MadCap Offers a Lesson in Bootstrapping, and a Case Study on Offshoring

San Diego’s MadCap Software may stand as an exemplar in showing how a small American technology company can compete against rivals that take advantage of low-cost development offshore.

The startup, founded in 2005, specializes in developing authoring software that is used by technical writers and others to create owners’ manuals, user guides and other types of technical documentation. MadCap announced late yesterday the release of new versions of its mainstay Flare software for print and online publications, and Blaze, its alternative to Adobe FrameMaker.

The updated versions of both products support DITA, the Darwin Information Typing Architecture, which MadCap’s Mike Hamilton says is significant because the companies that have adopted the DITA standard tend to be Fortune 500 companies. “This opens up a whole new world to us in terms of gaining entry to enterprise-level customers,” Hamilton says.

The privately held company says it has more than 4,000 customers, and boasts that Microsoft Health Solutions Group, for example, is using Flare to streamline publishing for the just-released version of its Amalga Unified Intelligence System. The results were encouraging enough for Microsoft to allow MadCap to use the Redmond, WA, giant as a promotional case study on MadCap’s website—and to extend Flare across its entire Health Solutions Group. As Hamilton puts it, the introduction of Flare 5.0 and Blaze 2.0 also moves MadCap away from competing directly against Adobe and its RoboHelp software—and therein lies the lesson of MadCap’s origins.

Hamilton and MadCap CEO Anthony Olivier were both at San Diego-based eHelp, which originally developed the RoboHelp software, when San Francisco-based Macromedia acquired the little company for $69.3 million in 2003. Olivier had been eHelp’s CEO, and had stayed on as business manager following the Macromedia buyout. But Olivier says what Macromedia really wanted was RoboDemo, a Flash-based program used to create software simulations (which is now known as Adobe Captivate). Macromedia soon began to lay off members of the RoboHelp development team in San Diego and moved the work offshore, first to the Philippines and later to India.

Adobe, which acquired Macromedia for $3.4 billion in late 2005, was even more indifferent about RoboHelp and the rest of the eHelp product line. Adobe moved more software development work from San Diego to India, and according to Olivier, the products languished.

Seeing an opportunity to create a more versatile sourcing tool, core members of eHelp’s development team, including Hamilton and Olivier, founded MadCap in 2005 with less than $1 million in funding from angel investors who were former software industry executives. “We wanted the VC help without the VC strings attached,” says Olivier. Although eHelp had originated in 1990 as a bootstrapped business, Olivier says venture investors who invested … Next Page »

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Bruce V. Bigelow was the editor of Xconomy San Diego from 2008 to 2018. Read more about his life and work here. Follow @bvbigelow

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