CEO Sean Flaherty Wants to Grow Vectorworks to 3 Million Users

The funniest CEO in the business has some serious ambition

I’m watching Sean Flaherty, CEO of Nemetschek Vectorworks, and he’s on a roll. He has successfully delivered a string of one-liners to the 350 or so in attendance at the first ever Vectorworks Design Summit (April 27-29, 2015). They’re not rolling in the aisles (architects don’t do that), but in a mostly buttoned-down industry with humor and humility are in short supply, his jokes are doubly appreciated. 

Perhaps his sense of humor has allowed him to survive and rise at Nemetschek Vectorworks, which is celebrating its 30-year anniversary, though the exact date is not clear. 

 The company was started by Richard Diehl, who took Sean in as an unpaid intern in a crowded apartment. The product was called MiniCAD. At the time, minicomputers were superior to microcomputers, says Sean, but when MicroCAD went away, we were just left with an unfortunate name. 

 By time the German company, the Nemetschek Group, acquired them, MiniCAD had already changed the product name to Vectorworks.
Nemetschek Vectorworks currently has more than half a million users, and 75,000 of them are on subscription. 

While Vectorworks users are a minority in the CAD world, they maintain a loyal following. They are number one among AEC CAD users on the Macintosh, with a 75 percent market share. In lighting and stage design, no one else is close. They are also the number one BIM application in the UK. Which doesn’t stop Sean from poking fun. 

 “We’re stuck with feet and inches. Thanks, England.” 

A Bit of History 

 He also thanks the British for burning down Washington, DC, in the War of 1812. 

“They got mad when they found out we had nothing to steal.” 

 The history lesson continues.
Herbert Hoover promised us “a chicken in every pot” in 1928.
“It was a great slogan. Better than ‘national bank reform.’ But you know what happen after that? 1929. The stock market crash. ” 

Vectorworks’ Place in the Universe 

So where does Vectorworks fit? Is Vectorworks for architects? What class of products includes rendering? He gets that a lot. Vectorworks defies categorization. “We don’t fit neatly into any category,” says Sean. 

As CEO, Sean is finally being paid, but he has to think of big ideas. That’s what CEOs do. Sean wants to grow his users five fold again, from 500,000 to 2.5 million. 

 From where, I wonder. 

 “From other CAD vendors,” says Sean. 

 I ask, “Why would they switch?” 

“They are discovering we do things better. Take our landscaping software. There’s nothing else like it,” answers Sean, since Vectorworks is the only product that can combine a BIM model with GIS and urban planning information. 

 Vectorworks’ competition isn’t just with other companies, it’s amongst the group of Nemetschek companies. The Nemetschek Group holds Graphisoft and Allplan, both AEC/BIM software companies, each with a CEO. I ask Sean how he competes with the other Nemetschek CEOs? 

Who is winning? 

 “It’s a friendly competition, more or less,” says Sean.
Few software developers actually get to lead their company for long. I ask Sean about his least favorite part of the CEO job. 

 “The legal part. There is no doubt,” replies Sean. 

 We seem to have reached a common ground.