The meeting hall in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico is concert-dark and
filled with several hundred college students. “You are the luckiest kids in the world,”
this man in t-shirt and jeans tells the crowd, which roars in
appreciation. “You are in the right place at the right time.” Behind him
on a large screen appears a PowerPoint screen showing his personal
contact information, including his email and cell phone number. Almost
everyone rushes to jot it all down, afraid this precious information
will all too quickly disappear.
The man is not a rock star trying to make contact with groupies, or
an evangelist trying to win souls for Jesus. He is Bob McNeel, CEO of
Robert McNeel and Associates. His company makes Rhino, the freeform 3D
design software with a rapidly growing global cult-like following.
Bob McNeel is not your typical CAD industry CEO; Robert McNeel and
Associates is not your typical CAD company. The event at which Bob
McNeel shared his personal contact information (DIMe v1.0) was not a
sales event or even a company-sponsored users’ conference. It was an
event organized by a group of industrial design students and
There will be eight events like this across the globe in 2007. Robert
McNeel and Associates spends almost nothing on marketing, preferring to
pour all its resources into product development and customer support. So
its users band together and invite the company to conferences with a
grassroots enthusiasm rarely seen in the commercial software industry.
The founding vision for a new company establishes a specific vector
and a trajectory. That vector becomes the path which defines not only
the initial mission but also sets limits on the company’s future; it is
very hard for a company to stray from its initial launch trajectory.
“Robert McNeel and Associates” is an unusual name for a
software company because it was founded in 1980 as an accounting firm. McNeel and Associates may have started selling software, but the firm
stayed on its launch vector of professional services. The ethic of
service to clients was already the trajectory; the only difference was
that selling software was more profitable than accounting. As the years
went by, the company responded to client requests and eventually
developed more than 20 add-on products for AutoCAD. One by one Autodesk
created competitive products or added equivalent functionality to
AutoCAD, forcing McNeel to stay light-footed and continually respond to
client needs with new software. Profits from these early products funded
later development that led to Rhino.
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