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GrabCAD’s Acquisition: From Talinn to London to Boston

GrabCADGrabCAD today announced their acquisition by Stratasys (NASDAQ: SSYS).  All of us at NextView extend our congratulations to founder Hardi Meybaum and the rest of the GrabCAD team.  There’s a variety of coverage of it in the tech press (BetaBoston, TechCrunch), but I wanted to share the story of how we came to know the company and how the future (now past) unfolded.

I first met Hardi at the beginning of 2011 here in Cambridge.  He was wrapping up GrabCAD’s participation in the Seedcamp accelerator program, and the Seedcamp startups were in the US to visit potential advisors and investors in Boston, New York, and SF.  My partner Rob had also been introduced to Hardi separately by an experienced CAD exec (Mike Volpe – now Hubspot’s CMO).

I was impressed by Hardi as an entrepreneur in our first meeting there in the Seedcamp mentoring sessions.  He had a clear vision of what he hoped to achieve with GrabCAD… to make collaborative CAD design easier in our connected world, where CAD engineers and product designers are more distributed.

It was still early days for the company then, at the time we invested in GrabCAD’s seed round in the spring of 2011 they had around 3,000 engineers in their community.  But my partners and I saw the potential for the community to grow virally, just as LinkedIn did, and to be monetized with a variety of products built on top of this community.  GrabCAD also had very high engagement in terms of the % of engineers actually sharing large, complicated CAD files in the system.  CAD software is used in designing nearly every man-made product on the planet, and a substantial amount is spent per engineer on CAD software but when GrabCAD started there were few good tools for collaboration.

Hardi moved the company from his home in Estonia to Boston to be embedded in the deep CAD software ecosystem here (Solidworks – Dassault, PTC, etc) and was part of TechStars Boston’s second class.  Fast forward to today and there are over 1.5 million CAD engineers and product designers using GrabCAD.  That’s something like 30-40%+ of the CAD engineers in the whole world that are part of GrabCAD’s community, or using their paid products like Workbench (SaaS storage / collaboration).  Companies like GE, ABB, and others are also using Workbench or have tapped the GrabCAD community for outsourced design work.

Working with Hardi as an investor has been rewarding.  I saw that even first time CEOs can be very decisive… Hardi never put off important decisions, even when they might have been challenging for him personally.  I got to share some of our early dashboards from LinkedIn as GrabCAD crafted their own dashboards for early viral growth.  And thanks to Hardi I got to meet the President of Estonia.

Congrats again not only to Hardi but to the entire GrabCAD team.  The distributed design & manufacturing revolution is still in its early innings.  As part of Stratasys, who’s also acquired MakerBot and other startups, there’s a lot more to do with the GrabCAD community and platform.  Onward and upward.

Lee Hower

I’m an investor, entrepreneur, and helper of technology startups. I’m currently a General Partner of NextView Ventures, which focuses on seed stage internet-enabled businesses. I co-founded NextView in 2010 with my partners Rob Go and David Beisel. I started in the VC business as a Principal at Point Judith Capital, an early-stage firm. I joined PJC in 2005 and served as a Principal at the firm through early 2010. During this time I co-led investments in FanIQ, Sittercity, and Multiply and sourced investments in Music Nation and NABsys. Prior to becoming a VC, I was a startup guy myself. I was part of the founding team of LinkedIn, and served as Director of Corporate Development from the company’s inception through our early growth phases. Before that I was an early employee at PayPal, and worked in product management and corporate development roles through the company’s IPO in 2002 and subsequent sale to eBay later that year. I went to college at UPenn and received degrees from both the School of Engineering and Wharton School of Business.