The Story of Bricsys

Erik de Keyser, currently the CEO of Bricsys, is an architect by profession and got involved in 3D in the late 80’s as part of his own practice. He started developing an architectural package with two developers, one of which is still with him and heads the Bricscad platform development effort. The software ran on something called AES (I am too young to know what that was) which ran on IBM machines. Erik’s company was called Bricsnet and IBM eventually bought a stake in his company. At that time BRICS stood for Building Related Interactive Computer System. Today, the “Building” in BRICS has been replaced by “Business”.

Anyways, in 1992 IBM eventually dumped AES which left Bricsnet in the lurch. Erik had to make a decision between continuing developing his architectural software for AutoCAD or Microstation. He went for Microstation because it ran on Windows, Unix as well as the Mac, and at that time nobody guessed that Windows would be what it is today. Erik’s team developed their Architectural software for Microstation for two years and in 1994 they released their first version. It was called Bricswork. Bentley was pretty interested in Bricswork because it needed vertical applications to counter those of AutoCAD.

As it turned out, Bentley bought into Bricsnet and also bought the distribution rights for Bricswork. Bentley also ended up co-owning the Intellectual Property of Bricswork. They changed the name of the Bricswork to Triforma. Then something happenned which Erik does not want me to write about. To make a long story short, Erik sold everything to Bentley and restarted development of his architectural software on AutoCAD and IntelliCAD. He called the product Architecturals. During the dot com boom, Erik took his company to the stock market, got listed on the European Nasdaq and used the money from the IPO to make a few acquisitions. In March 2000 the stock market tanked and business rapidly started moving downward. Then 9/11 happened and some huge banks which relied on Bricsnet for their facilities management software stopped renewing their contracts. Things started to deteriorate quite rapidly.

As the Founder and CEO, Erik offered to resign. The board could not accept his resignation for three months since they could not find a replacement. Eventually in January 2002 Erik resigned from Bricsnet, but he never cashed out. He looked for investors and proposed to buy back the CAD software part of the business from Bricsnet, which by that time had diversified into other areas of software.

On his 50th Birthday, Erik started a company with six people and called it Bricsys. As time progressed, he hired back the CAD programmers from Bricsnet, which was fine the Bricsnet because they had stopped developing CAD software anyways. Bricsys stopped developing for AutoCAD since they did not want to be at the mercy of a single company – once bitten, twice shy. So they joined the ITC and started offering an IntelliCAD based solution called Bricscad along with their architectural vertical called Architecturals. For the first 3 years they operated at break even, but things started looking upwards from there on. Today Bricsys has substantial cash in the bank which Erik considers as a huge advantage in these troubled times. “We do not need to rely on the banks to survive and that is very relieving“, he tells me.

Today, Bricsys has 50 employees some of which have a stake in the company. Erik himself holds 33% stake which could increase to 40% if he exercised his options. I asked Erik what was the long term goal of Bricsys. He said, “I believe that we are at a point where can take a substantial share in the DWG market. And we are ambitious to do exactly that. Thereafter we will add technologies to Bricscad that offer our customers much more than what AutoCAD offers. We will not blindly follow Autodesk. We will be compatible for sure, but we will decide our own destiny.

I asked him how he intended to take on the huge Autodesk Marketing giant. Erik replied, “We do not have 3 million to spend on marketing. We believe in power of e-marketing. We have not yet gone all guns blazing, because we believe that our product was not yet ready. But now we believe it is.

This needs some explanation. As many of you may have noticed, Bricscad has looked and worked pretty much the same for the past year or so. The reason for that is that Bricsys has been working hard to remove the old IntelliCAD 6 code that has been part of Bricscad all this time. So almost all the changes have been internal and quite invisible to the end user. I am now given to understand that the ITC code is very close to being completely gone.

Now we can concentrate in adding some real features“, Luc de Batseiler, the CTO of Bricsys, tell me, heaving a sigh of relief. “We have been so consumed with the rewrite of our platform that we neglected just about everything else“, he continues.

We are at a critical point“, Erik tells me, the excitement clearly showing in his eyes. “There are interesting times ahead for Bricsys.” Now that they are finally free (almost) from the ITC shackles, I tend to agree. Technically, Bricsys is still a member of the ITC, but I guess it is only a matter of time when they break free and take control of their own destiny.