Celebrating 20 years of WoodWing

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20 years ago, there were roughly 360 million people online. 

You had a Nokia phone and your Apple desktop computer had a transparent colored body. Adobe InDesign was one year old. Magazine and newspaper design and layout professionals around the world were just beginning to adopt this new piece of technology - and this led to the idea that started WoodWing. 

To celebrate our 20-year anniversary, we talked to the founder and first CEO, Erik Schut, and current CEO, Ross Paterson, about the journey so far, what is cooking in the WoodWing kitchen at the moment, and where the company is headed in the coming years. 
 

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What was the idea that started WoodWing?

Erik: In the late 1990s my cofounders and I were working at Mediasystemen, a supplier of high-end editorial solutions for newspapers. We saw Adobe InDesign coming - by 1997, Mediasystemen had started building its next-generation platform, based on InDesign which came to market in summer 1999. 

It was my, and my cofounders’ strong belief that InDesign would disrupt the page-layout market and we saw the opportunity to build plugins to enhance InDesign for cross-media publishing and sell these worldwide. So we acquired the rights to the Smart Styles and Smart Layout plug-ins that we developed for Mediasystemen, and started our own company.

 

What was the first year like?

Erik: We started in my attic with three people; Aad Droogh, Joost Huizinga, and myself. In addition, we had Hans Janssen and Ruud Rijbroek in the background as shareholders. 

Our vision was to become a pure software product company and we launched our first two InDesign plugins, Smart Styles and Smart Layout. To fund our product development we also offered custom software development services for Adobe InDesign plugins.

From the beginning we’ve had an international focus, the first trade shows we exhibited on were NEXPO and Seybold Expo, both in San Francisco. This also led to one of our first software development contracts: an XML extraction plug-in for Time Inc. One hundred percent of our 2000 revenue was from international customers. 

As InDesign’s market share was virtually nil at the time, sales of our plug-ins picked up very slowly. In fact, we only sold 39 plugins in 2000! Fortunately, InDesign development services were relatively easy to sell, providing us the funding we needed.

 

Talk us through the first few years: how the company grew, first customers and partners, highs and lows, geographical expansion.

Erik: In 2001, Jeroen Sonnemans joined us to manage sales and marketing - which was extremely helpful because up to that point we were just a few techies. In 2002, our product sales started to accelerate and our product revenue surpassed our services revenue for the first time - meaning we had finally become the software product company we had envisioned, and with a growing partner network. This growth in product revenue was mainly due to sales of Smart Connection, our first small scale publishing system. However, we still had some large custom development projects, which could be quite frustrating. 

In 2004, we released Smart Connection Enterprise, which would eventually evolve into WoodWing Studio. This gave our product sales another big boost. Furthermore, we opened our US office in 2003 and Asia Pacific office in 2005 to expand our sales outside Europe. 

 

Can you describe the relationship with Apple in the early iPad days? How did it come about? What was the impact?

Erik: In late 2009 there were rumors that Apple was working on a new “slate” device. Based on these rumors, we worked together with Time Inc. and the WonderFactory on a prototype of how Sports Illustrated could be reimagined as an interactive digital magazine. 

The day that Apple announced the iPad we were in the unique position of having a working prototype. And when the iPad was launched two months later our first title - TIME Magazine - went live. Two months later we were invited to meet with Steve Jobs to discuss the future of magazine publishing on the iPad.

Two months later we were invited to meet with Steve Jobs to discuss the future of magazine publishing on the iPad.

It was an amazing roller coaster ride for about two years, and it brought WoodWing to a new level.

 

Recently you sold your stake in the company. How did that feel?

Erik: In one word: Proud! It’s great to see how WoodWing has grown over the years into the global success it is. It has been a great ride and the acquisition by Main Capital Partners allows WoodWing to grow to the next level which will make me even prouder.
 

 

Intermezzo: Some highlights of the past twenty years
 

 

 

Thanks Erik! Over to Ross. You have been leading WoodWing for two years now. What inspired you about taking on the role of CEO?

Ross: There are two things. First our people - I love the atmosphere and talents that we have globally. Every region that I visit there is the same atmosphere that is a combination of humor, intelligence, and mentality to get things done. I am really thankful to work with this group of people. This also accounts for our partner community. People that have a deep understanding of WoodWing and customer needs. To me, the quality of people and culture is the most important ingredient for success for any company.

Next thing is that there is enormous unlocked potential within WoodWing. According to Gartner, the content space is doubling every year. We have much to offer and gain here. We have proven that our technology is relevant for industries for which content is a strategic consideration. We are now focused on maintaining our leading position in the publishing space, while also growing our offering for brands. 

 

What are the most exciting developments coming in the next year?

Ross: There are several key developments happening. First, we are moving from a product offering to a platform offering. This means we are combining our flagship products in a content orchestration platform that allows our customers to operate their content workflows with greater efficiency. This platform will be in the cloud, meaning that we will move our development to the cloud, enabling us to limit the number of versions we create and leverage microservices available on the cloud. 

Next is looking closely to how our current customers use the platform and how we can add technologies to the platform that allow customers to get to their business goals.

Finally, I am very excited to further expand in the brand owner segment. This will be a great challenge as there are lots of different players, so I am excited to define our sweet spot and deliver the technology to support that.

 

Where do you see WoodWing in five years?

Ross: Content is more and more turning into a competitive differentiator for brands. The extent to which a company can create, manage, and distribute its global content workflows is becoming a strategic capability.

With our technology and services, we will be supporting customers to create efficient content workflows. This means connecting all the content that lives in many different sources and making it available to benefit content creation and distribution to any channel. And we should realize that channels keep growing in the future, whether it is self-driving cars, voice assistants or other channels.

So to summarize, in five years the channels through which we tell our stories will have evolved, but WoodWing will still be providing the technology for organizations to tell their stories.

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