Before the founding of Autodesk, Lars Åke Moureau was the proprietor of Smådatorinstitutet AB in Onsala, Sweden. Lars' company was one of Marinchip's very first dealers, and throughout Marinchip's history, one of the most successful. As few documents chronicling the growth of Autodesk outside the United States were available for this compilation, Lars contributed this view of Autodesk from the other side of the ocean. Unless otherwise identified, the footnotes are mine.
The notes I have from Autodesk and my participation in it are a mixture of business and personal matters. I am deliberately leaving out all personal (noninteresting) comments. The notes are written in a sort of diary form as virtually no meeting minutes were distributed. The goal is to give a viewpoint from overseas as I started to market Autodesk products in Scandinavia and later formed Autodesk AB, a wholly owned subsidiary of Autodesk, Inc.
This is it! People are now coming to my place to take a look at Interact, traveling 6 hours for a one hour demonstration. Never before in my computer career have I had a product that excites people like this. Interact is unusable as-is but with some extensions and new hardware it could make it.
Fortunately I only sold one Interact system to an existing Marinchip customer. He was never able to do any real work (PC-board) with it--but it sure was fun.
Meeting in London with Rudolf Künzli and Richard Handyside. John Walker came later. I read through a lot of material for the company that later would be Autodesk Inc. John Walker brought with him his first version of MicroCAD (later renamed AutoCAD), written in PL/I (the listing could be carried in a briefcase then) and he was debugging the code as problems came up during the demonstration we had at Richard's office in London.
John Walker also brought with him some disks with a demo for a new super-machine called the Victor 9000. This was the first time I saw CAD on a ``modern'' PC.
At the end of John Walker's stay in London, he and Richard went to a demonstration of a competing product, the Robocom BitStik. It ran on an Apple II. The comment I later got was, ``We drove to Dover to find the largest cliff from which to throw ourselves.'' The BitStik was a superior product at that time. John Walker flew home and rewrote the whole code for better performance and enhancements.
This was the first time AutoCAD was shown in public in Scandinavia. I borrowed a Victor/Sirius computer from the Scandinavian distributor Esselte, and had a set of drawings only to run on that machine. It was a 10'x10' booth shared with an electrical utility product line. My strongest memory was when I came back to home at 4 A.M. after setting up the booth I was so exhausted I could not get out of the car. I fell asleep after pulling the handbrake.
Rudolf, Richard, and I loaded Richard's Saab and drove from London to Birmingham to participate in the ``Which Computer?'' show. We had no booth of our own, just a desk in the Victor distributor's booth. We were now showing AutoCAD on the Victor with a touch-screen device (looks like a light pen but acts nicer). We also brought a Hewlett-Packard plotter which we never got working during the show.
At this show Autodesk Europe took its first stumbling steps. Rudolf ran his business from his cellar, Richard from a combined computer/bookstore, and I from a 400 square foot garage in Sweden.
At this show in Birmingham, IBM made its first official appearance with the IBM PC made in Ireland. AutoCAD was about to be ported to IBM that time, but the Victor was superior to IBM in every respect.
The Victor computer pushed AutoCAD a lot in the first years. In Sweden a company called Esselte had the distributorship for Victor and they promoted AutoCAD enormously. I believe that Esselte laid one of the cornerstones for the success of AutoCAD in Sweden.
Richard, Rudolf and I participated in the Victor booth at the Hannover Fair. Chuck Peddle (the wizard of Victor Computer) came one day into the booth and he was like a movie star with the usual courtiers surrounding him.
Staying at a gasthaus 30 miles from the show we had conversations with Autodesk in the USA at midnight. Autodesk proposed to give SunFlex (who made the touch-screen device) the exclusive right to sell AutoCAD on Victor worldwide. This was a slap in the face of all of us in Europe who were now building a dealer network. As we were all dealing directly with customers and dealers, we were developing a feeling for how AutoCAD should be sold and we knew that it was wrong to try to sell AutoCAD through hardware vendors. SunFlex got a contract excluding Europe and Autodesk probably survived at that point by large orders from SunFlex (100 systems/several times--wow!).
This has since been proven by our experience with all the big hardware manufacturers. Autodesk has had numerous OEM contracts, which helped us in the beginning as they endorsed our then-unknown product. It turned out, however, that selling CAD on a PC has its own difficulties, which require the support of a local dealer. Consequently, the OEM found himself with a big inventory of AutoCAD and decided to push hardware by discounting AutoCAD--thus upsetting the whole dealer network.
This was my first visit to Autodesk Inc. Autodesk had no real office yet. There was a condo with 3 IBM PCs for disc copying and a few people for distribution. We had a wishlist meeting at John Walker's house and a technical meeting in the South Bay.
One meeting was at SunFlex, a 20 minute trip north of the office. Nothing really came out of the meeting other than a wish list of features for AutoCAD. AutoCAD on the Victor was still outselling the IBM PC but its lead was shrinking.
AutoCAD was shown by a Victor distributor. I met with a representative of a big, big company that wanted to sell AutoCAD. I began to realize what power there was in AutoCAD as a sales tool for hardware, as this company was going to force the sales of their exclusive computer by limiting sales of AutoCAD to that machine only. I also received numerous threats and intimidation from them as I tried to straighten things out. That had never happened with any computer product I carried before.
I had moved to Göteborg from the rural place in the countryside, but still was a one man show. The distribution organization was beginning to come together. There were no strategy guidelines from Autodesk, Inc. about marketing, distribution, and the like, so I had to create my own.
First meeting with the Danish distributor--they seemed to be very concerned and took me for a ride around Copenhagen. At this time there was no money to fly so all traveling was done by car. (I wore out two engines and got two speeding tickets during 1982-1985.)
European meeting at my office in Sweden. The idea of forming wholly owned subsidiaries was discussed on an initiative from Rudolf and Richard. The outline was discussed for budgets and marketing. The premises I had were too small so I was looking for a new place. I still did not have an IBM PC, and had only 2 Victor machines. The customer base was well over 100 systems and growing.
Richard had his own booth at the ``Which Computer?'' show and it was a success. Lots of items were discussed at nights in the hotel; all meetings were informal and more of an advisory type.
Back in the garage again. The distributor organization was getting bigger with Norway, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, and Sweden. The workload was beginning to become unbearable.
I was still doing everything myself: translating manuals, manufacturing, accounting, additional hardware sales, marketing, literature, negotiations, demonstrations, etc. Without the help from the distributors taking care of their territories this would have been impossible.
I visited Rudolf in Basel and made Swedish versions of AutoCAD 1.4. It took about 36 hours. After that I went to London and met with Al Green. Al had just been hired, and coordinated the audit of the overseas offices which were going to become wholly-owned subsidiaries of Autodesk, Inc. At this time Autodesk, Inc. looked into getting capital from venture capitalists. Al was hired as Chief Financial Officer and opposed the plans of getting venture capital. The capital needed could, by better management, come from the cash flow. (Al Green, who later became president of Autodesk, Inc., managed the cash flow and later was instrumental in Autodesk's public stock offering.)
Time for the yearly visit to Autodesk, Inc. It had now moved to bigger premises and was looking greater than ever. Sales were now beginning to ramp up and people were being hired for support, training, etc. In Europe we tried to establish some kind of policy and strategy. We still lacked guidelines from USA on how to attack the market and how to deal with OEMs and dealer networks, so we made our own policies and strategies for Europe. I was contacted by a Norwegian firm to make a port to a Scandinavian computer called Compis or Scandis. Seemed to be an easy task, but it almost got me killed. I finally got it done with help from the Swiss office.
Autodesk AB was finally constituted. I hired 2 more people but was still in the garage. We had about 300 customers at this point.
Visit from the USA to Europe. Mike Ford, VP of Marketing, visited every office and it felt fine to have direct communication and make the people at the main office understand what was going on at the rural offices.
One distributor was trying to bypass Autodesk AB by going to Autodesk, Inc. and making a direct agreement. At the same time a Scandis computer representative wanted to have an OEM agreement directly with Autodesk, Inc. This was disturbing, and some flak was thrown. Paradoxically, this was the kickoff for Autodesk AB's growth for the future.
Distributor meeting at the office. Gary Wells from Autodesk, Inc. came over with new versions and all distributors were gathered. Bullet-proof vest was recommended, worn, and needed.
Autodesk AB moved into a new location six times bigger than the garage, and 5 employees were hired. We expected this big place to fit for the next 2 years. We outgrew it in 4 months.
Dan Drake came and demonstrated the new features of AutoCAD 2.1. He also mentioned that Autodesk were going to take over the development and marketing of AE/CADD, paying a royalty to Archsoft. As usual when you buy a product, it seemed to have less quality and more flaws at a closer look.
I never dreamed at the time that I would become the product manager for the AEC product line at Autodesk, Inc., 1987-88.
A company that went bankrupt left an office ready to rent. Not only an office, but I was able to take over practically new furniture and a telephone system for a fraction of their original cost. The move was done within 2 weeks and we were now in a space of 5000 square feet, employing 7 people, and were soon to hire 3 more. The distribution organization was more or less set with distributors.
The first cash flow crisis appeared. Taxes, royalty, and advertising added up to a point where we had to face going to the bank and begging for a loan. After straightening up the costs everyone in the office deeply understood how easy it is to create bad, expensive habits. The lesson was painful. Luckily it came in the beginning and became a part of the culture. The ad agency was cut off in 48 hours. Actually, I have not yet found an ad agency better able to convey our ``message'' than we can ourselves. The best luck I have had was with an ex-technical journalist working in a PR agency.
Public offering of the company.
Mike Ford, VP of Marketing, resigned. We heard the news over the fax machine the same day. Every fast growing company has its casualties and he was one of them. The company suffered a lot but Richard Handyside from the English office went in and acted as VP of Marketing until we found a replacement.
The Swedish office closed for a conference in France. It sounds crazy but despite the costs and the outrageous criticism it was worth it. In a week the employees started to meld into a company team instead of a loosely formed group of individuals.
The first AutoCAD EXPO--a success. Autodesk, Inc. introduced the hardware lock to the American market.
I decided to take the opportunity and follow the diluted part of me that has the blood of the Vikings. Go West. From the start of 1987 I would be Product Manager for AEC Architectural and Mechanical. The Swedish office was more or less prepared and the transition went extremely well.
The Autodesk story as seen from an European viewpoint...here is what I have learned from my experience being with Autodesk, almost from the beginning, taking the viewpoint that how we did the things we did contributed to the success we have had.
The group that started Autodesk, Inc. knew each other fairly well and shared very much the same values such as taking care of the customer.
In Europe we all had been selling hardware. (John Walker had even been manufacturing computer systems). Once we were a pure software company it was then easier to resist the temptation to start dealing with hardware again. If Autodesk, Inc. had been dealing with expensive computers and hardware, its growth pattern would have been impossible to finance.
The first years, 1982-1984, were painful in terms of mistakes, dead ends, searching for a strategy, mis-communication, etc. We maybe did not know how to do it, but we sure learned what did not work, and as our business was loosely defined, casual, and under our fingertips, the course was easy to correct within the minutes it took to make a phone call. In 1988 it can take a week to send out a letter--for good reasons--if the wrong message sneaks in, it is enormously difficult to correct across our huge dealer and customer base.
When business started to take off late 1984 we all had been ``trained internally''.
When the Viking Red Serpent was heading for Miklagard (Constantinople) to do business, he came to a fork in the road. Asking an old native the best way, the answer was, ``The road you don't take is the right one''.
The message is: don't mourn the ``bad'' decisions made in the past--they were all part of the overall deal.
Editor: John Walker