In an exclusive interview, SYCODE CEO Deelip Menezes talks about the CAD industry, his growing business creating utilities for CAD software, and his role as an accidental agent provocateur
By Randall S. Newton
Far from the CAD programming enclaves of the Western world is a five-person company in Goa, India with over 200 utilities for engineering software—and one of those five employees is the equivalent of the “Chai Wallah” in Slumdog Millionaire.
SYCODE is the brainchild of Deelip Menezes, who has turned a degree in mechanical engineering and a strong entrepreneurial itch into a successful software company. Successful, but unnoticed, until the day in 2006 when Menezes decided to put his vanity domain name (www.deelip.com) to work and started writing a blog.
At the time Autodesk and the Open Design Alliance were suing and counter-suing, beating each other up over the meaning of “Trusted DWG.” Menezes offered his opinions; the blog started racking up the comments and the hits. Suddenly the CEO of SYCODE was the CAD mouse that roared.
Today Deelip.com is read by both CAD cognoscenti and part-time drafters. His opinions are often repeated on Twitter and linked to on Facebook. In my 25+ years as a CAD journalist, I have never seen anyone become so popular with such a wide range of readers so quickly. His combination of youth, enthusiasm, technical expertise, and business acumen are a breath of fresh air. His willingness to ‘tell it like it is’ is not unique; it is the perspective he brings to his published viewpoint that so many find attractive.
For the last few weeks Menezes and I have been conducting an interview via email, the easiest way for two writers to communicate across 11 ½ time zones. I started by asking about the state of CAD technology.
Unsolved Geometry Problems
Randall S. Newton (RSN): What do you see as the top problems CAD software developers need to solve today? What’s missing? What’s being done poorly?
Deelip Menezes (DM): Geometry creation and modification is still the number one problem that the CAD software industry faces, at least on the MCAD side of things. There is just too much time wasted in this area, time that could be better utilized elsewhere.
Here I am talking about the history based parametric modelling approach that we have been using for the last 25 years. Before you start modeling a part, let alone an assembly, you need to create a strategy for it. You already have a pretty good idea of what your part is going to look like, but you still need to spend an enormous amount of time creating sketches, constraining them and setting up relationships. Then you need to start creating features and figure out their dependencies with respect to each other, set up their parameters, etc. Most of these things really don’t add any value to the model. There are only a few key parameters that really matter in the end. But you still have to go through the drill.
Same thing for geometry modification. You already know what the modified part will look like and faces and edges of the model that need to change are staring at you. But you still need to go and pick apart the feature tree to make the change the right way or give up and use a hack and whack approach by adding a direct edit.
RSN: What’s the answer?
DM: CAD software developers are suggesting that Direct Modeling should solve this problem. But the solutions out there today are not able to do full justice to the fact that we need the geometry to be intelligent enough so that we can drive it externally to create configurations, among other things. I believe we are yet to see a robust solution to this problem. I wouldn’t say that the solutions out there are done poorly. This is more like an evolution of technology. We are still transitioning. The developers are making improvements in every new release and that is a good thing.
I am pretty sure of one thing though. We are definitely not going to hand our kids the history-based approach to parametric modeling. That paradigm has served its time. It simply must go and it will. I have full confidence that the CAD software developers will crack this one.
RSN: Do your issues with the state of CAD technology go beyond parametrics and history?
DM: The geniuses working at the companies developing modeling kernels have their plates full with unsolved problems. But that is not what I am referring to. I am talking about the problem that history-based parametric modelers are trying to solve. They want to keep the history tree and yet be free from it. Autodesk is trying to achieve the next-to-impossible with Fusion. I can’t tell you what Siemens has done with Solid Edge ST3. SolidWorks is probably waiting for Dassault to solve that problem and then simply move lock, stock and barrel to the CATIA platform. Some believe PTC’s Project Lightning may be a solution or a step in that direction. On the other side, history-free direct modelers are trying to make their software more intelligent by doing just about everything other than adding a history tree where features depend on each other for their existence. Users want the best of both worlds and we are not there yet. Although we seem to be inching towards it.
Becoming a CEO Blogger
RSN: You have become an influential blogger in the CAD industry. When you started blogging did you ever think your role as a blogger would open doors to you that your role as a CEO did not?
DM: Frankly, my blog is a hobby that’s gone all wrong. I started blogging in 2006 as a hobby because I didn’t know what else to do with my domain name deelip.com. I started commenting on the Autodesk-ODA lawsuit regarding TrustedDWG. To my surprise, I found that people were actually reading what I was writing and taking the trouble to leave comments as well. One thing led to another and I found myself expressing my views on just about any and everything in the CAD software industry.
I actually started taking time out of my work and started spending it on my blog. And that began worrying me. I stopped worrying when I got invited to COFES 2008 as blogger and not as Founder and CEO of SYCODE. That’s when it hit me that my blog can take me places that the CEO of a tiny software company situated on the wrong side of the planet can never even dream of going.
RSN: Why do you think your commentary resonates with others in the design and engineering community?
DM: I think people like to hear both sides of the story. If both the sides come from the same source, so much the better. Some writers and publications, especially ad supported ones, tend to focus on the positive aspects of a company or its products. And frankly, one should not really expect them to do any different. Then there are people who sit on the other extreme. These people are extremely critical of just about everything that happens around them and look for negative aspects to write about. Obviously, such writings can be extremely useful at times. But if overdone, they degrade in their overall value. I get the feeling that these people equate being negative to being independent.
As far as I am concerned, if one fine morning I learn something about a product or company that I like, I write about it. That same evening, if I learn something else about the product or company that I don’t like, I write about it. Basically, I simply give the devil his due. Which, quite frankly, is not a very difficult thing to do when you are not dependent on ad revenue to stay afloat and don’t feel the need to constantly remind the world that you are independent.
Recently, one reader sent me an email containing what I consider to be my greatest compliment. He wrote, “I’m never quite sure in advance what you are going to say about something.” I guess that pretty much sums up why my commentary may resonate with others in the community.
RSN: Do you consider yourself a journalist?
DM: Judging by the number of press releases I receive I think I should consider myself as a journalist. Some wise guy defined “journalist” on Wikipedia as someone who “collects and disseminates information about current events, people, trends, and issues.” If that is indeed the true definition of a journalist then yes, I believe I have become one. And I guess that makes my blog my publication.
However, I believe journalists have some kind of a code of conduct and adhere to certain ethical guidelines. Frankly, I don’t bother myself with that kind of stuff. I write what comes to my head and in the form and color that it is currently residing. If I am angry or disturbed about something I will use words that accurately describe exactly how pissed I am. Same goes for the other extreme as well. I guess that does not go down well with the conventional journalism and I am quite happy to deviate.
RSN: How does your blog contribute to SYCODE’s marketing efforts?
DM: I guess you can say that it is part of our marketing. I have never spent a cent on advertising about my company or its products using the normal avenues like Google Ads, web banners, etc. And I don’t feel the need to because the last time I checked my blog was sending more traffic to sycode.com than even Yahoo! and Bing put together. Of course, Google is still number one. But the gap is decreasing every day. So my blog is like have a custom search engine that drives traffic to my company web site. Of course, when I started blogging, I never intended it to be this way.
But now I’m faced with another problem. In my company, I am more useful as a programmer than in marketing. But as it turns out, my blog is something I need to do myself and cannot outsource it to someone else. So it’s a constant struggle for me to manage my time doing both things.
Running the Business
RSN: You seem to run SYCODE as a pretty tight ship. You have over 200 products for sale, yet you have only five employees. What makes it possible to have so many products and such a tight team?
DM: Until recently, SYCODE had just one CAD programmer—me. I have now hired another CAD programmer to help me and am slowly trying to hand over control. I have a web developer, a web designer, an office manager, and my driver who doubles up as an office boy among many other things. All together we design, develop, test, document, market, sell and support 230 products as well as our in-house developed ERP system.
How? Structure and planning. I have structured and planned the intellectual property and business processes of my company in such a way that interaction with customers is kept at the bare minimum. The fact that most of our products are pretty straight forward helps a lot as well. In most cases, the only interaction that we have with a customer is when we send him an email containing his key. We are in the process of automating even that.
Before I hire someone I first see if my company’s intellectual property and businesses process can be adjusted so as to not require an extra person. Of course, I would like to grow. But I am more interested in growing in terms of customers, products and markets, not in terms of employees. I believe smaller companies can be far more agile than larger ones. While a larger size may open up opportunities, it also can slow you down. A glowing example is Michael Gibson and his wonderful CAD system called Moment Of Inspiration. That one man army is giving armies of developers a run for their money. And he’s just got started.
Unlike manufacturing, in the case of technology, large size is not necessarily a good thing.
RSN: I know you are a private company, and you do not wish to disclose your revenue or profits. What are some basic metrics you will share?
DM: Here’s a few:
- Number of products: 230
- Best-selling products: AutoCAD and SolidWorks plug-ins
- Average time between updates for a product: Products are rebuilt and/or updated every time a new service pack of the host CAD system is released. New functionality is added at the same time
- Number of employees and/or contractors: 5
- Geographic breakdown of sales by regions: Americas = 50%, Europe = 30%, Rest 20% is scattered all over the place
RSN: What does SYCODE mean? How did you come up with it as the company name?
DM: I wanted a name that would signify what we do, that is, write software. Hence “code.” The “sy” is just a modifier to make it a coined word so that I could trademark it and be able to register all the possible domain name extensions. Although I knew at that time that we would be developing CAD software, I made it a point not to add a reference to CAD. Even my company slogan “software made simple” does not say anything about CAD. This is because I like to leave my options open. Who knows what the future holds for me and my company?
Deelip the Author
RSN: In 2009 you wrote a book called “OpenCAD: A Step-by-Step Guide to Developing a Professional CAD Application.” What has that book accomplished for you?
DM: Actually, this question reminds me that I need to update my OpenCAD book for Teigha 3.3. The book is hopelessly outdated since it explains how to use the DWGdirect version 2.6. The Open Design Alliance has renamed DWGdirect to Teigha and in the bargain changed the way programmers need to use the SDK as well. Nevertheless, I still get orders for the book.
Regarding what the book accomplished, I set out to write the book to show the world that the ODA offered much more than DWG read/write libraries. In fact, the ODA itself was a bit stuck on DWG read/write. Thankfully that has now changed.
Life in Goa
RSN: You live in Goa, which Wikipedia says is the richest and “most livable” section of India. Give me a sense of life there for you.
DM: My office building sits on National Highway 17 that runs along the west coast of India. The view from my house is a lot better than that of my office. It’s a view of a valley aptly called “Green Valley.”
Goa is a famous international tourist destination. Actually, some people call Goa the poor man’s Hawaii and I tend to agree with them. I have been to Hawaii a couple of times and I can tell you that the beaches in Goa are far better than those in Hawaii.
But I’d like to end the comparison there. Because everything else in Hawaii is a thousand times better. However, we do share almost the same climate and weather, just that we get heavy rains during the Monsoon season which makes the whole place one very big wet and beautiful mess.