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Startup Alcove9 Soars High in Making Data Easily Accessible and More Usable

By August 13, 2012Article

Editor’s note: Alcove9’s product suite makes companies’ data easily accessible and more usable, no matter where it resides in a company. Alcove9’s president, Sam Abu-Hamdan, discusses how companies benefit from its products and provides advice for other entrepreneurs. Your company name is intriguing. What’s the meaning behind it?
Sam Abu-Hamdan: Of course we wanted a distinctive name. The idea of “alcove” struck us; it means a recessed section of a room, or bay. The Library of Congress has eight alcoves that identify physical bays that house all of the library’s records, books and documents. The Library of Congress contains a ninth alcove, which is virtual in nature. So, we coined Alcove9 to represent a virtual bay of knowledge to act as a unified access for companies to get to their own information. How did your company originate?
Sam Abu-Hamdan: Just before launching Alcove9, I led a team for the aerospace and defense unit for Tata Technologies. I’m a mechanical and aerospace engineer by education. I started my career in automated engineering and manufacturing consulting, then helped start an automotive powertrain company in southern Mich. before going back again to the consulting world to help companies become more productive in their data management processes.
When I was working with data management customers, I truly came to grasp the difficulty users had accessing data from all sorts of files and in all sorts of formats. People who needed access to data to make informative business decisions couldn’t seem to find what they needed or, worse, they made costly mistakes by referencing outdated information. The larger companies I was working with demanded design re-use and accessibility to legacy data for an immense number of projects, but they were handicapped by lack of information.
It was at that time that I realized what a great opportunity existed for a firm focused on solving this challenge.
Alcove9 officially opened its doors in Oxford, Mich. a year ago — August 15, 2011. We are a talented and passionate team of people with many years of experience developing integration products for CAD, PLM, and ERP systems and the motivation to change for the better the way people interact with data. Is your market companies of all sizes?
Sam Abu-Hamdan: Yes, all industry sectors of any size. One of our newest customers is a one-man design shop and our largest customer has over 6,000 employees. Please give me an overview of your products and differentiation.
Sam Abu-Hamdan: Our suite of products has a base module called a9 Hub that enables deep searching for all sorts of formats and files. It’s browser-based and offered on an open source platform.
Then, there are add-on modules; a9 CADViz provides visualization of over 15 CAD formats without having to tie up a CAD license. That’s a cost saver for companies that do not want to extend their CAD licenses to cover casual users or viewers of the data. And we currently offer two embedded versions of our search solution for Aras Innovator PLM and AutoCAD users. More embedded versions are in the works.
Our pricing and subscription model allows a customer to select only what they need for their particular organization. The entire suite is based on the Solr search engine, a flexible, scalable and well-proven search engine. How much of your current product design is due to changes made because of customer feedback?
Sam Abu-Hamdan: Our a9 CADViz add-on product had an embedded licensed technology in it that was a bit limiting for some companies where CAD usage encompasses both 3D and 2D drawings. The customer feedback we received was very valuable and encouraged us to add more flexibility to our solution offering so we can answer our customers’ needs. As a result, our a9 CADViz product now comes with a number of optional CAD viewing technologies that accommodates customers’ varying CAD-viewing needs. What is a not-well-known pitfall that you encountered as a startup, and what is your advice to help others avoid it?
Sam Abu-Hamdan: That’s a tough question. Although I helped start a manufacturing company early on in my career, I still have learned a great deal since leaving a large, well-established firm with all the support help I needed. It’s a world of a difference that you don’t fully realize until the safety net has been pulled from beneath you — everything affecting my company’s success is now entirely on my shoulders.
Not-well-known? Maybe it’s a case of entrepreneurs being optimistic souls, not recognizing the differences before they leap. My advice is pretty basic. Talk to as many other successful entrepreneurs as you can. And, don’t allow yourself to think, “I’m different.” What is your advice to other entrepreneurs regarding how to become inspired again after encountering a difficult challenge or set-back?
Sam Abu-Hamdan: The road to success is rarely a straight line, and a set-back doesn’t necessarily mean failure as long as you learn from it. For me, daily goal-setting keeps me on track for when challenges arise, and it gives me something constructive to focus on when faced with a set-back. We set goals as a team each Monday morning and assess progress at the end of the week. How did you hire your first employee?
Sam Abu-Hamdan: I first hired Rudy Reyes as our Director of Customer Success. He had an exceptional blend of creating customer centric experiences and an extensive IT background. I knew this because he had been a highly respected colleague of mine at a former firm, and I automatically knew that I wanted to bring him on at the very beginning. How did you acquire your first customer?
Sam Abu-Hamdan: Much like hiring my first employee, I created our initial base of clients by leveraging a comprehensively cultivated database of connections I’d worked and networked with over the years (way before LinkedIn, no less!). After more than 20 years in the industry, I’d nurtured relationships that fostered opportunities to introduce our product suite in a diplomatic way. You mentioned earlier the CAD-licenses and the subscription-model aspects as cost savers in your products. What other aspects make Alcove9 products a cost-effective solution?
Sam Abu-Hamdan: Using Alcove9 avoids any costly effort to extract, transform and load data into a new scheme. There are numerous surveys that identify the extent of time wasted by individuals because they couldn’t remember where their data was stored. That’s the basic value; however, the key is that the saved time is then invested in activities that are more productive.
In most manufacturing companies, using product data that already exists avoids cost of recreating such data. That can be expensive, especially when users end up duplicating data within the company where downstream users could potentially be using outdated information. At the highest level, we can say that our product helps gain the benefits of design re-use and, therefore, helps achieve such key objectives as reduced time to market. Where do you turn for advice?
Sam Abu-Hamdan: We are fortunate to have an advisory board that brings us a broad view of the market and its direction. Our board members have extensive experience in our industry and have started multiple successful businesses of their own.
In addition, we rely on constant contact with our partners who also bring perspective to our efforts. Currently, they include Razorleaf, a CAD/PLM services firm Aras, the open source PLM company, and The vdR Group, a leader in engineering and manufacturing integration solutions, among others. We are always on the lookout for more partners with a compatible focus. What does your company hope to accomplish over the next 12 months?
Sam Abu-Hamdan: As a startup, we need to gain recognition for Alcove9 as a proven product, not some bleeding-edge vision. To do so, we will concentrate on expanding our marketing. We need not only creative promotions that can help our products stand out but also our publicity must answer one question: Did we solve the need that triggered the customer to engage with us in the first place? We recognize that a solved need is our measure of successful marketing. All aspects of our branding, promotion and engagement are developed as opportunities to let our products speak for themselves.
We started Alcove9 with high aspirations and keep raising the bar for ourselves. Our long-term goal or vision is to become a market leader in product data searching for engineering and manufacturing companies. It’s important to note that Alcove9 sprang from a product developed in the mid 2000s with over 100,000 users. What is the last interesting book you read? What did you like about it?
Sam Abu-Hamdan: I’m currently reading Outliers, by Malcolm Gladwell, which discusses the idea that there is a logical algorithm that determines why people become successful. It incorporates generational influences, your upbringing, and your demographic in addition to talent and thousands of man-hours as conclusive predictors of success. Being an engineer, I’m intrigued that Gladwell analyzes success and self-actualization with rationality and arithmetic. What is something you’ve wanted to do for a long time but haven’t done yet?
Sam Abu-Hamdan: Fly a plane. I always loved the feeling of flying. Since I was a little boy I had dreams of flying by spreading my arms and soaring up in the sky. (Yes, Superman magazine was a favorite of mine at that time.) I will be pursuing a pilot’s training program at the right time in the near future.
Sam Abu-Hamdan is president of Alcove9. Prior to starting Alcove9, he held many roles including consulting in the design and analysis field, leading a team of PLM architects in the aerospace and defense industry, and co-founding a design and manufacturing firm in Detroit.
Kathleen Goolsby is managing editor at