About this Episode:
In this special Campfire Series episode, Brad Schell joins the podcast to tell us the story of SketchUp.
We hear about his experiences that led to creation of SketchUp, deep insights into building the @Last company culture and how it ultimately contributed to the product's success, his leadership philosophy and style, what he looked for when hiring, how they got funding, what they did differently than other CAD and 3d modeling packages available at the time, how they created a product that to this day—24 years later—continues to resonate so deeply with the hearts and minds of its users, how it got its name, and so much more.
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144: Campfire Series - ‘The SketchUp Story’, with Brad Schell
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Welcome to the TRXL podcast. I'm Evan Troxel. This is the podcast where I have conversations with guests from the architectural community and beyond to talk about the co-evolution of architecture and technology.
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Okay, so this is the first episode of what I'm calling the Campfire Series.
My goal with episodes like the one you're about to hear are to go back, way back, and hear the stories from those who came before in the AEC tech space. You'll find valuable lessons for founders and fun stories for users and fans.
In this episode, I am joined by Brad Schell. Brad is the co-founder of @Last software who originally created SketchUp.
In this episode, we hear about his experiences that led to the creation of SketchUp, deep insights into building the @Last company culture and how it ultimately contributed to the product's success, his leadership philosophy and style, what he looked for when hiring, how they got [00:04:00] funding, what they did differently than the other CAD and 3d modeling packages available at the time, how they created a product that to this day, 24 years later, continues to resonate so deeply with the hearts and minds of its users, how it got its name, and so much more.
So take a break from the hustle and bustle of bleeding edge AEC tech, grab your favorite beverage, find a comfortable seat around the campfire, relax and settle in, and enjoy listening to Brad Schell as he tells the SketchUp story.
Evan Troxel: Brad, welcome to the podcast. It's definitely great to have you here. I'm really excited about our conversation today.
Brad Schell: Yeah. Thank you, Evan. I'm, I'm, I'm honored that you want to hear the story. That's fun.
Evan Troxel: Yeah. So this is the inaugural episode of what I'm kind [00:05:00] of calling campfire stories on the TRXL podcast. And I want to go back and interview. People like yourself who were there in quotes more towards the beginning of AEC tech. And so you are one of the co founders of SketchUp and @Last Software, right?
And I think what I read was that @Last and SketchUp kind of formed around 1999, 2000. But I would love it if, if you could, before we get into the whole SketchUp story, I, you told me that you're not really a computer guy. And I would love to know kind of how in the world this all happened, because I'm sure that there's a really interesting story there.
Brad Schell: Well, it is true. Um, I'm not really a tech guy at all, but you know, for me, the thing that is, that has sort of, uh, motivated me to start companies is just a classic issue of there's a [00:06:00] problem out there that I see. And it's like, huh, I wonder why somebody's not doing that. And that was really the motivation behind SketchUp.
Um, to back up a little bit, I actually was a structural engineer. Went to school in Boulder and studied engineering. And, let's see, I think I graduated in 82, showing my age. And, uh, the economy was really bad, so I, I ended up getting a job on a framing crew. And, uh, when I actually did start working in the industry, if you will, My first, one of my first jobs was working for, um, a brilliant guy who, uh, did a lot of precast work.
All of his work was precast. And, uh, you know, a precast building is essentially like a giant three dimensional jigsaw puzzle. And, you know, essentially you have to create very accurate, uh, you know, construction drawings, elevations, plans, that sort of thing. But also very [00:07:00] accurate, what we call, piece drawings.
Uh, that You know, describe the individual pieces that are, that are cast in a plant and then hauled out to a job site and put together and, you know, it's pretty intricate. I mean, everything has to work, not only the aesthetics, you know, with reveals and medallions and all that other stuff that you see on the outside, but also how those pieces connect and interact to the frame of the building, which sometimes is also precast, right?
So, like I said, I work for this brilliant, crazy, fun guy, Gary, and, uh, He was an early adopter of 3D, um, and sort of inspired me in terms of what you could do with 3D. And that became the motivation to, to try and automate some of the processes that are involved in detailing a precast building. And really, really, in many ways, what we did is, [00:08:00] well, a backup.
So, two good friends of mine, Claire Campbell and Dave Plunkett, they were graphics programmers. And I pitched this idea to them about starting this company and they thought I was nuts and, and of course they told me later, they, they proposed a challenge to me, which was if you can go out and raise money in the industry, it'll prove that the industry wants it.
And we'll have the money, so we'll do it. And they thought it would never happen, and I end up talking to a really large precast company in Canada. Wonderful, wonderful, um, sort of chief engineer there. And he, he was, when I gave him a demo about how this would work, he was in. He was like, yep, we'll, we'll throw some money at it, see what you guys can do. And so we, we built this system. That, um, essentially what you did, I mean, it was, okay, for those of you that are, you know, super techies, you're going to roll your eyes, but essentially we were doing some really early BIM. [00:09:00] And what we did is, the basic concept was you model the building in 3D, and you model all the parts in 3D. You could kind of mimic what was happening in the real world. You make, you sort of make all the parts. Put them together, visually check it, which was a crazy concept. And then we wrote software that, um, enabled you to make kind of wide scale changes to that model. You know, there's, you didn't have to go in and edit every single piece.
And then what we did, which was really amazing is we, we, we made a system whereby. You could set up a title block and put all the, you know, describe the different views you wanted, the materials you wanted listed, and so forth. And it would generate all the piece drawings automatically. And it was, it was so much like science fiction at the time.
I mean, it was crazy. Um, and what happened was, where this gets more relevant to this story, is I could go in and sell a company on this thing. You go into management and show them this thing and they would just be [00:10:00] completely blown away. Because they know. They know what the problems are. They know what the opportunity for error is.
I mean, really the only thing that makes this work, um, prior to CAD and 3D, specifically 3D is just, you know, essentially all this is being sort of, if you will, figured out in somebody's head, a really talented draftsman or detailer is, is the person that's making all these connections. So if something changes, for instance, again, back, let's call it in the, uh, construction documents that has to propagate through all the piece drawings and so forth.
So really. Actually challenging problem. So this system automated all of that. So if you made a change in the model, all the drawings were updated, all the materialists were updated, and it was 100 percent accurate, right? So we build a system around that. And, and like I said, we could sell it to management.
I mean, they just, just completely blown away by it, right? Cause they understood the, the time savings and the accuracy that was [00:11:00] sort of just inherent in the system. And we sold a seat for 20, 000. And, and the problem was, the challenge was, it got to the point where, for ethical reasons, I sometimes wouldn't even sell them the software, because What it really demanded is a, is a very competent 3d user.
And they had a tendency to take a draftsman. They'd been on the boards for 30 years and say, well, he's our best draftsman, but that wasn't necessarily the best user. So if you had a competent 3d user, then, then they could make this thing dance. And it was really quite phenomenal. But the bottom line is we were easily 20, 30 years ahead of, of, of the. of the curve of the market. It was just, it was too ahead of, ahead of its time. And, but what was fun about it is we made some neat technology and we were, we were doing this on the AutoCAD platform. AutoCAD had come out, uh, guys, don't hold me to this. I think it was AutoCAD 10 or something, and they had an [00:12:00] API for it.
And, and we wrote all this on top of AutoCAD. And so we were a registered developer and we made some pretty neat technology, some neat stuff. And the crew at Autodesk thought we were pretty innovative and they, they bought us, which for the three of us was like, you know, we felt like we had just won the lottery because, you know, here are these three yahoos out in Boulder doing our thing.
And, you know, and the mother, the mothership wanted us, right. And, uh, of course we were also poor that. We didn't get a lot of money for it, but we felt like we were the richest people on the planet after the transaction. But, uh, the big, huge takeaway from that, and the reason I'm telling this story, is, you know, I, I was, uh, being a structural engineer, I had a lot of math, and physics, and all that stuff, and, so I understood, I understood a lot of the language of, if you will, of, like, these early CAD systems.
You know, right hand rules, and offsets, and all the things that we used to have to do. You [00:13:00] know, you draw a line, you didn't just, Sweep a line out, you went, you know, from 0, 0, 0, you know, zero comma, zero comma, zero to 10, comma, you know what I mean? And, and, and, and I started thinking, you know what, um, maybe the problem, and, and I always thought this software was fairly easy.
I mean, I understood the concepts, but it really, really hit, hit on me that, you know what, maybe the software is the problem here because what, what broke my heart? Is in a typical, uh, design firm, for instance, you know, you might have a hundred people in that design firm. And I think the rule of thumb was maybe 2 percent of that firm, literally a couple people in the back room were competent 3D, you know, whether that was Max or something else, right?
And it just, to me, it just seemed criminal because 3D is the ultimate way to express your ideas, to share those ideas, to work out, even as a designer, to work out. All those things that make a design beautiful. And [00:14:00] so I started thinking about this and, you know, the thing I always found fascinating is how you architects can have a 3d vision in your head and you can, you can put it on 2d paper.
And that is insanely complex. And I used to think, how in the world can these guys not do 3d? I mean, they're, you know, they do it in their heads all the time in this skill on paper. And I started thinking, well, what if we presented it different? First off, what have we got rid of? All these sort of mathematical notions and so forth, and what if we allowed the designer or the person running it to work in any order they wanted to sort of, in my mind, sort of start on a 2D platform, just drawing stuff, and then maybe we start making it so they can pull things up and they can start manipulating it and And it was very, very simple idea.
And so I, you know, I'm just sort of, uh, enough of a ding a ling that, you know, I'd be [00:15:00] walking around and I'd look at something, I go, huh, well, how would I model that with this? You know, and, and I just spent a lot of time and I had, I just kept notes and I never told anybody about it. It just, it was kind of my own little thing.
And I was just, it was sort of a problem to me that I thought was curious. Like, how could we, how could we potentially improve this, make it more accessible? So as a part of our, um, interactions in our little company, I was telling you about, we had, it was called CADZOOCS and we, uh, We got to know this guy named Joe Esch who worked for Spatial Technology.
Spatial Technology made a modeling engine that was used in a lot of big applications. And Joe is, Joe is just a brilliant, brilliant graphics programmer. He's just amazing. So Joe approached me, this would have been, you know, years later or whatever, and, and he really, he'd always worked for companies, and he really wanted to start a company.
[00:16:00] And he asked me if, he wanted to be involved in a startup and, And, uh, and I turned him on to some deals that I knew of and none of those, he came back to me like a month or two later. I was like, you know, I checked those out. None of them, they didn't really turn me on very much. And he said, you've got to have an idea.
I said, well, I, you know, yeah, I've been kind of fiddling around with this thing, but I never really told anybody about it or whatever. And he goes, well, let's get together and talk about it. So, uh, you know, I showed Joe my notes and I was actually kind of nervous. I don't know why. I mean, just because he was so good at what he did.
Right. And Joe's, I think Joe is legally blind, so you know, he has his notes right up in front and he's, he's really kind of a quiet guy and he's super funny and great, but he's kind of quiet naturally and opposite of me. And he's flipping through my notes and occasionally he'd ask, so okay, so I'm going to grab that and pull that over.
I'm like, yeah, you know, and finally he sets them down and he goes, this is sort of my word, since he's not here to defend himself, I'm just going to use my [00:17:00] words. He basically said, you know, he basically said, uh, it's amazing. I've never seen anything like it. Let's do it. I sort of teased later that it probably could have been anything.
I would have said, let's do it. But so at any rate, um, the fun thing, the fun part about that, you know, sometimes you got to wonder about, you know, the universe kind of getting behind things because, um, I actually was a little bit bummed, or not bummed, but I just wasn't ready necessarily to start another company because I know how much work it, it can be.
I mean, it's a riot too, and it's fun, but you know, it's just a lot of work. And so I went home and. Because Joe, Joe, having never started a company, he was like, well, can you raise money by like next Wednesday? Because, um, he had been made an offer by some other company and I was like, oh, thank goodness. You know, we're never going to get money raised that soon, but we just wanted some seed
Evan Troxel: is your out.
Brad Schell: Yeah, this is my, I'm like, oh, thank [00:18:00] goodness, right? Well, I go home and I called a guy that I had gotten to know. Wonderful, wonderful, wonderful guy. He's a friend of mine now. His name's Raleigh Rawls. I called Rawls up. And I basically gave him, I swear it was like a two minute pitch. I was like, Hey, I've got this idea and I think it might actually, you know, it, it might have some legs.
And he was like, well, what are you after? I was like, Oh, you know, like maybe 60, 000 just to basically cover Joe. So we get down the road six months. And he's like, yeah, I'm in. Um, and that was it. You're like, where do you want the money sent? And then it got, it was really sweet because my old business partner Claire and her partner, Brian, they, I was meeting with them, um, and they also wanted it.
So we ended up taking money from those, those three. And, and I think we only, I forgot how much we took. It wasn't a lot, maybe 60, 80, I forget. And we started and, [00:19:00] uh, it was just one of those magical things. Joe and I had a, just a wonderful synergy. He was just. Brilliant programmer and like I would just give enough direction for the sort of the major concepts and then he would fill it in and just beautiful ways and we both talk about at least for me it was, we thought it would take six months to do the prototype and I think I'm saying this right.
We did it in six weeks in the fall of 99 and it was, it was, it was, uh, it was probably one of the most fun. Enjoyable times of my professional career because this thing that I've been dreaming about forever was coming to life. And, and Joe is so brilliant. I mean, he wrote, we didn't license anything. He wrote, uh, the graphics engine for SketchUp.
He did everything and it just shows you how talented he is. And, you know, every day, sometimes two, three times a day, he's sending me a new build and I'm playing [00:20:00] with it. And, uh, we just had a blast. And I remember. I remember, I think I was over at Joe's house, because we're both working out of our houses.
And I, we had, we finally had sort of a thread through the software where you could get a sense of, of how it would perform. And, and I remember telling Joe, I said, Joe, I have no idea whether we'll make any money at this, but this is, this is amazing. Because, you know, I'd been a long time AutoCAD user at this point and 3D user.
And I told him, I said, this is amazing. Again, I said, I don't know we're going to make any money at it, but. This is a, this is incredible. And, uh, you know, and I could, I could, I could bore you with stories about how we raised money and so forth. But, um, well, actually it is kind of a fun story. I'll tell you this one story.
Evan Troxel: right.
Brad Schell: so Raleigh, threw money in, right? And he sort of forgot about it. And [00:21:00] he was in Boulder. He lived in Dallas at the time. He was in Boulder. And I said, Hey, do you want to see a demo of this thing we're working on? And I, I gave him a demo and my demo was typically what I would do is I would build kind of a simple house.
Almost like a doghouse in, in AutoCAD and be like, okay, so now I'm, you know, I'm starting here at zero comma zero comma zero. I'm going to go over 10 feet, you know, and then I'm going to go right hand rule up and, you know, and so I, and I, and I build this thing and it would usually take, maybe it would take 20 minutes or something to build a simple doghouse.
And I said, okay, well, let's try it in this new thing. You know, and I'd sweep out a rectangle, pull it up, draw a ridge, pull it up. And I go, there it is. And, you know, he was like, You're kidding. I mean, wait, so what is this auto, what is this AutoCAD thing? I said, well, it's probably one of the most popular CAD programs in the world right now.
And he's like, wait a minute, do that again, you know, like do that again. He's like, oh, so [00:22:00] he was, he was blown away. He was like, well, why didn't you tell me? At any rate, so he said, why don't you come down to Dallas and, and we'll, uh, I'll put some, some guys together and let's just see what, you know, the environment's going to be like to raise money.
So I went down and. He had, uh, a bunch of his guys he knew from the Dallas area come to find out these are pretty big hitters. I didn't know, um, I mean, for instance, uh, Rawls, Rawls had a, a hedge fund and, and Mark Cuban was, I think one of his partners in that. And, uh, so at any rate, what I, no big deal. You know, thank goodness I didn't know who these people were, right? So I went down there in classic form, like, um, I'm not a big one for, for canning a presentation or anything. In fact, that was sort of the whole spirit of SketchUp is, in retrospect, is, that's what makes it so fun, right? Anyway, so I go down there. I, I kind of gave the little demo that I gave to [00:23:00] Rawls and, you know, I drew this house in, in AutoCAD and I drew it in this thing that I think we weren't calling it SketchUp at the time.
I think we were calling it something dumb like eSketch or something. At any rate, so I do this and, uh, and this guy says, Hey, could I try it? I'm like, yeah, sure. Whatever. You know, I cleared the screen. You got to remember there was no undo. I don't even remember if there was a race. I mean, it was crude, right?
So, and this guy just watched, like, a 15 minute demo. I give him the mouse, you know, I turn around, I'm talking to these guys, and I'm, this guy's just gonna flail. I mean, he's just gonna get, you know, he's gonna get decimated, right? So I'm, I'm looking at all these guys, they're asking me questions about things, and they're like, why do you think it'll work?
And, you know, it's kind of like, oh, I think, you know, it was just very honest, just, conversation. It wasn't gonna snow anybody, and so I turn around, like, I literally think it was, like, 15 or 20 minutes later, and this guy had built, Like this actually kind of like custom house, like it was actually [00:24:00] really impressive and he had already was making this terrain model in the back, right?
And I was just completely blown away. And before I could say anything, he goes, this is unbelievable. This is what I've dreamed of my entire career. We'll come to find out he was an architect for these guys. He'd done pretty elaborate homes and stuff. And he's like, I've dreamed of this my entire career.
I've, I have bought and wasted more money on these damn 3d applications. I have spent a fortune on training. He just went off right on the frustration that everybody was feeling. So I just, at that point, I'm just being quiet. Right. And I turn around and one of the guys goes, what's your valuation? And I just made it up on the fly. Like Brawls is looking at me like, don't screw this up.
Evan Troxel: Yeah, yeah, say a big number. Yeah.
Brad Schell: we had, I think from that one trip or visit, I mean, like literally, I think it was like 45 [00:25:00] minutes later, um, from that one meeting, we had commitments for many times more money than I wanted. And I wasn't even trying to raise money.
So we got funded very quickly and, uh, and then it was off to the races. Yeah, it was, it was
Evan Troxel: That's incredible.
Brad Schell: it was really fun.
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Yeah. Thank you so much for, for sharing that story. I think that that was a valuable thing because like talk about having the right people in the room or the right, that. The, the sleeper, he, you didn't even know that he was an architect, right? And he was able to, he sold it for you on your behalf by, by showing the value that, that your rudimentary product could, could fulfill at such a rudimentary stage.
I think that that was just, you got super lucky right there. And, and I think the other thing that really. Comes to mind is just this idea of the value of relationships and the people, because you know, this is a very different landscape than it is [00:28:00] now with VC funding and pitch decks and attention spans being really short and.
Uh, I, there's a lot of adversity in the funding landscape, especially right now, uh, because of the economy and inflation and all of those things. But what really stands out in your stories is, you know, I called up Rawls, I, I, and, and you just, these people, the, the, the business mechanics were based on relationships.
And that to me is, I, a really important aspect of what you're talking about.
Brad Schell: Well, and the other thing that was really fun for me, Joe and I had a really neat synergy between us. And so essentially, I, you know, I told Joe early on that I wanted to do some different things with the company. Part of that was because I had, I mean, this is, this could be a whole, I could go off for hours about this, [00:29:00] but, um, you know, like for instance, when we got acquired by Autodesk and this is really for all you that work at Autodesk, my apologies in advance, cause this, I'm not trying to slam Autodesk, but the, the nature of a big company is to be honest, it's really hard to have.
A lot of good ideas percolate up. And the reason being is you have to go through layers of management. It's just the nature, it's just human nature. It can happen anywhere, right? And I would watch, um, insanely creative programmers. Personally, I think programmers are some of the most creative people I know.
And yet, they would be very insulated from the design process, oftentimes. You'd have somebody that would, you know, sort of design this thing. It's like a phone book, you know, throw it in the back room to the programmers and say, Okay, make this so, right?
Evan Troxel: Yeah. Yeah.
Brad Schell: and then, and then in general, my personal opinion is I think, I think it's really hard to manage people.
And I think it's a better approach to in many ways, get out of their [00:30:00] way and trust them. And so we tried to do try to do a lot of this within our team. And, uh, and wow, did it work? We also tried to have a really, we did at the time. It was so unusual because we tried to have a really open, honest relationship with our customers as well.
And it, it, it, uh, Wow. I mean, the community that formed around us was really amazing. And I think in some ways, it was just, I think in some ways, you know, we had a pretty neat product. Well, actually, I thought it was really neat product. I mean, compared to what was out there. And, uh, and then we had this really nice connection, honest sort of human connection with our users.
You know, for instance, we had a, a newsletter where it wasn't so much about How, you know, how great this product is and you should buy it. The whole point of the newsletter was just to [00:31:00] try and stay in touch with people because we started getting a lot of downloads and the idea was we're going to call people and follow up and say, Hey, can we help you or whatever?
And, and you just couldn't keep up. The downloads were just going crazy. Well, when I say crazy, let's put it in perspective. You know, we might get a hundred or 200 downloads in a day, right? We're not talking about, um,
Evan Troxel: Yeah.
Brad Schell: so we
Evan Troxel: Well, because you're, you're talking about a time period when software was still sold on physical media, right? That we still got discs in the mail or we would buy them off the shelf at, uh, Egghead or CompUSA or I, you know, whatever, back in those
Brad Schell: you're absolutely right,
Evan Troxel: so even downloads. Yeah.
Brad Schell: Well, it was funny because in the early days of SketchUp, people would say, well, they'd buy it and they'd say, well, don't I get a box? I mean, it got so bad, we actually had to make a box that would have their [00:32:00] authorization code in it. They're like, wait a minute, I don't get documentation?
Well, you can, you can print this if you want, like what, you know, it was such a different, it just shows you how quickly it changed. We were one of the first that had, you know, a free download, which was again, you know, Joe was like, Brad, do whatever you want. And because for me, it was really important. I really wanted users that, that, that the software really resonated with.
I'd rather have the company fail. Then have people buy software like that guy's story that I was telling you about how frustrated it was. I didn't want that. I wanted people that honestly it resonated with them. It worked for them. And so that was the motivation behind the free download, the free fully working download.
And then, you know, I think we started off and we had 20 hours of use. And it was funny because our sales early on, it actually made me really nervous. [00:33:00] Um, our sales were really slow. I mean like a huge month was to sell five copies and usually because I'm out taking some architect to lunch and you know, like, Oh my gosh, if I can't get these guys to buy a 500 product after all that handle holding, we might be in trouble.
And interestingly enough, early on, there was a lot of like, like, what, where are you with Autodesk? Who are you with? Like who, who made this? You know, I think there was a lot of, it's too good to be
Evan Troxel: Mm.
Brad Schell: right?
Evan Troxel: Mm. mm-Hmm.
Brad Schell: But what we found out was, um, what we found out, it took a while to figure it out, but our 20 hours of use was, was just too long.
like people were doing multiple projects with their 20 hours of use. So I think we ratcheted that down to eight and sales started taking off. And, but
Evan Troxel: Right. [00:34:00] Finding that balance. That's interesting. Where, where did the name at last come from? Are, were you at last at that time
Brad Schell: yeah. You know, it's funny because we had a naming session and, you know, you just start blasting through a million things and, and I, it was one of the ones that I thought of and I didn't like it, but everyone else did. Um, so it's like, okay. So we called it At Last. And it.
Evan Troxel: having the at symbol in the name? I mean, it's very internet, right? Like kind of like iPod, when, when Steve Jobs announced the iMac and then the iPod and the iPhone and all of these things of, it was very internety at the time.
Brad Schell: you know what? Obviously, I think we were trying to play off that a little bit. Um, and the funny thing is a little side story. We did a full day naming thing. Once we, we kind of, so basically in, uh, Joe and I did the prototype and in the fall of 99 and then we, we raised money pretty [00:35:00] quickly. And then basically I think it was almost all of 2000 that we were building a real product.
And it's, it's amazing how much time that takes, you know, with. Documentation and all that other stuff. Um, and, uh, oh gosh, what was I, I lost my train of thought. What were we just talking about? And help me out.
Evan Troxel: the Internety, the naming session, the.
Brad Schell: yes, yes. Thank you. Thank you. So we were, were trying to figure out what are we going to call this thing? And we did this naming session. It was like an all day thing with our small team. And the name that popped out of that was just something. I thought it was ridiculous or something. And at any rate, my, my brother Coop was over that night at my house and I was telling about how, you know, this exhausting naming session, he goes, well, I would just call it SketchUp, like sketch that up. And I was like, that's, that's brilliant.
Evan Troxel: Nice, that's hilarious.[00:36:00]
Brad Schell: Sometimes we'd get a lot of, you know, a lot of hell for that. At any rate, but, uh, that's how the name, that's how the name ended up happening.
Evan Troxel: That's interesting. I mean, and to think about kind of maybe you can paint a picture of what that. initial release was like? What, what were people downloading at that time? What, what kind of tools did they get? Because the paradigm shift for SketchUp was simplicity, right? I mean, people were used to AutoCAD.
They were used to a bunch of buttons or a bunch of keyboard commands. Um, you know, if you're a power user, you're definitely a keyboard command wizard. You would memorize all of those PL for P line and E for erase. And you had all that stuff kind of memorized, but SketchUp wasn't like that at all. Right.
So paint, paint the picture of what the UI or the feature set that people were actually downloading in that, in the early days.
Brad Schell: Yeah, so the really fun thing about it is that the core of it has not [00:37:00] changed at all. And that's really satisfying for me personally.
Evan Troxel: Incredible staying
Brad Schell: It's amazing to have, I mean, I hope I don't sound like I'm blowing my horn, but, because it's not me, obviously, I mean, we had an insanely talented team, and the team that's carrying it today is very talented.
But, uh, it's crazy to have a software product. Still be relevant. And I think I'm saying this correctly. I have a little insider information. I think, you know, the sales is still growing, you know, um,
Evan Troxel: Yep. I've heard that as well.
Brad Schell: yeah, yeah. So the, um, you know, the, the challenge often for me, the challenge is, uh, it's actually harder to have a smaller tool set than it is to have a larger tool set.
If you strip out the viewing the buttons that are related to viewing, like, you know, zoom, extents, and pan and all this other stuff, if you take those away, I mean, the core buttons are just, you know, it's like line and push, [00:38:00] pull and rectangle. You know, it's, it's really, it's really simple. And, and I knew intuitively, I used to tell the team, I said, you guys are going to be blown away what people do with this.
Cause you know, and I was very adamant about this is not an architecture program. This is for people to express their ideas in 3d. I said, you're going to be blown away by what happens. Cause it was, I got swept up in that when I got into 3d and it was, it was so true. It was so fun to watch. I mean, I think I'm saying this correctly.
I mean, we, we would get like. We started getting, uh, stuff sent to us from all over the world. That was also another thing that was amazing, how, how it went worldwide. People would hack our, our DLL, it's a, it's a language library, and translate it. It was in multiple languages, and we weren't even in those countries, right?
And we started, we started getting images from all over the world. I mean, like, Mercedes even sending us [00:39:00] images of designers that had designed parts of cars and stuff. And you're like, what? Because they could do it, you know, they were okay making their own tin models or whatever, right?
Evan Troxel: Right.
Brad Schell: was, that was incredibly fun see how some of that evolved and what happened.
It's just basically giving them the power to express themselves in 3D is what I'm trying to say.
Evan Troxel: And did you set out to deliver the minimum viable product or was it your goal to really simplify the UI, the interaction that people had with their software? Because I think those could be two completely different pathways forward for a company like yours. Mm hmm.
Brad Schell: Yes, yeah, that's a very good point. Um, the, so the, The, the core, the core of it, these concepts were the things that I was [00:40:00] sketching in my notes and, and it's just, you know, sometimes I've gone back and looked at those notes, I should probably give those notes to somebody at some point, but it's just amazing at how everything there happened and, and Joe and our early programmers, John Ulmer, Susan Willard, you know, these, these people have such a beautiful synergy about how you could give If, if they wanted feedback or if they wanted input, you could, you could just sort of sketch out the basics of it and how they would implement that or add to it was just, it was just an absolutely beautiful thing to watch.
And, but the goal consistently was to keep it small, keep it tight because my personal thing is I wanted some, and Joe's, everybody's, everybody's goal was we wanted somebody to open this thing up and literally in five minutes have success. And if you didn't, we were going to lose them. [00:41:00] And it's amazing how often that worked.
Uh, and then a corollary to that, you know, we did some things on the business side that were crazy at the time. The price was crazy, 4. 95. Um, but also like free support. And I'd get a ton of pushback from the team and investors. You can't do free support. And I said, yes, you can. Because if you have ever had a software product, you spent, you know, whatever.
in the case of a lot of CAD programs, thousands of dollars. And you call them up for a question. They say, Oh, for a hundred dollars an hour, we'll answer that question. You know, just infuriates you. Right. I said, no, no, we're going to have free support. And that turned out to be insanely helpful. Um, just in terms of people that were, that did have some challenges.
Oftentimes the challenge was it was too simple. It was too simple. They didn't know, like one guy. Wanted his money back because he said it's great [00:42:00] for sketching things up, but I can't draw accurately and I go well Let's let's first I first thing I did is give him his money back. And then I said well, okay, let's try this Just draw a line and he was yeah, I have no idea how big that is I said, well just type in 13 feet 11 7 8 inches and bam.
There you go, you know, but No, it was it was it it was It was really fun to see it kind of take on a life of it of its own
Evan Troxel: Well, I have to, I have to ask you just about the idea of push pull. So you've mentioned it a little bit, right? You, you sketch a thing, you pull it up and, and push pull was a game changer for so many people. And that to me was the hook of what got somebody hooked on SketchUp. immediately. And so, like, where did that come from?
Where did push pull come from? And, and how did you realize that that was kind of the [00:43:00] magic thing in, to me, I assume SketchUp that really got so many people hooked on it.
Brad Schell: Well, again, for me, you know, I'm coming back to that basic concept was, hey, so if we make it so that somebody can just draw kind of like they're drawing on paper, we'll give them a little guidance system. We're not going to have the, we're not going to have this concept of X, Y, and Z axes. We're going to try and get all that away.
There's, there's not going to be any specific order that they have to draw in or whatever, but like, I'll get to the push pull in a moment, but, but like, that actually ended up being I think an important component of this, of how it worked. But also this notion, and it blew me away, that this notion of you draw a closed shape and it, it fills in, so to speak, I mean, mathematically, you know, we're putting skin on that, so to speak, we're putting a surface on that, but even that concept had never been done.
And we patented that, you know, that was, we patented Push Pull. I mean, I couldn't believe it. Here's this [00:44:00] fairly mature industry. And, uh, you know, to digress for a moment, I showed, um, some higher ups at Autodesk sketch up early on. And, uh, I literally got laughed out of the room and, you know, they said, modeling's, it's done.
It's mature. It's, you know, you're not going to make it. You can't make it on a 495 product. And I was like, but wait a minute, if people can't use the modeling tool, how is that of any value, right?
Evan Troxel: Right.
Brad Schell: at any rate, the, um, so, coming back to that concept was, I wanted people to be able to kind of conceptually start drawing in 2D, and then I thought, okay, well, then they can push, pull it up, and push it down, and they could introduce a line and pull that out, or pull a face out, or Because again, coming back to that conversation or that, what I said earlier is I'd be looking at things and literally I'd be like, I'm looking [00:45:00] at a dresser right now.
Okay, how would I model that? I could draw it there and I could pull it up and I could push the, you know, and. And I started seeing a pattern where, geez, you could do a lot with that and not really understand things. And it was kind of a fun little, well, I don't know if it was fun, but the only time Joe and I ever had any kind of disagreement was Joe had a very, very strong solids modeling background.
And very early on, it was one of the first conversations we ever had, he said, you know, he said, well, I'm going to make a solids modeling engine. And I said, Joe, you can't do it. You can't. Solids modeling, that whole language, that interaction of solids modeling is never going to work with, it's not going to work.
It's just, it's going to get in the way. And you know, we probably had a heated discussion for not very long. He says, okay, we'll do a surface model.
Evan Troxel: Interesting. I, so I came from a Form Z background, and I'll just, this is where I come clean with you, Brad. I didn't, [00:46:00] didn't start using SketchUp until 2003, and I was, I just pulled up the very first model that I ever made in SketchUp. I have some images here, and I looked at the date, and it was May of 2003, so I don't know what version that was at that time, but um, Coming from FormZ, the AXIS kernel, you talked about spatial technologies, like there, the, the 3D kernel for modeling was a solid, and so I, when I was in architecture school, that was the tool that we learned, it was that and or AutoCAD was abysmal, it was so difficult, and FormZ was the alternative that we had access to, and I have to tell you, like, SketchUp being a, a surface modeler was, I didn't like that at all.
And so like Joe, I think, right? I would have loved to have had a conversation with somebody about that, because that to me is, like, you were able to convince him [00:47:00] fairly easily. You had this heated discussion and it was over. But I think for a lot of people, because we get so used to the tools that we have and we think think that we're on to something that maybe we need, but maybe we don't, but we don't have anybody to, to bounce that off of, then, then we just continue down the path that we're already on.
I mean, it was the same thing for Rhino. Like that was a surface modeler. I wasn't, I was not interested in that because it, and so I, I just feel that very strongly for myself. And, and I look back and I think, I wonder what else I've missed out on because of these kind of closely held beliefs that, that are fairly useless.
But that early, those early days,
Brad Schell: let's, let's face it, Evan, the fact that you were a Form Z user, you were a pretty advanced user.
Evan Troxel: it was an, it was a, um, it was a pretty complicated tools,
Brad Schell: Right, right, exactly. You know, and what Bob did with Rhino is, is, you know, it's a great, it's another great product, right? And it's [00:48:00] Does just amazing things with organic shapes and, you know, it's phenomenal. Still as relevant today as it was way back then. Yeah.
Evan Troxel: Right.
Brad Schell: Yeah.
Evan Troxel: Let me share. I'm going to share with you my model here real quick, just so you can see what I made in 2003. And I have to So I will put it on the screen here of this video and I will send you an image, but it's still, it was fun for me to look it up. Um, it was a playhouse for my kids and I actually built it in my back, in my backyard.
And, uh, it was, this was my. Construction documents. It was just a 3d model, right? So kind of going back to your early BIM days of, of, you know, when you were, you were building in a modeling system with constraints and everything updated. And like, that's kind of what this was for me. It was just like, I'm just going to measure it right off the screen.
I put it on my laptop, I'd take it into the backyard and I would build with it right there. And I thought that that was. That was just a really liberating experience. How, and for me, the big difference with [00:49:00] SketchUp was like, it's one view. Like you had top view, left view, right view, but it was, you were, you were immediately put into perspective mode, which forces you to think spatially kind of immediately.
You talked about that, the wonder that you experienced with architects being able to think in 3d and slice it and dice it and make it into 2d. All in their head, like, I didn't have to do that anymore with this. I didn't have to have the quad view, top view, left view, right. I was just always in 3D. And I think that's another really interesting decision that you made early on.
Can you talk about that? Like, why did you just present, put them right into 3D? That was very different than what we had experienced up to that point.
Brad Schell: you know, probably I have to give that credit to Joe. Um, you know, the reason quite honestly is, as you well know, Evan, if you start off in a plan view, so to speak, we didn't want, really, people have to [00:50:00] think that much, right? Because as you well know, somebody can be drawing away forever and not realize they're in 3D.
They could be coming off the page, you know what I mean? And so, we're just like, no, let's just start them off in 3D. So, immediately, because we're a 3D app, you know, that's, that's what you do. Um, the one The one thing that we did that was really, uh, well I'll tell you, I'll share a story with you that was really fun for me is, so I have an architect that I've used quite a bit in Boulder, his name is Steve Montgomery, and Steve is one of these old school, you know, pen and paper, beautiful, everything he did was hand drawn, he's amazing, just like all you guys, he's an amazing sketcher, now he's actually watercoloring and doing all kinds of beautiful work, he's just an insanely talented designer and architect.
Well, Steve had done work for me, but, um, he was doing work for my younger brother. And, um, [00:51:00] and Steve, I, I, I went down to Steve's office. He, he lived kind of down the street from me, had a neat little, neat little office behind his house. And I went down there and, and I said, you want to try this new thing that I'm working on?
And he's like, yeah, sure. He goes, I just bought my first computer today. He just bought his first computer.
Evan Troxel: Wow.
Brad Schell: So I go down there with
Evan Troxel: Perfect timing. You're, you're the, you're the guy who has perfect timing.
Brad Schell: timing. I go down there with my CD or whatever, and I, and I, I'm not exaggerating. True story. I spent probably 15 minutes showing him how to use the mouse.
You know, this is how it works. You know, you click, and he's like, oh cool. And then I fired up this early version of SketchUp, and, uh, and I gave him literally like a 15 minute lesson. You know, here's how you orbit, and here's, you know, just follow these axes. Just follow the colored axes and draw. And it had push pull.
It didn't have undo, it had a race at that point, and I was like, okay, [00:52:00] I didn't even think he was going to use it, you know, have fun. So this was on a Friday. He worked all the time. He calls me on Sunday and he says, Hey, you want to come down and see what I did? And I'm like, yeah, I figured he drew a box or something. I go down there and he had modeled. Yeah, very low expectations. I go down there. My brother's house was this beautiful old stone house with arches and, you know, fairly complicated roof lines. It was really, you know, beautiful home. You know, he expanded it quite a bit because it was pretty small, but he had modeled this house and I was blown away.
There was no arc tool. There's no circles. There was no, and I'm like, Steve, this is, this is unbelievable. Like I knew how he did it, but I had to ask him, how'd you do the arcs? He goes, I just drew a bunch of rays out and I connected them. You're like, he just got it. Right.
Evan Troxel: Yeah.
Brad Schell: and he goes, well, you should have seen what I built before, but. I didn't know about saving and I lost my entire setter. He goes, [00:53:00] he goes, I basically did an all nighter on Friday cause I was so into it. And I was like, you know, I was like, that's it. That's it. You know, if we don't screw it up on the business side, this thing may actually work. Yeah. Super
Evan Troxel: it,
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Evan Troxel: just, just that your software was that stable is, is an amazing feat in and of itself, because back in those days, I mean, no, software was never stable. It was SOS, save often, stupid, right? And it was like, how much time are you willing to redo? That's how many, every time you save, you need to save a new version so that you can go [00:55:00] back and get stuff that you maybe, Wanted later in an earlier model, or if you had to roll back to another version.
And these were all like muscle memory for us back in those days. So what was the keyboard shortcut for save as, and then we would add another number to the end of that file, right? And at the end of the project, we'd have 42 different versions, you know, basically breadcrumbs of the entire project.
Brad Schell: Yeah.
Evan Troxel: just to even have a piece of software that worked all night, and then he forgot to save and he lost his stuff is incredible story back
Brad Schell: Yeah, I know. Well, you know, and honestly, that's a reflection of Joe and the team because they wrote such good code. I mean, the funny part is, is I basically did everything but code. And so we would, this is kind of interesting on our philosophy too, because, uh, you know, we would come out with a release. And I literally, I literally would bang on it for an hour.
That was QA. I mean, it's hilarious now when you think about it, but I [00:56:00] also had an amazing knack to find bugs. But I'd, you know, I'd bang on for an hour and say, Hey, it's good. Let's release it. And we had such a great relationship with our users, just a really honest relationship, like, Hey guys, you know, you're like, you gotta check this out, you know, and I, and we'd release it and then we'd get all these downloads.
And, and, and what happened with, with our, this whole notion of releasing, um, We would release fast and we'd release often and we'd apologize like hell if it was messing things up or whatever. Right. And everybody always forgave us and loved it. Right. And it
Evan Troxel: They were on the bleeding edge with you, right? They, they, they were living vicarious, well, you were all doing it together. You were on, on a
Brad Schell: exactly. And it, this community formed around that and it was just beautiful. Right. And I think that we didn't even realize how, how viral it was going. And so, so from a, from a business and speed standpoint, it was just, And from a energy standpoint, it was [00:57:00] just a riot because, you know, we would throw these things out there.
Like I remember when John, John Ulmer cooked up the shadows, which at the time was just unheard of. Real time shadows, I can scrub the time and the shadows move and that was unheard of. John did all that. And I remember when we released it, I was like, Oh, you guys, the first time I saw it, I was just blown away.
And this is like a testament to, if you just get out of people's way and say, do what you want. And John cooked this up and we threw it out there and you just couldn't believe the form and the feedback and you're like, for John, it was like crack because you know, he was getting this instantaneous feedback, right?
Like, you know, poor John, the guy was so into it. Like, I think I had to threaten to fire him one summer because he's just working all the time. I was worried about his health.
Evan Troxel: maniac.
Brad Schell: Yeah.
Evan Troxel: Well, well, and, and to, to like double down on what you're saying there, in those, in, during that time, like we modeled in [00:58:00] wireframe, we didn't even model in a shaded view. And if, if we did. Turn on a shaded view every once in a while. Oftentimes the back faces were in front of the front faces.
It just wouldn't shade correctly. I mean, we had rudimentary graphics cards on very, you know, early power Macintoshes back in the day, right? And it was. Like, like there was no real 3D libraries. There was nothing in the system. There was, I don't even know if there was OpenGL back then. If there was, it was very early days, but, but to be in a shaded model with shadows and have, have, make it feel like I'm building an analog model on my desk.
As an architect, we did this in school all the time. It really felt like that on the computer. And I, that was. I'm so glad you brought up the shadows because it really brought me back to like, what, what was the alternative back then? And it was very different. It was just working in wireframe all the time.
Brad Schell: Yeah, yeah, exactly. Exactly. Um, yeah, we had, we had [00:59:00] so many fun, crazy stories. Um, you know, a lot of it, a lot of it was, it was just the. It was just the start of like, um, you know, to some degree, even email and I don't want to say email was new. That would be ridiculous. But, but we were as a nature of my desire.
And then pretty soon the whole company's desire just to have this open, honest relationship with our customers. Well, you know, we'd share what we screwed up. We'd share, you know, we wrote this newsletter. It was more about entertainment and what's going on in the office and stupid things we did, right, than it was about the software or whatever.
But, but it was kind of a shift to what is more common now, that kind of relationship and, and, and that really helped fuel the, the relationships and the growth we had, but The, the interesting thing about it is just a little, a little story that you might find interesting, Evan, is, [01:00:00] um, we knew that our authorization thing was easy to hack, and we knew that people were sharing their authorization codes, and it drove my team crazy, but I, it never bothered me.
I thought it was great. Because it meant people were using it, right? I didn't care. It was all about use for me, because I knew, I knew the money would come. Intuitively, I knew the money would come. And of course, that was the model that was on the horizon. The horizon, you know, with Google and all these companies proved this.
It's about use. It's about users. It's about eyeballs.
Evan Troxel: Right.
Brad Schell: But we put a little thing and I had a long conversation with the team about it, about the tech guys and said, Hey, we're not going to do anything weird with this, but we put a little phone home feature in SketchUp. So it basically say, Hey, I'm being used.
If the user was online, it's being used and I'm in Russia or I'm in Germany or I'm in North Korea or I'm wherever, right? So we did that. And what do you think the ratio of legal seats to let's call it [01:01:00] illegal seats was? Take a wild
Evan Troxel: just going to go with the, I'm going to go with the standard 80 20 rule. It's got to be 80 percent illegal, 20 percent legal.
Brad Schell: It was a, it was for every legal seat, there was a thousand illegal.
Evan Troxel: Oh my gosh. Wow,
Brad Schell: and I loved it. Awesome. Because we were, you know, we were, we were growing like a weed. We were, our, our smallest year's growth was a hundred percent and, and what, what would happen, I think, because of our price point being 4. 95. I mean, we had tons of stories of people saying, you know what, my God, I've been using your stuff illegally in my firm, you know, we have 10 people for three years and, and I, I've
Evan Troxel: they would just say it,
Brad Schell: they would, and they'd say, and we knew it, right?
We didn't care. I didn't care. And they'd say like, I probably got 10 hours of help on your, you know, free support. And it's like, yeah. You know, then I go buy one seat of [01:02:00] X, Y, or Z and it's 3, 000 and yada, yada. And, uh, at any rate, so they're like, yeah, it's the best deal going. And, uh, yeah, I
Evan Troxel: That's incredible.
Brad Schell: that was interesting.
Evan Troxel: So I have a question about company culture and maybe it, maybe this has to do with where you. We're operating out of coming outta Denver or Boulder, sorry, not Denver. But the, the idea of company culture, you've brought it up a few times in the newsletter. You would talk about what's going on in the office.
You didn't micromanage people. You trusted what they were doing. And I think that again, that this is, you were having fun. And the product was fun too. Do those two things go together? Is that really kind of a, uh, uh, a value that you held at the company and that you were putting into the culture intentionally to create a product and it was a reflection of the business or, or were they informing each
Brad Schell: You know, I think that's a really wonderful question and I, and I think it is true. I mean, like I said, [01:03:00] I, you know, and again, I'm, I'm not trying to slam the big companies. It's just the nature. It's oftentimes, it's just the human nature, I think. And honestly, sometimes it was like a bad Dilbert cartoon.
I mean, the stuff you would see, you just couldn't believe, you know, people reviewing an idea for a software product and they didn't know how to use the software telling you, it's not, you know, and you're like. And so, like I said, I made a real conscious decision to try and get out of people's way. Hire, hire talented people and, and try to get out of their way.
And sometimes it was an extreme. I mean, like, I did a demo one day for a, uh, a company down, down the street from us. Uh, really successful design company and, and their lead. Kind of their lead tech guru guy, designer, architect, but he also ran all their computers and stuff and it was amazing, you know, with all these different [01:04:00] softwares and he came in late and I gave him a little demo and I said, you want to have lunch?
He's like, yeah, and we're having lunch. And I said, you want to work for us? He goes, yeah. You know, I just got a, I just got a sense from him. Right. And then he, his name is Yashar. He's a wonderful man. Amazing guy. And, and, and he said, but I'm going to help my mom open a flower shop. So I'm going to be, I can't start for another three months.
I said, no problem. You know, and I never heard from the guy, never heard from the guy. And Sarah was like, didn't you hire some guy? I was like, yeah, I thought I did. Well, this guy shows up one day. Yeah. And he shaved off all his hair, so I didn't even recognize him. And, you know, he comes in and he's like, well, Yashar can correct me if I'm wrong, but since he's not here, I'm going to tell the story that I want to tell.
But, uh, he's like, oh, cool. He's like, okay, well, um, what, you know, what, what do you want me to do? I was like, I don't know. Why don't you just kind of. Dive in and look around, look at the webpage, whatever. See, you know, what, see what you think, you know, see what turns you on, [01:05:00] what, you know, where do you know, he's like, well, where do you want me to sit?
And I was like, well, why don't you try and find a place, you know, and what computer should I get? Get whatever you want. Here's a credit card. I mean, it was, it was, well, what, like how much vacation do I get? Take as much as you want, you know, there was just, it was, and actually I'm not exaggerating. It was like, hey, you know, If you're self motivated and into what you're doing, you don't need any guidance, you know, and you're going to come, you're going to come and ask for help or, God, I'm stuck on this.
Or what do you guys think? Or so we had a, we had a really open dynamic culture. It was, it was a blast. I mean, it really was super. It was like having this fun, wonderful, sometimes dysfunctional family, but My personal opinion is if you can't be completely yourself in an environment, it's really hard to be creative.
Sometimes the meetings would start about something we're trying to design something new [01:06:00] or come up with something and the ideas would be so stupid and hilarious, but then somebody would be like, Hey, wait a minute, you know, what, you know, and then that would lead to something that could be really interesting.
Or, um, maybe I'm a little biased, but I think it I think it definitely played a big part in our success. And it must have, because people would come in and say, eventually we ended up taking a little money, which is another story, which we didn't need the money, but, um, venture capitalists would come in and they're like, I've never been in, I've never been in an office like this.
Like, you know, Phil saying that, you know, hairs on my arms stood up when I'd come into your office, there's just so much energy, you guys are just having so much fun and, um. And that wasn't always the case. I don't want to, I don't want to paint a picture like it was always like that, but I think if you can get.
I think if you can get an environment where people truly can be themselves, and, and I mean the good, the bad, everything, it really [01:07:00] makes for, um, you can, you can really do amazing things. And, in fact, it was kind of fun once, one day, you know, we get acquired by Google and, and one day I get a call from the head of HR for Google, it was a woman, I forget her name, my apologies.
And she called and she said, she basically, she started off by saying something like, you know, we're trying to figure out. We're trying to figure out like how we would find more people like your team or you and she said bread You'd never get a job here, ever. And I was laughing, I was like, of course I wouldn't.
I mean, I'd never get through the interview, right? Let alone my resume, you know, is terrible and everything else. And she said, yet, you know, so many of your people on paper are not that great, but they're just amazing. You know, in terms of their, their creativity and their skills. And I told her, I have no idea.
I don't, I don't know how you put a formula on that. It was kind of neat in our company because [01:08:00] I got, I used to do, I guess you could say I used to do a lot of the hiring, but I just got so busy with other stuff. And it was really sweet because the team picked up on this and they got worried. They got worried that the culture was somehow gonna get changed because I wasn't doing the hiring, right?
Evan Troxel: Mm hmm.
Brad Schell: So they started this culture committee and I think it was like sort of two groups. The first one, if it was technical, they kind of had to get through a little bit of a technical thing. And then the other one was more on the culture. And so this group would really try to get to know whoever it was. And if, if they didn't think they were going to fit in well, they weren't even going to get.
To me, and then, and then I got to decide from like two or three candidates or something like that. So it was neat to see that the team, it became really important to the team to try and preserve a little bit of that magic. No,
Evan Troxel: What is driving a lot of this? It drove the [01:09:00] product. It drove the team, the culture, um, that, where does that come from? Where did this intuition, because as a structural engineer, did you have this intuition when it came to structure also?
Like, is this just something you see in all aspects of your life? Or was this something that you developed or just, it's just innate, innate in you as a person.
Brad Schell: well, I think maybe you're giving me too much praise, but, um, to the best of my knowledge, none of my buildings fell down, but, um, um, no, I think, I don't know, I. Seriously, I don't, I don't want to blow my horn, um, much at all. It's just like, I don't know, I guess I would just get a feeling like, Hey, there's something about this person.
I think, I think they would do great. I think, you know, they would, they would do well. And, uh, there was a, you know, there was a couple of times that it, that it didn't work. [01:10:00] I think, you know, one of the few people that I'd laid off was this guy that we hired and I, I, Jeff is his name. I won't pick on Jeff, but I could like he just wasn't producing.
I just couldn't figure it out He was working remote. It just wasn't producing. He was doing a bunch of database stuff or something for us And finally one day I was like Jeff what in the world's going on? And this doesn't adding up He's like, uh, he kind of confessed that he was starting a company and spending a lot of time working on this other thing And I was oh, thank goodness.
That makes sense now, but you know, you're toast I mean I said it in a sweet way, but But no, I mean it's You know, it's, it's sort of, uh, in the category of duh, but when you have people that are enjoying what they're doing and excited about what they're doing and enjoying their environment, you know, they, they want to do good things and they want to be there.
And, yeah, and that, that was somehow we managed to capture that for the most part.
Evan Troxel: Yeah. I just have a [01:11:00] couple more questions for you. I know that, I know that you, you have other things that you have to get onto. Um, one is how you obviously shape this product. You shape this team. How did it shape you through this journey? What were there aspects of you that changed as you developed this product and this team?
Brad Schell: I think the thing that was really, really satisfying for me, is to see how, how people flourished. It was such a great confirmation to see how people would flourish if you could get out of their way. It was really, incredibly satisfying. Um, you're asking about myself though.
Um, you know, it, I just felt so grateful to, to be on the ride. It was [01:12:00] just such a amazing experience. I mean, the company was growing very, very quickly and, you know, we're opening, we're, we have quite a presence already in, in Europe and we're setting up distributors, really people are coming out of the woodwork that want to be distributors and so forth in Europe.
And we had an office in Munich and we had a presence in London. And, um, I mean, it was, you're just getting. Hit with so many new things and new experiences and, you know, and then you interacting with, you know, eventually with higher ups at Google, uh, it's just like, it was just, you know, you're, you're in some of the best design firms in the world.
Uh, and sometimes you can go in and do demos and things and you feel like a rockstar. I mean, people are clapping and you know, it was just, it was just a really, there was just so many fun. [01:13:00] Beautiful experiences from that and hard ones too. There was hard ones as well. But I think for me, Devin, that's a really good question.
But for me, I think the takeaway was just how fun it was to have an idea of how you could run a company or, uh, how you could run a company, not just from the standpoint of internally, but even externally and to have it work and to have it excel. It was like, it kind of was like, wow. It keeps, it gives you a lot of, a lot of faith in humanity and people and yeah, it was just, that was fun.
That was, that was really fun.
Evan Troxel: In the category of SketchUp in your life, if we just limit it to that, because I know there's, you're, you're a multi dimensional person, you do a lot of different stuff, you're, you're, I'm, I'm amazed at all the projects that you're continuing to work on and, [01:14:00] but, but is that what made, is this really the most rewarding part of the, of that journey for you?
Is this what you are most proud of? Is what you just talked about?
Brad Schell: Yeah, it's, it's, it's pretty high up there. You know, it's a pretty. It's a pretty wonderful thing to have an idea that, that a lot of people like, but also to, like I said, experience that, uh, that momentum or that wave you get on, you know, when you put the right people together. I mean, we were just a bunch of misfits in many ways, right?
And to, to come in and have that kind of impact, um, and to have that experience like we did and the support of people from all around the world. It, it was really. It was really a pretty special experience. And honestly, [01:15:00] if, you know, I, I had had some successes, you know, our, our little company KADZOOS was, was successful.
I mean, we felt, like I said, we felt like we were rock stars and we sold that thing, you know, uh, although it wasn't a lot of money. that was actually really satisfying as well, you know, the SketchUp thing was super satisfying, um, and honestly, I, I probably would continue to do that, but, um, it's also a lot of work, you know, it's a lot of work, and I kind of decided after, after SketchUp, I kind of decided that I wanted to try and sort of consciously step away from that, if you will, that world, it sounds a little extreme, but just to see what else life might present. And to get that kind of buzz though, when you have that community of people, it's pretty hard to [01:16:00] replicate, to be honest.
Evan Troxel: I bet. Yeah. Yeah. This is one of those. Yeah. That, that, it was just the, the perfect timing. I mean, and we've talked about that several times now in, in your story about, about the kind of office culture that you had, you said you were a bunch of misfits like that. It reminds me of the stories of the original Mac team at Apple and putting up the pirate flag and being locked in a separate building.
And they, they really were kind of like the rebel unit, even, even ILM. Had the rebel unit for a long time where they were, they're like a skunk works, you know, in a, in a larger landscape of way more corporate, way more polished, way more, you know, every marketing message that goes out is, is highly is very wordsmithed.
It just gives me the sense that you were just way more real about everything. And I, that's what I think of as you're telling these stories.
Brad Schell: Yeah, we were, we were, and it was fun to have, it was [01:17:00] fun to have, I guess, the world, that's a little extreme, but, you know, to have literally was worldwide to have the The kind of, to embrace that, to love it actually, you know, like in our newsletter, you know, we would just, I, I, I usually wrote the newsletter and then we'd have a little get together cause we usually had some dumb tagline and we all had to figure out what that was.
We'd laugh our butts off figuring that out. And then, you know, but I mean, I just, whatever. It was like, you were writing to your best friend, you're, you're not going to, in fact, it was filled with spelling mistakes and stuff. And I, every time I did it, like I almost flunked out of English. I was so bad in English.
Every time I did, I didn't spell check nothing. It just went. And every time there was a group of like six ex, you know, probably elementary school teachers, it would send me the whole thing marked up with all the mistakes and, and they'd be like, but I love the newsletter, you know, but, you know, we would write about, this is where you, you just knew.
How human at the core. We're all human, right? And oh my gosh, we [01:18:00] would have so much fun. I mean, like I'd write about Tommy was walking to work and he stepped in dog dew and we put his shoes in the alley and somebody stole, you know, it just anything was fair game and the more real and whatever it was, the more people loved it.
So, you know, I'd write about people on the team or like one time it was April Fool's and I did a thing like a fake prep, like a press release, you know. Boulder, Colorado, blah, blah, blah. Atlas software announces the acquisition of Autodesk, right? And I wrote this whole thing and everyone's like, you cannot send that.
You, you, you cannot send that.
Evan Troxel: You're like, I already did. There
Brad Schell: you know, and then I, then I sort of, I went on well, like it was a, you know, like it was a, uh, the true thing. And then I said, ah, April fools, my apologies, you know, to the shareholders and, and, uh, of Autodesk and Carl, I think Carl [01:19:00] Bass was the CEO at the time.
And I knew Carl and, and I hit the send button. And then I had a huge panic attack, you know, because I thought, okay, we're definitely going to get sued on this one. And it was, we got, because it was something like, okay, you guys, if we, I forget the number, it was hilarious. I said something like, if we sell, you know, 38 million copies here in the next, you know, two days, we'll go out and buy Autodesk.
Evan Troxel: go.
Brad Schell: And you couldn't believe how the phone started ringing off the hook. All these people that were on the sidelines were like. You know, they got caught up in the whole stupidity of it. We sold hundreds of copies just because of that. At any rate, I think it was the next Monday. I'm looking through thousands of emails and there's one from Carl and Carl probably laugh at this and I'm like, Oh God, here it is.
You know, Carl's gonna sue us into the ground and he wrote and he said Brad loved the news He said something like this Brad loved the newsletter, [01:20:00] but your price is way off You got to add like another 50 million to the price Good luck Carl. Yeah
Evan Troxel: awesome.
Brad Schell: So, you know, it's just having that ability to You know to be playful and fun and real and we you know, we'd share we'd share tough stuff, too you know, we had we had a We had a couple employees that died and, you know, we'd share that and, oh my God, the outpouring from around the world. You just couldn't believe the outpouring.
Thousands and thousands of emails of support and condolences and, um, yeah, it was, it was, it was, it was amazing. Yeah, it was really, it was real. I could tell stories all day long. It was really fun.
Evan Troxel: Well, you're a great storyteller. I, and, and I, I feel like, uh, there's a lot of lessons in there. And, and I think there's a lot of things that people who would listen to this show. need to hear. And to me, [01:21:00] the, the AEC tech landscape that we follow very closely today, that the audience of this podcast and myself follow is a, is just very different than that, right?
And it kind of goes to those points I just brought up a minute ago about wordsmithing everything. And a lot of people have to be very careful. They feel like they have to be very careful about what they put out and it has to be very curated and. There are other ways to do things. And I wonder what it would look like if it was more like what you're talking about, um, because SketchUp is one of those tools that people love.
And I think we can all understand why that is now after listening to these stories with you. And so, I mean, just an amazing testament to the product that you built and the culture of the team that went into it. the brilliant people that you assembled to make that all happen. I, there's, there's so much rich, richness to that [01:22:00] story.
And so I really appreciate you taking the time to tell those stories today. And I'm glad. About everything that you talked about. I mean, there's, there was some amazing digressions in there that I think really Underline the success or why it was so successful of what you were able to pull off and and it was just a really fun Conversation.
Brad Schell: No, thanks Evan. It's, it's, it's fun that you wanted to hear the stories. Yeah. Yeah. And it's, um, it was a really wonderful ride with great people, great people. I tend to get more credit than I should. Our, our team was amazing. Uh, they just did amazing things and our users were just so incredibly supportive and it was fun. And in a minute, I knew it was going to be like that. Great.
Evan Troxel: Mean the the gamble the gamble paid off. Well, thank you so [01:23:00] much Brad This has been an amazing conversation and and I hope to talk with you again sometime.
Brad Schell: Thanks Evan. Take care.