As the aircraft is taxiing for takeoff, there is a noise like a hacksaw attempting to cut off a portion of the plane's undercarriage. The captain says we'll have to return to the terminal building, as soon as traffic control can assign a gate. Some passengers are concerned about connecting flights, but not me. I've still got 25 hours before Revit's gala starts. The captain reports "The probe indicator on the outside of the plane needs replacement, which should take just five minutes." The 5-minute repair job becomes a 55-minute delay.
The hotel is an ugly-looking rectangular brick block, which explains why Sheraton doesn't show a picture of its exterior at their Web site. The hotel clerk assigns me a room, but another clerk reminds him the room is being set up for an event. "You are staying two nights with us, sir?" He gives me their Commander Suite as compensation; the room, however, has peeling wallpaper, wobbly lamp bases, a noisy air conditioner, and a leaky bathtub. What is it about northeastern hotels always seeming slightly run-down, I wonder.
I use my Palm to check my email. I find the best approach is to connect twice: (1) collect headers only; then (2) select the messages to download in full. A message from Laura Kozikowski enthuses: "I had no idea that you were in Boston this week! If you are checking email and have a few free moments while you are in town, please give me a call because we would love to have you come visit us at SolidWorks headquarters." The Revit event doesn't start the next day until 4pm, so I reply with an affirmative.
SolidWorks Visit: Laura introduces me to Joe Dunn, the enthusiastic field technical manager. He and I had been exchanging emails regarding the circumstances surrounding SolidWorks lawsuit against Alibre. Joe drives home the point that SolidWorks' sales doubled in 1999, now at 43,000 seats plus 53,000 education seats. The goal is 250,000 seats and being the leader in mechanical CAD. He considers no other package equal to theirs, other than keeping an eye on Autodesk's Inventor. Indeed, Joe tells me that he likes Inventor because "it shows AutoCAD users that there is more to CAD than AutoCAD" -- a theme that has been common in SolidWorks ads.
SolidWorks is sold only "indirect," meaning via 230 resellers around the world. Joe is emphatically proud that SolidWorks does no direct sales, but I wonder how long that can continue given the direct-sales model that the Internet encourages. SolidWorks is scornful of the current Internet frenzy among other CAD vendors, a point I agree with. SolidWorks has a Web site, the ability to email drawings with an integrated viewer, and conduct Web broadcast tutorials. Joe says they plan to release their eDrawings software for AutoCAD drawing files.
Laura finds me some time with ceo John Hirschtick. I had seen his picture, but wasn't prepared for him being more than a head taller than me. John admits he hasn't subscribed to upFront.eZine, but is constantly receiving bits emailed to him by others. I tell him that I can see a natural fit between SolidWorks (mechanical) and Revit (architectural). He says a link already exists: he is an investor in Revit, and sits on the board of directors.
Laura, Joe, and I have lunch at a nearby Italian restaurant, then I return to Cambridge. I have a couple of hours available to tour the grounds of Harvard University and the adjoining shops of Harvard Square. Wandering around with my backpack, I must've looked like a student, since I am stopped twice for directions. I am snapping so many pictures with my Epson digital camera that I go through three sets of batteries that afternoon. That's what I like about my camera and its 64MB memory card: I can take so many more photos than with a traditional camera. I end up taking 155 high-resolution pictures on the trip.
Update (April 2002):
The product will be available in early May; delivery has slipped by two weeks. A new release is promised every 90 days in first year -- "Tough on us book authors," I note wryly to the Revit employee sitting near me.
Each of our nametags have a color. I find out that -- ironically enough -- green indicates you had ordered beef, while red indicates vegetarian; my color was yellow, for salmon.
On one side of me sits a representative from Atlas Ventures, who asked me what I thought of Revit and the launch. How do you answer a man who has sunk millions of dollars into this?
On the other side of sits Brad Holtz (of 'CAD Rating Guide' fame) and next to him, Geoffrey Langdon (of architectural CAD shootout fame). The thought underlying this whole event is "SolidWorks or Numera?" Would Revit rocket into orbit, or burn out at the launch pad? We reminisce over CAD ventures that have burned through their money over the years. Brad declared himself the winner in remembering the worst CAD launch ever: TriumphCAD spent all its money on ads -- no product ever shipped.
We muse over Revit's business model. "How long does Revit have before investors would want their money back?" The problem with a monthly subscription model is that money trickles in more slowly. Take 60 Revit employees earning an average of US$100,000/yr each. Assume Revit nets $100/mo per subscription. That means they need 5,000 subscriptions just to break even. "The question is," summarizes Brad, "How long will it take to ramp up to 5,000 subscriptions?" As I write this, I also wonder about "subscription churn" where gains from new subscribers are offset by losses from unsubscribers.
Just as we complete our analysis, an earnest young Revit employee comes by our table to introduce himself. "I'm in charge of developing the business model in conjunction with Harvard Business School," he explains. The three of us roar with laughter: "Funny you should mention that...". We give him our analysis -- at no charge.