"No Spark, No Fire? Not So," says Autodesk

Robert ("Buzz") Kross, VP Mechanical Division, Autodesk discusses the closing of RedSpark, an eManufacturing initiative funded in part by Autodesk Ventures

On October 1st, RedSpark, the Autodesk spin-off formed in April 2000 to serve as an online marketplace for buyers and sellers in the manufacturing community, ceased operations. The reasons cited? Not surprisingly-- a weak manufacturing economy, lack of customers, and insufficient funding to continue. But will this move impact Autodesk’s commitment to its customers in the manufacturing community? Not according to Autodesk’s Robert ("Buzz") Kross, Vice President, Mechanical) who took a few minutes to talk with MCADCafe regarding RedSpark’s closing.

Autodesk played a key role in launching RedSpark. Now that RedSpark has announced it will be ceasing operations, what does this mean for Autodesk? And what about former Autodesk executive, Dominic Gallello, who served as Redspark’s CEO? Will he be returning to Autodesk?

A lot of people have read the news about RedSpark by now, and have learned that the RedSpark team has decided not to continue business. And while most people are also aware that Autodesk was an investor in RedSpark, I think sometimes it’s misunderstood what our role actually was beyond that-- because there were a lot of good friends and colleagues who were part of the effort, including Dominic, who is certainly a good friend and colleague of mine. Will he be returning to Autodesk? That’s a good question. You never really know. But I would say that Dominic is not coming back.

As to how Redspark’s closing will impact Autodesk, I think it should be made clear that RedSpark wasn’t an Autodesk company; it was a company that we had invested in. And even though we were a large investor, RedSpark was an independent company making its own way.

Now we did try to be synergistic with RedSpark, where we would help them whenever we could. But from our standpoint, in some ways, the closure of RedSpark actually makes things simpler for us in the marketplace.

How so? Can you elaborate here?

Sure. Streamline and RedSpark I think overlapped a bit, even though they did do different things — Streamline is a really good collaboration solution for everybody; RedSpark is a deep and narrow solution for the purchasing guy. I think some of our customers have played with both to some degree and they’ve said, "it looks like Streamline can solve my big problems, but I like the workflow aspect of RedSpark. Can you put that in Streamline?" So, basically, I think customers will see some of what they saw in RedSpark show up in Streamline, [not because RedSpark is closing] but because customer requests are driving development in this direction.

Critics are quick to point out that Autodesk essentially paid to bring Buzzsaw back into the company — yet there is apparently no intent to do so with RedSpark. Why not?

Buzzsaw had an AEC solution [that wasn’t available within Autodesk] so it made sense to bring it inside the company, whereas the Mechanical Division already had Streamline — so it made sense to continue development of Streamline [rather than acquire RedSpark.] And, as I said, I do think that we will continue to expand the functionality of Streamline, based on customer requirements.

Just to be clear on this, who owns the assets of RedSpark? Now that RedSpark is closing its doors, what assets, if any, will belong to Autodesk?

Autodesk was an investor, so we own some percent of those assets. But [even with access to these assets], there wouldn’t be any code from RedSpark that we would reuse, anyway.

That said, these are people who we know and trust so I certainly plan to hire some of those people who are going to leave when RedSpark closes. So, of course, we’ll gain that sort of experience and knowledge directly.

Clearly, there are other investors outside of Autodesk, to consider, too. What happens to their interest in the business? What we’ve seen happen a great deal in the past year is that when a dot-com closes, the goal then becomes to try to get at least something out of the assets —this is where companies typically fight to derive value from intellectual property. Is this an issue that Autodesk will have to wrestle with, in terms of RedSpark?

Yes, I think that’s one of the things that is unresolved at this point, and yes, where do the assets go is one of the questions. From my standpoint, the big thing is that I think there are some good people over there who I would like to have back in manufacturing, so I actually view this as an opportunity to grow my business a little bit more.

The thing is it’s very hard for any dot-com to survive these days, and RedSpark is no exception. But I think it’s important for people to understand that while Redspark may be closing its doors, Autodesk’s strategy involving Autodesk Inventor and Streamline is as solid as ever, and there are plans not only to continue but to expand our investment in the manufacturing marketplace.

Basically, the closure of RedSpark doesn’t signal any kind of shift away from manufacturing for Autodesk. There is a change going on — but it might best be described as a refocus on our core business and our core customers. And you’ll see a lot more emphasis on these sorts of things, as we move forward.

Robert "Buzz" Kross is Vice President of the Autodesk® Mechanical Division. The group, a part of the Design Solutions Division of Autodesk, creates products specifically tailored for mechanical engineers, designers and drafters.

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