This month we speak with Katherine Hays, the new CEO of Cambridge, MA-based GenArts, makers of Sapphire plug-ins for visual effects. Hays, a former art major, is the co-author of two technology patents for Massive, Inc., the company she formed and ran to deliver in-game online advertising to gamers. Microsoft acquired Massive in 2006, making her a Microsoft senior director. She was hired as GenArts’ CEO last June.
Q: Things started to change last February for GenArts when the company got an infusion of capital from Insight Venture Partners. In short order after that, you joined as CEO, Steve Bannerman was appointed Chief Marketing Officer in December, and you’ve just made your first acquisition of the UK’s SpeedSix. Why SpeedSix?
A: I came on with a vision to grow the company strategically through acquisitions, specifically identifying where there was technology and talent we knew was highly complementary to existing GenArts technology and talent, so we could extend the value that we were already bringing to our customers. We were in discussions with SpeedSix for several months. We saw their Monsters and Raptors products as being very complementary to Sapphire, and we’ll be relaunching them as GenArts Monsters and GenArts Raptors.

Q: Certainly existing SpeedSix customers, who work with Monsters and Raptors plug-ins in Flame, Fusion, Quantel and Assimilate Scratch, for example, occupy a firm niche, with Flame artists who use Sapphire, at the top of the film and television motion effects market. Does the company have plans to develop and market the rebranded SpeedSix plug-ins for a much wider audience?
A: We do. Since Sapphire is available not just for Flame but for Avid and After Effects, that’s something we’re looking at.

Q: When might we see these new versions being released?
A: We haven’t disclosed our product development timeline yet but I can say that it is most definitely a focus for us. We’ve heard from the SpeedSix customers, and even from others who haven’t been able to use Monsters and Raptors before, that they would love to be able to work with them in After Effects and other platforms.

Q: Are the SpeedSix customers primarly based in the UK?
Their customers are actually based around the world, much like GenArts customers. But an added value of combining forces with them would be to now have a UK presence. As part of this acquisition we formed GenArts UK, to expand our presence there, since many of our customers are already there and many of the SpeedSix customers are there. And we’ve also expanded our presence to the West Coast. Steve Bannerman, our CMO, is based out there.

Q: The Boston/New York connection has been good to GenArts, with your roots in the tech corridor in Boston and the broadcast market here in New York.
Being based in Cambridge will continue to be very important to us because of the technology talent that’s here. And we value our long-time customers, particularly those in New York. To add to that, a UK presence and a West Coast presence were important.

Q: How will you handle pricing on the newly rebranded plug-ins? And do you have plans to package Sapphire and Monsters plug-ins together?
We don’t have any plans to package them together. Monsters and Raptors will be part of a family of products that will be sold alongside Sapphire, and they’ll be priced in their current form.

Q: Has anything surprised you in your tenure at GenArts thus far?
I wouldn’t say surprised, but I’ve continued to be impressed by the quality of the technology, the quality and talent of our customers, and how Sapphire really is critical to helping them do their best work. The feedback we get from our customers is extremely valuable to us. It’s a continued reinforcement of the impression I had prior to joining the company and why I was so excited to come on board and be CEO and help lead this company on this strategic growth path.

I met with customers soon after I came on board in August, and Steve Bannerman and Steve Hayes of SpeedSix are spending time right now with SpeedSix customers in the UK, and I’ve subsequently met with customers in New York, San Francisco, LA and the UK. I hear the same message over and over again about the quality of Sapphire and how effective it is—they love the products and they want us to continue to innovate on Sapphire, and now, on Monsters and Raptors.

Q: Do you have any plans for roadshows to connect with customers in other parts of the country?
We will be at NAB, but beyond that, we’ll be concentrating on our largest customer bases in New England, New York, the West Coast and the UK. And we do have a growing customer base in Asia and of course, in New Zealand with Weta.

Q: What’s next?
We are certainly considering more acquisitions, as well as strategic partners, and we’ll continue to invest in innovation. We will be looking to grow our team as well. On the product side, as we released earlier this month, we had record sales in 2008 for our Autodesk Flame plug-ins. I can’t say more about a roadmap at this time, but we will be offering enhanced support for that product in 2009.