Architexa Grows Up at MassChallenge, Seeks to Help Developers “Understand” Complex Software

10/12/10Follow @gthuang

The MassChallenge global startup competition is in full swing. The 110 chosen companies have been pitching their wares over the past few days, trying to make the cut down to the 26 or so that will advance to the next round and compete for a piece of the $1 million prize.

Architexa, a three-year-old company led by ex-Microsoftie and MIT alum Vineet Sinha, was slated to present yesterday at the competition. I caught up with Sinha beforehand to get a quick snapshot of his company and its progress through the program. Architexa’s story is not necessarily representative of all MassChallenge entrants, but it provides a window into the proceedings—and a look at how much work goes into a company before it even enters such a competition.

First, some background. In the early 2000s, Sinha was working at Microsoft and wishing he had better software design tools—better than IBM Rational software, at least, which has become the industry standard but which Sinha says can be “useless” for developers. He decided to work on building better software tools by going back to school as a PhD student in MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab. By 2008, he had graduated and also had been a semifinalist in the MIT $100K business plan competition. Over the next couple of years, he and a small team bootstrapped Architexa, did consulting work, and built out their product using technology based on his PhD research. The product has been commercially available for just over three months now.

I won’t get into the technical details, but basically the tool gives developers a new way of “understanding” how software works at a deep level, instead of being focused on code generation and design, Sinha says. It’s all part of the burgeoning field of “unified modeling language,” which is a method developers use to visualize and construct code using diagrams and other tools for managing complexity. The sector took off with IBM’s purchase of Rational Software in 2003 for $2.1 billion, and Borland’s acquisition of TogetherSoft in 2002 for $185 million. But, according to Sinha, there’s still plenty of room for innovation.

Architexa currently has four employees. Sinha says it has been getting a lot of interest from big companies—Disney, Google, Motorola, and VMware are some of the ones trying out Architexa’s software. He says the product has more than 900 users, but wouldn’t say who’s actually paying for it yet. The company’s revenue model is subscription-based, which is different from competing software products that have perpetual licenses. “We want to make sure the developer benefits on a day-to-day basis” and therefore will renew his or her subscription regularly, Sinha says.

A key benefit of participating in MassChallenge has been the mentorship, Sinha says. “It’s been great to get feedback to refine our pitch,” he says. The kinds of lessons that have helped most: branding, intellectual property, customer development, and, more generally, being inspired. Mentors like James Woodward, Alec Karys, and Michael Shumann have helped Architexa with its priorities and timing—things like “you’re not ready at this time for this, focus on these other things,” Sinha says—as well as understanding customers and sales channels.

It’s still early days for Architexa. The company doesn’t need venture capital yet, for instance. As it heads down the home stretch in the startup competition, what it needs is to gain traction, and to raise a little bit of money so it can afford to hire experienced sales and marketing people.

“We’re trying to do it slowly and carefully,” Sinha says. “We’re working hard, we’re building a company, and we’ve made a huge amount of progress.”

Gregory T. Huang is Xconomy's Deputy Editor, National IT Editor, and the Editor of Xconomy Boston. You can e-mail him at gthuang@xconomy.com or call him at 617-252-7323. Follow @gthuang

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