An interview with Austin Scee, GM of the think3 division of Versata

Two days ago, on May 10th, I spoke with Austin Scee, General Manager of Versata’s think3 Division. Austin responded to my email messages and was kind enough to call me from Europe, where he was busy engaging with think3 customers. His latest notice to customers can be read at think3.versata.com and is entitled “Who is Versata?”

Q. Most importantly, do you own the think3 intellectual property (IP)?

A. Yes, we bought it from the US based organization, think3, Inc. We have the source code, the documentation, and the customer database. Regarding the Bologna bankruptcy court action, we have the best lawyers working on this now and we are confident in our ownership.

Q. Who are you and why did you take this job?

This is my second week on the job and I am excited about the team and the people at Versata. I have a 15 year background in software, ½ on the operational side and ½ on the investment side. I have known the Versata executives for some time and felt this was an exciting opportunity. The former GM, Scott Brighton is still with Versata and is working with me.

Q. Where does Versata’s support for think3 software stand now?

A. Since we bought the IP last October we have released four versions aimed at fixing problems. When we acquired the software there were 1000 reported bugs. Since then we have fixed 300. Most of the customer contacts will be through account managers, some of whom will be employees, but most will be outside contractors.

Q. It is my understanding that you have few, if any think3 former employees working for you. How is it possible that you can do this and enhance the product in the future?

A. Versata uses a concept called the devFactory, which uses an open source type development applied to commercial applications. We have more than 1000 of the best developers in the world as part of devFactory. These developers don’t get paid unless they develop software that meets our design specifications. They are all independent individuals or companies that bid on these development projects. We believe that the typical approach to proprietary software is a thing of the past.

Q. Has Versata been successful with these techniques in the past?

A. Very much so. We often buy troubled companies that have great code and use our common customer focused methods to make the companies successful.

Q. Have you ever made an acquisition like that that did not work?

A. Many of our successes have come from rocky starts like this one.

Q. I am skeptical that you can use this technique for IP protected code and get the technical expertise, particularly for development planning and the intricate mathematical techniques to support your proprietary kernel. Can you explain?

A. Until now we have been focused on the most important issues that don’t require deep domain expertise. We feel we have stabilized the code that was left languishing during think3’s slide into bankruptcy. We are looking for a CTO with deep CAD experience to help us with the development planning. Our short term plan aims to stabilize the code, improve the speed, and make it easier to use. Longer term we want to advance the code base.

[Ed note] I found out from Dave Weisberg that Versata acquired Auto-trol last November. A note below from David Ramsey, a former Auto-trol employee, might explain their take on the acquisition.

Q. What has been the customer reaction so far?

A. Our team has met with 300+ customers and one of the needs customers tell us about is integration with ERP systems. We are not acquiring new customers yet, but focusing on existing customers. We are looking to partner with customers that want to stay with think3 software.

Q. What is your strategy about software licenses?

A. I will be more prepared to discuss this at out webinar on May 19. http://think3.rallypointwebinars.com/course/webinar.php?id=146

We are planning for three levels, standard, gold, and platinum where platinum includes managed upgrades and help with creating extensions.

Q. Can you share any metrics about think3 in terms of numbers of customers, licenses, and such?

A. I cannot divulge that type of information.

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David Ramsey note dated Nov 10, 2010:

So this is it, folks

Auto-Trol was bought out by Versata this month. Versata is moving quickly to reshape the company in their own model, which is no employees, all contractors. KONFIG source code is going to be moved to a Versata subsidiary in India, gDev. All development work will be done from there. The future of work here in the US is currently undecided and in doubt. Almost no one here expects to have a job within a few weeks to a few months.

In my discussions with the Versata rep who has been talking to the employees here, he seemed taken aback by the level of customer interaction we do and the amount of services work we do. I reiterated that many large companies work this way, such as SAP, Oracle, and BMC, which is right across town here in Houston. I gave him examples of the extensive workflow customizations we’ve done and that most of our customers not only expect, but demand this level of interaction in order to be satisfied with their purchase. However, Versata’s plans already seem set in stone so I doubt I changed his mind about anything.

Those of you who have already moved on from Auto-Trol to other ventures, know that just about all of us here expect to be joining you soon. What that will do for or to the existing KONFIG customer base, I have no idea, but then again, no one asked me before embarking on this particular voyage.

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VX is back and better — as ZW3D!

VX is now part of a Chinese company called ZWCAD Software Co. Ltd. All of the IP and the company were purchased last year.

Yesterday I had the chance for a 45 minute demo of their new software called ZW3D, 2011 version, available in 4 options: ZW3D for $2500 with 2D and 3D modeling and loads of import capability, ZW3D Professional adds mold and die capability, ZW3D Premium adds machining, and a 5 axis machining option. Prices range from $2500 to $12,000.

Bob Fischer, VP of Marketing, ran the demo and answered my numerous questions about the software and their new strategy. He explained that the former VX 20 man team located in what he called Space Coast, FL, was now buttressed by nearly 400 developers in China. The new offering as a result has been greatly enhanced, making it easier to use, using a feature tree based form of direct modeling, incorporating a workflow based machining method that recognizes and machines features (better than using templates), improvements to the mold and die applications, and the ability to manipulate and machine directly from STL or mesh scans.

Here is an example of direct modeling:

Asked about their differentiators, Fischer cited their ability to directly import a great variety of geometry sources, a built-in training system, an all-in-one package that can go from design to machining, and a single support organization that can handle design to machining questions. ZW3D uses the proprietary kernel developed by VX and since enhanced.

My take is that ZW3D is optimal as a point solution for machine and mold and die shops. The usability appears better but seems mired in the last generation, for the most part requiring icon pick from a large variety of icons, many with drop-downs. The exception is in direct modeling where picking directly on the geometry allows instant modifications.

The beta version is available to test at http://zw3d.zwcad.org/.