Semifore Execs Share Bootstrapping Lessons and 2014 Scaling Up Plans at Jan-17-2014 MVP Clinic

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in 4 Finding your Niche, 5 Scaling Up Stage, EDA, Events, skmurphy

Semifore , Inc. was founded in 2006 by Richard Weber based on his system design experience at several startups and some larger systems firms. All of them struggled with the need for  tools and methods to keep the hardware architecture in sync with software architecture and to ensure that the development and customer documentation was up to date. He developed an application that worked from a common specification to generate high level hardware description language specifications, software source code, and human readable documentation for the memory maps and configuration/control register behavior. Semifore has bootstrapped growth since 2006 and has seen their offering adopted at a number of major semiconductor firms. and system houses.

  • What: Semifore Execs Share Bootstrapping Lessons and 2014 Scaling Plans
  • MVP Clinic Format: Webinar with shared note taking in a PrimaryPad
  • When: Fri-Jan-17-2014 10am PST
  • Cost: No Charge
  • Register: https://www3.gotomeeting.com/register/251287126
Register Now

We have two members of the Semifore executive team joining us 10AM PST on Fri-Jan-17-2014 for a discussion of what they have learned about their success so far as a niche player in the Electronic Design Automation space and their plans to scale up in 2014. You can register to take part in the conversation at

  • Rob Callaghan, COO of Semifore Inc.
    Rob was previously  Vice President of Operations for sales and technical support at Magma Design Automation. Prior to Magma, he was Group Director of Business Development as well as Director of Sales Operations at Cadence Design Systems. He has worked with other large electronics firms such as L.M. Ericsson, Amdahl Corporation, and Memorex Corporation in the functions of Product Marketing, Field Operations, Finance and Accounting. His expertise includes strategic and operational planning, operations management, market research, and financial operations for organizations such as direct sales channels, product marketing, R&D operations, corporate business development, corporate mergers and acquisitions and strategic investments. He has a BS in Finance from the Menlo School of Business and a MBA from Golden Gate University.
  • Herbie Winsted, Vice President of Business Development and Customer Care
    Herb is a veteran of over 26 years in the EDA and Semiconductor industries. He has held positions of Director Business Development and Director IC Implementation and various individual contributor assignments at Cadence Design Systems. He has also assumed management responsibilities for CAD teams and IC layout groups at National Semi, GEC Plessey, and AMD. Herbie has also lead hundreds of multi-discipline automated layout projects in different roles at Silicon Valley Research (Silvar-Lisco) working with major Semiconductor companies worldwide. He has excelled at team building and establishing both business and personal relationships at every level of the organizations he has serviced. He has wide experience in creating marketing messaging, training, and sales collateral. He has always put customer requirements as his highest priority and excels at finding practical solutions that satisfy all parties concerned.

Background for discussion

Semifore Inc. is a software startup in Palo Alto Ca. The company provides a software product platform that automates and manages the register information for the Hardware / Software interface during the definition, specification, implementation and verification phases of the ASIC and/or FPGA design process. The company is privately held and has no external investors. It was founded in 2006 by Richard Weber who is currently the CEO of the company.

Currently the company has over a dozen paying  customers which are using the platform to deliver their chip sets to customers. Logo’s such as Altera, AMCC, Microsoft, and other large firms have embraced the tool and associated design methodology to reduce their design cycle time and improve their product functionality.

Semifore’s products are used by Systems Architects and designers, Verification Engineers, Software Development Engineers, and Technical Publications teams inside of Semiconductor companies.

The company has been funded via “bootstrapping” and is operated solely from operating cash flow. This has provided sufficient funds to get through the product development and early customer engagements that allowed Semifore to market, test, and refine the technology to a state of high reliability and functionality with low post-sales support requirements. The product does what we say it does and once it’s installed the product often goes viral.

The company has relied on trade show attendance and word of mouth to secure additional sales leads to qualify and move to a product demonstration. The customers for this product, are for the most part, currently internally developing their own solutions in this space.

Market / Customer Challenges (Lessons Learned 2006-2013)

  1. Internal solutions are viewed as “free” and they get the job done today. The cost is buried across many functions within the customer and the time hits they take are part and parcel of the “design silos” in most organizations.
  2. The teams that have “created” the internal solution often have a vested interest in keeping them alive.
  3. The currently employed internal “methodology” touches many organizations that may not be the purchasing entity or the driver for the decision or have the ability to overrule and drive a central technical solution throughout the organization. Many large customers have several different of internal solutions in this design space.
  4. This design problem is very niche and eclectic and often is not highly visible to upper engineering management. It’s noise to them. Education at all levels is required for buy in on this kind of tool.
  5. Internal solutions tend to be limited to file transforms and depend on rigid input formats to produce useful results. Very little true design intelligence for detecting correct semantics and interface capability to other tools or standards.
  6. There is considerable confusion regarding the status and capabilities of the “standards” that support this particular design methodology that adds to the tendency to “wait and see “ before making buy decisions.

Key Goals for 2014

  1. Expand the adoption by existing customers who have embraced the tools and succeeded using them in production.
  2. Build on current success to add new customers, large and small.
  3. Determine level of participation in existing standards committees and explore offering our proprietary language as a standard with endorsement from existing customers.

Update Fri-Jan-17: here is the audio for the event.

Price Based On Your Value To The Customer’s Situation

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in 4 Finding your Niche, EDA, Sales, skmurphy

This is based on a real engagement that started with the conversation in “Living In Anticipation With Schrodinger’s Leads.”

The CEO placed a stack of about 30 business cards on the conference table: “See, here are all of the leads from the trade show.”

“Would you like us to put together a simple campaign where we e-mail them an update of what’s happened since the show and call them once or twice to see if they are interested in a longer demo or an evaluation?” I asked.

“No, that’s not why we asked you to come in, these guys will call when they are ready,” he answered, “We had a visit from someone in sales at BigCo [a large firm in Silicon Valley], he came by our office last week because they are interested in our product and we need your advice on the deal.”

I knew that the two founders had worked together at BigCo before striking out on their own two years earlier  when a downturn had triggered layoffs that they used it as an opportunity to launch their startup.

“I cannot figure out how to price the configuration,” the CTO spoke up for the first time, “I can’t figure out if I should charge $7,500 or $15,000. They could technically get by with one license but they should probably pay for two because they have come back and asked for some consulting to be bundled in to close the deal. We quoted had quoted them $7,500 but it seems like it may be a lot of work.”

For a brief moment I was reminded of an early morning ride to the airport on 280, the sun was barely up and the fog was very thick; we had left a little later than planned and were driving a little faster than visibility might have warranted. I really wanted to have the sun come up and burn off the fog.

“Can we just back up a minute and walk around the situation a little more? The guy from BigCo came to your offices? He didn’t ask you to come to his?” I asked. BigCo offices were only a few miles away but it would unusual for them to visit a small vendor unless they were serious about a deal and wanted to get a real sense of company size and activity level.

“Yes, Mike and I worked with him back at BigCo and he wanted to talk to us about deal for a license to help them with a contract they are working on with a Japanese company. He had called me earlier for a budgetary quote for a single license but now he wanted to negotiate a discount and get us to throw in some consulting to close the deal” the CTO elaborated.

“How much consulting?” I asked.

“They need us to convert the work in progress and library elements for a business unit of [a major Japanese company]. They are putting together a deal to sell software to about 120 engineers. If the Japanese engineers have to re-enter the work in the new system the deal won’t go through, if BigCo pays for outsource engineering time to do the translation by hand it’s probably a team of ten to twenty for three to six months. But they would do it by hand; if we use our tools it’s a week or two. The Japanese don’t like the idea of manual translation since the errors are unpredictable: if we do it automatically we also automatically verify, and if they find an error then we can fix our code and re-run. It’s cleaner,” the CTO concluded.

” OK, so aside from doing it with this outsource team do they have anybody else that can do the translation?” I asked.

“No one else has software that has already been used in production. We have two other customers using our tools to allow different teams to move this same kind of data back and forth between different systems,” the CEO explained.

We calculated that the deal was worth on the order of 2-3 million dollars in license revenue to BigCo and the outsourcer was probably going to charge between $60,000 and $240,000 depending upon the real scope and where engineering labor was located. So there was something like $1.5M to $2M in margin after cost of sales and support for the deal.

I suggested, “I think we should quote them between $400,000 and $600,000 for the translation, verification and support of the translation, and a license to access the translation technology on-site in Japan. You are going to be saving them direct cost of probably $120,000 or more, your approach is an order of magnitude faster, repeatable, scalable, and probably two to three orders of magnitude more accurate. You are enabling a $2M deal plus if they win this deal it means that they can flip other Japanese firms to their software. We will probably end up at half to two-thirds of the opening but we should start a the high end of a defensible value  range.”

“But we have already quoted them $7,500 for a license. How do I get to $400 grand?” the CEO protested.

I thought for a minute and then asked,”When does the quote expire?”

“I didn’t put an expiration on it,” the CTO said.

I said, “OK, we have to call your contact and send him an e-mail advising him that we will honor the quote for another 30 days but after further analysis of their requirements we think that they need a different product and some related consulting. We are happy to furnish them the license we quoted but we are not discounting it further and we are not throwing in any consulting to get the deal. We would like to request a meeting to fully scope the project but we anticipate  that it will cost between $400,000 and $600,000 to meet the quality and delivery expectations of his end customer.”

There was more back and forth but after we walked around it a few more times it was clear that they were bringing considerable value to BigCo to close this opportunity. We drafted and sent an e-mail to their contact and then read it aloud to his voicemail since it was now dark out and he had gone home.

We ended up in a meeting with at the BigCo site with folks from corporate and the lead salesperson from their Japanese distributor. This led to a month of serious conversations that uncovered some additional requirements that neither side had considered, allowed us to run some test cases that increased both sides confidence, and allowed us to develop a detailed multi-phase project plan that included not only our work but key tasks from their team and the Japanese customer.

It took another two months beyond that for BigCo to give us a purchase order–probably because the Japanese customer waited for the end of the year to squeeze the best deal out of them and they didn’t want to give us an order until then–for about $320,000 for a mix of licenses, a month of on-site work in Japan, and a year of support and follow up.

Especially when you are selling to enterprise you need to calculate the real value you are creating, this normally requires you to thoroughly understand their needs and constraints and develop what is typically a multi-phase project plan detailing commitments from both sides to make it happen.

Living in Anticipation With Schrodinger’s Leads

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in 3 Early Customer Stage, 5 Scaling Up Stage, EDA, Sales, skmurphy

The following is a real conversation–at least to the best of my recollection–from a few years ago.

We met with a startup that had made a few sales of a translation product and was also doing some consulting work that leveraged the capabilities of the next generation product they were developing. The current product was in production use at several firms. The two founders were engineers who each had more than decade of practical experience doing the kind of technical translation work that they had developed the product to help automate.

They had invited us in to see if we could help them generate more leads and close more deals. We met in October in their office, it was  a 20′ by 20′ space in a small complex chock full of other technology businesses. They had a conference table up front, one desk along each sidewall, and a row of bookshelves along the back full of technical manuals and papers.

They told us and they had attended an industry trade show a few months earlier in June, which prompted me to ask, ”Just to help us get some understanding of your current sales process, what happened to the leads you gathered from conversations at the trade show?”

The CEO got a smile on his face and said, “we got about three dozen business cards from folks who stopped by the booth and were interested in our software!”

There was a pause that lengthened and I realized I needed to probe further.

“So what happened next?” I asked.

The CEO said, “well, two of people who gave us cards called within a few weeks after the show and we sold three licenses to one of them, the other decided not to go forward after we gave them benchmark results.”

This was great news. “50% is a great close rate after a demo for a product that costs $7,500 dollars:  what happened with the rest?”

The CEO jumped up and said, “We still have the leads.” He walked to the back of room and pulled out a small cardboard box about the size of one they ship 250 business cards in. He brought it back to the table and opened, taking out a bundle wrapped in tissue paper. I was reminded for some reason of the way that people who collect comic books or baseball cards carefully pack away the items in their collection.

He unwrapped the bundle and there were about 30 business cards in the middle. “See: we still have the rest of the leads. They are all right here!”

“Would you like us to put together a simple campaign where we e-mail them an update of what’s happened since the show and call them once or twice to see if they are interested in a longer demo or an evaluation?” I asked.

“No, that’s not why we asked you to come in, these guys will call when they are ready,” he answered.

So, that was their sales model, they would demo at a trade show and answer the phone. As we talked a little more I realized that they could not face initiating a follow up conversation, it was easier to imagine the leads appreciating like a mint condition stamp or collectible action figure in an unopened box. In their mind the prospects were becoming more desperate and at some point would have to call them.

Whether your odds of closing a lead are one in two or one in ten you cannot treat an opportunity like Schrodinger’s cat, possibly still alive as long as you don’t look too closely. The only way to get better at sales is to start following up and having serious conversations with prospects.

Many B2B startup teams find early customers by doing business with people they already know and referrals from friends that come to them as warm leads. But in order not only to sustain but to grow your business you have to learn how to do business with strangers.

See also “Six Tips for Writing an E-Mail to a Prospect or Potential Partner

For why they actually called us in see Price Based On Your Value To The Customer’s Situation

“Sharing My Practice” Discussion with CPSquare: Intro

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in Community of Practice, EDA, Rules of Thumb

In May of this year I was invited to take part in a month long group discussion on CPSquare where my consulting practice was the focus. This is the introductory statement I posted to explain a little bit about my background and what I do.

Intro

I worked in Electronic Design Automation on board, chip, and system design in the 80′s and 90′s. This gave me an appreciation of the value domain specific visual languages for representing geometric, physical, logical, electrical, and temporal properties and relationships. Since I had studiously avoided electronics and anything related to hardware in my education I had to concentrate on the poorly understood problems of data management and applying computers to the design of computers.

I also learned that electronic systems design required a team of experts from different disciplines collaborating to create something new. A chip design team needs to reach a working consensus on a range of problems in different domains. One paradox over the roughly two decades I worked in system design was that solving a problem in one domain moved the constraint to another one, so that you a group that was critical for one or two generations has to let others take the lead as new challenges dominate.

When I was getting ready to apply to colleges I had a long conversation with a friend’s father who worked as a fighter aircraft designer at McDonnell Douglas. He was an expert in materials and mechanical design. He said that one of the challenges his organization faced was that aircraft survivability from the 1940′s through the 60′s had been driven by airframe and engine design as combat took place at close range using machine guns. As Gatling guns gave way to missiles there were many fewer combat engagements within visual range: avionics and electronic counter-measures, which had become important starting in the second half of the World War 2, now came to dominate the equations governing survivability. The challenge was that the organization was dominated by folks with a clear understanding of airframe design and they needed to learn how to incorporate guidance from many new disciplines.

I think this challenge of integrating not only the evolution of  knowledge in a particular domain but fostering effective communication and collaboration among experts in different domains was what led me originally to CPSquare. I was working at Cisco in a hardware design best practices effort and I read an article by Etienne Wenger on cultivating communities of practice in the Harvard Business Review. It was eye opening.

These days I work primarily with teams of two to five engineers or scientists who are experts in a field and are challenged with explaining the benefits of their services or software so that they can get their startup off the ground. I spend some time trying to understand the details of the technology but for the most part try and draw a box around it and understand the inputs, outputs, timeframe, and costs that a prospective customer will need to appreciate before deciding to engage.

The incorporation of a new technology into a business process often changes existing political boundaries, frequently obsoletes old assumptions, establishes new processes and ways of working together, and requires shared experimentation between the customer and startup for shared learning.

I am happy to answer any questions folks may have on challenges I face or issues that I wrestle with. I have learned a lot from my participation in CPSquare events over the years and am happy to take part in this exercise.

For more background on my current practice and some of the things that have influenced me please take a look at some of these blog posts:

Better and/or Faster Results More Compelling Than Cheaper For EDA

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in EDA

Here is a recent exchange from the LSC mailing list I had with an EDA startup founder

EDA Tools Founder: We are small EDA tools startup. We captured great value because we built a pretty neat product without investment that can match others who were built using >5M-25M investment. Trouble is the software is costly and it takes a long sales cycle to sell.

SKMurphy: Depending on which problem area you are addressing in EDA your customers are not likely to be bargain hunting. If they are spending $4M on a mask set and your software saves them $25K (or even $250K) but introduces an error in the design they will get a dent if their career if not get fired. Investment in EDA is down to a handful of specialized Angels and the ones that are public about their investment philosophy like Jim Hogan advocate bootstrapping to get your first few customers. The EDA market is very challenging for a startup because of the increasing risk aversion and consolidation on the customer side as well. Investment will be difficult to secure, it will not materially shorten your sales cycle, but Angel investors may be able to open some doors for you.

EDA Tools Founder: I believe we need outside investment for the following reasons:

  1. We have a clear engineering execution plan. Since the core product is ready, the strengthening and adding features is now a parallelizable task.
  2. We need sales/marketing momentum to start cash flow.
  3. Investors with networks in this market can also bring in additional momentum.

SKMurphy: Taking each of your points in turn:

  1. There is little risk reduction or differentiation in your engineering execution, given a clear specification by a customer willing to outsource development or go outside for a solution there are many firms that can implement a workable solution.
  2. You don’t mention distinctive design insights or design expertise that led you to develop the product but have stressed in a number of posts to this group over the last year that you are able to develop more cheaply. Chip design and now even high speed board design looks a lot like hiring a brain surgeon: customers hire the most experienced provider with the highest number of patients still above ground. It’s an area where promising a bargain does not move the needle.
  3. There are many folks who can help you reach customers but you have to have a story that promises outstanding results, not a bargain on a piece of software driving a multi-million dollar decision.

EDA Tools Founder: What would you do? I believe investment can speed up both engineering execution and sales. Would you think of another strategy that would work without investment? Are we being cheap or lean here?

My current alternative solution to the above is to focus on other markets where sales cycle is shorter to start cash flow early. However time is precious and we could still execute engineering faster.

SKMurphy: You really need to work on your story:

  • The Past: where you have come from, what led you to start your company and what about your background prepared you to be effective at solving this particular problem for your customers.
  • The Present: what have you accomplished to date and more importantly, what have you learned from your journey so far.
  • The Near Future: what you are actively working on, what you plan to accomplish in the near term, how you will demonstrate traction if your audience asks you “how is it going” in three to six months.
  • Who You Are: why do you have an interest in the problem or field that you are focused on, what are the values and the passions that you bring to working on it.
  • The Future: what you ultimately hope to accomplish, a vision of a better world you are working to bring about.

Continually stressing how cost effective you are is just not compelling to customers solving high stakes engineering problems. They are willing to spend a lot of money but they must get results that help to differentiate their products. You can still use lean techniques but you have to be targeting emerging problem areas or offer a disruptive tool that allows a new category of customer to get a result that was not available to them before. Also, when approaching VC’s or Angels the “near future” part of the pitch is key. Your current message is that we cannot get started without your money, you want to be able to stay we are started and will make good progress without you but can go faster with funding.

A Recap of My 2010 Entrepreneurial Engineer Posts on EE Times

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in Blogging, EDA

In my “Maiden Voyage” post on Jul-30-2010 for my Entrepreneurial Engineer blog on EE Times  I said that I would focus on innovation and entrepreneurship in the broader electronic systems design ecosystem. I hoped to provide insights in the following areas:

  1. Perspective on technology innovation.
  2. Analysis of business strategy for emerging markets.
  3. New models for global teams and multi-firm collaboration that are predicated on incessant collaboration among experts.
  4. Perspective on the impact of communication and pervasive connectivity in creating new business models.
  5. Insights from pioneering engineers on how new computing paradigms are enabling new models for how they invent.
  6. Interviews with entrepreneurs sharing lessons learned from their successes and their setbacks.

I am going to continue to focus on these areas for 2011 as well.

I have another ten posts in various stages of completion and plan to post one a week at least for the first quarter of 2011. If you would like to be interviewed or have some insights you would like to share about areas 3 and 4 in particular please contact me.

My Interview With Peggy Aycinena

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in Customer Development, EDA

I was interviewed by Peggy Aycinena about six months ago and she subsequently published it in July on the GabeOnEDA site as “Business 101: Art & Magic of EDA Marketing.” Peggy has always appreciated that the technology is nothing without the team and it’s the people you need to focus on and understand if you want to fully appreciate what changes are coming in the semiconductor/EDA markets. She has done more to help profile the players than any other journalist in electronics in the last decade. I was delighted to sit down with her and offer her my perspective on marketing, sales, business development issues for EDA startups. I have added some links for context that are not included in the original interview.

Q – Given that engineers are particularly cynical about marketing BS, isn’t it better to just get out there and talk to the engineers, bypassing the whole ‘marketing campaign’ thing?

Sean Murphy – In the early market for a new product it’s always about serious conversation; good marketing engineers listen as much as they talk. They can also take part in on-line conversations in places like the Verification Guild. All of the major vendors, and many of the smaller ones, also put on serious user conferences that are very effective at both educating the users about new offerings and the vendors about real customer problems.

Q – What’s special about marketing in EDA versus other sectors in technology?

Sean Murphy – There are a couple of special aspects to EDA marketing. Semiconductor firms are driven by Moore’s Law; if you want to sell to them you have to keep up. What doesn’t change is that you’ve always got extremely complex and expensive projects that require a number of different technical disciplines collaborating to produce results.

There are at least six-to-eight primary disciplines gathered around any project table, and a number of additional experts involved for a portion of the project, each with their own specialty tools and requirements. This leads to several dozen different niche markets in EDA.

Q – What are the implications of those many niches from a marketing perspective?

Sean Murphy – Niche markets require technical sophistication and customer intimacy. They are rarely amenable to the consumer marketing techniques that sometimes get tried – certainly for new product introduction.

There’s little value in a splashy product launch unless there are customers up on stage. For example, when Magma launched they had engineers from Sun and several other customers up on stage to establish that “we’re real and we are in production at these places.” So case studies and testimonials from current customers are critical.

Q – Which do you think have been the best and worst marketing campaigns in EDA over the last 3 years?

Sean Murphy – There are two campaigns which stand out as very good.

First, I was delighted by the Certess launch 2 or 3 years ago. They told a story that their CTO could explain in very simple terms – surprisingly enough to his younger sister – describing various problems in verification.

He said things like: Here’s the problem with current verification approaches, and here’s how we’re going to attack that problem. He was able to focus on the customer’s current problem and make fun of some of his earlier mistakes, which was extremely effective.

Too often technology entrepreneurs tell themselves, “We’re bringing fire to the savages,” believing that they’re smarter than their customers. The problem is that most of the people they’re selling to are pretty damn smart themselves. Certess did well by taking a more peer-to-peer approach.

The second example of excellent marketing would be Mentor’s Wally Rhines. Recently, he’s been giving a series of talks that look out ahead, 5-to-7 years in the future. They really seem to be a ground up analysis of what’s going on. At one point during the EDAC CEO panel in February, Wally rejected [Panel Moderator] Jay Vleeschhouwer’s question about consolidation so articulately that it was replayed and elaborated in an interview with Forbes.

Wally’s approach combines a lot of data with humility, or the willingness to go where the data leads him. Other EDA CEOs may be more technically visionary, but nobody has better command of the facts than Wally Rhines.

He’s clearly far less concerned with sharing with his audience how smart he is, and far more concerned about marketing the Mentor message. Plus, he’s got a great crew of people backing him up, who spend the time and effort needed to stay current on statistics and circumstances in the industry.

Q – When small companies can barely keep the lights on, how much of their discretionary budget should be spent on Marketing?

Sean Murphy – There are a couple ways of looking at that question, but the key question is “where are you at risk.”

For the most part, there comes a point where the technology is more or less functional. At that point, most of your risk is the market risk – finding customers who will work with you. In the last decade I haven’t heard about too many new products where I said to myself, “Wow, I wonder how they did that.”

Most of the risk is adoption risk or market risk, which means that you have to devote time and money to solving that problem. Our rule of thumb is that 20-to-40 percent has to be devoted to customer development – marketing, sales, and business development – because that’s where the risk is.

You can’t stay in the BatCave and continue to add features without contact with real design groups. I think too many startups rely on marketing communications, which is just one part of marketing. Most of these tools you sell with your ears; you’ve got to engage with prospects and have real conversations. Of course, you can’t do that if you can’t get in the door.

Q – So, how do you get in the door?

Sean Murphy – It’s increasingly a problem. For the most part, people who start EDA companies come from the industry and bring their contacts with them, but a founding team’s social capital is important.

One example is Oasys, which arguably may have a breakthrough in synthesis technology. Their early success has been due as much to Rick Carlson and Sanjiv Kaul, and other folks on the team, with deep roots in the industry. Their ability to open doors to potential customers was as important as their technology.

In the last decade it’s become much harder, there are fewer early adopter customers. If you look at the role that a company like Sun played in helping to nurture Gateway, the original Verilog company, it’s hard to find a company playing a similar role today – perhaps ST Microelectronics, perhaps Agilent, they helped Certess quite a bit. But, it’s becoming a hard problem.

Q – Another marketing-related issue: Given the huge effort required to publish newsletters and/or host user conferences, do small companies continue to value non-vendor specific newsletters or non-vendor specific conferences, such as DAC?

Sean Murphy – For a smaller company with less than 20 people–which is probably 80% of EDA firms–contributing articles to a non-vendor specific newsletter can help a lot.

I see a lot of value in the smaller conferences for these firms, especially where most of the exhibitors are in a basic 10×10 booth. For example, DVCon, the International SOC Conference, or the EDA Tech Forum events are primarily basic booths.

These events act like “stag hunts” for small firms, allowing them to create a critical mass that can attract customers for technical and business conversations. Customers evaluating new products want to see who is behind the company, because how well that team performs will determine whether the product will be a good bet. With a new product you can’t separate the technology from the team that developed it and will be supporting you.

I’m a huge fan of these smaller conferences. They’re very cost effective. You can have great conversations and make good contacts. You also learn how to get your point across in a short demo or a few minutes of conversation.

I was more optimistic about DAC two years ago. DAC started as a community of practice for design automation folks from the larger firms. But it’s increasingly academic in focus: there is a very real risk it becomes a second ICCAD. Still a valuable conference, but much more academically focused.

I went to a one-day conference recently called “Startup Lessons Learned.” There were about 300 people in the audience, and perhaps another thousand watching the live video that was streamed to more than 60 locations. The video was also recorded and available for playback the next day. Everyone posted their slide decks, so that it kicked off a conversation and shared learning that had a wide impact.

That’s what conferences are going to look like going forward. Somebody in EDA is going to figure that out and will move the ball forward in this area. It’s fundamentally a global industry, where these kinds of collaboration models are needed.

Q – How does a company conclusively prove a substantive ROI for big marketing campaigns?

Sean Murphy – For smaller companies, it has to lead directly to revenue or testimonials – things that are unambiguous indicators of customer ROI. You can look at lead generation, things like bingo cards, website visits, or email inquiries – but if these don’t turn into opportunities and then into sales, a small company cannot survive in this economy. For the smaller EDA firms, marketing has to be clearly connected to revenue.

How Conferences Will Persist: Rebooting DAC

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in EDA, Events, skmurphy

There comes a moment in a roller coaster ride when everything seems to come to  a stop for an instant: you are just cresting the top of rise and the amusement park is spread out all around you. Time stands still for a moment that seems like it might last forever.  And then slowly, but with increasing speed, you start to return to the ground.

I think the Design Automation Conference reached that peak experience somewhere between 2000 and 2005. Complemented by a functioning trade press–when there were still folks earning a living as journalists covering the industry–and a certain amount of relief that the dotcom meltdown had spared the EDA industry, the conference still thrived.

I took part in the DAC Strategy Committee meeting earlier this week; Paul McClellan was also there and he has has already posted a very good summary in “Making DAC More Valuable.” Here is his sketch of the conference’s decline since 2005:

Any attendee to DAC can’t fail to have noticed that the amount of space on the tradeshow floor is decreasing every year. In fact it has almost halved since 2005. Tradeshow floorspace translates almost directly into dollars so this is a big financial impact. The number of exhibitors is not down nearly so much, by about 20% (there are still nearly 200 EDA companies attending). The biggest difference is probably that the big companies no longer have huge booths with 50 or 60 demo suites, and small companies basically just have one or two demo suites and a reception desk without a real booth. Attendance of visitors to the exhibits is also down from a peak of over 4000 people in 2006 (admittedly in San Francisco which is always anomalous) to less than 2000 this year.

In “Why Conferences Persist: DAC Will Be Here in 2020” I suggested last year that

Trade shows are a fantastic deal for startups. You can put your entire team in a booth (in shifts if it’s a multi-day show) and talk to many real prospects for as long as they will listen. This does not mean I believe that DAC is by any means perfect the way that it is (e.g. see “Seven Tips for Encouraging Bloggers to Write About A Conference“), just that trade shows are inherently valuable for startups, and startups will be a part of Design Automation until they repeal Moore’s Law.

[...]

Net net, even if the top six EDA firms pull out, DAC will continue: there will still be 300 smaller firms with an amazing collection of new tools left. That’s a big enough draw to attract decision makers from many if not most of the major and mid-tier customers. 300 or so startups and small firms each paying 5-10K for a booth generates enough money to fund a decent show–50 firms paying 5K would–and certainly an innovative one.

I think DAC has to embrace startups to be able to survive to 2020. The larger firms can all run their own ecosystem shows:  Synopsys, Mentor, Cadence, Magma, and ARM are all running multiple events on a global basis. I will present specific steps that the conference can take to become more startup friendly in some future posts in this series.

Related

Need Input on the Design Automation Conference

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in EDA, skmurphy

Patrick Groeneveld is the CTO at Magma and the Vice Chair in 2011 of the Design Automation Conference. He also chairs the   DAC Strategy Committee for 2011 and he has asked me to take part, representing user and startup concerns in the planning process.

My objective is to foster an exploration of some of the critical issues facing the industry and to suggest some possible roles that DAC can play in addressing them.

I believe that conferences and other face to face meetings are essential for establishing the trust necessary for key stakeholders and thought leaders to collaborate on common challenges.

I think that the EDA landscape has changed significantly in the last five to ten years and DAC has yet to adjust:

  1. The rise of global teams as the default vehicle for product design and development. Designs never sleep: continuous configuration management and design dashboards are replacing face to face status meetings and Power Point decks. See also:
  2. Customers are increasingly relying on outside service firms for significant aspects of the product development process. EDA services revenue may be as large as EDA software revenue.
  3. Clearly imminent is a transition to cloud computing and SaaS models, whether at larger customers on virtualized datacenters or at smaller firms relying on third party cloud computing suppliers.

I welcome your suggestions for how DAC can assist small firms and working engineers. I am specifically interested in your opinion on:

  1. What are the significant problems or emerging issues that DAC should foster conversation and collaboration to address.
  2. What can DAC do to better serve the smaller innovative firms.
  3. What can DAC do to enable innovative engineers to compare notes on current challenges. How do we recapture the roots of the conference as a community of practice where engineers share lessons learned around real design and product development challenges.

Please use http://www.skmurphy.com/contact to reach me.

Related posts:

See also comments left on an earlier version of this post at http://www.eetimes.com/electronics-blogs/other/4208859/Seeking-input-on-DAC-s-strategy

Entrepreneurial Engineer Blog Launches With Oasys CEO Interview

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in EDA

I am delighted to be able to return to EE Times as a regular columnist/blogger after a sixteen year absence. Richard Wallace, now blogging at “The Next Silicon Valley“, asked me to write “Nickel Tours of the ‘Net” which cataloged the impact of the Internet on Electronic Design as websites first started to become common in 1994. And now Junko Yoshida has asked me to look at innovation and entrepreneurship in the broader electronic systems design ecosystem.

Here are the kinds of insights that I hope my “Entrepreneurial Engineer” blog on EETimes will provide:

  • Perspective on technology innovation.
  • Analysis of business strategy for emerging markets.
  • New models for global teams and multi-firm collaboration that are predicated on incessant collaboration among experts.
  • Perspective on the impact of communication and pervasive connectivity in creating new business models.
  • Insights from pioneering engineers on how new computing paradigms are enabling new models for how they invent.
  • Interviews with entrepreneurs sharing lessons learned from their successes and their setbacks.

My first post, “An Interview with Paul van Besouw, CEO of Oasys Design Systems” is now up.  Here are some excerpts:

I recently had the opportunity to sit down with Paul van Besouw, CEO of Oasys Design Systems, and interview him on lessons learned from his entrepreneurial efforts at Ambit and Oasys. I have added hyperlinks where I felt they would provide context. [...]

Q: What are the two or three things that you have been able to accomplish that you take the most pride in or satisfaction from?

We created a new technology with a small team, and little funding. At first, we were completely self-funded. We rented a small apartment where we spent about a year just coding everything from scratch. Later, we received some seed funding from several EDA-savvy angel investors, which allowed us to move into a “real” office.

We had a working prototype by 18 months to show other angel investors, which allowed us to secure a bit more funding. I was able to attract the attention of some of the best people in the industry. It took some convincing, but I was also able to attract Joe Costello‘s attention. He is now a member of our board of directors. [...]

Q: What development, event, or new understanding since you started has had the most impact on your original plan? How has your plan changed in response?

Venture capital for EDA is pretty much non-existent. This was a new reality and we were forced to do things differently. We are working with less money and fewer engineers on a longer development time-line than we would have if we had started Oasys 10 years ago.

Q: Any other remarks or suggestions for entrepreneurs?

[...] What makes EDA both interesting and challenging is that it is not only about the software. In the end, you are building software to build hardware. You have to start with insights into both and learn a lot more along the way. In many cases it is the experience of what does not work that really allows you to focus on the things that do work. EDA software is built on a technology foundation surrounded by algorithms. Starting out, a lot of time is spent on finding out what does not work. There are many details that need to be incorporated to enable your technology to work in an actual production flow.

Starting with a great technology is not sufficient.

Oasys has announced deals with Renasys, Xilinx, and Juniper this year and is poised to have a significant impact on the EDA industry.  Go ahead and read the entire  “Interview with Paul van Besouw, CEO of Oasys Design Systems

Kurt Keutzer on Engineering Entrepreneurship & EDA

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in EDA, skmurphy

Kurt Keutzer was interviewed June 8, 2010 on the DAC website and he had a number of interesting things to say about engineering and entrepreneurship.  What follows are some excerpts but it’s worth reading the entire interview. I have added several hyperlinks for context.

Career advice he gives his students:

  • I think that every engineer needs to realize today that fundamentally they are a corporation of size 1. There’s no lifetime employment and a career is no longer a simple matter of riding the escalator in a big company. Individual entrepreneurship is a requirement, not an option.
  • Every engineer needs to know how to assess the value of the technology they are working on. They need to know the difference between a technology, a product, and a market-maker.
  • To do this they need to know how to identify a market, size it, and segment it. They need to understand the difference between technological advance and creating customer value, and that customers will pay for value and not, per se, technology.
  • To understand this they have to be able to take a step back from technology and see the world through the eyes of the customer.
  • In terms of career directions my advice is go where the growth is. In Foster’s classic S-curve [from "Innovation; The Attacker's Advantage], areas of technology tend to go through long fallow periods in which not much progress is made. Then there’s a period of explosive growth. Then there’s another long fallow period. You want to be right around the inflection point of explosive growth. Putting a lot of effort in an area, either too early or too late, will not yield results comparable to what even a modest amount of effort will yield when invested at the right time.

How would he  apply technology S curve analysis to EDA?

  • I wish I knew. EDA seems to be experiencing one of its longest plateaus in its history.
  • EDA and the semiconductor industry seem to be in what could be called a “non-virtuous cycle” (i.e., a vicious cycle). New generations of EDA tools are not improving individual productivity very dramatically even as Moore’s Law continues. So the cost of building chips, of which the principal component is human capital, has risen exponentially. This high cost has led to fewer and fewer leading-edge designs each year. This means that EDA companies must charge the leading-edge customers more and more to keep their revenues up. This means the cost of leading-edge design increases further. It’s a downward spiral.
  • FPGA suppliers have created another “non-virtuous cycle.” FPGA makers seek to control their own destiny by giving away tools for free. There are two problems with this.
    1. The tools FPGA vendors give away aren’t very good so designers aren’t very happy  with the flows. For example, I can’t get my students to use FPGAs anymore if they have the alternative to use software-programmable standard parts.
    2. Because the tools are free, third-party tool companies can’t get a foothold to provide better tools. I believe that poor tools and design flows is one of the biggest inhibitors to the growth the FPGA industry.

Update June-23-2010: Paul McCllelan offers this perspective on what’s holding EDA back in his “DAC 2010 Retrospective

EDA is still somewhat stuck in an outmoded style of design that assumes the chips are designed from scratch and then someone writes some software to run on them. In fact much of the software already exists: software generations are 10 times as long as chip generations, and chip design is increasingly about IP assembly rather than efficient design from scratch. I continue to believe that this block-level is an interesting choke point, with the potential to generate a virtual platform for the software developers and testers, and the potential to turn the design rapidly into an FPGA or SoC. But the tools don’t yet exist.

DAC 2010 Blog Coverage Roundup

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in Blogging, EDA

We have been using our EDA Knowledge Portal to track DAC related stories, it’s now available on a subscription basis you are are interested.

You can also follow the #47DAC hashtag on twitter for breaking announcements during the conference. Last year’s roundup is available a DAC 2009 Blog Coverage Roundup.

Preparing For DAC 2010

Sunday Events
Note: I am worried that the default DAC website links will break in less than a year, they are tied to the top level DAC site not a DAC 2010 encoding. If anyone knows the permalinks for the DAC sessions please let me know. If you look at the DAC 2009 Blog Roundup the 2009 DAC sessions had a year encoded in the URL and they all still work.

Monday Events

Tuesday Events

Wednesday Events

Thursday Events

Recaps

Current count: 81 posts.

Original intro: If you write a blog post that reviews an event, a day, or DAC 2010 as a whole with some substantive commentary before the end of July I will include a link to it. Please leave a comment or contact me to let me know if I have overlooked or incorrectly categorized anything.

Do You Want to Track 200+ Electronic Design Automation Feeds?

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in EDA, skmurphy

We are working with a semantic technology firm to develop a new portal that will track EDA related blog posts and other content announced via an RSS,  Atom, or other feed protocol . Our goal is to provide a richer level of aggregation and analysis than an RSS reader with 200 feeds offers today (see for example my list of 238 in my July 11, 2009 post “EDA Bloggers 2009“).

This is not intended to compete with any advertising supported sites, it will be a subscription service that will allow you to keep track of new blogs (including micro-blogs like twitter) and new blog posts on an ongoing basis.

If you are interested in tracking blog posts and new announcements in the design automation arena, I would like to schedule a short call to get your perspective and feedback on our plans.  You can use the contact form to reach me by phone or E-mail.

EDA Chiefs Hazard No Guesses on 2010 Market

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in EDA, skmurphy

I covered the EDAC CEO Panel last Thursday for EETimes, what follows is a copy of the article I wrote for them “EDA Chiefs Hazard No Guesses on 2010 Market (02/19/2010 7:12 PM EST)” It differs from the version on-line at EET only in that I have added some links for context.

SAN JOSE, Calif.—With the EDA industry stuck in negative growth, leaders of its three largest firms struck a somber note Thursday (Feb. 18) during a panel discussion at the EDA Consortium (EDAC)’s Annual CEO Forecast and Industry Vision event.Panelists addressed trends affecting industry growth, but left forecasts for the upcoming year to Jay Vleeschhouwer, a senior software analyst with Ticonderoga Securities, who chaired the panel.

Vleeschhouwer predicted “mid-single-digit growth for the year” and was the only one to offer a prediction. Also on the panel were Aart de Geus, Chairman and CEO of Synopsys Inc., Lip-Bu Tan, president and CEO of Cadence Design Systems Inc., Walden Rhines, chairman and CEO of Mentor Graphics Corp, and John Kibarian, president and CEO of PDF Solutions Inc.

Robert Gardner, executive director of EDAC, pointed out that in spite of seven quarters of declining industry revenue, buying a market basket of EDA stocks in Jan. 1, 2009. and holding them for a year would have been a good investment.

While the EDA executives did not speculate on future industry growth, they did offer recipes for growth for their own firms. Tan characterized Cadence as a sales-driven company that is listening to its customers and their need for productivity and profitability. De Geus identified Synopsys as an R&D company that would continue to innovate to maintain leadership. Rhines suggested that Mentor excels at identifying niche applications to allow it to be the leader for those segments. Kibarian positioned PDF as key to semiconductor industry plans to transition to new process nodes at 45 nanometer and below.

Rhines pointed out that engineering headcount growth was 4 percent a year, which might be a constraining upper bound on industry growth unless new market segments can be opened. The panel agreed with the need to explore new market segments, but cautioned that new segments require sustained effort and considerable patience.

In response to question by Vleeschhouwer on whether EDA firms should further consolidate in response to consolidation in semiconductor industry, Rhines said he rejected the premise of the question. He said that in spite of many high-profile mergers and acquisitions in the semiconductor industry it had been on a consistent path of de-consolidation for the past 35 years. He supported this by noting that the market share for the top firm, the combined share of the top five, and the combined share of the top 10 firms had been constant or decreasing over the last 35 years. He added that every decade or so another major technology was driven by a new entrant, allowing them to become a top 10 player. He cited Qualcomm Inc.’s breakthrough in 2008 as the first fabless chip vendor to crack the semiconductor industry’s top 10 as the most recent example of this trend.

When asked by Vleeschhouwer to speculate on growth in the second half of 2010, all of the executives demurred, citing a lack visibility and uncertainty both in the electronics industry and the national economy.

The audience was equally subdued and did not have any questions for the panel.


Updates & Other Coverage

Amazon High Memory Instances Will Enable More EDA Apps to Move to the Cloud

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in EDA, skmurphy

Sometimes paradigms do shift. Amazon announced today that its Elastic Cloud Computing now supports high memory instances:

High-Memory Instances

Instances of this family offer large memory sizes for high throughput applications, including database and memory caching applications.

  • High-Memory Double Extra Large Instance 34.2 GB of memory, 13 EC2 Compute Units (4 virtual cores with 3.25 EC2 Compute Units each), 850 GB of instance storage, 64-bit platform
  • High-Memory Quadruple Extra Large Instance 68.4 GB of memory, 26 EC2 Compute Units (8 virtual cores with 3.25 EC2 Compute Units each), 1690 GB of instance storage, 64-bit platform

From Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud overview of instances:

High-Memory On-Demand Instances Linux/UNIX Usage Windows Usage
Double Extra Large $1.20 per hour $1.44 per hour
Quadruple Extra Large $2.40 per hour $2.88 per hour

These 34.2GB and 68.4GB virtual machines should enable a number of new job types that required more memory than was available from standard instances:

  • Small Instance (Default) 1.7 GB of memory
  • Large Instance 7.5 GB of memory
  • Extra Large Instance 15 GB of memory

In particular for Electronic Design Automation applications this makes the cloud much more viable as a fourth generation computing paradigm:

  1. Turnkey / Custom Hardware / Minicomputer
  2. Engineering Workstations
  3. X86 architecture PC
  4. Virtual Machines / Cloud Computing

Sometimes paradigms do shift.

Update Nov-23: The Amazon Web Services Blog announced “The New AWS Simple Monthly Calculator” available at http://aws.amazon.com/calculator

Growing the Pie in EDA, Part 3: Add MATLAB

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in EDA, skmurphy

With Synopsys announcing Synphony, a high-level design compiler that reads in MATLAB M code and generates RTL and some other useful outputs, and Mathworks listed in Gary Smith’s ESL 2009 Wallchart, I wonder if it doesn’t make sense to define MATLAB as an ESL language and Mathworks as an EDA player. Harry Gries provides a good overview in “Synopsys Synphony Synopsis” (say that three time fast)

Basically, Synopsys is introducing a high level synthesis (aka behavioral synthesis) product that takes as its input Matlab M-Code and produces RTL Code, a cycle accurate C-model, and a testbench for simulation.

Ron Wilson offers this assessment in “Synopsys introduces Matlab-to-RTL synthesis path for datapaths

On the whole, it appears that Synphony is not intended to be a direct competitor to the other high-level synthesis tools in the industry, such as those from Cadence, Forte, or Mentor. Rather, it is an IP-library-based tool for converting M-files into fixed-precision models for Simulink, coupled to a synthesis engine to convert these fixed-point models into RTL datapath designs for input into Synplify or Design Compiler. It is a rather specialized tool, but a sorely needed bridge between the worlds of Matlab algorithm exploration and RTL development.

Mathworks has been attending DAC for many years, although it is not a member of EDAC [see below]. The Matlab language was also a supported input by AccelChip (now part of Xilinx) and Agility (now part of Mentor, although the tools for going from Matlab to C were sold to the Mathworks).  These were some of the reasons that I had included the Mathworks blogs in my July 11 “EDA Bloggers 2009” list.

It would be interesting to see the Synopsys Interoperability Forum address Matlab interoperability at some point, they clearly have a significant stake in it with the Synphony announcement.

Sanjay Srivastava, the CEO of Denali, offered some excellent advice to startups in his Jul-23 “Can We Afford for Startups to Wind Down” (although he now is blogging on “A Conversation on Innovation” ) outlining two areas where startups have prospered in the last few years and one where they have not:

  • New platform creation. Typically, this happens at the edges of an existing platform (at least in EDA). One of the mistakes we can make is in under-funding the creation of platforms because you are asking the customers to move to a whole new methodology, but they are only going to do it if the platform is complete. Leaving big gaps like “availability of models/libraries” can often render a promising platform useless. [...]
  • Provide components to a significantly growing platform. This is where lots of EDA startups have flourished since the last big disruption of synthesis. They provided point tools. The platform owners were growing and could afford to pay big premiums to improve parts of the flow or add to them. [...]
  • Improve components for mature platforms. This is the trap startups have been in for the last few years. [...]

At first blush Matlab looks like a growing platform, at least in terms of the opportunities for full integration into established EDA flows. It’s not clear where all of the opportunities might lie, but a few come to mind:

  • Timing analysis across Matlab, RTL, and gate
  • Register management across Matlab, RTL, C, and design documentation
  • Power management across Matlab, RTL, and gate
  • Functional Partitioning into Chips / Floorplanning for Chips for Matlab, RTL, and gate
  • High level synthesis tools: certainly Synphony offers a “proof by example” for Oasys and other next generation synthesis tools.

This is part of an ongoing series on “Growing the Pie in EDA”

  1. Getting Back to “Growing the Pie in EDA”
  2. Growing the Pie in EDA Part 2: As Revenue Shrinks So Does Analyst Interest

Update Mon Oct-19: Daniel Payne points out that Mathworks has historically been a member of EDAC even if they are not currently listed as a member. They are listed as a member on slide 29 of the January 14, 2009 presentation by Bob Gardner at the CEO Forecast and Industry Vision meeting.  I will seek clarification from Mathworks and EDAC.

Nanette Collins: Startup Culture is Critical

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in 3 Early Customer Stage, EDA, skmurphy, Startups

I am happy to be able to offer another guest blog by Nanette Collins, her first was on “Volunteering, Lessons Learned from the Trenches.”  Nanette is an entrepreneur in her own right, she is the principal at Nanette V. Collins Marketing and PR with offices in Boston and San Francisco and one the web at www.nvc.com

It’s All About Corporate Culture by Nanette Collins

In the 15 years that I have owned a marketing consulting business, my focus has been on working with entrepreneurs and startups in the EDA and semiconductor area. This has given me a ringside seat to grand successes, gut-wrenching failures and plenty of case study material. I have seen a lot and learned a few things in the process.

If an entrepreneur were to approach me for advice on the first steps to starting a business, I’d recommend thinking carefully about the kind of culture he or she wants to create. This effort will set the tone and help lay a foundation for success. A corporate culture based on a strong value system and an implicit understanding of ethical business practices will engender loyalty from the team, customers and various other stakeholders.

Corporate culture is much more than Six Sigma, the business management strategy du jour, or Quality Circles implemented by many large companies in the 1980s. It’s also more than the detailed corporate identity list of must haves –– name, logo, tag line, website and so on.

Instead, it’s a careful assessment by a company’s management on how it should operate and be perceived, based on a standard set of ideals that reflect its goals and objectives. The corporate culture should be fluid enough to be able to integrate attitudes, behavior, experiences and personal and cultural values.

A great example is a long-gone EDA startup called Viewlogic that hired the Boston Public Relations firm where I worked as an account executive in the mid 1980s. What quickly became apparent was the thoughtfulness and care the five founders –– Sal Carcia, Alain Hanover, Will Herman, Ron Maxwell and K.S. (Sri) Sriram –– had placed on building the company’s corporate culture. Maybe it was instinct. It may have been good management skills. More likely, it was the experience that they gained from working for a large corporation before going off on their own.

Whatever the motivation, it was the right thing to do, but it took a year’s worth of meticulous planning before they launched themselves. This company taught me many things, but the most valuable insight was the need to pay attention to corporate culture.

As a regular visitor to this company long acquired by a larger vendor, it was clear to me that the focus on corporate culture instilled a set of shared values with employees. The entire team seemed to have a set of customs and traditions that was this company’s and none other, which made it a terrific client and business partner.

Employees were dedicated, focused and all had a sense of purpose. That’s because they understood where they fit within the culture and knew what was considered appropriate behavior. During new employee orientation, Will Herman proudly carried into the session a three-ring binder with the presentation on the company’s corporate culture. This emphasis helped the company navigate through tough times and encouraged the team to keep going. After all, even with a well-conceived corporate culture, it wasn’t immune to the vagaries of a new business.

As the company grew in size and got more successful, a plaque was hung in the reception area outlining its five-point value system, underscoring the corporate culture. Many of the specific points seem to have been forgotten over time, but there are a few that stand out:

  • The first is an emphasis on professionalism and personal integrity that started with the founders who set the example for all.
  • A focus on ensuring a return to all stakeholders –– investors, employees, customers and partners –– may seem obvious, but well worth articulating to the entire team.
  • Providing value to customers may seem obvious as well, but who hasn’t experience lousy quality support from a formerly valued vendor? In recent years, many a large consumer company has been resoundingly criticized for their lack of customer service. A corporate culture focused on successful customers has to be a winning strategy.

I have worked with more than 30 startups and see too few founders give enough consideration to the culture of the firm that they are building, an unfortunate miscalculation. Too many entrepreneurs seem to think this is trite, quaintly old fashioned or don’t consider it at all. And yet, the benefits are numerous, from employee recruiting and retention to loyal customers and repeat business. With a strong corporate culture, there will be no ambiguity about behavior or ethics or what a company stands for.

Just as every startup has a product strategy and roadmap, it should also develop a set of corporate guidelines. It may be the blueprint for success.


I have included a 1985 article on Viewlogic for some background for readers who may be unfamiliar. The company was a pioneer in EDA but does not have a Wikipedia page or definitive history on-line that I could find. It’s from “D&T Scene,” IEEE Design and Test of Computers, vol. 2, no. 3, pp. 10-15, May/June 1985, doi:10.1109/MDT.1985.294730

Viewlogic unveils first CAE product at show Viewlogic Systems, a start-up company formed in October 1984, will show its first product, a desktop CAE system based on the IBM PC, at this year’s Design Automation Conference. The company also announced it has received $1.5 million in first-round financing, provided by company founders and venture-capital firms.

Viewlogic was founded by Alain Hanover, Salvatore Carcia, Ronald Maxwell, Sri Sriram, and William Herman, all from Digital Equipment Corporation. The company claims that its software addresses key elements of a design engineer’s desktop needs, providing facilities for design, documentation, and communication.

An open architecture approach gives users access to a reliable electronic design automation system that fits into existing CAE environments.

Sriram, Viewlogic’s director of marketing, says that the key benefit of the system is that it is priced at a level that allows each design engineer to have a system at his desk, where it is always accessible. The PC-based system is powerful enough for many applications, but the software, written in C, is also available in a version that runs on a DEC VAX operating under VMS for more demanding applications.

The software is currently being evaluated at five beta sites.

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