In early October, we met Chris Hickey, the young and voluble CEO of Quark, quite aptly in an active part of Delhi near the airport. With several meetings scheduled with major newspapers later in the day, Hickey was to fly out in the early evening.
By way of mutual introduction, Hickey comes from a printing family, and he enjoys sharing this past with an interviewer who has made plates, operated scanners, and offset presses, in addition to being involved with Indian language software solutions for phototypesetters and other digital output devices. He speaks about his visits to customers, many of whom are small printers and listening to their aspirations for optimized workflow and the production of both print and liquid HTML5 content.
Founded by Tim Gill, Quark became the leading professional page-making software, known for its numerous developer plug-ins and industrial-strength typographic precision. It is currently owned by Parallax Capital Partners based in Laguna Hills, California, who bought it from Platinum Equity in 2017. Platinum acquired the company in 2011. Having been through ownership changes in the past decade, not everyone knows that the company retains its foothold in Quark City, a built near Chandigarh in the early 2000s, by then majority owner Farhad Fred Ebrahimi.
Return to Chandigarh
In our conversation with Hickey, he was upfront that the 200 strong software development team is core to the company’s future software development. “Don’t get me wrong,” he said, “Although we are relying on and strengthening software development in Chandigarh, I still have to maintain my sales offices in Denver, California, New York, Ireland, and elsewhere. However, the role of our Chandigarh software team is to keep delivering features demanded by our customers globally, and to reinvent some of our enterprise software into contemporary content solutions.”
At our meeting, Hickey was surrounded by software team members whom he readily brings into the discussion to answer questions and show Quark Xpress 19’s features. Chief amongst these are the Indic language solutions and even the non-destructive image-editing features that many traditional users are not aware of but which have been available since QX10. Quark’s head of software development Deepak Goel showed us some of the features of its enterprise solutions that are being built based on Hickey, listening to his large 40,000 strong customer base first in the US and Europe and now in India.
In Delhi, with his developer and local sales team to meet Indian Quark users, especially in the backdrop of global resistance to the competitor’s SAS (software as a subscription) model, Hickey said, “We don’t want to tie you down. The customer can buy QX19 outright and can opt for the annual maintenance contract, or not, in case they think the version they have is good enough for them. We will, of course, keep adding features since development cannot stop. New releases will come every quarter, and if the customer so chooses, they can buy into the software again whenever they feel the new features are worth their money.”
Hickey explained further, “There is noise on the subscription model, but customers do want new features every month and not annually. The way we are pitching our product is that with a maintenance contract, customers will get support and new features and upgrades every quarter. We have to earn their business. They don’t have to buy maintenance, but if they want the upgraded version, they will have to buy the full version of the product, which we do not discount. The concept is that if you like what I am doing, then I am earning your business, and I am not holding your files hostage. That’s where customers are upset with the SAS model, where if they are producing more files and they cannot open them without the SAS cloud, they are locked in. And that’s not good, that’s what the customers are upset about, and the noise comes in.”
A better product at the lowest price
“We see a huge opportunity in the being the low-cost alternative for digital page-making and content delivery solutions,” Hickey said, adding, “We have been able to transfer 5,000 Adobe customers in the past 24 months by having a better product at the lowest price. We have to earn your business through better features. The annual maintenance contract may be an option, but I still have to build the features since I cannot let Adobe or anyone else be superior to Quark.”
AI and enterprise content solutions
Hickey is keen to leverage a combination of circumstances, including the Quark legacy of small and large users who do not want to opt for a SAS model, the company’s software developers in Chandigarh and the enterprise-wide opportunity for content solutions built for a responsive environment using artificial intelligence or AI. He is aware that all forms of content enablement and delivery are vital to the future – whether it is to tag and digitize content using the Quark tagging engine or to enable content access and measure its use.
The young Quark CEO talks about significant automobile manufacturers, airlines, and global banks that are already customers for his enterprise-wide solutions. Also, he listens to some of our suggestions, telling his colleagues to note them down and incorporate these features.
Chris Hickey is also keen to tap into the new generation of Indian software developers coming from schools that teach artificial intelligence and Python. He wants to hire a good number of these young coders as paid interns with a commitment to eventually employ 80% of them.