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.
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.