, as they were called then, had been around in some form or fashion since 1981. When NVIDIA released the GeForce 256 in 1999, though, it was the first video card to be called a graphics processing unit (GPU). NVIDIA actually coined the term and revolutionized the industry by providing visual representations that lost the boxy look of their predecessors.
4. It's not only OK to fail, it's important to fail
NVIDIA CEO Jen-Hsun Huang said he learned from this early experience that it was OK to fail, and that helped them develop the culture and core values the company has today. He also encourages employees to experiment, to try things. In an interview with The New York Times, he said:
Let me tell you about ... elements that are our core values and that I most treasure and that I spent a lot of time nurturing. One is the tolerance to take risks and the ability to learn from failure. This ability to celebrate failure, if you will, needs to be an important part of any company that's in a rapidly changing world.
5. If you want a job at NVIDIA...
Huang looks for three attributes when he's hiring. First is the ability to "fall in love with something." He believes that being passionate about something is one of the keys to successful people. Second is being willing to take a chance and make mistakes, then "get back into the game." How someone deals with failure is just as important then how they deal with success. Third is the ability to see the world through the eyes of a child. This is typically demonstrated by someone who is "really receptive to brainstorming and creativity."
6. Great place to work
NVIDIA was found to be significantly above average in worker pay and benefits, including stress-management programs, generous vacation time, and flexible work hours. Huang was among the highest rated CEOs for 2016 by Glassdoor, with a 98% approval rating.
7. A top corporate citizen
NVIDIA was included by Forbes and the Just Foundation to the Just 100, a list of America's Best Corporate Citizens for 2016. A total of 897 companies were ranked on 10 metrics including "worker pay and benefits, worker treatment, supply chain impact, community well-being, domestic job creation, product attributes, customer treatment, leadership and ethics, environmental impact, and investor alignment."
8. At the intersection of three powerful trends
NVIDIA GPUs were instrumental in early advances in artificial intelligence (AI). It turns out that the same properties required to render graphics also work really well for training AI deep learning systems -- the ability to run massive numbers of mathematical calculations simultaneously.
The graphics processing that is so successful for gamers is being applied to the emerging technology of virtual reality (VR), and GPUs will be at the heart of the technology, including the HTC Vive and Oculus Rift VR headsets.
Finally, NVIDIA has developed Drive PX 2, a platform for self-driving cars, and is partnering with a growing number of automakers to integrate and advance the technology. Tesla is installing this platform in all of its vehicles in anticipation of more mature autonomous driving capability.
The most fascinating thing about NVIDIA is that even with all of its success, its greatest opportunities may be yet to come. Time will tell if the company will be able to leverage those opportunities into success, but if the past is any indication, I wouldn't bet against NVIDIA.