Speculating Onshape growth

Onshape works on any computing device with a browser. (Source: Onshape, Inc.)

The history of SolidWorks and SpaceClaim hold lessons for estimating the number of paying Onshape users.

Next month Onshape will celebrate two years as a commercial product. The CAD-in-a-browser startup has succeeded in generating high expectations, thanks to its big venture capital war chest ($169 million) and a team of founders who made lightning strike two decades ago with SolidWorks.

Onshape does not release specific revenue or seat counts. CEO Jon Hirschtick says the company now has “thousands” of paying users. It may sound like a gross generalization, but it is an approximation we can work with, by comparing Onshape to two other 3D CAD products. If sales of Onshape seats (subscriptions, actually) were above 10,000, Hirschtick would be saying “tens of thousands.”  

The user seat count for SolidWorks is available from Day One. In 2011 I wrote an article comparing the early growth of SolidWorks with the new kid on the block at that time, SpaceClaim (now owned by Ansys). Extending the comparison offers insight into how fast Onshape might be growing.

By the end of 1996, after a full year on the market, SolidWorks had sold 5,170 seats (the standard industry term for copies or specific users). By the end of two years, SolidWorks had sold a total of 14,591 seats, for a year-over-year growth rate of 182%. By the end of Year Three, the total number of SolidWorks seats sold was 26,000, a year-over-year increase of 78%. When SpaceClaim came along, it announced the annual year-over-year increase in seat count, but did not say the actual numbers. The estimate for SpaceClaim below is based on using a middle-of-the-road estimate, having considered what the high and low estimates might be using the history of SolidWorks as a guide.

In using history to estimate Onshape sales, there are several factors to take into consideration. SolidWorks arrived as the first 3D CAD modeler for the Windows operating system; there was high interest and pent-up demand. The competition at the time was PTC’s Pro/Engineer and the predecessors to today’s NX from Siemens, both of which at the time ran on the UNIX environment and cost thousands more per seat. SpaceClaim offered direct editing approach to solid modeling and picked up several large industrial accounts in its second and third years, including Ford, Bosch, and Trumpf.

Onshape has no such comparable pent-up demand or early industrial wins. The case studies it shares on the company blog are of small companies finding innovative uses for the software. The company is having to win over users to its claims of a superior design environment suitable for an Agile approach to engineering and its built-in version control that eliminates the need for vaulting and similar PDM functions.

For the sake of this estimate, we assume first year sales below SolidWorks and equal to or below SpaceClaim, based on the notion of Onshape not hitting the 10,000-user milestone before it turns two years old. The chart below presents two estimates, based on a scenario of not even coming close to 10,000 seats and one of being pretty close.

Year 1 Seats Year 2 seats Year 2 YOY growth Year 3 Seats Year 3 YOY Growth
SolidWorks (1996-1998) 5170 14591 182% 26000 78%
SpaceClaim estimate (2009-2011) 3000 8640 188%* 18144 110%*
Onshape low estimate (2016-2018) 2000 4000 100% n/a n/a
Onshape high estimate (2016-2018) 3000 9000 200% n/a n/a
* Percentage growth reported by SpaceClaim


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