Unlike Apple, SolidWorks didn't start in a garage. In fact, its birthplace was even more humble--CEO Jon Hirschtick's basement. Hirschtick, 36, has bachelor's and master's degrees in mechanical engineering from Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He had previously founded another computer software company, Premise, Inc., which was subsequently acquired by Computervision.

Hirschtick incorporated SolidWorks in December 1993. His original teammates were Bob Zuffante, another MIT graduate, the lead developer of the SolidWorks prototype and now the company's vice president and chief architect; and Scott Harris, now director of product engineering, a graduate of Worcester Polytechnic Institute who had worked at Computervision. The trio brought in technical people, developed the prototype product, and obtained venture capital in September 1994. Sales and marketing people were hired, and the first product was released in November 1995. At that time, there were approximately 27 employees. Today, there are more than 150.

SolidWorks has come up out of the basement, but it hasn't lost the easy informality of its early days. "You can go into anyone's office anytime and say anything you want," comments Director of Marketing Sabine Gossart. "You don't need to make an appointment to see the CEO. It's pretty progressive. We encourage people to have ideas and bring them to the table."

The progressive approach is producing impressive results. For the quarter ending June 30, 1997, its annualized revenues were approximately $25 million. In Suresnes, France, another software company, Dassault Systemes, sat up, took notice, and in July 1997 acquired SolidWorks in a stock transaction. SolidWorks' revenues now are folded into Dassault's financial statements, so the figures are harder to track. But with the number of resellers and users continuing to grow, the direction is unmistakable.