Autodesk Visit – Meeting with Carl Bass

My travels have taken me to San Francisco. I am here to visit Autodesk. Jim Quanci, Director of the Autodesk Developer Network, insisted that I stay with him and not in a hotel. Jim was also my tour guide today. We visited the Golden Gate bridge and after the Autodesk visit we went to watch Avatar in IMAX 3D. Awesome!!.

My visit to Autodesk was designed mainly to meet CEO Carl Bass and a few of Autodesk’s top executives. As you will read below, my meeting with Carl was pretty interesting. We spoke on a wide range of topics. This is a part of our conversation:

Deelip: What do you make of SolidWorks reportedly working on using CATIA V6 technology?
Carl: It makes sense. It think its time the both companies began working with each other.

Deelip: How do you intend to take your CAD products to the cloud?
Carl: There are quite a few ways to put CAD in the cloud. I believe that CAD vendors are finally going to use a hybrid model. I mean part of the solution will be on the cloud while the rest will be on the user’s computer.

Deelip: So do you mean the user will need to install a light weight CAD application?
Carl: Something like that. Moreover, software will also be delivered in a far more efficient manner.

Deelip: I guess you mean similar to how the browser automatically downloads the Flash player to view a flash animation.
Carl: More or less. Here is the thing. Devices like laptops, mobiles, tablets, etc. have a great deal of computing power. So simply using these devices to run a browser may not be the best way to go about doing this. Some computation will happen in the cloud while the rest will happen on the device.

Deelip: Dassault Systemes CEO Bernard Charles announced that his company would be investing in their own clouds apart from using clouds by other service providers. Does Autodesk intend to do the same?
Carl: Good for them. We are a software company and do not want to get into managing hardware. I doubt Dassault Systemes specializes in that line of work. We certainly do not and are perfectly happy with our providers.

Deelip: Do you believe Inventor has the capacity to grow from a mid-range MCAD system to something more.
Carl: Inventor is mid-range in terms of price. But that may not be true in terms of functionality. We offer a great deal of  advanced features. We regularly convert users of CATIA, NX and Pro/ENGINEER to Inventor. Personally, I believe that it is hard to defend high prices for a long period of time. I think solutions like CATIA do not provide enough value.

Deelip: Speaking about software and high prices let me turn your argument on its head. Do you think AutoCAD customers are getting enough value from AutoCAD. I mean there are clones existing at one-tenth of the price. So I am curious to know how you can explain that?
Carl: Pricewise I guess you can compare the clones more to AutoCAD LT and not AutoCAD.

Deelip: I am not sure about that. Two of the major features missing in AutoCAD LT is customization and solid modeling, both of which are available in the clones. Moreover, unlike the situation you just described involving Inventor and CATIA, the clones actually have exactly the same commands as AutoCAD. However, they do have some stability issues. So I am wondering whether you believe it makes sense for an AutoCAD user to pay ten times more for better stability.
Carl: Yes, AutoCAD is a completely different product when it comes to stability and is definitely worth the extra money.

Deelip: There is a view that you have embarked on a “Shut down the ODA” campaign. Do you have anything to say about that?
Carl: I believe that file formats should be open and shared. But that applies to everyone, not only Autodesk. A long time ago I offered to join the ODA and submit our DWG libraries if other members did the same. I suggested that the ODA could be a clearing house for these libraries. But nobody else seemed to be interested in the idea. We are the best at reading and writing our native file formats and the others are the best in doing the same with theirs. So it only makes sense that we share our libraries with each other. As it turns out, we are doing that with Bentley, PTC and Siemens PLM. It would have been nice to do it as part of the ODA. But since the ODA has decided to reverse engineer only our proprietary file format, they end up helping our competitors and we consider them no different than them. To me, it really does not matter whether the ODA exists or not.

Deelip: Recently there was an incident where one of your customers from Australia called Paul Waddington was not allowed to renew his Inventor subscription, presumably because he had some special terms and conditions on his Purchase Order. I think he has written to you about this.
Carl: (smiles) I get all kinds of letters and emails from all kinds of people. Some time ago I got a letter from someone who claimed that he owned Autodesk and I had not paid him a large amount of royalty. Later I received reminders to pay up. I even got copies of police reports filed by that person and some other weird stuff, complete with letter heads and all. Some time later, I got a letter stating that if I do not pay the money action would be taken. Finally, I received a letter saying that I was fired.

(I burst out laughing. It’s a good thing I wasn’t drinking coffee or something, else it would have spat it out and Carl was sitting bang in front of me)

Carl: No kidding. I can show you the letters if you want. OK, here is another one. One day I got an email from this person claiming to be an Executive Trainer, someone who apparently “trains” top level business executives. He was willing to drive down to my office and give me a 45 minute training session, for which I would need to pay him $150,000

Deelip: What!? Are you serious?
Carl: Yeah. My point here is that people in my position get all kinds of crazy stuff. These things go into something I call the “Looney Bin”. Normally I reply to emails myself or forward them to appropriate people and let them handle it. But this kind of stuff can only go into the Looney Bin.

We spoke about a lot of other stuff, some of which I cannot write about. But judging from what I have written above, I think you can get a pretty good idea.

Click image for larger view