Top 11 things I learnt at SolidWorks in the last 11 years !!


After 11 fun years at SolidWorks, I am leaving to pursue a new career opportunity. I consider myself lucky to have worked at such an awesome company during a time when it grew from a startup to a force in the CAD industry. In 1996, it was the second job of my fledgling career and I don’t think I could have done it any better. I learned so much during these 11 years, got to contribute to a product used by hundreds of thousands of product designers, worked with some of the smartest people I have met and made so many friends over the years amongst my colleagues and customers alike.

Now it is time to move on and do the next big thing in my career. It is hard to leave a place where I knew so many people who shared the good and bad times during the different business cycles. But I believe that I will never know what I will find next unless I try. It could be the next big success or failure, but the learning cannot continue unless I try. I wish all my colleagues the very best in personal and business success for years to come.

I thought this would be a great opportunity to list the top 11 things that I learned at SolidWorks (yes, there is a lot more than 11) in the last 11 years that will guide me for the rest of my working life.

1. Hiring is the most important thing you do at work and always hire people smarter than you: Team success is what will determine your business success, so why not have people smarter than you working for/with you? If you have to micromanage someone or babysit them to do the tasks, why hire them? Hire slowly and make sure you have done due diligence.

2. A manager’s success is all about making his/her reports successful in what they do: Once you are a manager, it is not about “you” anymore. It is all about your team. Your job is to ensure that you are making your reports successful in their job. You have to ensure that their strengths are fully utilized. You will be judged by your team’s success.

3. You cannot move up in the company unless you train your replacement: You have to make sure that you are dispensable by training your replacement. Otherwise, you cannot move up and take up another position within the company. Pay attention when you are hiring – can your new hire replace you one day? Thanks to Aaron Kelly for teaching me this. I would not have made my move from Product Definition to Strategic Marketing without Bruce Holway.

4. It is all about “relationships” and not “products”: This is true whether it is with customers, colleagues, partners and resellers. When someone buys from you or when your colleagues work with you, you are winning their trust and they are making an investment in you. Trust once broken, cannot be repaired. Relationships you build will outlive any technology or product. In other words, it is all about “people” and not “products”.

5. Only viewpoint that matters is that of the customer: The answer is not in the building. You have to get out and talk to real customers and understand their “pain points”. In fact, none of the people in the building will buy your product, only your customers do. So take the time to figure out what your customers need and then solve their pain points with a kick ass solution. Worry about the competition, but worry more about what customers need. Respect the customer.

6. There is a big difference between products that customers will “buy” vs. products customers “like”: You should only be solving problems that customers are willing to pay money for (in some cases, you make money via the network effect that is generated by solving problems – eDrawings, 3D ContentCentral are prime examples). After all, business needs to make money to stay around (there are no two ways about it !). It does not make business sense to solve problems customers don’t care about. Never get enamored with technology and then start looking for problems that the technology can solve. Do it the other way. Find the real customer problems and then find the best technology to solve these problems and then make money out of it.

7. Be “market driven” and not be “marketing driven”. There is a big difference: Never thought how big a difference adding “ing” to a word could make.

8. Have technical and business arguments with colleagues as long as none of it turns personal: Make sure that all perspectives are considered when devising the best possible solution for a customer’s problem. Have heated technical/business debates if you want, but never ever make any of these arguments/disagreements personal. When you have these disagreements and then make a decision, you at least know that you have considered all possible solutions and picked the one that is the best. After all, the customer does not care whose idea it was, to them the idea came from SolidWorks. Either all of us are going to look like heroes or a bunch of idiots. Which would you rather be?

9. Have meetings before the meeting: If you are asked to present to a large group of people meet with the key stakeholders one on one before your big meeting. You do not want to get ambushed because you did not do due diligence on the material you are presenting. Meet with them one on one before hand and make sure to get their feedback on your thinking and ask specifically for any concerns they may have. You would then have time to do more research to address those concerns or list them as risks. If you do this right, the final meeting should be one of consensus and no “surprises”.

10. Trying and failing is a lot better than failing to try: All successful people have failed more than they have succeeded. No one writes about their failures. Failing to try is trying to fail. Never forget the lessons you learn from these failures. There is no better learning method than trying and failing, but never fail the same way twice. I have to thank SolidWorks for all the wonderful opportunities over the last 11 years to try new things and having the luxury to fail and learn from these failures.

11. Execution is the key to being successful: History is filled with people/companies who had great ideas and got nowhere because they did not execute. Devil is in the details. Many times, flawless execution can compensate for any flaws in the idea as long as you quickly iterate and continue to execute. Execution is the key.

14 thoughts on “Top 11 things I learnt at SolidWorks in the last 11 years !!

  1. Gopal,

    SolidWorks will not be the same without you. You have personally taught me so much and I value, and will continue to value our friendship. As you know, I refer to you as my Jiminy Cricket (from Pinocchio) who has been bold and honest with me as a friend to point out my mistakes and be my conscience as I waded through my new-found product manager role.

    I can say that you are an individual that “walks-his-talk” having been a former customer of yours; I can say that you have diligently practiced your top ten. I might theorize that you did such a good job at it that you even swayed me in leaving the world of full-time product design and move over 3000 miles from one of the most beautiful states in the country (CA) to work for SolidWorks. After all, the number one reason for me to hire on with SW was the people.

    I’ll miss our day to day interaction but look forward to continuing our newly-defined relationship.

    Your Friend

    Mark Biasotti
    Product Manager
    SolidWorks Corporation

  2. Gopal:

    Having read your Top 11 Things, I truly regret that I am so new to SolidWorks that I haven’t had the privilege of getting to know you! Wise, wise advice (although one piece —- seeing all the stakeholders before any big meeting — may not always be possible; what a Nirvana THAT would be!). In any case, your blog is now going to become one of my favorite destinations (as long as you keep it current and pithy — and I am fairly certain that you may…)

    Best of luck in your ongoing career and personal evolution.

    Kathleen
    (out in the hinterlands of the Midwest)

  3. Pingback: Brian, CADFanatic
  4. Hi Gopal,

    It is a very beautiful Article.
    Thanks for sharing these Elevan thoughts.
    Your thoughts are encouraging and I would love to see a book in future.
    All the Best.

    D.R.Vijay
    Sr.QA-Engineer,
    SolidWorks R&D India.

  5. Gopal — Great tips! For product managers especially, I think #8 (“Have technical and business arguments with colleagues as long as none of it turns personal”) is hugely important and often missed. Either PMs avoid confrontation altogether, or make these arguments person, but it’s challenging and rare to find the middle ground. Some of my best working relationships are with colleagues with whom I can engage in a strenuous argument. Not only do we still get along well afterwards, but I end up knowing more and respecting them more than I did at the beginning.

    Best of luck in your new career opportunity!

    Jeff
    Blog: How to be a Good Product Manager

  6. Gopal,

    I am so sorry to see you leave us at SolidWorks, but so happy that you personally are making a move that you want to do.

    You have contributed a lot to SolidWorks since the beginning. Undoubtedly we have a better product because of your efforts, but more importantly we have a better SolidWorks team and culture because of you.

    I will always remember our lunches where you and Mark Gibson would give me the straight info on what was going on with SolidWorks software in our customers’ hands.

    All The Best,

    – Jon

  7. Gopal,

    When I think about you and SolidWorks – the word that comes to mind is dedication. You worked diligently for our customers and for the company, always trying to get to the core of what our users need and want.

    It has been a distinct pleasure to have worked with you and I wish you much success in the future.

    Warmly,

    John

  8. I am reading this close to a year after you wrote it. Your insights are timeless and valuable.

    I don’t know you, but what have you learned in the (close to) year since you have left Solidworks?

    Great blog! Regards, Dave

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