Ian Howell: The Success of Newforma

Success Stories |

Ian Howell NewformaUsing a unique approach, Ian and the Newforma team have found a way to solve primary challenges in the design and construction industry. What started as a huge leap for Ian, now has a positive impact on close to two million projects around the globe.




Ian is a seasoned AEC (architecture, engineering, and construction) software company executive with global experience and perspective, leading initiatives in the U.S.A., Canada, Europe, Asia, and Australia. Prior to becoming CEO of Newforma, Ian served as vice president at Citadon Inc. and director of AEC products and industry marketing at Autodesk. He was also director of AEC products at Alias Research and director of Rucaps Australia. Additionally, he was a founder and board member of the International Alliance for Interoperability (IAI).

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At first, the Newforma founders leveraged Ian as an advisor. Eventually, Ian was “hooked.” He leaped at the opportunity to lead Newforma, even though it meant uprooting and relocating his family from California to New Hampshire. In working at large companies, there were a lot of layers and processes. He was ready for a startup. The idea of breaking out of a mold and doing things more efficiently was especially exciting. From the start, Ian found his new role to be empowering and liberating. He enjoyed being a “utility player” and taking on different tasks and responsibilities across a broad set of functions.

Having all of the founding team members in New Hampshire is a definite advantage. In addition to venture capital funding and high-tech expertise, it helps to have the preferable cost of living and an easy-access airport.



Ian credits Jesse Devitte of Borealis Ventures as being a great mentor and Newforma’s best resource. “Jesse had the initial idea and pulled together the founding team of industry professionals with decades of software and AECO industry experience. He’s been on the board since day one.”

Jesse was Newforma’s seed investor and was instrumental in helping Ian and the company secure additional funding. He also pulled together an expert team who took a unique approach to starting the business.

The founders began by talking to architects, engineers, contractors, and owners. Ian explains, “We spoke to about 130 companies to find out what was working and what wasn’t working. We asked them what pain points and critical business issues were not being addressed, because we wanted to create a product and technology that the customers needed.”

It was persistence in asking the right open-ended questions that led them to the answers and solutions. They listened to the customers’ pain points and challenges and went to the drawing board to solve them. Ultimately, Newforma’s core products came from the “voice of the customer.” After extensive testing on live projects, the company’s flagship product, Newforma® Project Center, became commercially available in June of 2006.



According to Ian, one of the best things any company can do is continually talk to customers. Invite input all the time. Learn continuously and never become complacent. One of the most exciting moments is when current customers and prospective customers are in the same room and sharing stories. For Newforma, current customers are some of their best “sales” people.

“If you focus on making your customers happy and successful, good things will follow. In Newforma’s case, our customers have provided referrals to their colleagues and they renew their contracts year after year. We are very proud of our 98% renewal rate with customers. Newforma has a culture that wants to go the extra mile.”

Additionally, Ian has a few pieces of advice for new entrepreneurs: First, don’t listen to the naysayers. There are plenty of them out there. Seek out people that will help you develop your idea and provide good advice. Also, believe in yourself.  Nobody would become a first-time CEO based on the job description alone. You need to have the passion to drive yourself. Put the extra effort in to learn as you go and make yourself and your company successful. And finally, truly trust your gut instincts. Ian shares, “Anytime I’ve made a serious miscalculation, it’s been when I’ve ignored my gut feeling.”