Interview with Chris Randles, SpaceClaim CEO

Direct-modeling is the new trend in CAD. No doubt about it! Some call it Synchronous Technology, some Interactive Solid Modeling, and some direct-editing. All of these approaches differ, but all are trying to overcome the limitations of existing parametric systems. If we were to identify one original source that started this trend, we would certainly have to recognize that SpaceClaim was the first company to openly and successfully claim that the parametric era is over. This new idea has spread like wildfire — proving that it was the right concept at the right time. A design system is much more than just a good idea; it takes time to transform one idea into something that can be successfully added to the existing design and deliver real benefits. I believe SpaceClaim is approaching this pivotal point. It’s time to look at it — not any more as a “great idea” — but as a “great system.” Who better than Chris Randles, the new SpaceClaim CEO, to help me check if my impressions are correct?

Chris, can you tell us a bit about yourself and your new position?

Until recently, I was Entrepreneur-in-Residence at Borealis Ventures, looking at and advising emerging companies – including SpaceClaim. My goal was to join and lead an early stage company and SpaceClaim was the right opportunity for me. Prior to Borealis, I led the management buyout of Mathsoft and served as the company’s Chairman, President and CEO until Mathsoft’s acquisition by Parametric Technology. Earlier I was the Senior Vice President and GM of the Engineering and Education Division of Mathsoft.

I am in the process of meeting with our customers and partners to hear their feedback

As President and CEO of SpaceClaim I am in the process of meeting with our customers and partners to hear their feedback and to help focus our efforts on the market segments with the greatest potential. SpaceClaim has a world-class development team with a rich heritage in 3D design, led by Danny Dean and our technology is very good. We also have a first-class investment team, including Kodiak Venture PartnersBorealis Ventures and North Bridge Venture Partners, all of whom have significant experience in engineering and technical software. Rich D’Amore of North Bridge Venture Partners, for example, was an early investor in companies like SolidWorks, Revit and Mathsoft.

The launch of SpaceClaim induced a sudden and unexpected shift in the perception of CAD technologies. The parametric approach, until then considered as the most advanced, is now perceived as obsolete and too complex. While other manufacturers have been quick to adapt to the new trend favoring direct-modeling, SpaceClaim has not yet been able to fully capitalize on the trend it has created. What’s your opinion on that?

We don’t compete directly with 3D parametric CAD products. In our early days, the perception was built that we were going to go head-to-head with these vendors, but that is not the case.
We are targeting users that today don’t use 3D tools, such as conceptual designers, CAE and manufacturing engineers, because those tools are hard to use, overly rigid for their purposes and very expensive. We agree the trend in the market for 3D solid modeling is toward non-parametric solutions and PTC’s acquisition of CoCreate is an example that validates that view. We feel we are at the center of this trend.

we are targeting users that today don’t use 3D tools, such as conceptual designers, CAE and manufacturing engineers

We have a product that defines the category: it was built from the ground up for direct modeling, it has a modern easy-to-use interface and, above all, it contains smart capabilities to help our target audience create, edit and share 3D designs. We are making steady progress: we are moving our customers from investigation, to pilot and successful deployment of SpaceClaim software.
Right now our focus is on customer satisfaction. We’ve established some important partnerships, with companies such as ANSYSALGORRobert McNeel & Associates and Bunkspeed and will continue to assess other opportunities.

In the past the role of SpaceClaim in the design and manufacturing process has been described in different and not always consistent ways. Who are your target customers and why should they use SpaceClaim?

You are right about lack of consistency and we are changing that. SpaceClaim is a young company: it’s only in its second year in the market, so it’s inevitable that it will get distracted as it grows. That said, we have great products and great product development capability, the 3D market is changing and the industry is definitely ready for a step change. It is up to us to stay focused, deliver on the promise of the product and to execute our strategy well.
Our market is among designers and engineers, who are not today’s typical CAD system experts.

in many cases expensive and complex parametric tools are over-deployed, when less costly solutions could be much more effective

As mentioned, we are targeting conceptual designers, CAE and manufacturing engineers – many of these users do not have 3D CAD tools that they use every day. Additionally, in many cases expensive and complex parametric tools are over-deployed, when less costly, solutions could be much more effective. The value we bring to our customers are a faster time-to-market, ease of use, precise accuracy and about 1/5th the cost of CAD tools. These expansion markets (like CAE) are growing much faster than the core 3D CAD market, so that is where we see the most opportunity. It has the potential to mark a paradigm shift in the industry, just like the invention of 3D parametric CAD was a paradigm shift back in the 1980s.

The CAD market is changing very slowly with the transition from one system to the next happening in geological times. What is going to be the SpaceClaim strategy to rapidly attract new users?

Well, again, we are not targeting displacement of 3D CAD seats in their core market. We feel we are in the sweet spot targeting the evolution of non-parametric solutions to meet currently under-served 3D design and productivity engineering requirements. This market is just evolving and is starting to demonstrate real innovation – SpaceClaim is at the forefront of that movement.

we will attract new users by demonstrating […] that we have a good solution

The way we will attract new users is by demonstrating to the market that we have a good solution. We are making great progress with many brand name customers across different industries, such as in consumer products, automotive, and medical devices. As we gain traction, the traditional method of marketing in engineering industries – word of mouth – will add momentum to our own efforts.

Many CAD companies built their fortune opening their system to third party plug-ins. Will SpaceClaim be more oriented to provide an open platform available to any developer or concentrate on promoting a few selected integrations?

We have already opened our APIs to third party developers, and there continues to be a lot of interest there. This is an important step for SpaceClaim as it builds its industry ecosystem.

we are going to be selective about these arrangements [with third parties]

We anticipate that third parties may also license our application and technology. We are going to be selective about these arrangements as we move forward.

You have important previous experience with products in the same price range as SpaceClaim. How should marketing and sales be different in the SpaceClaim price range compared for example to the SolidWorks price range?

We are pursuing different channels of distribution depending on geography, including direct sales, VARs and resellers, including Rhino resellers.

back in February we announced a partnership with Novedge to distribute SpaceClaim over the Internet

As you know, we announced a partnership back in February with Novedge to distribute SpaceClaim over the Internet. For a young company, with break-through new technology, we also understand that direct involvement in marketing and promotion are critical to reaching, and understanding, the market.

When the last major new CAD system entered the market (SolidWorks 1995) the specialized press was probably the most critical item in the market strategy. Today the situation is much more complex with press, bloggers, and online communities all playing an important role in shaping end user opinions. How do you plan to benefit from these diverse ways of communicated with customers?

We already are in contact with this broad community and understand the value they bring to keeping customers apprised and knowledgeable. We actively respond to blogs as relevant to offer our point of view – in fact one of the co-founders of SpaceClaim, Blake Courter, is active in the blogging community.

As CEO I plan to regularly meet with these key influencers [bloggers, online community leaders]

As CEO I plan to regularly meet with these key influencers as part of our mission to get across the company’s story – and make sure that people understand that we are new and different, and not really even a threat to the current 3D CAD market. We see the potential to expand the use of 3D, and to bring benefits of faster creation, revision and (overall) time-to-market for our customers. We are part of a major shift in the market and we have the pedigree to do well.

I would like to thank Chris Randles for taking the time to answer my questions. A special thanks also to Leslie Minasian for her valuable support in putting together this interview. If you have any questions for Chris or for Novedge, please leave a comment below and we will be glad to answer. SpaceClaim is available through the Novedge website.

Franco Folini

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