VCs strive to find passionate founders. Well, it’s hard to find someone as passionate about computer-aided design (CAD) software as Jon Hirschtick, the cofounder and chair of three-year-old, Cambridge, Ma.-based Onshape.
It was back in 1993 that Hirschtick founded his first 3D modeling software company, SolidWorks, selling it four years later for $316 million to the multinational 3D design company Dassault Systemes.
Remarkably, Hirschtick stuck around another 14 years at Dassault, leaving in October 2012. “The end point wasn’t to sell [SolidWorks] but to bring the then-new generation of CAD that ran on Windows to every engineer,” he explains. “I was on a mission for end users and product designers and it was a fun, really successful ride.”
Still, as often happens, there was a point where the entrepreneur could no longer abide the big-company culture. “What happens in large companies is it’s just a hard place to build a radically different product architecture,” says Hirschtick. “I wanted to create something new and there were too many decisions by committee and too many compromises.” So he decided to compete with Dassault instead.
Enter Onshape, a now 80-person company whose cloud-based CAD software is largely unique in that it’s accessible via a browser on the desktop, as well as over smartphones and tablets.
It’s also more affordable than most CAD software. Professional users pay $100 per month for unlimited storage and usage. There’s also a free version for people wanting to evaluate public data or a very limited amount of private data, and there’s an enterprise version that the company “prices on request” for customers. They don’t get more CAD features but other bells and whistles that include far more control and richer analytics.
Onshape has been operating in beta up until now, but tens of thousands of people have tried the system and thousands use it actively, says Hirschtick, who declines to say how many paid users it has amassed. (He describes it instead as a “very satisfying portion” of those who’ve tried out the software.)
As for the overall market Onshape is trying to pursue, it’s about $9 billion. If that doesn’t sound ambitious enough by today’s standards, Hirschtick says he expects the market to grow meaningfully in coming years. “We’re optimistic that with a product like ours that no longer locks expensive software in stacks, we can involve many more people in the use of CAD data.”
Peter Levine of Andreessen Horowitz, which has just led an $80 million round in the company, agrees wholeheartedly.
“With every generational shift in computing, the markets get bigger because the tools become easier to use,” says Levine, who has joined Onshape’s board.
“Just as we saw with the transition from mainframe to PC to mobile, in the case of Onshape and CAD, I think we’ll see the creation of a whole class of micro-designers and micro-manufacturers who will be doing a lot more design work because the tools are readily accessible. If $8 or $9 billion is the estimate for the current CAD market — which, let’s be clear, is already huge — then one can expect that to double or triple.”
Onshape has now raised $144 million altogether. Other investors in its newest round include earlier backers New Enterprise Associates, Commonwealth Capital Ventures and North Bridge Venture Partners.