At 3:42 PM Pacific Time today, when I started writing this blog post, GrabCAD status showed 1,229,266 downloads, 19,249 CAD models, shared by 72,419 members. By the time this blog post went live at 4:40 PM, the counter has risen to 1,229,533 downloads, 19,250 CAD models, 72,436 members. That’s a growth of 17 members and 267 downloads in just an hour.
GrabCAD was cofounded by Hardi Meybaum, an immigrant from Estonia, a Baltic state that regained independence from the USSR in 1991. In October 2010, Meybaum landed in Boston Logan airport with his wife and his nine-month-old daughter in tow. His most immediate concern at the time was to find a place to live, a home for his family. Today, he runs an online community that’s home to 72,000 members.
In August 2010, Meybaum wrote — and rewrote — what would become GrabCAD’s debut blog post. He found the right words in his fourth attempt. He dashed off: “We’re live!” For the first 12 months, the site struggled to find an audience, but in mid-2011, it began to see meteoric rise. On December 15, Christmas came early for Meybaum and his partners: They saw their 1,000,000th download.
“We saw inefficiencies in engineering — in the way services are [provided] and how engineers share knowledge,” he said. “The idea [for the site] has evolved a lot since the start, but one thing has not [changed] — we are there to make engineers’ life easier.”
GrabCAD embodies some of the best characteristics found on social media sites. Like YouTube, you can publish 3D models to the site. Like Facebook, you can identify and befriend 3D software users with similar interest (for example, those specializing in architecture modeling or alien monsters). You can swap comments and follow those whose work you admire, like you would on Twitter. Like LinkedIn, you can harvest your social connections for potential assignments and job leads.
Outlook for 2012 is bright. GrabCAD has just secured $4 million in a new round of fundraising. Meybaum said he’ll use the new funds to “continue to develop the product and hire more software engineers and product managers.”
Some members used their GrabCAD profile page and the uploaded models as their online portfolio, much in the same way digital photographers today market themselves. In its capacity as a destination for those seeking engineering talent, GrabCAD offers matchmaking between 3D modelers and 3D modeling service buyers. A number of GrabCAD users wrote to Meybaum to tell him they’d found profitable assignments through the site.
GrabCAD’s success story reinforces what many immigrants instinctively know about the U.S. It’s a country where a talented, hardworking immigrant can create opportunities for himself — and many others.