Autodesk CEO Andrew Anagnost explains the strategy behind acquiring Spacemaker

‘Culturally, they’re the right company. Vision and strategy-wise, they’re the right company.’

Autodesk, the U.S. publicly listed software and services company that targets engineering and design industries, acquired Norway’s Spacemaker this week. The startup has developed AI-supported software for urban development, something Autodesk CEO Andrew Anagnost broadly calls generative design.

The price of the acquisition is $240 million in a mostly all-cash deal. Spacemaker’s VC backers included European firms Atomico and Northzone, which co-led the company’s $25 million Series A round in 2019. Other investors on the cap table include Nordic real estate innovator NREP, Nordic property developer OBOS, U.K. real estate technology fund Round Hill Ventures and Norway’s Construct Venture.

In an interview with TechCrunch, Anagnost shared more on Autodesk’s strategy since it transformed into a cloud-first company and what attracted him to the 115-person Spacemaker team. We also delved more into Spacemaker’s mission to augment the work of humans and not only speed up the urban development design and planning process but also improve outcomes, including around sustainability and quality of life for the people who will ultimately live in the resulting spaces.

I also asked if Spacemaker sold out too early? And why did U.S.-headquartered Autodesk acquire a startup based in Norway over numerous competitors closer to home? What follows is a transcript of our Zoom call, lightly edited for length and clarity.

TechCrunch: Let’s start high-level. What is the strategy behind Autodesk acquiring Spacemaker?

Andrew Anagnost: I think Autodesk, for a while … has had a very clearly stated strategy about using the power of the cloud; cheap compute in the cloud and machine learning/artificial intelligence to kind of evolve and change the way people design things. This is something strategically we’ve been working toward for quite a while both with the products we make internally, with the capabilities we roll out that are more cutting edge and with also our initiative when we look at companies we’re interested in acquiring.

As you probably know, Spacemaker really stands out in terms of our space, the architecture space, and the engineering and owner space, in terms of applying cloud computing, artificial intelligence, data science, to really helping people explore multiple options and come up with better decisions. So it’s completely in line with the strategy that we had. We’ve been looking at them for over a year in terms of whether or not they were the right kind of company for us.

Culturally, they’re the right company. Vision and strategy-wise, they’re the right company. Also, talent-wise, they’re the right company, They really do stand out. They’ve built a real, practical, usable application that helps a segment of our population use machine learning to really create better outcomes in a critical area, which is urban redevelopment and development.

So it’s totally aligned with what we’re trying to do. It’s not only a platform for the product they do today — they have a great product that’s getting increasing adoption — but we also see the team playing an important role in the future of where we’re taking our applications. We actually see what Spacemaker has done reaching closer and closer to what Revit does [an existing Autodesk product]. Having those two applications collaborate more closely together to evolve the way people assess not only these urban planning designs that they’re focused on right now, but also in the future, other types of building projects and building analysis and building option exploration.

How did you discover Spacemaker? I mean, I’m guessing you probably looked at other companies in the space.

We’ve been watching this space for a while; the application that Spacemaker has built we would characterize it, from our terminology, as generative design for urban planning, meaning the machine generating options and option explorations for urban planning type applications, and it overlaps both architecture and owners.

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