Wednesday, March 10, 2004
Interview: Richard Lee, Bluebeam
Richard Lee is CEO of Bluebeam (www.bluebeam.com), which provides products to the CAD industry. I talked with Richard a bit about their products and the company, and the company's launch of its product last year.
BK: What is Bluebeam, and what does your software do?
RL: Bluebeam Software invents, develops, and commercializes software that address the unique needs of engineers and architects. Our mission is to produce the highest quality and easiest to use products in the marketplace, allowing project teams to immediately improve communication, collaboration and workflow with virtually no learning curve.
Bluebeam has three unique selling propositions that resonate with our customers:
IMAGE QUALITY - As a fully integrated plugin to AutoCAD and SolidWorks, Bluebeam generates PDF drawings that maintain scale, line weights, color, rotation, and resolution. Not only does this ensure the integrity of the PDF drawing, it also ensures the PDF drawing can be sent directly to a large format plotter with confidence.
SIMPLICITY - Bluebeam products are the fastest and simplest in the marketplace. As a plugin to the CAD application Bluebeam minimizes the need to learn a new application. This integration allows the end user to avoid replicating their CAD plot settings. There is no need to make any adjustments for paper size, rotation, dpi, etc. Bluebeam simplifies PDF creation by adding buttons to the toolbars of many of the top CAD and Windows applications. This translates into substantial time and cost savings for your company. CAD to PDF could not be easier!
USABILITY - Features such as text stamping, file embedding, and hyperlinking further improve collaboration and workflow. These interactive features allow you to improve configuration control, manage change orders, distribute and archive content-rich PDF drawings, and ultimately reduce costs and accelerate project timelines.
Bluebeam Pushbutton PDF is used by many of the top architecture and engineering companies in the world. One example of our technology in use was for the Mars Exploration Rover Robotic Arms (for both Spirit and Opportunity). Alliance Spacesystems Inc. (ASI) was asked to produce a very complex instrument deployment device within a very short time frame. In order to meet the objectives within the time allotted, ASI used Bluebeam technology to produce high quality PDF drawings to share drawings and design data with its client and subcontractors. Bluebeam's smart features were leveraged to further improve communication, collaboration, and workflow. For instance, time and date stamps were placed directly on the drawing for configuration control; hyperlinks were strategically placed to cross-link related documents as well as to link back to the project web site to streamline communication; data files (specifications and part models) were embedded directly within the PDF and sent to fabrication to not only control the release process but simplify workflow (everything you required was in one place); and finally, digital signatures were used to speed up the approval and release process between project partners. As there were over 300 drawings that required approval for this robotic arm, this process was a critical element for success. Needless to say, the results are apparent - on time, under budget, and currently performing on Mars beyond expectations.
BK: Tell me a little bit about Bluebeam - what's the history of the company?
RL: Bluebeam Software is a spin-off of Alliance Spacesystems Inc. (ASI), an aerospace engineering company founded in 1997 by engineers from NASA?s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. As a leading provider for complex electromechanical systems and robotics, ASI developed and implemented unique software applications to share and manage CAD drawings and specifications with its clients. It is this software technology that Bluebeam brings to market. Since our inception, architecture and engineering firms have recognized Bluebeam Software for its superior paperless workflow solutions. The strong demand for Bluebeam's initial products for AutoCAD and SolidWorks users prompted AutoCAD LT users to demand the same - we recently launched a solution for them in January. Last Fall, SolidWorks Corporation embedded part of our technology within its CAD application as an OEM deal with Bluebeam - an application which is provided to over 300,000 users worldwide. We have over 100 resellers worldwide and continue to expand globally. We saw a 200% increase in revenue between the first half of 2003 and the second, and expect a 400% increase in sales for 2004. Clearly, Bluebeam has made a very strong and positive impression on the marketplace and continues to see the benefits of that impression.
BK: How did SolidWorks decide to embed your technology in its products, and did you approach them or did they approach you?
RL: We launched Bluebeam Pushbutton PDF for SolidWorks at the SolidWorks World Conference in January 2003 and received a fantastic reception from customers and resellers - by the end of the first day, SolidWorks sales and marketing employees let us know we were the "hottest booth on the floor." One person even made the comment that SolidWorks should buy our technology. From that point on, we opened discussions to form some type of alliance. They had already been in discussions with Adobe and by June, we were informed that they had selected Bluebeam over Adobe technology. I think what threw Bluebeam over the top was a series of questions about features and functionality that Bluebeam could provide as well as elected not to provide - the series of communications made it clear that we understood not only PDF technology, but what the users would demand and require to streamline and enhance their workflow. In other words, Bluebeam features make sense - we are not here to throw in everything but the kitchen sink because we can.
BK: How is your software different than Adobe's Acrobat products?
RL: Our focus is on enhancing project workflow, communication, and collaboration specifically for engineers and architects. This means we begin by focusing on the demanding requirements for both 2D drawings and 3D models to produce an output that can be used downstream by other project partners and distributed downstream to other business systems. We also include functionality or features at the point the content is created - features such as text stamps, embedded files, hyperlinks, or file properties - making that content "rich" or "intelligent." Acrobat, like many other PDF solutions, will generate a "flat" PDF file without any intelligence, i.e., project and drawing specific content.
BK: How many employees does Bluebeam have?
RL: Under 25.
BK: What has been the most difficult challenge for Bluebeam in bringing your products to market?
RL: I think the most difficult challenge has been what most enterprises find challenging - driving market awareness. We have a lead to unit conversion rate of 60% and an overall customer conversion rate of 25% which simply means - those who try our product, buy our product. The only limitation we have is getting our technology in front of the relevant customers. Fortunately, Cathy Kim, our Director of Product Marketing has driven over 40,000 unique visitors to our web site per month, which translates to thousands of leads.
BK: Finally, what's next for Bluebeam?
RL: Tighter integration with print lifecycle management and downstream business systems. That's a lot of words - essentially, we are becoming more integrated with the user's workflow, whether it's to manage and archive design data or to print and distribute drawings.