What do I want from Onshape and future CAD & PLM “unicorns”?

What do I want from Onshape and future CAD & PLM “unicorns”?


Onshape’s $80M additional investment led by Andreessen Horowitz was clearly one of the big news last week. I shared some of my immediate thoughts here. Onshape valuation wasn’t shared. But according to many analysts and publications it stands between $750M-$1B. Which created the first “Unicorn” in engineering and manufacturing software domain.

You might be unfamiliar with the term “Unicorn”. The term Unicorn was coined by Aileen Lee of Cowboy Ventures back in 2013. Read more here.

They’re called “unicorns”—companies that have soared to a $1 billion valuation or higher, based on fundraising. The billion-dollar tech startup was once the stuff of myth, but now they seem to be everywhere, backed by a bull market and a new generation of disruptive technology.

You can find an updated information about current Unicorns can be found here – The Unicorn List or Unicorn Leaderboard.

Among many articles about Unicorns, the following one is my favorite – We’ve Got This Whole Unicorn Thing All Wrong! The main point from the article is that “valuation” is probably the least important thing about Unicorns. Here is my favorite passage:

Google Maps was a unicorn. The original multi-touch iPhone (even before the App Store) was a unicorn. Heck, the World Wide Web was a Unicorn, even though it didn’t make Tim Berners-Lee a billionaire. I still remember showing someone the World Wide Web in 1993, clicking on a link and saying “That picture just came from the University of Hawaii.” People didn’t believe it, thought we were sh*tting them. Siri, Google Now, and Cortana are unicorns. Uber and Lyft are unicorns.

These things are unicorns not because of their valuation, but because they are the kinds of apps that make us say WTF?! So what makes a real unicorn of this amazing kind? (1) It seems unbelievable at first. (2) It changes the way the world works (3) It has enormous economic impact that is not all captured by the entrepreneurs and venture capitalists who birthed it.

So, do you think CAD / PLM companies in the past made something that can make you feel about it like “unicorns”? Here are few examples to consider. To make drawing on PC (AutoCAD) changed the way many people did drawings. To make parametric 3D model changed the way engineers are designing things (Pro-Engineer). To make 3D design tool on Windows was a big thing too (SolidWorks). Will Onshape change the way we do design by merging 3D design work and ubiquitous web browser. Do you think people will say “WTF?!” when they will load 3D model for every browser in the world. Would it be different from existing applications? These are questions we want to ask and if the answer is yes, than of course Onshape is the next CAD Unicorn.

It is hard to me to bring an example of PLM “unicorn” tool. In my view, all PLM tools we’ve seen in in the past were just good to survive and force companies to buy them. They are not unique among many enterprise software tools.  The objective  of PLM tools was to help engineers and other people in organization to control the information and force an “order” of thing.

At the same time, I certainly want to see some of today’s characteristics of modern Unicorn in the future CAD / PLM software. Here is my dream list:

(1) Intelligence or AI. I want the tool to be smarter than I by analyzing information that I cannot analyze because of my human nature. The level of intelligence the will make me to say – WTF?!

(2) Data ubiquity. It must be easy. Period. Data control is an important function in CAD / PLM systems today. We made it complex. Interoperability and data sharing is complicated. The implementation of a PLM system is one big hassle starting from the way you capture information in the organization down to the level you can use this information.

(3) Predictive decision support. I want systems to help engineers to make decisions in a natural way.  I want system to help me to decide about future supplier based on past records and engineering and manufacturing decisions. I want recommendation how to make design optimal. I want system to help me to find a defect in the design that cost a fortune in maintenance.

What is my conclusion? Engineers are innovators by nature. But when it comes to engineering software such as CAD, PLM, engineers is one of the most conservative group of people to sell new software. I wish future developers of CAD and PLM software will take a look on Unicorns and think how to re-imagine things, so engineers will be able to say WTF?! and jump in to use it. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

Image credit: Domenichino [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons


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