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Scripting the Future—Vectorworks CEO Talks Marionette, Design Summit and Future Direction

In this interview Vectorworks Inc. CEO Sean Flaherty discusses his software company’s latest developments—including a new “brand name”, an exciting annual conference in the US and the latest Vectorworks release’s signature feature

Sean Flaherty, CEO of newly rebranded Vectorworks Inc., sounds invigorated in our latest phone call. And he has many reasons to be so. A week before his company formally announces its latest release of flagship product Vectorworks 2016 software, he is game to talk beyond the product’s new features to items further afield—and in particular—the Vectorworks brand’s growing presence as the “designer’s choice” among influential global practitioners spanning multiple markets.

How a Design Summit Validates

Earlier in the year the global CAD and BIM software company hosted the Vectorworks Design Summit conference in downtown Philadelphia that turned out to be a big hit. “I think we re-invigorated ourselves to do live events again,” Flaherty stated enthusiastically, “and it’s really good because there is a type of interaction you get with your customers that you just don’t get any other way then from an event like this.”

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Like an Olympic ice skater blending double-salchows and triple-toe-loops with artistry, the Vectorworks folks scored big points with attendees with a deft mixture of engaging design keynotes, for-credit lectures, software training and the usual combination of good food, atmosphere and evening parties.

“We also got to reaffirm our commitment as a design oriented company…” Flaherty noted. “The keynote and capstone talks were really about the issues that we are facing as designers around the world, and not really about Vectorworks.” With architecture and landscape architecture notables such as Leo Van Broeck of BOGDAN & VAN BROECK and Adrian McGregor of McGregor Coxall, the conference started and ended with thought-provoking presentations that attendees said invigorated their sense of purpose in practice.

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And importantly for the market in the United States, these talks by global leaders in design sent waves of confidence around the Vectorworks brand, as attendees were able to take stock of innovation taking place on the CAD platform they have chosen to use.

Flaherty notes that the Design Summit strategy was not without some risk. “We were moving away from the traditional CAD/BIM centric marketing which is very technology heavy and standards heavy. We were able to talk about our bigger goals as a company, and say…’look at us not just as a competitor product but look at the philosophy we have and the types of features we are driving at long term.’ ”

The Sneak Peak: What Marionette Says

Flaherty noted that a signature feature and compelling reason to attend the Design Summit was that attendees were able to get a sneak peak at upcoming features in Vectorworks 2016 and beyond. This vision-forward view generated much anticipation, especially after seeing the Marionette graphical scripting environment.

“There were definitely some oohh’s and aahh’s when we unveiled Marionette,” Flaherty said, “and we saw it as more of a scripting tool initially but since its introduction we are realizing it is much broader than that.”

02 - Marionette has wired nodes and a python backend direct editing environment, all within Vectorworks 2016.

01 – Marionette has wired nodes and a python backend direct editing environment, all within Vectorworks 2016.

The signature design-centric feature of Vectorworks 2016 is its powerful visual scripting environment that will enable Vectorworks 2016 to challenge what architects do with Rhino and Grasshopper. Complex modeling and form making involving visual scripting and data streams is a massive movement among the avant garde in architecture. “It’s amazing the number of firms out there that have a graphical scripting person now,” Flaherty noted. “What I find interesting is that it is easier to go from one graphical scripting environment to another than it is to go from say, C++ to Python.”

Marionette is unique because it’s a scripting-driven modeling environment directly embedded inside a BIM program. “It’s incredible how many different tools some companies utilize in their workflows. What we are saying with Marionette is, ‘here is an entire swath of that workflow and you can do it in a single product.’ Hopefully for us that’s a compelling argument.”

There are more compelling arguments contained in the Vectorworks 2016 update. The company is introducing its first energy modeling engine to help architects design greener structures, plus improvements to team workflow setups, a long-requested capability important for the company, especially at the larger firm level. Overall, there are over 100 new and updated features coming.

New Brand, Stronger Story

Flaherty tells me that as the company continues to crystalize its ‘design-oriented’ marketing message—now operating at the conference level—and with the inclusion of cutting edge tools to entice the architectural community (visual scripting is just the beginning…), the company wishes to clarify its brand further.

As of this new Vectorworks 2016 release, Nemetschek Vectorworks, Inc., will now be just Vectorworks, Inc. The goal of this name change has several parts but it’s a chance to further the design-centric messaging.

“By dropping the Nemetschek in our name we are reinforcing that the name Nemetschek now means the Group.” Flaherty said. The Nemetschek Group, headquartered in Munich, Germany, actually rebranded itself last December in order to reinforce what the company actually is—a strategic holding company of strong independent brands.

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Asking Flaherty how the Nemetschek Group brand now represents itself globally…he stated that the Nemetschek brand is for the capital markets. “What we want is that the go-to-market is through the brand companies…we want the customer-facing side to come through the independent brand companies.

Vectorworks, Inc. as a brand will help give the company its true independence while the modifier, “A Nemetschek Company”—which will be standard across all brand companies large and small—will add weight to companies as they enter new global markets. “The Nemetschek Company association shows the market that a group company—especially if it is new or small—is part of a larger corporation that has the resources to make sure that the brand will be there in the future,” he added.

Forward Momentum & Global Picture

The Design Summit may have re-invigorated Flaherty and his teams about doing more events but it comes against a background of very sound financial growth for the Nemetschek Group itself. When I asked him about the possibility of specific acquisitions that could further bolster the Vectorworks platform he said “absolutely” as that is just one of three types of acquisition strategies the Group has.

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“Nemetschek supports the possibility of M&A targets for specific product lines like Vectorworks,” he said. “When Nemetschek bought Bluebeam, that was a strategic target for the Nemetschek Group, and we also have brand-level acquisitions…and there were actually several of those last year at other brands.”

Flaherty noted that either of those two types can be inside or outside the core group’s industry focus, which is AEC. Maxon, the makers of media and entertainment software leader Cinema 4D, was the last acquisition outside the group’s focus.

“I’m on the Nemetschek Group’s M&A team, and its pretty active,” he added. “Nemetschek’s aim is to buy a couple of companies every year, so we are going to continue that push. We have three categories of acquisition: strategic, brand-level and incubation. Line extensions and distributors are all under that second category. Incubation is a group we are just setting up now.”

Clarified new branding, Vectorworks 2016 with Marionette, and a hit conference that the company will repeat on April 25-27, 2016 in Chicago, all leave Flaherty optimistic about what lies ahead for Vectorworks, Inc., and its larger family of brand technology companies.