Godard Abel is putting the band back together and leading a $10 million investment in ThreeKit, a software startup based in Ottawa, Ontario.

Abel, one of Chicago’s most successful serial tech entrepreneurs, will run the company from Chicago, where he’s assembled a senior management team of familiar faces from two of his previous companies, BigMachines and SteelBrick.

Joining him at ThreeKit are Joachim Klein as president and chief operating officer; John Kim, senior vice president of sales; Slava Kovelman, vice president of operations; Kelly Wilson, vice president of customer success; and Nancy Rizkallah, vice president of finance. Klein, Kim, Kovelman and Wilson worked at SteelBrick and BigMachines. Rizkallah worked at CloudCraze, another Chicago-based software company acquired by Salesforce.  

ThreeKit built software tools for online sales that allow companies to build 3D images of products, such as furniture and jewelry, which customers in the past wanted to see in person before buying. Now they can shop using virtual reality. The company was founded by Ben Houston, who previously built software used by filmmakers for movies such as the Harry Potter franchise and “Avatar.”

Abel’s previous companies, BigMachines and SteelBrick, sold software that enabled salespeople to quickly come up with price quotes for products that required customization. Oracle bought BigMachines for more than $400 million in 2013, and Salesforce acquired SteelBrick for $300 million in late 2015.

“We met the founder Ben Houston as he was providing his amazing 3D visualization technology to a Salesforce partner,” Abel said. “We had been looking for this type of technology for 10-plus years to complement the configure-price-quote applications we built at BigMachines and SteelBrick.”

Houston took advantage of advances in software technology that have made virtual and augmented reality products better and cheaper to build. Customers using the technology include retailer Crate & Barrel, furniture maker Steelcase and the Diageo vodka brand Ciroc.

Abel is following a playbook that worked well with SteelBrick, a price-quote software maker based in San Mateo, Calif. He invested $5 million and became CEO, while founder Max Rudman stayed on as chief technology officer. Abel quickly recruited former teammates from BigMachines and ran the company from Highland Park, but split his time between Chicago and the Bay Area.

Abel, a co-founder and CEO of Chicago-based G2 Crowd, will be executive chairman of ThreeKit, involved mostly with recruiting, financing, strategy and industry relationships. Houston will be CTO and will continue to lead an engineering team in Ottawa.
Abel has his hands full with his day job at G2 Crowd, a Chicago-based platform for crowdsourced reviews of b-to-b software he launched in 2013. It recently raised $55 million and has heavyweight Silicon Valley investors, including IVP and Accel Partners.

Abel has made no secret that he wants to take the company, which has more than 200 employees, public—something he hasn’t done before. He’s got big goals for ThreeKit, too.

“The ThreeKit opportunity could be even bigger” than SteelBrick and BigMachines, he said. “It’s cloud agnostic and can be deployed on AWS, Microsoft Azure, Google Cloud or any cloud platform. With SteelBrick we were 100 percent tied to the Salesforce platform. Plus we believe that over the next decade all online commerce will become immersive and experiential, and require the type of 3D visualization and configuration technology that ThreeKit offers.”

Big dreams, for sure. But history suggests Abel’s got a good shot at pulling it off.

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