The 2023 AEC design stack

January 12, 2023

In the past week we announced our new round in Snaptrude, which we were fortunate to co-lead alongside our friends at Accel.

In the past week we announced our new round in Snaptrude, which we were fortunate to co-lead alongside our friends at Accel.

Snaptrude, which is like the Figma for AEC, is one example of highly talented product teams re-inventing the 3D/2D design stack.

Like Altaf, we believe in a multi-player and open (!!!) future for the future design stack. And that’s a transformative leap, because designers today are stuck in hundreds of walled gardens from legacy players.

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Architects and engineers using CAD spend more than 700 hours per design with their software stack. And they have to live with insane versioning.

Here is a super crude example of how nuts the design versioning in AEC is:

  • 1 project, 1 model (this is a simplified example; the reality is much worse)
  • 10+ collaborators
  • 100+ softwares in use across the collaborators
  • 1’000+ versions
  • 10’000+ files sent around
  • 100’000+ file uploads
  • … for one project

And the industry is made up of 607’000 engineering/archi firms. The market leader worldwide has 0.3% market share (you read that right). I wrote here about the market structure.

In other words: multiple firms collaborate on the same project.

And interestingly, this fragmentation is increasing. In 2015, 52% of ENR firms had 50+ employees. Four years later, it was only 49%. The super small firms also lost some share, down from 15% to 13%. It is the “mid-sized” engineering/archi firms with 10-49 employees who are gaining share, up from 33% to 38, and rising.

Meaning, mid-size firms – which are still very small by any other industry standard – are becoming the norm.

On top of this, we can observe a structural shift over the past years towards multi-disciplinary firms, i.e. engineering/archi firms who house the different disciplines required to engineer a project internally. Which does not eliminate the need for collaboration, but inversely should increase the speed of adoption for collaboration solutions within the same firm.

The rise of mid-sized and multi-disciplinary engineering/archi firms is relevant for the design stack as mid-size firms should be easiest to penetrate and gain adoption with. Small firms tend to not have the overhead staff to deal with adoption. Very large firms come with the corporate BS and bureaucracy which leads to slow adoption and long sales cycles. I am most excited about the rise of mid-size firms.

Lo and behold, this adoption thesis seems corroborated by this chart – how fast the different firm sizes adopted BIM over the past two decades. The middle line is the mid-sized firms. I wish I had sales cycle data to plot against it, but my money is that sales cycle with the large firms will be 3x longer than with mid-sized firms.

So, we can see that (1) multiplayer is not just a fancy trend, but a structural need with structurally-supported tailwinds and (2) selling multi-player design tools to SMBs in AEC gives you a growing market within the fastest-adopting segment.

Now, luckily, this opportunity is further amplified by a third factor, namely (3) CAD users really really really do not like the legacy solutions.

And well, the incumbents tell us quite frankly on their own website how they see the future of the ecosystem. What they call “moving interoperability forward” I would call “creating a walled garden with some peek holes”.

Meaning: The incumbents telegraph their vision of more walled gardens, not less – whereas the market is structurally moving into the multiplayer direction.

We have seen this same structural shift play out with the 2D graphic design community. Adobe legacy solutions, Figma and Miro transforming it. And eventually, it ended here:

So for me, it is crystal clear in what place the 3D/2D CAD design stack will end. It seems to me quite clear the legacy authoring tools – which are solo-player, 1:1 – will try to expand into some multiplayer functionalities and some value-added functionalities that we see develop in other parts of the market, such as eg. ESG analysis functions from But they will ultimately fail in innovating fast enough, due to the closed nature of their approach in a market that will now favor open tools structurally more quickly.

As a result, pure-bred multiplayer authoring tools, that incorporate versioning, commenting, collaborative editing (minus true branching as you would have on a git), are continuing to gain adoption in specific parts of the design market. Namely Snaptrude, Rayon, Qonic or Arcol.

And these multiplayer tools – equivalent to a Figma – will incorporate more open functionalities and integrations in amazing user interfaces. Now, as transformative as they are, one restriction will remain: they are 1:n tools, meaning all players will ultimately have to author in the same tool. This is the same restriction as with Figma or also Notion.

So, beyond the multiplayer tools, we believe an open infrastructure streaming opportunity is emerging, that will enable all users/players to author in their respective tools, but on the same model. So this is a cross-platform streaming opportunity, that we are extremely excited about. The pioneer and market leader in this 3D authoring streaming opportunity is Speckle, and something similar might emerge for flat documents in AEC (I spoke about the flat document streaming opportunity here)

So, my vision of the future AEC design stack is open. Multiplayer and streaming is what I am excited about.


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