2003 – Buildmedia Founding

In 2002 I had purchased a shareholding from Murray and Sue and become a director of Cadimage. Business was continuing well, and we were continuing to grow. Gareth had fully taken over the visualisation part of the business and we had a couple of team members dedicated to that while we also have 2-3 developers working on our custom ArchiCAD Developments along with updates to the New Zealand Tools.

Gareth had also been responsible for training and somewhere along the line left Cadimage to teach at Unitec. 

Gareth had become a key person for the visualisation so this left Murray and I with a bit of a dilemma as to how to continue that part of Cadimage.

We had a number of discussions with Gareth to come back on board in a contract role. Very quickly Gareth began to wonder about the potential IP he would be generating for Cadimage and how best to be recognised/compensated for this.

Following one of these catch ups I suggested to Murray that the best would be for us to form a new company and for Gareth to be a shareholder. While visualisation was going well the majority of the sales revenues and profit were based on ArchiCAD and the development side of the business. We felt that in order to ‘grow up’ the visualisation should probably be its own business and begin to stand on its own two feet.

Therefore, in September 2002 we founded Buildmedia, Cadimage was the 75% owner and Gareth owned 25%. Two-three years later Murray bought out the Cadimage Share as by that time I was Managing Director fo Cadimage and Murray was spending the majority of his time working for Buildmedia.

I was a director of Buildmedia when we first incorporated and then stood down when Murray purchased Cadimages’ shares. I stayed closely involved with Buildmedia as for a number of years we worked out of the same office, before they took the plunge and moved to an office ‘over the bridge’. I became a director again in 2011 after I helped facilitate a way for Gareth to buy out Murrays shareholding. I remained a director until I moved overseas in 2016.

I remain closely involved with Buildmedia to this day as a Business Advisor. Over the years Buildmedia – like any business – have faced their ups and downs. It took a few years to get started but today they have a healthy business that is constantly pushing the bounds of visualisation and not only focused solely on Architecture. Their recently released Realspace product is world leading. Gareth has introduced two shareholder employees and its great to see how the business continues to evolve.

2001 – ARCHICADselect + New Zealand Tools

By 2001 ArchiCAD had grown well in New Zealand (and had bounced back well after the Asian Financial Crisis in 1998) but as the customer base grew, we needed to look at a better model for funding customer support.

I can’t remember if we charged for customer support with each license sale or not, but what I can remember is that very few customers opted to pay for additional support the following year. We could have taken a hard line – no payment no support – but we felt that would reflect badly on the company, so we wanted to always be in a position to support all our customers.

At the time ArchiCAD was releasing upgrades every 18-24 months and we would undertake a nationwide road show to present the new features to our customers. It was a great opportunity to get face to face and see them all.

We decided to create and launch a Software Maintenance Programme which was reasonably common in enterprise software but a completely foreign concept to New Zealand Architects.

Essentially a Software Maintenance Programme is like a Subscription for Perpetual Software, where you pay a monthly or annual fee and you get all Software Upgrades as they are released (in a sense you are paying incrementally towards each upgrade)

While the payment could be seen as a direct payment towards each upgrade we needed to make sure there was other value, particularly due to the irregular release frequency – for example some customers would feel aggrieved that one upgrade cost them 18 months of payments while another might cost 24 months of payments.

Also, Software Maintenance Programme or Agreement was a rather stale name. We therefore set about creating ARCHICADselect – one of the first Software Maintenance Programmes for ArchiCAD.

While ARCHICADselect has evolved over time, the key components remain the same:

  • ArchiCAD Upgrades
  • Priority Support *
  • Discounts on Training and Services

* We still wanted to support all our customers so we introduced priority for those on ARCHICADselect, initially this was via a dedicated 0800 number but as volumes grew we moved to email support 

We also wanted to add that little bit extra so we developed a small suite of tools that we called the New Zealand Tools. These were productivity tools that helped localise ArchiCAD for the New Zealand. We used our in-house developers and created four tools. We were also continuing to sell the third-party Custom Library.

As the whole concept was incredibly new and we would need to educate our customers we had one final piece to help make the launch a success – a free upgrade. Yes, that’s right customers who joined ARCHICADselect for the minimum 12 month term, would receive ArchiCAD 7 essentially free – or paid over a period of time – though in actual fact the payments were actually for future versions.

Anyway, you would think this offer was too good to be true. However, the concept of paying regularly in advance for something not yet released was a hurdle for our customers and from memory about 15% of those customers who upgraded to ArchiCAD 7 did so via joining ARCHICADselect.

That said, a start is a start and something to build from.

Incidentally I was in Hungary the following year for the annual Independent Distributors Conference. Each year at the Gala Dinner was a series of Sales Awards. One such award was for the largest proportion of Upgrades for ArchiCAD 7. Cadimage along with Italy and one other distributor won awards for being the top three in the world. It was noted at the time all three Distributors had launched maintenance programmes. This was only the beginning.

2001 – Student Version Experiments

As I wrote in an earlier post when I was a student and wanted to buy ArchiCAD I got a bit of a shock when I found out the cost of [a commercial version of] ArchiCAD.

Therefore in 1997 shortly after I had joined Cadimage we launched a student version from memory we charged 10% of the standard ArchiCAD Price so around $795.00. From memory I think this was going to be an annual cost (our very first subscription maybe??) and I think we still supplied a commercial license as there was no education version.

Anyway, this first (of what turned out to be a number of experiments) experiment failed after we sold maybe 1 or 2 licenses that year. We dropped the price to $695 the following year and continued with a low uptake.

So, we tried again, the details are a bit sketchy, but I think we got the price down to $200 for a 200hr keyplug and students could buy again and again as required.

We kept this in place for a couple of years and sold a license here and there but no real success.

While Cadimage was the distributor for ArchiCAD we only sold to the upper North Island and we had dealers in the lower North and South Islands.

Well, it was during a regular ‘dealer meeting’ in 2001 when we were discussing the student version, and someone asked 

“why don’t we offer it for free?”

The first response was not very positive, but the more we threw the idea around the more it seemed to make sense – basically lower the barrier so all NZ Architectural Students could get ArchiCAD for nothing! We all agreed this would be a long-term strategy but as our clients were always demanding more and more ArchiCAD trained staff it made perfect sense (at least it does in hindsight!)

So, after we all agreed, we had to convince GRAPHISOFT – which we did!

We were still using the commercial version, but we printed our own CDs to clearly brand the product as a Student version. 

In 2005 GRAPHISOFT launched the Student Version as a free download globally (by which time the commercial and student versions while the same had different file formats)

This wasn’t the only time the New Zealand ArchiCAD market proved to be a good testing ground for GRAPHISOFT and we would lead the world in other initiatives as we progressed through the years.

Education became a key pillar of Cadimage’s success and in 2008 we reinforced this with our long-term sponsorship of the NZIA Cadimage Student Design awards:

Student Award Season [2009]

And the winner is… [2010]

NZIA Graphisoft Student Design Awards 2011

And the 2012 winner is…

2013 Student Design Awards

Student Design Awards 2014

Student Awards 2015

At the time of the 2015 Awards I was unaware that within a year I would have sold Cadimage and that these awards would my last.

I am immensely proud of my personal 7 year association with these awards and the investment we made in New Zealand Architectural Education

1999 – ArchiCAD API

In 1998 ArchiCAD released their first Application Programmers Interface (API) with ArchiCAD 6.0. While APIs are extremely common these days, they weren’t so common late last century. However, we could see the potential of the ArchiCAD platform and while we had been able to create Custom Objects using GDL the API gave us huge opportunity. 

Initially however, the first API only allowed us to ‘read’ and ‘update’ existing elements in the ArchiCAD model, we couldn’t create new elements. While this was an initial stumbling block, ArchiCAD 6.5 was released a year later and with the API was upgraded and allowed us to create elements which was critical to our first project with the API.

Before we jump too far ahead, around 1995/1996 future employee Andrew Watson and his brother in law started developing comprehensive GDL Libraries – initially for the New Zealand market but then sold worldwide. Many of these libraries survive to this day.

GDL was and is a very powerful scripting language and allowed many amazing objects to be created. When coupled with the API the capabilities magnified enormously.

Lockwood Homes – a family held ‘Log’ Home Builder in New Zealand since 1951 – were customers of ours with ArchiCAD. Lockwood at the time used ArchiCAD to design homes and these were then handed to the manufacturing draughting team who drew all the elevations and generated the cut-lists for all the material. We could see that the ArchiCAD Virtual Building had the required information to allow these manufacturing drawings to be ‘extracted’ from the model and drawn, dimensioned and labelled.

Even though we didn’t have it, yet we knew the API was coming and we decided to do a proof of concept for the team at Lockwood.

We worked with Andrew from Theometric design who created a great Proof of concept.

However, we were about to learn an important lesson that has stuck with me ever since. We were absorbed in the technical side of the solution and hadn’t been concerned with the ‘look and feel’ of the solution. When we presented the concept, instead of Lockwood seeing and understanding the overall concept, they zeroed in on details like “we use a blue pen, not a black pen for that” or “we draw that line as a dot and dashed line”

At first reading this may sound entirely pedantic and at one level it is. However, because we didn’t draw the walls in exactly the same way as they did, they immediately got caught up in the details and missed the big picture of what we were actually showing.

Following the Proof of Concept, we put forward and had accepted a proposal to create a Design to Manufacture system based on ArchiCAD. 

Based on our original lesson, we paid particular attention to the details and found this was essential to the Lockwood Team seeing and understanding what was being done.

In due course we came to understand the attention to detail wasn’t because the people we had demonstrated the concept to were being pedantic, it was in fact because they were thinking ahead and it was critical that what we produced would be readily understood by the people behind the machines in the factory – it seemed in hindsight the concept was so well understood they almost wanted to use it in the factory immediately.

There are two ways to approach a problem like this. Architects commonly create ‘white’ models (either as renderings, or physical cardboard models) by stripping away all materiality clients can focus on the form and not get caught up in which material should be used (something that will be addressed later in the design process) so in this case you strip as much detail as you can and focus on the big picture. As with Lockwood where the detail is essential to the story, you need to make sure you get the details correct as otherwise as outlined that will become the focus. Its incredible that when the detail is correct it basically goes unnoticed.

Incidentally Cadimage was continuing to grow and with the restarted visualisation services doing well in 1999 Gareth Ross joined the business. Ironically (for those who know the story) Gareth came in to take over my ArchiCAD tech support role in order for me to concentrate on the visualisation more. This changed further in late 1999 when I took on the role of Project Manager for the Lockwood project. Also, late in 1999 we took a big step and leased an Office after almost 10 years working from Murray and Sue’s home. We had about 5-6 of us in the team and we set up our first training room.

1996 – Cadimage Employee (#2)

While I continued my studies during 1996, I was attending ArchiCAD User Group meetings and publishing the User Group Newsletter and also picked up a project along with another student creating a 3d Model for a proposed hospital. As you’ll read in a future post there was no such thing as a Student Version of ArchiCAD so I guess we did this with the licenses at the Uni but can’t remember entirely.

Anyway, throughout the year two things happened that would have a significant bearing on the future:

  1. When I was first accepted into Architecture school it was on the basis of completely a 5 Year B Arch. However, during my third year the programme was changes such that after 3 years (assuming we passed the requirements) we’d be awarded a Bachelor of Architectural Studies and then you could go on and complete the full 5-year degree. 
  2. I was in touch with Murray reasonably frequently and he was constantly mentioning that ArchiCAD (and hardware) sales were growing so well that he needed someone technical to join the team. I didn’t show huge interest but equally Murray felt I wouldn’t have the technical skills as I was studying architecture.

Come the end of the University year I had some time to fill (and money to save) before a planned trip to the UK to visit my sister and brother-in-law who were on their OE. I rang Murray up and said that while I might not be the right person, I had 6 weeks and would be interested in a job and so Murray took me on.

During my 6 weeks I did all sorts of things. I remember at the time the Murray’s daughters’ school were producing a cookbook to raise money, with some of the money being raised by local business placing adverts in the book. I think Sue may have been compiling the recipes, but I do remember designing a large array of adverts for the book. I also did more desktop publishing for some ArchiCAD sales programmes which was my first experience dealing with an offset printing company and was amazed at the quality of the output they produced. We worked extremely hard testing line weights for a high-quality working drawing on one of the promotions.

In amongst all of this I helped Murray install a number of turn-key solutions for new and expanding customers. One of these installations sticks in my mind for a couple of reasons. It was Kay and Keys architects, a new firm established by Alastair Kay and Peter Keys who had worked together at the Ministry of Works for a number of years. We were installing 2 Digital PCs, A2 Canon Printer, HP A1 Plotter, 2 ArchiCAD Licenses and 1 or 2 Artlantis licenses. This was a great but also fairly ‘standard’ sale in those days – especially considering if you bought two ArchiCAD’s at the same time, the second was 50% off – a huge incentive – but one that paid for itself as two people learn better together then one by themselves.

While I was installing things, I started talking to Alastair and Peter about their business and their work. They were very surprised to find out I was an Architecture student – they had simply assumed I was some techy guy.  This in a sense broke down a barrier and meant when I subsequently trained them a few weeks later that they knew I understood what they needed to achieve with the software not simply just how it works. 

To this day I regularly catch up with Peter and while Kay Keys grew well and did outstanding work, eventually Peter and Alastair went their separate ways. Cadimage and I were beside their business through its entire journey – I also remember having a beer one afternoon after a crisis call out where they lost a lot of work – I’m not sure if we recovered it, but our relationship survived.

I also remember another installation in the Mac based office of Deighton Gibbs where I crawled around the floor under the desks installing a peer-to-peer network. Gareth Ross was working at the from and it was great to see that since he had learned ArchiCAD he had built his “house for a watchmaker” in ArchiCAD which was great to see after our original connection a year earlier.

During my time at Cadimage many Friday evenings were spent talking about Architectural Visualisation and the work Cadimage had previously done. As I was now going to have a degree I started thinking more and more about having a break from University. Initially I was pondering setting up my own visualisation firm. However, during the six weeks Murray saw – and I convinced him – that I could do the role he had been mentioning throughout the year and on top we could re-start the currently dormant visualisation work that Cadimage had been founded on. One Friday morning Murray and I went for a coffee and Murray presented a job offer. I committed to at least two years out of university as re-establishing the visualisation would enquire time and money.

Based on my comment in an earlier post where I suggest that Debbie was employee one, with me signing an employee agreement I became Cadimage Employee Number 2.

1996 – Early Beginnings

In early 1996 I had started my third year at Auckland University School of Architecture.

The previous year I had taken a design paper where upfront the lecturer has indicated that he was happy for us to use computers if we wished. I talked to him after our first studio and asked what he suggested, and he said I should visit the computer lab and ask about ArchiCAD.

I promptly visited and found out a little and got a manual and sat down and started having a play. I had always had an interest in computers and had first got a ZX81 in 1985 and then moved on/through to ZX Spectrum, VIC20, Commodore 64, Atari 1040 before my time at University.

I learnt enough ArchiCAD to complete all the drawings required for the design studio and passed the paper. I remember talking with my peers in the design paper when I first showed them a plotter output of a section through the Ground model I had made (lots and lots of ArchiCAD slabs). Someone asked (sceptically) “how long did that take you” I think I answered “around 3-4 hours” and their response was “I could have drawn it in less time” which I had to agree with, momentarily feeling a bubble burst, I then said “but I can now create 6 more sections with very little effort as the model is in 3d and I can cut a section wherever I want/need” 

I then did a further elective studio to take the model through to a rendered stage and was happy to be rewarded with my only A+ for a Design Studio Paper. As this had been an elective studio my end of paper critique was grouped with a fifth-year studio. I remember Gareth Ross – a fifth year who had presented an amazing paper “house of a watch maker” – coming up to me afterwards and being amazed that I had done these computer renderings. It felt great especially having had a tough critique from one of the professors.

Anyway, back to 1996 I had started the year purchasing a computer for $4,500 (with a 17inch CRT monitor which was a significant factor in the cost). In order to buy this I had saved up and complemented my savings with a bank loan.

I visited the Computer Lab at school again and asked where I could purchase ArchiCAD and I was given Murrays name.

I went home and called up Murray and started talking about ArchiCAD and that I would like to buy a copy and enquired the cost. Murray responded with “eighty-nine, nighty” which I thought mean 90 bucks. Somehow, I realised Murray actually meant $8,990 which was absolutely shocking – I had never come across software that was $1,000 let alone almost nine thousand. 

I explained to Murray – some way deflated – that having spent everything on my computer there was no way I could afforded to spend double again on ArchiCAD. We did however agree to meet. So, one Saturday afternoon I visited Murray who had moved to their second North Shore house/office on the edge of Lake Pupuke.

I showed Murray some of my work and talked about a few things.  I can’t remember if it was at the meeting or subsequent to it, but Murray suggested that maybe I could be useful creating a newsletter for the ArchiCAD user group. I had done a lot of desktop publishing and this was a great opportunity to be involved – ArchiCAD 5 was around the corner and Murray agreed to let me have the use of a Not For Resale (NFR) ArchiCAD license – yay $9,000 saved and I could use ArchiCAD on my computer at home.

1994 – Employee #1

Technically speaking the title of this post may or may not be correct but you’ll understand why I’ve used it.

As ArchiCAD continued to grow in New Zealand it consumed all of Murray’s time and the visualisation business needed attention. I’m a bit fuzzy but during this time Paul and Allan (or vice versa) joined Murray and continued the visualisation. Both had architectural backgrounds and moved back into the field and either worked for or created their own ArchiCAD based Architecture practices.

This was all before my time but is roughly correct.

Anyway, as licenses continued to sell, and the client base continued to grow Murray needed some admin help. Through their daughters and their school Murray met Debbie Garrett who – having worked in the travel industry –was between jobs.

Murray suggested that maybe Debbie could work 2-3 hrs a day for 2-3 days a week. He also said something along the lines of

“that the industry and the ArchiCAD product wouldn’t really interest me [Debbie] and I would only stay until I found another position which better suited my hospitality background”

To fly through history a little, when I started with Cadimage in 1996 Debbie was up to 4hrs/day every day, and this quickly increased to 5hrs/day then 6hrs/day until it made sense for everyone that she became fulltime.

Coming back to the title of the story I consider Debbie employee number 1 on a number of levels whether it is technically correct or not. Firstly, Debbie is still with the company – 26 years and counting – and during my time reached her 5-year milestone which seemed big. It was easily superseded by her 10th, 15th, 20th and more recently (but after my time) her 25th

Secondly, Debbie is the most amazing employee I have come across, she is diligent, hardworking and selfless. The customers love her, for a great deal of years she knew every customers kids and new arrivals and to this day remembers all sorts of personable information. While Debbie isn’t the most technology literate person she has grown massively and as time has gone on has been more confident and willing to adopt change (which I’m to blame for as I was constantly improving the business and the systems we used)

Overall while Murray and I were the ‘owners’ of Cadimage, Debbie was and is the life blood. Whenever I meet past clients I’m always asked about Debbie and how she is doing.

People make business what it is, and Debbie completely personifies this in everything she does.

1991 – ArchiCAD beginnings

Murray was convinced there was a great market opportunity in New Zealand for the right Architectural Design system. Due to the high price of Sonata Murray started investigating alternatives and had seen ArchiCAD at a number of trade-shows in the late 80’s while still in the UK.

Around late 1990 early 1991 Murray sent a letter to Gábor Bojár – the founder of GRAPHISOFT the developer of ArchiCAD in Budapest Hungary – making the case for Murray/Cadimage to become the New Zealand Distributor.

Around the same time Andrew Ecker (who is based in Christchurch) had been sourcing ArchiCAD from the Australian distributors and had sold licenses to three practices – two of which remain customers to this day.

Murrays first request was declined by Gábor, with an explanation along the lines of “we have a distributor in Australia so contact them and see if you can become a reseller.”

Murray is definitely not one to give up at the first hurdle, so he tried again. This time however he included a geography lesson. He indicated to Gabor that Sydney, Australia is as far away from Auckland, New Zealand as Madrid is from Spain and explained there were a number of distributors across Europe.

This second proposal was accepted and Cadimage became the Exclusive Distributor for ArchiCAD in New Zealand. This did rock the boat a little with Andrew Ecker, however, Murray very quickly took on Andrew as the reseller for the South Island.

From what I understand Murray had to agree to sell 10 licenses in his first year which was initially a a daunting expectation. 

Early on Murray was unsure about selling ArchiCAD as while at $12,500 it was cheaper than Sonata it was still a lot of money for an architect to spend (I’d say invest but not everyone sees it that way). Therefore, Cadimage also had a 2d based Cad system for around $3,500. Murray quickly found that architects understood the concept of the 3D Virtual Building System and would either jump straight in or at least delay purchasing until they could commit to ArchiCAD – they didn’t see why they would move to a 2d system. 

To help cash flow the licenses for customers Murray also offered payment via post-dated cheques, generally this was 1/3 on delivery, 1/3 one month later and the final 1/3 after 2 months. Murray was supported by generous payment terms from GRAPHISOFT meaning he’d received all payments by the time he needed to pay GRAPHISOFT. In more extreme cases Murray would take 5 cheques over a 4-month period.

As history shows however 10 licenses was only the start and the first year saw the target achieved. The following year (1992) over 100 licenses were sold and the beginnings of a strong New Zealand ArchiCAD base started to take shape.

Until 1994 ArchiCAD was an Apple based product only and somewhere along the way Cadimage became an Apple Reseller and also sold HP Plotters. At this early stage this hardware was essential and allowed Cadimage to offer complete turnkey solutions as the majority of these early ArchiCAD customers were switching from the drawing board.

As a side note, ArchiCAD in New Zealand has built a significant market share and is one of the top markets for ArchiCAD worldwide. When I was asked why I think we were successful I also answered with what appears at first a counter intuitive answer – “we were behind”

As you read above when prospects were presented with the option of 2d or 3d the 3d system was the obvious answer. Architects always think in 3d. So, when they considered moving from the drawing board to ‘cad’ they saw 3d as the most sensible option. Other markets like the US and Australia were well ahead of NZ and started moving to computers in the 80’s and those who adopted computers for their business simply upgraded from a draughting board to a 2d computer draughting software – similar to moving from handwriting to using a typewriter. 

When New Zealand architects began computerising in the 90’s Cadimage and ArchiCAD were there and 3d just made sense and we benefited from having virtually the only 3d solution at the time.

1989 – Founding

Cadimage Solutions Limited (as it was originally known) was established by Murray and Sue Pearson on 16th October 1989. The company was incorporated prior to their return to NZ – with their 4-year-old daughter Jo – after an extended OE that saw them leave New Zealand for the UK in 1979.

Murray is a NZCD qualified draughtsman who worked for a number of architectural practices in the UK and got involved in the early days of what is now known most commonly as Building Information Modelling, or BIM.

Murray has many stories to tell of the different computers and systems in these very early days of CAD. One of the first systems was RUCAPs and he later was a tester for Jonathan Ingram as he developed the Sonata Building Design Software. They only had one workstation so Jonathan would spend all day coding, and then in the evening Murray would set about “testing” (read: breaking) the new code.

On return to New Zealand Murray continued his use of Sonata to great 3D visuals for a number of New Zealand industries and projects including, DB Breweries, Mobil Oil and the Wellington Wastewater Treatment Plant.

While by today’s standards the renderings produced show their age, they were cutting edge at the time and allowed companies to visualise their project in advance and use the images to help tell stories regarding different location options, or different construction strategies.

In parallel with these projects Murray was also trying to sell Sonata to New Zealand Architects. However, with a price tag around $100,000 for the Software and the Silicon Graphics Workstation it was a tough sell.

Cadimage is very much the traditional NZ start-up with Sue and Murray owning $50 shares each and saving every penny as they established the business. They originally had a small office in Three Lamps/Ponsonby and then moved to a purpose-built home office on the North Shore. Sue helped with a lot of the admin and it wasn’t unusual for Sue to jump in a car in Friday night rush-hour to deliver a new image to a client – again saving money by not using a courier!

Cadimage and U2

You’re probably wondering what the connection between Cadimage and U2 is, and to tell you the truth it would be a stretch to create one!

However, we’re in Rome at the moment for the U2 Joshua Tree Concert and today when we were exploring the Vatican we came across the Vatican Staircase

Coming across the staircase took me back to 2009 when we were developing the Cadimage brand, with this staircase being the architectural equivalent of the nautilus shell.

It really is an amazing stair case, as is the rich architectural history across the entire city.