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An Interview with Paul Stannard

Interviewed By: Geetesh Bajaj

Date Created: July 24th 2004
Last Updated: March 4th 2009

Paul StannardPaul Stannard is the CEO of SmartDraw.com, a provider of business graphics software. Stannard started the company in 1994 with no debt, no capital, and no outside funding. Recognized for its explosive growth by Deloitte & Touche and Inc Magazine, SmartDraw.com generates more than 2 million visitors each month.

A graduate of Oxford University and UCLA, Stannard has a PhD in chemistry and is a self-taught software developer. He's written more than a dozen published software applications(including SmartDraw) and launched three startup companies. Stannard has served as the Chairman of the San Diego Software and Internet Council, and on the Board of the Corporate Director's Forum.

Geetesh: Tell us more about SmartDraw and your other products.

Paul: SmartDraw is easy-to-use software for creating business charts and diagrams. Users simply drag-and-drop ready-made graphic elements onto the page to quickly create the perfect diagram. It makes the user look like a graphics professional, even if they can't draw a straight line.

SmartDraw is specifically aimed at people who do not have the time or inclination to learn a complex diagramming program. SmartDraw is easier to learn and much less expensive than other products - and produces great-looking results.

One of the reasons people love SmartDraw is because it delivers "instant productivity." The program has zero learning curve, and can be purchased and downloaded online for immediate use. This means that customers can start drawing right away!

SmartDraw includes over 50,000 ready-made symbols and templates for creating all kinds of business charts and diagrams. SmartDraw's symbols are logically categorized and organized into libraries.

SmartDraw features 11 symbol collections, including: Business and Charting, Floor Plans and Facilities, Software Design, Network Design, Electrical Engineering, Mechanical Engineering, Science & Math, Medical and Anatomy, Maps & Geography, Clip Art and Flyers, Life & Leisure.

In addition, SmartDraw offers complete business graphics solutions-integrated sets of symbols, templates, instructions, and tutorials-for many standard business problems. SmartDraw includes solutions for Business Process Management and Education.

Our newest addition is the SmartDraw Suite, which includes the Image Plug-In. This plug-in allows users to add real photos to their diagrams.

Geetesh: Visuals convey more information within presentations, as compared to just plain text. Can you elaborate on this with beliefs, thoughts, pros and cons?

Paul: Absolutely. While text can be an important part of any presentation, a picture is worth a thousand words. Graphics can drive your point home when text often leaves you stammering at the starting gate. Visuals help presenters communicate clearly, persuade others, and get the audience to "see what they mean." Graphics can overcome communication barriers, and fight the monotony of text by spicing things up a bit.

Geetesh: PowerPoint is achieving an almost OS prominence, with an amazing array of applications and add-ins that work and interact with the product. How do you position SmartDraw within this PowerPoint-centric scenario?

Paul: SmartDraw works in harmony with nearly all Windows programs, but has been designed to work hand-in-hand with Microsoft Office, which of course includes PowerPoint. In fact, SmartDraw is becoming an integral part of the most effective PowerPoint presentations.

We made it easy for PowerPoint users to transfer their SmartDraw images directly into their presentations, simply by copying and pasting. This gives PowerPoint users the freedom to incorporate any drawing or diagram into their presentations. And PowerPoint remembers that the drawing came from SmartDraw, allowing users to edit and update drawings within PowerPoint simply by double-clicking on the drawing.

SmartDraw also uses a transparent background, so when you copy and paste, only the diagram itself will transfer to PowerPoint. This means that you can still see the elegant PowerPoint backgrounds in your presentations.

In short, we think that PowerPoint is an excellent tool for presentations, but it leaves many users empty-handed when it comes to creating professional-looking graphics. That's why we made it so easy for users to transfer their SmartDraw diagrams into PowerPoint. Together, SmartDraw and PowerPoint make persuasive and professional presentations.

Geetesh: What factors have caused SmartDraw's amazing success and acceptance?

Paul: As I mentioned before, SmartDraw enjoys rocketing success because it delivers users "instant productivity." Several things make this possible.

SmartDraw.com was built on the trial-ware model, which means that we allow people to try SmartDraw before they buy it. Users can download a free, 30-day trial of SmartDraw from www.smartdraw.com that gives them full access to the product. Every day, thousands of people download our trial.

If they decide to buy the product, they get it instantly online. This means our customers can start drawing in minutes!

But our trial-ware model wouldn't be successful if it weren't for one critical factor: ease-of-use. We attribute SmartDraw's popularity to one fundamental design principle: keep it simple. We don't think software should have a "learning curve." That's why we designed SmartDraw to be intuitive and self-teaching, with built-in hints, tips, and examples that help our users complete their work quickly and easily. This means our customers spend less time dealing with the mechanics of the software, and more time creating professional-looking results.

Plus, we offer free customer support - even for trial users. Users like knowing that extra help is only a phone call (or email) away.

Finally, our software is competitively priced. Users can order the Standard edition for as little as $69. (Most users opt for the Professional Plus version or the SmartDraw Suite, which sell for $198 and $267, respectively.) Why spend up to $500 on other products when SmartDraw does a better job, with zero learning curve, for less?

Geetesh: Tell us more about your support infrastructure.?

Paul: Since its inception, SmartDraw.com has offered free email and telephone support to both licensed owners and trial users. In fact, every user who provides an email address when downloading the trial edition of SmartDraw is sent an email from their personal support representative offering help on downloading, installing or any other issues. This puts users in direct contact with SmartDraw experts.

Ordinarily, software providers are unable to offer comprehensive support due to the expense and management of handling a high volume of incidents. SmartDraw is able to offer free support - and even invite users to send requests - because the software is so simple to use. From downloading to creating and printing their first diagram, new users can complete a project without even accessing the help system; this is what we strive to achieve. When you consider that over 300,000 new users install our free trial software each month, it is clear that our goal is being realized through sound product design and reliability.

In addition to free support, SmartDraw also offers an integrated help system, comprehensive knowledge base and extensive on-line tutorials that guide users step-by-step through creating all types of diagrams - from flowcharts and organizational charts to network layouts and floor plans. Our users tell us that they refer to these resources to provide insight on creating charts and diagram types that they are not familiar with.

Geetesh: Would you like to share any trivia about an unconventional use of SmartDraw you might have never imagined?

Paul: I am continually amazed at the innovative ways our customers use SmartDraw.

For example, an NBA scout for the Toronto Raptors is one of our customers. His job is to go scout out the other teams before the Raptors play them, and make notes of their best plays. He uses SmartDraw to diagram the plays. Then, he uses the SmartDraw diagrams to teach the Raptors those winning plays.

Police and arson investigators use SmartDraw to diagram crime scenes. Attorneys use our Gantt charts and timelines as visual aids in court. Doctors use our Medical & Anatomy collection to create patient notes, replacing the practice of dictation. Television news stations use SmartDraw to create diagrams in their engineering departments.

A renowned Feng Shui expert uses SmartDraw to diagram floor plans for her clients, showing them how to Feng Shui their homes and offices. A well-known brewery uses SmartDraw to flowchart the processes by which they brew beer, ensuring quality and taste. A professional genealogist used SmartDraw to diagram a family tree, proving that his client had rights to the title of "Count" in Spain.

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