Lucid Software charts growth path staying close to Utah roots | Crain's

Lucid Software charts growth path staying close to Utah roots

Ben Dilts, left, and Karl Sun are co-founders of Lucid Software, based in South Jordan, Utah. | Photo courtesy of Lucid Software.

A bustling, expanding software company in South Jordan, Utah, is charting a growth course by helping to upend industry leaders such as Microsoft Corp. and Adobe Systems Inc.

You could say it’s disruption by design.

Lucid Software, founded in 2010, is making it easier for millions of users to design flow charts, wireframe software, and create a raft of graphics via its popular Lucidchart program. The firm recently launched Lucidpress, which allows organizations to manage branding across an enterprise, as remote offices can customize and produce printed materials.

Both programs are cloud-based, an area often called “software as a service,” or SaaS. The firm says it has “a little over 10 million users,” of which 300,000 pay for enhanced subscriptions to the products at prices ranging from $5 to $20 per month, and up.

But wait, you say, what about Microsoft’s Visio, the graphical behemoth from the still-leader in office productivity suites? And don’t you know about InDesign, the Adobe publishing program that’s all the rage?

Those programs are still out there, and, yes, they have their legions of users. But Visio — like any Microsoft app — is not inexpensive to license. Adobe’s InDesign, favored by magazine designers everywhere, can be a bit of overkill if a branch office just wants to whip up some brochures on the fly.

That issue with Visio is what drove Ben Dilts, 32, Lucid’s co-founder and chief technology officer, into the arena to begin with. Having learned the basics of programming on a Commodore C-64 in the 1980s, Dilts was working with the startup team at Zane Benefits, a health benefit management company starting up in Park City, Utah. Mapping out workflows was critical, but the then-young firm had only one Visio license. Employees would pass around printouts of charts, write down changes and return the paper copies to one person for revisions.

“There was nothing” else available to create those charts, Dilts recalled, and so, over the course of nights and weekends, he created a web-based tool. With $100 in Google Adword spending, Dilts tentatively rolled the program out online, and within days had a $50 subscription — from a user in Australia.

“I remember going out and calling my dad,” Dilts said, “and telling him, ‘It’s real!’ He was excited. And, it turns out that first user also became an early investor in the company.”

Seven months later, Dilts left Zane to return to his college studies at Brigham Young University — and to build a team to refine Lucidchart. At BYU, he also met Karl Sun, a Harvard Law School graduate and veteran of Google who had moved to Utah with his wife, a BYU law professor.

After two years of shuttling back and forth between Utah and Mountain View, Calif., Google’s headquarters, Sun wanted to stay closer to home. His Google experience, which included two years of pioneering the firm’s offices in Beijing, taught him about the value of cloud-based apps, and Lucidchart was, he thought, a keeper.

Sun, 46, had the leadership and tech industry experience Dilts needed, and he came aboard as CEO.   

'Riding the SaaS wave'

For the first four or five years, Sun said, the firm was “riding the SaaS wave,” where users would discover a useful program, tell coworkers, and soon it would appear across teams in an enterprise.

“It was less about what the CIO found and more about what the users found,” he said.

One such user is Marian Aarthi Lawrence, a business analyst at global publishing firm Pearson PLC’s San Francisco office.

“I was a user of Visio earlier,” Lawrence said. But, she added, Lucidchart’s web-based approach “provides more easier drag and drop options, the look and feel is good, presenting back and sharing with the users is quite easy, since everyone has access. The sharing is quite easy.”

Lawrence, whose work centers on creating process flows across different lines of business, said Lucidchart “really helps me to bring it to a visualization point and present it back to the users in a single view. I collaborate as well as present.”

The “bring your own app” approach many users take with Lucidchart is having an effect in enterprises such as Pearson. According to a case study on the Lucid website, Graham Calder, the firm’s technology operations CTO, said it was user demand that pushed the program onto Pearson’s platforms.

“The initial momentum behind Lucidchart actually came from the user community. We picked up on that, worked with Lucidchart, and started to bring it into the environment. And once it was in the environment, of course, it became visible to a much bigger audience,” Calder said in the testimonial.

Maintaining organic growth

Such organic growth is something Lucid hopes to maintain in the coming years. Some 180 employees work at Lucid’s present facility in a South Jordan office park, but a new space nearby is expected to be home to 250 workers by the end of 2017, and more in subsequent years.

What that growth means, Dilts said, is “everyone who’s been here eight months or more will mentor a new employee.” He worries, he concedes, about keeping the entrepreneurial culture strong, one populated with “inventors who run faster and work harder.”

Lucid Software is the kind of company Utah wants and needs, said Thomas Wadsworth, director of corporate growth and business development for the Governor’s Office of Economic Development in Salt Lake City.

“We’re extremely fortunate to have companies such as Lucid here in Utah,” Wadsworth said. “I’d heard about them, but until they approached our office about six months ago, I really was impressed with the caliber of founders and employees. Very sophisticated team that we’re lucky to have here in Utah.”

That approach came when Lucid was raising another round of venture capital funding. Some investors wanted to move the company to “one of the two coasts,” and a late 2016 deal with GOED allowed the firm to expand hiring and remain in Utah.

“Having Lucid hire and educate here in Utah is invaluable to our economy,” Wadsworth said. The firm, he added, is “a really good advocate for the state of Utah. What they’re doing here really showcases our state well. They’re demonstrating you can find people (here) who can help your business grow.”

Asked if cashing out — either through a sale or an IPO — is in the offing, Sun said that while an IPO “is still a little ways out,” the goal is to “build a lasting company.”

Along the way, Lucid Software users can maintain links with those legacy programs: There’s an option to share Lucidchart files with Visio users, and the firm is developing an InDesign import tool for Lucidpress.

February 20, 2017 - 9:27am