You could say the game of checkers played an integral part in the birth of Simutek, and you wouldn’t be too far off. Mike Gariepy and his brother bought personal computers to compete against each other in checkers. Mike’s brother, Andy, was an expert on the soon-to-come personal computers that would cause a technological revolution, and he rigged a system that allowed them to compete against each other computer-to-computer.
That passion for games and desire for competition improved Mike’s programming enough to start writing games in BASIC, which were soon ready to sell. With no collateral and even less business experience, he started a company called Simutek to sell those games on cassette. Some advertising in computing magazines helped spread the word, and before he knew it, he was running a business.
In 1977, the same time Mike was trying to get Simutek off the ground, a fake computer company in Tucson was ripping off individuals and banks, leaving a bitter taste in lenders’ mouths. Getting backing for a computer business was much more challenging as a result, but Mike’s persistence paid off. After securing a business loan, he began taking orders over the phone.
It was when Channel 4 did a story on him in 1978 that Mike got his first real break. He started working on commission at an independent Radio Shack store in Green Valley, selling TRS-80s and writing business software for companies in Nogales. He learned a lot about business during that year, a skill that would help him open his first retail store a year later.
Meanwhile, Mike urged his brother, Andy, to write ZBASIC, Version 1, which Simutek sold on cassette. The program gained enthusiasts who argued with Bill Gates that ZBASIC was faster than Microsoft’s Basic compiler.
When Mike started selling printers, computers, software, and other computing elements out of his house, he soon needed a storefront, and opened the first Simutek Retail Store in 1979 at 4500 East Speedway, selling Apple and all major computing brands.
Simutek’s traffic got noticed, and an Apple rep showed up and offered to make him a dealer. IBM and Compaq reps followed, and Simutek was really in business.
Mike opened stores in North Tucson, Casa Grande, Tempe, North Phoenix, and Scottsdale, opened a computer training center, and became the only store in Tucson selling the Apple Lisa. A year later, Simutek was selling Macs.
Richard Nast joined Simutek in 1983 as General Manager. In 1986, Mike decided to spin off the software part of Simutek, called it Zedcor, and sold the rest of the business to Richard.