Bangalore: From the time Cleve Moler and Jack Little’s team ran its first prototype on the IBM personal computer in 1984, their company The MathWorks Inc. has taken math to businesses that traditionally have had nothing to do with mathematics.
Since then, the company, based in Natick, Massachusetts, claims to have not only impacted a range of industries including automotive, aerospace, industrial automation and technical services, but to have stayed with its original goal—to prepare the next generation of engineers to become the next generation of innovators.
High goals: MathWorks’ Little says Indian engineering graduates can move up the algorithm chain to develop high-level computing language. Hemant Mishra / Mint
The company sold its first licence in India, to the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad, in 1985, but took 23 years to enter the country, which is its third largest market in Asia. Probably a recent discovery that India ranked fourth in its online visitors category, after the US, China and Germany, helped it firm up its plans. In Bangalore to launch MathWorks, president and co-founder Little spoke about how Indian companies, science and engineering students could use technology to innovate. Edited excerpts:
Why did you take so long to come here?
Asia is more complicated than Europe for American companies (to do business). We went to China last year and we’ll be going to Japan next year, even though it’s the largest market. I think it’s the right time to enter India as we have reached a stage where it’s difficult to manage distribution and, at the same time, schools, government and companies are familiar with our products. We’d like to build on that.
One-third of your revenue comes from the education sector. How do you think you can make a difference there?
In terms of percentage, education will contribute less as we are going to increase our revenue from the commercial sector. But India produces the second largest number of engineering graduates in the world, who can move up the algorithm chain—from coding in assembly (language) or C to a high-level computing language.
Our programs and models can be used by an individual researcher who has a cool idea, which sometimes works, sometimes doesn’t… But, to be used across the organization, one needs to follow certain processes and tools, which ensure that users become global participants.
Your revenue exceeded $450 million (Rs2,196 crore) last fiscal. What’s your market share?
That’s a really hard question to answer. It’s true we are the leading developers of software for technical computing and model-based design, but in a market share discussion, how do you set the denominator?
What is the addressable market? I’d say we are changing that market… Our competitors are not companies but business-as-usual. We are growing at average 15% and we can grow at that rate forever, but we have to expand the market, which is not served by these technologies. For instance, the tool testing, validation and verification segment is pleading with us to develop more tools.
With so many grids coming up, do you see opportunities in grid computing? India is building one of its own.
Yes, we think we can make a difference by extending parallel computing to grids and cloud (computing). People have built capacity, but there’s no usage as everybody needs algorithm to run their program on the grid.
At this size and longevity, why are you still privately held?
So that we have the freedom to do what we do. I don’t have to talk to analysts or investors; I can invest in research and development. I wanted to build tools, which I am doing, Cleve (a mathematician) wanted to enhance knowledge and we haven’t strayed from that.
Now we are investing heavily in computational biology for we believe as engineers we are fairly bold and can simulate things which biologists would not ever think of… But conceivably, at some point we may need funds if we want an acquisition.