Today is a very special blog as I sit down with 3DW Managing Director Andy Dennison as we have a brew and a little chat about the last 25 years of 3DW. We talk through his highlights, things that have changed, where he sees the company going and everything in between.
Q. Think back to day one why did you decide to setup the company? what challenges did find when starting the business?
I became disenchanted with the company I was working for, and along with a couple of colleagues, decided to leave and set up our own business. We were all young with no mortgages, families or other responsibilities and decided that if it didn’t work after 3 months, we’d all go and get ‘proper jobs’.
Very quickly it became obvious that whilst we all knew a bit about graphics, we knew nothing about running a business. We decided that one of us should go back to college to study business. I went to night school for 3 years to complete a HND Business course, which was one of the best decisions I made.
Q.Tell us a little about the first office setup?
Our first ‘office’ was the basement in the shared house where I was living in Sale. After a couple of months, the landlady realised we were trying to run a business and (understandably) wasn’t happy. Fortunately, her husband was quite the entrepreneur himself and, partly to help us, and partly to get his wife off his back, he offered us an office space above a warehouse he owned. It had no heating, no water and an outside toilet, but it was free! We were there for three cold months (Oct-Dec), then picked up enough work to enable us to move into a serviced office at Carrington Business Park.
Q.As you overcome start-up challenges how did you see the business growing?
In the initial stages, we were trying to find new ways to apply and use 3D graphics. We took on all sorts of projects, basically anything to pay the rent. This led to a diverse list of clients and projects including websites for engineering companies, graphics for video games, TV shows, airline manuals, a virtual garden centre store, a window blind sales tool, cookery DVDs, and visualisations of cleaning products.
Over time we began to develop our applications for more targeted markets, in the early 2000’s this was mainly town planning and built environments for councils and housing associations. Following the financial crash in 2008, we moved into the energy sector which is were we have firmly established ourselves and become an industry leader.
Q.What was the first contract that gave you the confidence of more to come, do you have any funny pitch stories you’d like to share?
Our first ‘major’ contract was for Silicon Graphics, (a major US Graphics hardware company at the time) to build a fully interactive 3D model of their business park in Reading. It was this contract which funded the move to our first ‘real’ office.
Today we can walk into someone’s office with a high-power laptop and give a nice presentation. Back in 1997, our graphics machines were the size of a washing machine so we would record our demos onto VHS tape and visit potential clients with a portable TV and a video player. It wasn’t the most elegant approach.
I remember one occasion when we travelled halfway across the country (with our TV and video player) to give a presentation to the MD of a company we were hoping to do some work for. After our sales pitch, he leaned back in his chair and asked, “So boys, how old are you two”, being (young-looking) 24 year olds, it was sometimes difficult to be taken seriously!
Q.The life of companies can be short, 3DW is now 25 what do you believe have been the things that have kept the business consistent over this time?
Our business has survived recessions, a financial crash, Brexit and Covid! We’ve had to adapt to changing circumstances, develop new solutions and switch to different markets but our team has always risen to the challenge, supporting the business, and each other through good times and bad.
Q.What has been the proudest moment in the last 25 years?
Our 25th-anniversary celebration dinner is near the top of the list. It is amazing to be able to look back on what we’ve achieved as a team over that time and how the business has developed. Over half of the team has worked together for over 15 years.
Q.What things have changed over the last 25 years in terms of practices in business?
One of the most significant and recent changes for all businesses has been the shift to online working and the use of Teams instead of face-to-face meetings. We have been able to adapt our ways of working within 3DW to make this work but I still enjoy travelling to meet people in person.
For 3DW specifically, advances in technology have had the most impact on the quality, diversity and flexibility of the solutions we are able to produce. Timeframes for producing 3D models have been reduced dramatically over the years. For example, we take lots of photographs in the production of our 3D models. In the 1990s, this involved taking the camera film to a shop to be developed and picking up the photographs 5 days later (or 2 days if you paid for the express service!).
Q.Lastly 3DW is 25 years old but this clearly just the latest milestone, what do you see in the future for the business?
3DW has a very bright future, particularly with the current urgency by governments everywhere for secure locally based energy. Over the past few years we have established ourselves as an expert and reliable team to visualise and support all types of energy generation and transmission projects.
I want to thank Andy for taking the time out of his schedule to sit down with me and go through some of his highlights of the last 25 years.
Stay tuned to our socials @3DWTech for more things 25 year anniversary related.