If there’s something that’s a source of joy in this job, it’s meeting folks at the start of a project, at the very genesis of a company and following their trajectory to success (and yes, sometimes failure).
Having been doing a similar job for the last 16 years, it’d given me enough time to see this cycle run through a few times.
Of all the cases I’ve seen, the story of GrabCAD has to be one of my favorites so far. Not only because it’s been a company that’s trying to do things differently, but also because the folks behind are a pretty nice bunch as well.
GrabCAD was born in Estonia as were its founders, Hardi Meybaum and Indrek Narusk. The company was founded as a marketplace for outsourcing of design tasks, built from personal experience and frustration.
Over time it has evolved into a curious company that has several activities that make up its whole. The first, the marketplace for CAD work, kind of went by the wayside. What grew out of that was a community of folks that wanted to share (and to reuse) CAD files – the type of files that weren’t available.
While in the world of animation, the likes of TurboSquid and the many others that came after it traded in mesh-based 3D models, GrabCAD, from the off, was centred on proper engineering CAD geometry. That community is now 1.5 million strong.
Then there’s the other side of GrabCAD.
The software and service side. Starting with CAD viewers for the files uploaded, then expanding into collaborative workspaces for those looking to share data with partners, customers and such, without having to give away the special 3D geometry sauce. Then the team started to introduce syncing and data management that integrated into that environment.
Data could be synced between different users, integrated into a different 3D designs systems and worked in a cloud environment that many feel comfortable with. Whether it’s because it’s independent from the mainstream vendors offerings, lets folks use the tools they want, or that its cost effective, I don’t know.
Workbench is exciting, and community and model sharing aside, is where the really clever things are in the GrabCAD arsenal.
I first met Hardi, GrabCAD’s CEO, at Autodesk University. A fresh face amongst a pretty grizzled crowd and we’ve loved him from that point on – even lending him some ID so we could go out for a cheeky late night drink. Six years later, he’s still as fresh faced, but he does have a tendency to fall asleep in his dinner after a red eye into the UK.
Frankly, it has been fun to watch the company grow. Grow in terms of the size of the community, grow in terms of the team (and it has some serious talent there) and in terms of offerings to the professional designers and engineers.
But we always knew they’d end up selling to someone.
The question was who?
It turns out that the buyer is Stratasys. Announced today and for a cool $100 million or so (a tidy return on the $13.5million that the VCs have into the company) the 3D printing giant now gets a community of 1.5 million CAD users, a massive resource of 3D CAD data and some of the most interesting and actually useful software tools out there – and just as importantly, the folks that made it all happen.
The official line is that:
“GrabCAD will operate as a unit within the Stratasys Global Products and Technology Group. Hardi Meybaum, Co-founder and Chief Executive Officer of GrabCAD, will continue to lead GrabCAD within the group.”
“The acquisition is expected to enable Stratasys to provide its customers with enhanced collaboration tools and improved accessibility relating to 3D CAD content. The addition of GrabCAD Workbench provides Stratasys with an opportunity to drive communication and ease of use throughout the 3D printing process and grow its technology solutions and user communities.”
Who knows, I doubt even the folks at GrabCAD and Stratasys do, but look at this from a high level and it’s curious.
You have Stratasys, a traditional 3D print machine vendor. But also one that acquired MakerBot, perhaps the first time we’ve had a near ‘house hold name’ in this space. Ever.
Along with the Makerbot acquisition, Stratasys also got hold of Thingiverse. The go to for 3D printable data assets. In amongst all the Yoda heads, iPhone cases that don’t work and assorted nonsense, there’s a big community there and a lot of data (400,000 ‘things’ as of July).
Now add in some stats. Half of those ‘things’ are private and half are public
Now consider GrabCAD.
It has it’s own collection of 3D data. Some private, some public, some in progress, some being actively developed by teams of professionals using Workbench.
Now consider Stratasys’ hardware stack.
Add all those up.
Imagine an organisation that not only has a clear path to sell users up to more professional solutions once they top out with their Makerbot machines (though arguably, this delineation is blurring), but also a collaborative software environment that can be used by everyone.
From the so called maker working on a project, through those ‘makers’ becoming professionals, either moving into a traditional job or starting out on their own.
A company that has access to a large portion of entrants into an industry, but one which can actively assist, not only in terms of collaboration and working with 3D data, but also assist with realisaton of those parts, whether as prototypes or end use components.
That’s a company that many will find interesting.
The fact that they not only have the experience of the Makerbot team, but also GrabCAD’s development team (which includes the founder of SpaceClaim as well as some heavy hitters from PTC) makes for a very interesting mix.