Leonard Smith 1927-2014

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in Founder Story

I didn’t know Leonard Smith but I was forwarded a link by John McKenna two days ago to his obituary (originally published in GreenwichTime on Jan. 26, 2014) and I thought it captured the essential personality of people who bring change to organizations in trouble and often start new ones.

Here are some excerpts but it’s worth reading the whole thing (I have bolded a few sentences that highlight key aspects of the entrepreneurial personality):

Leonard Mason Smith, 86, a veteran of World War II and Korea and longtime resident of Pine Island, Florida passed away on November 27th, 2013.

Leonard Smith was a very private man. If you wanted to know his cause of death, he would have told you that it was none of your business. If you asked Penny, his beloved wife, she would tell you that he had cancer, but not to tell anyone. Although his prognosis was dire, he battled on, lived his life and survived several years beyond the experts’ expectations. He did not want his obituary to suggest that he lost a long battle with cancer. By his reckoning, cancer could not win, and could only hope for a draw. And so it was. Leonard Smith hated losing.

[...]

He matriculated at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he was president of the Phi Kappa Sigma fraternity and earned an engineering degree. He joined the Army Air Corps after his first term at M.I.T., and attained the rank of colonel, but only on the telephone when facilitating personnel discharges and equipment requisitions. He was discharged as a private. After his graduation from M.I.T., he enlisted in the Air Force during the Korean War, and served in Japan and the Philippines. After the war, he began a career as a management executive. He worked for Bamberg Rayon Company, American Enka, Union Carbide, General Dynamics, Cognitronics and Computer Transceiver Systems Incorporated. By virtue of his education, training and temperament, his assignments tended to be companies and divisions that were experiencing financial or operational deficiencies. He liked the challenge.

He was married to Penelope Self on December 4, 1953 in Asheville, North Carolina. They were married for 58 years until her death in 2012. They raised five children together, living in New Rochelle and Greenwich, Connecticut.  After retirement, they resided in Asheville and Pine Island, where they were active with local church groups and charities.

[...]

Leonard Smith hated pointless bureaucracy, thoughtless inefficiency and bad ideas born of good intentions. He loved his wife, admired and respected his children and liked just about every dog he ever met. He will be greatly missed by those he loved and those who loved him. In lieu of flowers, the family asks that you cancel your subscription to The New York Times.

Leonard Smith would have thought that this obituary was about three paragraphs too long.

Essential traits:

  • Willing to take on long odds and challenges.
  • Understands how to navigate and negotiate around bureaucracy.
  • Not afraid to address financial challenges and operational deficiencies–growing companies break what’s working as often as mature firms are faced with the need to address changes in their environment.
  • Guided as much by outcomes as intentions.
  • Interested in more than business: committed to family and active in the community.
  • In writing, get to the point quickly.

Recap of SVCC2013 Working For Equity Panel

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in Events, Founder Story

On  October 5 at 1:45 a panel of our startup founders explored what’s really involved in getting a technology startup off the ground in  the “Working for Equity Startup CEO Panel.”

  • Tim Bonnemann: founder and CEO of Intellitics, Inc., a digital engagement startup based in San José, CA. Intellitics helps organizations apply technology to support, enhance and extend public participation and civic engagement processes. A native German, he’s been based in Silicon Valley since 2005.
  • Rudy Hofmeister, PhD.: founder and CEO of H2Optx Inc., a food safety testing startup based in San Jose, CA. H2Optx Inc. develops spectroscopy hardware, biological assays, and mobile software to provide real-time testing solutions for food and drug processing applications that improve safety and decrease costs for consumers.
  • Hope Hutman: founder of Projekt Media an immersive theater design studio.  Projekt Media uses proprietary and everyday technology to introduce themes and ideas from the stage play as well as enable reciprocal social relationships between characters and audiences.  We strive to expand the story world, deepen the audience experience in the theater and engage real community.
  • Anne Kallus: founder of GearListed.com, a gear site where athletes recommend the best products in hiking, biking, and more. Anne is a former Product Marketing Director (Yahoo!) with an MBA from Duke. Before becoming an entrepreneur full time, she spent time as a Peace Corps volunteer, a adventure travel guide and a startup junkie.

Here are the slides

We handed out feedback cards to the 45 attendees and got a 40% response rate (18 returned). We asked them to rate the following on 5 point scale (the ratings all ranged from 3 “ok” to 5 “excellent”) with the average scores as follows

  • Importance of Topic 4.3
  • Content 4.1
  • Quality of Speakers 4.2

We set out to foster a highly interactive discussion with the audience and after 30 minutes of presentation we spent the last 45 minutes in an active Q&A session. The five suggestions or observations that I found very useful from the panel:

  • Anne Kallus suggested putting your 60 day business plan on a 3×5 index card as a way of maintaining focus. Her notes are on slide 30, she suggested that you outline the one problem you are trying to solve, who your customer is, and what success looks like in 30 and 60 days. This is so good I think I will use it as an exercise at the Bootstrapper Breakfasts.
  • Rudy Hofmeister stressed the importance of a good job description (see slide 16) as the key to qualifying, interviewing, and recruiting the right people for you team. Rudy is a serial entrepreneur who helped Finisar scale from a few dozen employees to more than 3,000 and C8 Media grow from a small team to more than 200.  He mentioned that he maintained a spreadsheet of all of his hiring decisions and he revisited his past mistakes and success periodically to refine his approach.
  • Anne Kallus observed that determination can often trump current skillset for early team members, observing that her experiences in the Peace Corps and as an Adventure Guide did more to prepare her for the entrepreneurial roller coaster than any of her MBA courses.
  • Tim Bonnemann talked about his experiences creating the Web Monday events in Silicon Valley and Germany and how orchestrating volunteer labor and cultivating community energy was good preparation for keeping his team together and on track. It also allowed him to build an extended group of colleagues he could call on for help and advice.
  • Hope Hutman talked about increasing community involvement and engagement in theatre. Too often lately “community building” is synonymous with aggregating an audience for broadcast messaging and advertising. Her focus is to foster interaction among community members and deeper engagement with the plays’ substance. See for example slide 23 “what makes your life a living hell?” as a preparation question for a play based on the Tibetan Book of the Dead.

For more information on earlier “Working for Equity Sessions” see

FounderSuite Worth a Look for Saving Time On Your New Startup

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in 1 Idea Stage, 2 Open for Business Stage, Founder Story, Legal Issues, Tools for Startups

There are a number of forms packages now available for entrepreneurs that provide templates for incorporation, investment term sheets, hiring employees and contractors, etc.. And there are several business model canvas tools that are designed to facilitate useful discussions among founders and advisors (and potential investors) about a new startup. But Nathan Beckord‘s Foundersuite is the first to offer not only forms but facilitate workflows and communication among founders, advisors, prospects, investors, and other interested parties.

I used the idea validation module for the BeamWise planning and launch and found it helpful. Nathan is a friend but I am not an investor or otherwise affiliated with Foundersuite. I think it can make you think and save you time if you are in the early market exploration stages of your new startup.

“In the spring of 2009 I started on ‘Startup: An Owner’s Manual’ a how-to instructional guide for building new companies.”
Nathan Beckord (@startupventures) “Foundersuite Origin Story Part Deux

Working For Equity CEO Panel Returns to Silicon Valley Code Camp 2013

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in Events, Founder Story, Silicon Valley, skmurphy

We are reprising our “Working for Equity” CEO Panel for the fourth year at the 2013 Silicon Valley Code Camp. Here is the current write-up, we will be adding panelists’ bios in a few days.

Many of us in Silicon Valley seek either to found or to be an early employee at a technology startup. If you aspire to create a startup come take part in a conversation with four startup founders about what’s really involved in leaving your day job and striking out on your own or with partners. The startup founders range from serial entrepreneurs to first-time CEOs, they will share their vision, drive and passion as they discuss the nuts and bolts of following their dreams to building something that will change the world.

Please Register for Silicon Valley Code Camp and indicate your interest in the session, this determines the size of room we will be in. We have had some great discussions not only among the panelists but with the audience–more than half the time for the session is allocated to questions from the audience–so please let us know if you plan attend so we will have room for you. There is also a Mobile Session Viewer And Planner.

While I think our panel is one of the better reasons to attend Code Camp there are another 232 sessions offered by experts and practitioners that cover a broad range of topics of interest to software engineers. Code Camp takes place all day Saturday October 5 and Sunday October 6 on the Foothill College campus at 12345 El Monte Rd, Los Altos Hills, CA. The “Working for Equity” panel takes place on Saturday October Oct 5 at 1:45.

For more information on earlier “Working for Equity Sessions” see

Founder Story: Ari Halberstadt of Catalee on Founder’s Dilemmas and Residential Energy Market

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in 1 Idea Stage, Audio, Founder Story

Theresa Shafer met Ari Halberstadt at a Bootstrapper Breakfast in SF earlier this year and was very impressed with his approach to his new startup, Catalee. Ari volunteered to talk with me about Noam Wasserman‘s “The Founder’s Dilemmas” as well as Catalee. Here is a 12 minute podcast and transcript of our phone call.

Or download AriHalberstadt130404b (MP3) 12 minutes.

Sean Murphy:  Sean Murphy here with Ari Halberstadt. We’re talking about Noam Wasserman’s “The Founder’s Dilemma” and Air’s new startup, Catalee. Ari, do you want to take a minute to introduce yourself, tell us a little bit more about Catalee?

Ari Halberstadt:  Catalee is a startup that will help people improve their use of energy, basically reduce the use of energy in existing buildings and save people money at the same time. I’m looking at residential customers and, initially, small commercial market. These are markets that are somewhat underserved but they are quite large. There’s a large number of buildings and they tend to use energy quite inefficiently. Saving can be quite significant, cost effectively. But there are a lot of barriers to getting it done and I aim to streamline that process for the customers.

Sean:  We’ve been talking about Noam Wasserman’s The Founder’s Dilemma. I was going to read a little bit from a short passage on page 331 that I thought captured the essence of the entrepreneurial journey.  He says,

“The path from founding to success is a long and winding one with dilemma after dilemma forcing founders to make decision after decision all with the important, and sometimes surprising, short-term and long-term consequences.”

He elaborates on that, a few pages later, and says,

“At each fork in the road, the decision that maximizes value tends to threaten the founders control and vice versa. There is inherent conflict between maintaining control and building value in high potential startups because the latter requires value added players who demand more control.”

At this point, you’re actually looking for cofounders to help you bring Catalee to its full potential. Is that fair?

Ari:  Yes, that’s right.

Sean:  Can you talk about what you’ve accomplished so far, what the next milestone is you’re aiming for, and where you’re looking for help?

Ari:  I’ve looked at the market, and I’m working on approaches that I think could help consumers streamline this process as well as provide potential investment opportunities. I really need to turn that into a testable product, something that is a minimally viable product as well as find some customers to start using that. I’m really in that transition from idea phase to actually having a product out there. That’s basically where I am right now, and I need people to work with me on that process.

Sean:  When you look at this market, the clean tech energy-saving market’s been around for a while. I think that there’s a general proof of need. What led you to focus in particular on residential and small business?

Ari:   Those are very large markets. The residential one is the largest, particularly the single-family homeowner, where you actually have a person that owns that property and could make decisions. It’s quite heterogeneous.

There are a lot of people out there who are at times neglected. Large companies that can come in and help a university or a hospital set up their energy efficiency have been less interested in helping make it simpler for homeowners to access those resources. There’s a very large market with a lot of potential savings.

The small commercial firms represent a smaller market. It’s still a large number of buildings in the commercial sector, but it also has similar needs to home owners who face challenges finding the right services to get energy efficiency projects implemented. Some of the smaller businesses tend to be quite energy intensive.

Sean:  As you think about how your first offering is going to be both minimal but somehow differentiated from what’s out there, what do you see as the key difference or the two or three key differences between what you would offer and what’s already available to the homeowner or the small business owner?

Ari:  First of all, it would be simpler. The homeowner would not need to spend a lot of time trying to figure out certain attributes of their property. We would also not require too much hands-on, up front, from contractors. The service would actually predict in advance what the energy savings could be for a property. That would help to save time and streamline the process.

It would also lead people through the entire process, which right now is so fragmented that people will try to upgrade and sometimes just give up. It can be a cumbersome and confusing process:  I’ve spoken to people who just gave up because it’s too hard for them to go through the hassle when they don’t don’t see the benefits.

Catalee will connect homeowners with the resources, the people, the products, and the services that can help them:  there are contractors, there’s financing available as well as incentives that can be hard  to actually get sometimes. It’s so fragmented.

Sean:  So in terms of the full product road map, that comes into play even more? You’re looking both for an insertion point and then a way to build out a much richer system beyond that?

Ari:   Yes. I’m looking to interact with the entire system of home building performance. There are existing systems out there, but I want to connect them more efficiently. One of those would be a contractor. Another is the finance, which actually would have an opportunity for investment in these kinds of efficiency gains which, currently, it’s hard for them to access.

It’s actually a system that can be addressed more holistically. By doing that, you actually unlock a lot of additional opportunities.

Sean:  When we talked earlier you felt that your top three strengths were technical software development, an understanding of the science and an ability to look at the problem as a system. Do you want to elaborate on that a little bit?

Ari:  I have a background as a software engineer. I’ve worked in that field. That helped me see the utility in how software can analyze the information. A lot of this problem is an information problem. People don’t have the information. It’s necessary to analyze the opportunities available. There are actually tools out there, but they’re cumbersome to use.  I can look at these things and say, “We need to put these things together.” Software is a way to do that. I have a background as a scientist. That gives me some understanding of scientific processes and thinking. In terms of the system, I look at the problems as interconnected components, not just one small element that often people might try to address.

Sean:  When you look at all the other skills or key skills that are going to be required to build a successful first product, take it to market and close some business, what are the key skills you’re looking for in one or more co-founders to help you get there?

Ari:   I need someone with sales experience, how to develop the sales and products. Somebody, more generally, with business, especially somebody with experience in the energy efficiency and energy field, would be very helpful. That’s an area I think I’m a little less experienced in. They would understand how to sell the products and develop the markets.

Sean:   So you’re looking for folks that have an energy experience or some contact or understanding how that works? The ability to do more detailed financial analysis, as might be applicable to either a homeowner or a small business? And then, sales and marketing strength to help you actually go to market and close business?

Ari:   Yes. Those would be key skills that would be necessary to help the business. I’ve tried to approach the problem from, rather than building prototype software, straight out, I’m actually analyzing the market, getting a better understanding of it. And looking at what existing tools I can start using to build an initial product offering. Or maybe even a service.

Sean:  Is that more what they call a concierge or a Wizard of Oz model where you take existing tools and knit them together?

Ari:  Yeah, that’s actually something that I’m exploring at the moment to see how I can leverage some of the existing tools. There are actually many tools out there or programs for building performance analysis. But they tend to be one off or building-by-building solutions are very time consuming for people to work with. I’m exploring ways to work with the underlying engines, for instance, to make that more efficient and streamlined.

Sean:  Are there any key values you’re looking for in terms of recruiting a team? When you think about shared values or values you’re looking for, what would you say would be one or two key things you would look for in a partner or cofounder?

Ari:  The one thing is I’m very dedicated to dealing with is waste of energy that’s leading to climate change. Somebody who shared that kind of a vision would be important, to understand that that’s a key element that’s driving my interest in this business and where the focus should remain.

Sean:  At the Bootstrapper’s Breakfast we talk about founder who are looking for missionaries or  for mercenaries. So one of the high-order bits for Catalee is you want to have an impact on the global warming problem.

Ari:  Exactly.

Sean:  You’re looking for missionaries.

Ari:   Yes, and I think that these markets are big enough that we could actually have a big impact on a large scale.

Sean:  Well, this has been very interesting. Thanks for taking part. If folks are interested in contacting Ari Halberstadt they can reach him at Catalee.com

Learning the Right Lessons From Failure

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in 3 Early Customer Stage, Customer Development, Demos, Founder Story, skmurphy

John Finneran recently wrote a postmortem on a startup that aspired to be “the 37 Signals of non-profit software entitled “Fat startup: Learn the lessons of my failed Lean Startup.

It’s a candid narrative the ends with four “lessons learned”

First, pursue achingly high standards in every aspect of your startup. Mediocre execution will slowly murder your startup.

Second, narrow the scope of your product until you can develop an extraordinary product. The purpose of your first release (and every other release)  is to give your customer immediate value. You are not launching a series of science experiments for you to learn what you should already know.

Third, find enough funds for a substantial marketing budget.

Finally, beware of Lean Startup principles, or any other shrink-wrapped utopia offered by the entrepreneurial dream industry.  A weekend trip in a “Lean Startup Machine” may feel useful and fun, but treat their practical value with extreme skepticism.

I had a different set of lessons from this article than the conclusions that the author draws:

  • Your customer is the firm that will pay you. They picked a problem–writing a grant application that relies on a “logic model”–that may not be a real need. They interviewed 1,000 people seeking grants and found “writing a logic model is confusing, complicated, and impractical.” They don’t appear to have interviewed the organizations requiring the logic model to determine how it would be used beyond the grant application. If it’s only needed for a presentation then a PowerPoint version may be all that’s ever needed. I think there may be a deeper need to uncover in understanding why a logic model is required and how it’s updated over it’s lifetime. Conclusion: if you are going to create an on-line artifact to replace a powerpoint slide make sure it will be used more than once (e.g. needs to be updated quarterly to maintain grant, etc..). An alternative customer might have been to find grant writing consultants who wanted to become more productive.
  • Pick a problem or pain point that is real and preferably recurring. One way to tell that it’s real is that a prospect will find value even in a partial solution or offering that only addresses a portion of the full problem. This is the core of a minimum viable product: it provides enough value for a target customer’s real problem/need that they will make a minimum purchase. Instead “our original idea put on weight quickly” they expanded their initial concept to become the 37signals of non-profit software.
  • Most assumptions you make when you start out will prove to be imperfect and in need of refinement: plan for this. This is not a fault of any particular business model approach, it’s a function of your knowledge of the customer’s needs and buying process. One example from this situation: “We assumed customers would sign up online with a credit card.’ Most B2B software, at least for initial sales, will have to be sold with many conversations much hand holding. Lacking any testimonials or case studies, you will have to have a number of serious conversations with a prospect to ensure that you understand their needs and that they agree that you do.
  • Rehearse the demo an internal champion (“earlyvangelist”) is going to run using their exact configuration; do this with enough lead time that you can identify and fix any issues it uncovers. If your internal champion does not want to rehearse then they are not really an earlyvangelist.
  • Always consider starting out by selling the result that a customer wants as a service.  This is a startup that would have benefited from using the concierge model or partnering with a consulting firm already doing logic models. Their target customer wanted to pay for a logic model, they should have started by selling that result. It’s not clear if the customer would have used the application after submitting the grant so selling the result would have been a better place to start.

How To Thrive After An Acquisition

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in 5 Scaling Up Stage, Founder Story, skmurphy

Q: I was CTO and co-founder of a small technology startup that was recently acquired by a much larger firm. We have a two year earn out that I would like to collect. I see myself as a serial entrepreneur (this is my first successful acquisition but I have founded or co-founded several less successful startups in the last decade) but realize I should probably learn how to thrive in a large  firm environment as well.  In the next two years I would love to have learned how to operate in a public company  and to have a few solid wins where I’ve shifted the acquiring company’s business in a positive direction. Any advice about keeping sane and happy, and making sure I could actually make an impact at the new company.

First of all these are a great set of goals: stay sane and happy and learn how to make an impact in a large firm. Here are a couple of suggestions:

  • Attend manager / new manager training: this will allow you to meet other managers in the firm and make connections. It’s also a way to learn the “unwritten rules” of your new employer.
  • Ask to be assigned another manager as a mentor for an on-boarding period (60-90 days), with mutual consent you can continue beyond that point.
  • Attend the “engineering bagel meeting” or “nerd lunch” or brown bag lunches: if there isn’t a regular (e.g. once a week twice a month meeting where engineers present work that they are doing, offering to help organize an event where folks bring in lunch and can meet in a room or over Webex where one engineer presents some recent results and others can ask questions. Presentation might be 6-12 slides 15-20 minutes followed by Q&A and general networking. Rotate speakers from different groups and teams including your own.
  • Attend Miller Heiman sales training or Solution Selling sales training: protecting your budget and “tin cupping” from other departments for reqs and project funding benefits from sales skills.
  • If your company was not the first acquisition seek out other CEO’s and founders whose company was acquired by your firm–whether or not they are still with the company–and ask for a coffee break or quick call to get some advice on what to watch out for and what they have found helped them.

Recap of “Work For Equity” A Startup CEO Panel at SVCC 2012

Written by Theresa Shafer. Posted in Events, Founder Story, Startups

If you missed our “Working for Equity” panel at Silicon Valley Code Camp 2012, Theresa Shafer and the four CEO’s on the panel had a lively conversation about what’s really involved in leaving your day job and striking out on your own or with partners.

Quick Summary

Panel discussion with four software startup CEOs offering their perspective on the practical realities of starting and growing a company. This session is for both aspiring and active entrepreneurs, it will outline important tips and issues to consider if you are investing your time in a startup. Each panelist gave a 5 minute lightning talk on background and lessons learned, followed by a Q&A session with the audience.

Panel of startup founders:


Here are slides in PDF format
WorkEquity121007

Startup Founders Announced for Working For Equity Panel at SVCC 2012

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in 1 Idea Stage, 2 Open for Business Stage, 3 Early Customer Stage, 4 Finding your Niche, Events, Founder Story, skmurphy

For the third year in a row I will moderate a panel of startup founders sharing lesson learned bootstrapping a technology startup at Silicon Valley Code Camp. This “Working for Equity” session will be on Sunday Oct 7 at 9:15am.

Here is the announcement

Many of us in Silicon Valley seek to found or be an early employee at a technology startup. If you aspire to create a startup come take part in a conversation with four  startup founders about what’s really involved in leaving your day job and striking out on your own or with partners. The startup founders range from serial entrepreneurs to first-time CEOs, they will share their vision, drive and passion as they discuss the nuts and bolts of following their dreams to building something that will change the world.

  • Lenny Greenberg CTO of Assityx, Inc.
    Lenny Greenberg is founder and CTO of Assistyx, leading developer of assistive communication products, including the award-winning TapToTalk app that help individuals with physical and mental challenges reach their full potential. A serial entrepreneur, Lenny has led organizations in planning and developing advanced technology-based products.
  • Ruoting Sun, co-founder of Temvi, Inc.
    Ruoting Sun is co-founder of Temvi, a Mountain View based startup focused on simplifying social discovery. Temvi enables users to easily find, share, and experience cool events that are happening around them, based on their interests and passions. Routing is a first time entrepreneur heading a team of 5 others in creating a mobile app that gamifies social discovery.
  • Sam King, CEO of ExpressMango, Inc.
    After working as a key contributor to many startups, Sam King co-founded Express Mango, a the social networking appointment system. Express Mango’s online scheduling and appointment reminders reduce no shows. The facebook virtual receptionist helps grow your business 24/7/365.
  • Giacomo Vacca, CEO of Kinetic River, Corp.
    Giacomo Vacca founded Kinetic River to focus on products and services at the intersection of laser optics, microfluidics and medical diagnostic devices. He earned his B.A. and M.A. in Physics from Harvard University, and his Ph.D. in Applied Physics from Stanford University. His most recent honors are having been elected to Senior Member of the Optical Society of America and to Research Fellow of the Volwiler Society at Abbott Laboratories.
  • Moderator: Sean Murphy, CEO of SKMurphy Inc.
    Sean Murphy has taken an entrepreneurial approach to life since he could drive. His firm specializes in early stage and emerging market technology companies who are challenged either by new product introduction or the need to diversify beyond their initial success.

Silicon Valley Code Camp is an amazing experience that has improved each of the five years that I have attended. It’s held at Foothill College (12345 El Monte Road,  Los Altos Hills, CA 94022) and this year will convent the weekend of Saturday October 6th and Sunday October 7th. There is no charge to attend.

Register your interest in attending Code Camp at http://www.siliconvalley-codecamp.com/Register.aspx

Register your interest in attending the  Sunday Oct 7 9:15am “Working for Equity” session at
http://www.siliconvalley-codecamp.com/Sessions.aspx?sessionid=942

“Working For Equity” Panel Session Returns to Silicon Valley Code Camp For Third Year

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in Events, Founder Story, skmurphy

I am moderating a panel at Silicon Valley Code Camp 2012 on “Working For Equity.” Here is the session description:

Panel discussion with three software startup CEOs offering their perspective on the practical realities of starting and growing a company. This session is for both aspiring and active entrepreneurs, it will outline important tips and issues to consider if you are investing your time in a startup. Each panelist will give a 5 minute lightning talk on background and lessons learned, followed by a group Q&A session with the audience.

This will be the third year I have moderated this panel; the last two years it’s been very popular and we normally have a great conversation with the audience after some brief introductory remarks by each panel member.

Silicon Valley Code Camp is an amazing experience that has improved each of the five years that I have attended. It’s held at Foothill College (12345 El Monte Road,  Los Altos Hills, CA 94022) and this year will convent the weekend of Saturday October 6th and Sunday October 7th.

Register your interest in attending Code Camp at http://www.siliconvalley-codecamp.com/Register.aspx

Register your interest in attending the “Working for Equity” session at
http://www.siliconvalley-codecamp.com/Sessions.aspx?sessionid=942


Here are blog posts about the panel sessions from 2011 and 2010

Dan Shipper: Every Sustainable Business Follows From Solid Fundamentals

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in Founder Story

The following are excerpts from Dan Shipper’s “Why I’m Doing It All Wrong,” a blog post that I found very inspiring.

“Swing for the fences” & “Scale as quickly as possible”

These are fundamental assumptions of startup building. From these come our conventional startup wisdom:

“Leave school” & “Raise money”

For a long time I accepted the “leave school and raise money” argument because I assumed that “swing for the fences” and “scale as quickly” as possible were inviolable tenets of company building. But it turns out they’re not inviolable. They’re not even tenets. They’re just a common way of thinking about how to do a startup.

I’m naturally interested in business. I’m naturally interested in coding and design. I’m naturally interested in writing.

And so my goal is this: to be able to do those things sustainably, for the rest of my life.

Home runs by definition aren’t sustainable. They’re not predictable. Sometimes you hit one, but most of the time you don’t. That part of things is mostly out of your control.

Because it’s out of my control and not sustainable, I’m not focused on it. For that matter I’m not interested in anything that’s not sustainable.

So what can be counted on?  Every successful business follows from solid fundamentals. Customers, money, funding. And that’s what I’m concentrated on.

What I’m spending my time doing now is this: learning how to build a real business. And by real, I mean a business that has money coming in the door from day one. Businesses that make money can be started in any investment climate. They don’t go out of style.

That’s why we’re holed up in an office in Philly for $650 a month working 14-hours a day this summer. That’s the goal.

I think there’s a time and place for raising money. I think there’s a time and a place to go for broke. So when I’m asked why I haven’t left school and raised money this is generally my reply:

I’m going to get into the big game eventually. But right now I’m working on perfecting my crossover dribble.

I want to get good at this stuff. And I know that I can do that without leaving school, and without raising money.


I originally posted these on the Bootstrapper Breakfast E-mail list which led Luke Teyssier to comment:

Thank you for a voice of sanity. Dropping out of college to get funding makes about as much sense as dropping out to join a baseball team. A very small few will hit the big leagues, but most would have been better off getting a solid foundation.

Ryan Waggoner: Maybe Startups Are So Hard Because We’re Doing Them Wrong

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in Founder Story, Funding, skmurphy

This is reposted excerpt from a sequence of  Christmas Day Hackers news comments made by Ryan Waggoner ( http://news.ycombinator.com/user?id=ryanwaggoner ) hyperlinks added for context. The initial comment triggered an extended conversation with Paul Graham and others that makes for interesting reading. I agree with Ryan’s perspective and didn’t want it see lost in the dusty archives of Hacker News.

In 2009 I started a company with another guy, and I used to read articles like this, about how startups are so very difficult, and how you have to put everything on the line, your health, your wealth, your relationships, everything. It’s a very common theme in startup-land, and I constantly hear from founders who sacrificed their marriages, worked 19 hour days, slept under their desks, and racked up tens of thousands in credit card debt, all to make their dream a reality. The message is very clear: you have to be willing to do anything to succeed. Articles like this fed my ego, and made me feel like I was part of an elite cadre of founders.

Then my startup  failed, leaving myself and my cofounder with tens of thousands in debt and a pretty rough mess to clean up.

In the meantime, a good friend of mine who started a little project on the side slowly grew it over a period of a couple years into something that supports his family very well and has a good shot at doing millions in revenue within the next 5-10 years. And I don’t think he’s been very stressed while doing it. He loves what he does, has tons of time for his family, etc. The cynical among us might term this a “lifestyle business” and they’d be right. But I don’t think that bothers him and I can’t say I blame him.

There’s this really ugly side of the startup world that drives founders to completely unreasonable levels in pursuit of fast wealth creation, and it comes as a result of two factors: founders are naturally ambitious, driven people, and investors are in a hit-driven business. So the result is that investors naturally gravitate towards founders who either hit a billion dollars in a few years, or die trying (sometimes literally), and then investors and founders both are incentivized to craft this story that they only way to win is to win big, fast, and with all your chips on the line.

And these things become self-reinforcing, so you have investors talking about how the real reason startups are so valuable is that founders can work so hard that they accomplish a career’s worth of work in just a few years. The message is clear: you need to work 90 hours a week and either be the next Dropbox or flame out. And for the model most investors work under, that’s the only way they really make money.

But the more I look around, the more I wonder if there’s really much correlation between blowing your life up and startup success. Yes, you hear a lot of successful founders talking about how they killed themselves to get there. But thanks to survivorship bias, you don’t hear from all the ones who risked everything, turned their lives and relationships and health upside down, and then lost. And increasingly, I’m seeing a lot of examples of very successful founders who definitely work hard, but keep an eye on themselves, their health, their relationships, etc. and have lines they’re just not willing to cross. 37signals is the classic example here, but there are scores of others, many of them right here on HN. The key seems to be patience and humility, two things a lot of 20-something founders (including myself) have in very short supply

Maybe startups are so hard because we’re doing them wrong.


Building a sustainable growing business does not preclude seeking investment. It allows you to develop a business plan predicated on achievable growth that merits investment. Or you can continue to run a business that can support your family.

Founder Story: Luc Burgun, EVE

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in Founder Story

This originally appeared in my “Entrepreneurial Engineer” column in EETimes as “No longer a startup, EVE aims for top tier of EDA players” on Mar-29-2011. I have added some additional hyperlinks in this version.

Dr. Luc Burgun is co-founder and CEO of EVE. He has more than sixteen years of experience in EDA in both engineering and executive management positions. Prior to co-founding EVE, he was R&D Director for Meta Systems, a French company acquired by Mentor Graphics in 1996 that specialized in hardware emulation systems. Dr. Burgun holds a Ph.D. degree in Logic Synthesis from the University of Pierre and Marie Curie in Paris and has been granted six patents. The following interview took place over E-Mail; hyperlinks have been added to offer some additional context.

Q: Can you talk about where EVE is in the market today.

This year is EVE’s 10th anniversary and we will celebrate this event with an expected year-to-year revenue growth of 50 percent. Even more remarkable is that the company is now profitable. We expect the emulation market to grow by 20 percent in 2011 and we are gaining market share thanks to our great new machine–the sixth generation of our ZeBu emulation platforms. We started selling ZeBu-Server in January 2010. In the past 11 months, we have sold about 30 machines to 15 different design groups, more than half of them first-time EVE customers.

We see more and more demand for performance, driven by software requirements, which is our key differentiator. We have also improved the product to the point where we can compete with traditional emulation players in hardware debugging, especially for very large designs.

Q: You are both a hardware company and an EDA company. How does that affect your perspective on customer challenges?

Yes, unlike most EDA players. EVE–like our customers and potential customers–designs both hardware and software, although our software development team outnumbers the hardware team by a factor of 10 to one. I believe we have a unique perspective that helps us to understand better the hardware/software co-verification challenges of our customers.

Q: It sounds like you are well beyond the startup stage, but not yet one of the top five vendors in the EDA market. What’s changed about how you manage the company when it was a startup?

Let me say that our goal is to reach the fifth position in EDA in 2012.

When you are a start-up, you focus on getting your first customers, and ramping up revenues as fast as you can. Profitability is not your top objective. Then, at our stage, achieving sustainable revenue growth and being profitable become mandatory if you want to stay in business and avoid further rounds of funding.

By the way, closing a round of funding today in EDA, at whatever stage, may be quite a challenge.

In the stage where we are now, you need a stronger organization to deal with all kinds of customer requirements. You need to empower the management team while still giving enough latitude to employees to succeed in their daily task.

This is also where you make important decisions between balancing your capability in terms of R&D and customer support and service. The more you go on, the more you tend to grow the field organization, but it’s critical to do that in due time, not too early…nor too late.

Q: What new problems do you face now that you didn’t as a startup?

Coordination between the different teams becomes critical. Like in an orchestra conductor, you have to make sure that all musicians/employees play the same tune. In the end, all employees have to share the same strategic vision and understand how their work can contribute to make this strategic vision become a reality. Also, you need to deal with different geographies and make sure everybody is on the same page. This is really 24/7 work.

Q: You have been involved in several lawsuits. Any advice for entrepreneurs on how to manage litigation?

You need to analyze the patent portfolio of your competitors on a regular basis and make sure the product you develop doesn’t infringe any patent. If someone starts litigation against your company, you want to feel confident that the plaintiff will have very limited chances of success.

Also, it might make sense to file some patents if they bring some visible differentiators to your product.

And last but not the least, you always want to make sure you have enough cash to defend yourself. In 2006, we had to make a concession by doing a settlement with a large EDA vendor, even though we knew we had a very strong case. But, as a matter of fact, we were just burning cash to defend ourselves and that was really frustrating. Ultimately, we decided we needed to focus our attention on building great products and supporting our customers. The litigation was a distraction.

Q: What problems have stayed the same since you started?

Everything is more or less the same–it’s just on a different scale. You need to make sure the product is going to meet the demands of your customers and potential customers and that you have enough differentiators to beat the competition.

At the beginning, your product needs to be good at one thing. Then, the more you grow, the more you can expand its usage so that you progressively open your available market. Also, the visibility of the company increases over time and it becomes always easier to compete against the large EDA companies. Only your product and the quality of your support team make the difference. On the other hand, you start to become a target and this is where you need to be paranoid enough, as Andy Grove of Intel writes in “Only the Paranoid Survive” and keep your eyes wide open.

Q: What have you learned? What advice do you have for engineers who are thinking about starting a new hardware or EDA company?

We learned a lot of things in fields where we had a limited exposure like finance, human resources, and even sales and marketing.

My main recommendation is to keep focused on your objectives. It’s so easy to be distracted by non-strategic or non-critical issues.

I would also suggest being somewhat conservative regarding the sales cycle. It’s one thing to build a product; it’s another thing to sell it. If that were not true, there would not be large companies like Synopsys with so many great products. Definitely, I am convinced that an effective sales and marketing channel is critical.

Q: Thank you for your time.

Founder Story: Linc Jepson, 74ze

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in Founder Story, skmurphy

This originally appeared in my “Entrepreneurial Engineer” column in EETimes as “Linc Jepson’s 74ze leverages Russian and American engineering talent to persevere” on Jan-18-2011. I have added some additional hyperlinks in this version.

Linc Jepson studied Electrical Engineering at Tufts and after he graduated with his BSEE he was drawn to Silicon Valley’s technology boom in 1997. He worked as an RTL design engineer at several startups including Auravision, Broadlogic, and Believe and in 2002 he travelled to Eastern Europe for two years where he worked for a startup microprocessor company). He returned to Silicon Valley in 2004 to co-found 74ze, a design services firm that leverages Eastern European engineering talent. I sat down with him after a recent Bootstrappers Breakfast to learn more about his entrepreneurial journey; what follows is an edited transcript of our conversation with hyperlinks added for context.

Q: You have a broad base of experience, what kind of work do you enjoy?

I enjoy the fast-pace of small companies, where there is not only the opportunity but the necessity to do all kinds of work. And that work has an immediate and significant impact. Early in my career I was doing clean-slate development, performance research, upgrading and debugging modules of long-gone developers, verification, 3rd-party IP integration, you name it. I didn’t realize it at the time but it was great training for consulting.

Q: Why did you pick Eastern Europe when you left the Valley?

During the 2001 downturn in Silicon Valley I decided to indulge my wanderlust a bit and to get a better feel for the foreign labor market. I had previously worked with a team of engineers in India. I had studied Russian for about four years in high school and college and had a seedling of an idea in mind about starting a services company that would have a portion of its team abroad.

In 2002 I moved over to Minsk and then Moscow for about two years. I brushed up on–OK I greatly improved on–my Russian and found a job doing RTL design in Zelenograd, Russia. Interestingly, the company had been founded by Chinese/Malay investors. I created a CompactFlash controller and a touchscreen interface. I was also making contacts and continuing to think about an outsourcing team.

I had confirmed that there is some exceptional talent there.

Q: How did you decide on outsource engineering as a business model?

We consider 74ze (pronounced 74 Zee) a services firm, first and foremost. We happen to use remote experts when it benefits a project. About a third of our projects never utilize our remote team. In school I studied International Relations as well, for a BA. Working with remote teams allows me to pursue another passion.

While I wasn’t keen on the mercenary perception that many folks have of contract engineers, I knew that there could be improvements made in the outsourcing model. Specifically, most engineers tend to shy-away from verbal or face-to-face communication. It seems easier to be non-confrontational and swap a few emails instead of picking the phone or Skype, but you can delude yourself into thinking that all will be okay. This can be particularly dangerous when you are an outsider of a company. These communication issues are often compounded by cultural issues. Merge a few factors such as a contractor being foreign and also more junior than the client’s counterpart, as is often the case with remote teams, and you often find someone who too often will dodge asking a short, potentially embarrassing question, and try to compensate by putting in more hours.

The fallout from labor globalization can be overcome with stronger communication and more global management experience. It’s not achievable in all stages of development, but someone who work effectively  not only with other engineers in the same building but also with engineers in Krakow or Kiev is growing in value.

Q: How did you get started?

In 2004 I moved back to the US. We incorporated 74ze in Delaware, and then in Russia a few years later, after we had traction. One of our first two jobs was a local one. We had 2-3 people, all US citizens, on site. We only did minor work abroad, such as some analog modeling. The other early job was for a company in Europe. The job was a referral from an existing relationship. That job was done completely remotely. We only met the technical people from the client at a trade show, a few months later, where they demonstrated with our product.

Q: If you are doing RTL design and verification what EDA tools do you use?

An immediate obstacle that we ran in to when we started was the high cost of EDA tools. Right off the bat, this started knocking us out of the running for various contracts. When I was living in Zelenograd, I had used Aldec’s HDL verification tools and had a very good experience with them. After not using them for a few years, because we were using customer tools in the US, one of the guys on our team proposed that we incorporate Aldec’s tools into our next bid.

Over the years, we’ve built up a relationship with Aldec and have grown to rely on their tools quite a bit. It’s unfortunate that we didn’t get much traction in conversations with the other EDA vendors, but I think that we have found a good solution with Aldec Riviera-PRO and a solid partner for moving forward.

Q: Can you give me a brief overview of where the company is today?

We’ve shifted more towards verification in the last few years, both in terms of the jobs we’ve taken and also in terms of a conscious decision to solidify our roots in that space. While most of our early jobs were in or involved some design, and we continue to work in this field, we see that the continuing abstraction of testing is creating a very large opportunity. We’ve been honing our SystemVerilog skills in the last few years and have been doing more verification than anything else, lately.

While we are still a mix of full-time and contract-based engineers, we are a pure engineering team with next to no marketing or sales overhead. This means less overhead cost for the client, but also that we don’t have the sheen of the larger companies. When we meet with a prospective client, they meet the lead engineer in the first meeting.

The economy interfered with our plan to cycle a few younger engineers into our team. Our team has a minimum of 12 years of experience, but I expect that we’ll have an internal project running as a testing ground for some junior engineers later this year.

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 increased our role significantly with two clients over a 2-3 year relationship. With one of those companies, we joined to develop a few blocks from spec and ultimately took on a much larger amount of design work as well as key roles in integration and top-level verification. We helped carry them through full chip functional sign-off and final timing closure. The chip worked the first time. The CTO of one of those companies, Mark Indovina, became an advisor.

We nailed the deadline to get a prototype RTL processor core developed for another client, enabling them to meet the deadline for a multi-day meeting with one of their key clients in Japan. We had to make two flavors, optimizing for power and performance constraints.

I am happy that we have grown to the point where it made sense to incorporate in Russia; growing our team there was a significant milestone.

Q: What has been the biggest surprise? What was one key assumption you made, perhaps even unconsciously, that has caused the most grief?

Sales. Selling is tough. I came back from Eastern Europe and a bit arrogantly thought that as a skilled group of engineers, we would break into the contractor market easily. I have learned that selling is a process. I am not a salesperson in the least. My father was and I didn’t have much respect for the field, until I tried it.

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?

I thought that I would be spending a lot more time in Eastern Europe than I have been. We have a senior team there that runs smoothly. The last time I was there I was trying to hire another engineer for a project and was unsuccessful. Salaries were skyrocketing.

We are more local and on-site and less offshore-centric today than I initially envisioned.

Q: What suggestions do you have for entrepreneurs?

Be willing to deviate from your plan; not necessarily from your objective. I think we can (I did) envision the future too much or too specifically, such that you have a hardened mold in your mind and of how something will turn out and then work like hell to fill that mold with your progress. Sometimes there is less resistance to your goal down a parallel path.

Q: Thanks for your time.


Linc Jepson is a long time attendee at Bootstrapper Breakfasts®, and has a brief video interview up at “Linc Jepson: the main reason I come to the Bootstrapper Breakfast

Founder Story Sam Wurzel, Octopart

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in Founder Story, skmurphy

This originally appeared in my “Entrepreneurial Engineer” column in EETimes as “Octopart helps nearly a half a million people find the part they need every month” on Mar-3-2011. I have added some additional hyperlinks in this version.

I originally made a note to blog about Octopart in October of 2007 and again in April of 2008 as I used them to research part information for various client projects. The interface has evolved over the years but the site offers a very clean and information rich way to search for parts and part information, aggregating content from a number of sites into a single coherent view. The company was founded by Sam Wurzel, Andres Morey, and Harish Agarwal in 2006. All three had a common background in physics and they have brought a level of rigor along with a hacker perspective to part selection that has created a useful and innovative part selection site.

When they announced in January that DigiKey was allowing them to include their catalog in the Octopart parametric search results I realized I needed to do an interview with them. I was able to talk to Sam Wurzel, what follows is an edited transcript of our conversation with hyperlinks added for context. I have included more on the founders’ backgrounds after the main interview to give readers who are interested a window into their diverse backgrounds and low key humor.

Q: Can you talk a little bit about your background

All of us have a background in physics, and physics is what brought us together. Andres and I became friends while studying physics in college and Harish and Andres became friends while studying physics in grad school. Our areas of research were all different; I was working on plasma physics, Andres was working on experimental cosmology and Harish was working on biophysics.

Q: Can you talk a little bit about what led you to found your company, what was the problem that motivated you?

In 2005 I read Paul Graham’s essay “How to Start a Startup” and it really changed my perspective that I could start a technology company. I was in graduate school in Boulder but it was becoming clear that the academic path was not the right one for me and I had been looking for alternatives.

Soon after that I sent Andres the link, and we started throwing around ideas for startup companies. In the spring of 2006 I got a phone call from Andres. He was having trouble finding a low temperature capacitor for his experiment and suggested that we build a database of electronic parts and make it easily searchable on the web.

Q: Are there any entrepreneurs in your family or who you interacted with when you were growing up?

Both of my grandfathers were entrepreneurs in their own way: one owned a pharmacy and the other owned a car dealership.

Q: So both ran businesses that had complex inventory management issues?

It’s funny, I hadn’t really thought about it before, but now that you ask I remember working in the parts department of my grandfather’s car dealership. Maybe that gave me some insight into the problems that Octopart solves for engineers and electronics hobbyists.

Q: How did you get started?

In mid 2006, we started writing code and learning about web technologies in the little spare time we had. After working in the lab all day, we would come home and write code on a Linux server that I bought at a yard sale for $50. We would often work until 3 or 4 in the morning. By that fall we had a working prototype and applied to Y Combinator. We got some seed funding from them and incorporated the company at the end of 2006. We launched the site in March of 2007.

Q: Can you give me a brief overview of where the company is today?

Today we’ve grown to serve over 440,000 unique visitors per month who are searching for electronic parts. We list the inventories of over 50 distributors, including some of the largest distributors in the industry.

We also have a relationship with Cadence: our aggregated part information is published in the OrCad Component information system.

Q: Octopart is a powerful search tool: what’s the business model? Are you profitable?

Our business model is connecting part buyers with distributors, and the distributors pay for that traffic. We also do display advertising targeted to the electronics industry. We are profitable.

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?

From a technical standpoint, we’re very proud of the back-end system we’ve built to handle the incoming data feeds and the front end system to serve up fast responses to user queries. From a product standpoint, we’re proud that our users find Octopart useful. Getting emails from users who love the site is great.

Q: What has been the biggest surprise? What was one key assumption you made, perhaps even unconsciously, that has caused the most grief?

When we started Octopart, we were sure that within 6 months, we would have all the major distributors signed up and we would be overwhelmed with users. In fact everything takes longer than we expect it to. That includes building technology, building relationships and getting users. On the surface, it seems like the problems involved in part search are straightforward: get the data, build a system to keep track of it, and build an intuitive frontend interface. But each of those problems have subproblems, and each subproblem needs to be iterated on quite a bit.

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?

Surprisingly, the business model and the design of the site today has not changed that much since we first conceived it. The biggest difference between the original vision and where we are today is the time it took us to get here. We still focus on two critical challenges: getting good data from many sources and correlating it into an integrated view of a part, and offering our users an intuitive and powerful interface for finding the parts that they are looking for. Both are hard problems and although we have made a lot of progress I wouldn’t consider either of them to be fully solved.

Q: You must be doing something right if almost half a million people visit every month looking for part information. Thanks for your time

I have included biographical information supplied by Octopart on the founders as I found it very interesting reading.

Sam Wurzel
Sam graduated from Brown University with a Bachelors degree in physics and engineering. He went to graduate school at the University of Colorado at Boulder where left the PhD program with a Masters degree to work on Octopart.

Sam likes to build things. While a student, he spent alternate summers working in experimental physics labs as research assistant and in bicycle shops as a mechanic. In grad school at CU Boulder Sam joined a newly formed lab testing the design of a fusion plasma confinement scheme which one day might be useful in a commercial fusion reactor.  Although Sam liked the lab work, he realized academia was not a good fit for him. So, he started working on Octopart, and eventually left his PhD program to move to Berkeley to pursue Octopart full time.

At Octopart Sam manages relationships with distributors, writes code to handle their data feeds, and works on techniques to normalize the data arriving from many different sources.

When Sam is not working on Octopart, he enjoys running and reading while on public transportation.

Andres Morey
Andres received his Bachelors degree in physics from Brown University in Providence, RI and attended UC Berkeley for graduate school, leaving the PhD program with a Masters degree in physics to work on Octopart. As a grad student, Andres worked on the IceCube Neutrino Observatory – an experiment that uses neutrino interactions in the ice at the South Pole to map cosmic neutrino sources.

While working on various hardware projects for his experiment, Andres spent a lot of time searching for electronic components. Frustrated with the online search options, he called up his friend and fellow grad student, Sam Wurzel, and suggested that they build an electronic parts search engine. After spending several months working on a prototype they decided to leave grad school to work on the project fulltime and in November 2006 they incorporated as Octopart, Inc.

Since leaving grad school, Andres has been working on Octopart fulltime. Andres is responsible for most of Octopart’s consumer-facing features including client-side code and all graphical and UI elements. In the course of working on Octopart Andres discovered that he loves working at a tech startup because it is a platform for solving a series of never ending problems from managing human relationships to squashing obscure Internet Explorer bugs. Andres discovered that he loves coding because of the feeling he gets when he finds an elegant solution to a coding puzzle.

Currently, Andres spends his free time thinking about Octopart.

Harish Agarwal
Harish received his undergrad degree from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in Engineering Physics and a Masters degree from Cambridge University in Semiconductor Physics. Harish left his physics PhD program at U.C. Berkeley with a Masters degree to join Octopart.

Harish enjoys understanding systems and developing projects that work on top of them. As a graduate student in Jan Liphardt’s biophysics lab at U.C. Berkeley, Harish was tasked with studying nuclear transport in eukaryotic cells. Having come from a physics undergraduate education, this involved hitting the books and pestering kind colleagues for advice and gems of wisdom. This crash course preceded many long days at the bench developing biological protocols and a microscopy system to track nanometer scale cargo transit through the nuclear pore on millisecond timescales.

Harish left academia in the spring of 2007 to join two friends in developing Octopart, a search engine for electronic parts. Having come from a biophysics lab to work on an already launched website without knowing exactly what MySQL stood for, this involved a lot of intense on the job learning. In the past three years, Harish has had the opportunity to work on many nooks and crannies of Octopart, from developing front end user features, to hacking search capabilities into open source search engines.


Octopart has been covered in the last year by

Founder Story: Eric Deal, Cyclic Design

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in Founder Story

This originally appeared in EETimes on-line as “Eric Deal bounces back from a startup shutdown to establish Cyclic Design” on Dec-20-2010.


I met Eric Deal, president of Cylic Design, through the IEEE Consulting Network of Silicon Valley and was impressed by his energy and enthusiasm in bouncing back from one failed startup to begin a second one.

The ongoing recession is encouraging a number of engineers to be more entrepreneurial. I think entrepreneurial engineers will find Eric’s answers insightful. His approach to establishing Cyclic Design as a successful IP company had three key components:

  • He built on his two decades of design expertise.
  • He leveraged his knowledge of trends in the solid state drive (SSD) market.
  • He reframed the problems the recession was causing his prospects as an opportunity he could focus on.

What follows is an edited transcript of our interaction with links added for context.

Q: Can you talk a little bit about your background

I graduated from Texas A&M University in 1992 with a BS in Electrical Engineering. Over the past 18 years, I have worked in digital logic design and architecture on a variety of projects at IBM, Conexant, and Sigmatel.

In 2008 I left Sigmatel to found an enterprise SSD startup called Multixtor as the VP of Hardware Engineering. In this role I defined, designed, and verified the hardware architecture for a multi-channel SSD. Unfortunately, we began fundraising about the time the market crashed, so in June 2009 we decided to pursue other options.

Q: Can you talk a little bit about what led you to found your company, what was the problem that motivated you?

In the middle of the recession, I didn’t see any interesting opportunities at local companies, so I took the opportunity to start my own business doing consulting. To differentiate myself (and keep myself busy since few companies were hiring contractors/consultants), I took my expertise with error correction and created BCH IP (the algorithm used for NAND flash) that I could license to companies in need of a solution.

When I left Sigmatel, they were left without an ECC expert. I wondered how many other companies would be in a similar position as layoffs and lack of investment in R&D during the recession; when designs started ramping up again as the economy recovered, they would be left with a deficiency in the ECC of their NAND flash controllers.

I also saw the transition in NAND flash correction block size as an opportunity. The companies I had worked for were designing large SOCs, where they typically had designed their NAND controllers as a highly-integrated portion of a larger IO controller. For these companies, buying a new NAND controller was not a good option since it would require discarding their legacy hardware design and software drivers. It seemed that these customers would benefit most from simply integrating ECC IP into their controllers, preserving this investment.

Q: How did you get started?

I started networking with companies in Austin to determine if I could address this disconnect in the NAND market with a service. My goal was to determine if firms would value ECC as a consulting service. If they did, my plan was to offer a faster time to solution by building on a flexible ECC IP platform. I found my first customer at NXP for their SOC applications. I also promoted Cyclic Design online and became a Design & Reuse partner to improve visibility outside of Austin.

Q: Can you give me a brief overview of where the company is today?

There were a few bleak periods, but now Cyclic Design is to the point where we have a few customers and a few more on the way, and it’s getting easier to find and close new business. As a small company, we can provide a high level of service to customers and have the ability to customize the IP in order to better fit their needs. Cyclic Design has also expanded IP offerings to support higher ECC levels for MLC flash as well as providing a solution for SLC devices as customers transition from single-bit Hamming codes to BCH algorithms requiring 4-12 bit correction.

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?

As a designer, it is satisfying to see Cyclic Design’s IP used in a wide variety of applications across the market. It is also pretty incredible to think that with easy access to global communications, Cyclic Design is providing solutions for companies all over the world.

Q: What has been the biggest surprise? What was one key assumption you made, perhaps even unconsciously, that has caused the most grief?

Probably the biggest surprise is how hard it is to get potential customers from first contact through licensing. Having a solution that meets an engineering need doesn’t necessarily turn into a successful business relationship.

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?

Over time we learned that our initial ideas about customer demand was a little off, but we were able to learn and adapt our offerings. Now we believe we’ve gotten a better understanding of what most of the customers need, and we have a pretty good handle on what product offerings to do next.

Q: Any other remarks or suggestions for entrepreneurs?

You have to find something you love doing; otherwise, it is really hard to make it through the down times with little to no income or when a client changes direction and decides not to use your product or services. Also, before starting a venture, you need to know how long you can afford (financially) to stick with it before moving to something else; in this respect, a good financial adviser is a great asset.

Q: Thank you for your time.

Founder Story: Ghislain Kaiser, Docea Power

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in Founder Story

This interview originally ran Nov-4-2010 at “Docea Power Successfully Bootstraps As a New EDA Player.”


I had a chance to catch up with Ghislain Kaiser, CEO of Docea Power, a promising new startup based in France. Their product, Aceplorer, has been gaining increasing acceptance in the power and thermal management space. Ghislain was kind enough to share how they got started and some of the key things he has learned bootstrapping a new EDA startup. What follows is an edited transcript that I have added hyperlinks to for context.

Q: Can you talk a little bit about your background?

I’m CEO and one of two co-founders of Docea Power. The other founder is Sylvian Kaiser, my brother, who is CTO and R&D director.

I worked for STMicroelectronics as senior system architect on wireless applications and before that as project leader for the set-top box division. I have a Master of Science degree in Electrical and Computer Engineering from Supelec (Ecole Supérieure d’Electricité, France).

Sylvian worked at Infineon then TTPCom, covering multiple aspects of 3G/2.5G modem circuit design like system and algorithm definition, embedded software development and validation on FPGA and silicon. He has a Master of Science degree in Electrical and Computer Engineering from SupTelecom (Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Télécommunications, Paris, France).

Q: Can you talk a little bit about what led you to found your company, what was the problem that motivated you?

At ST I was in charge of defining power management strategy at system level for wireless applications like Application Processor engine. I had a second role which was to represent ST at MIPI consortium for system power management topics where I had the chance to work with the best power experts from the major semiconductor and system integrator companies.

Most of the time architects develop complex spreadsheets to estimate power consumption early in the design phase and drive implementation teams with specifications. But this approach is not scalable with the increasing complexity of the SoC and in an environment involving multiple teams over the world.

After visiting many companies and meeting many designers and architects I can say that the Excel spreadsheets represent 90% of the solutions used for power planning.  The spreadsheets are a
quite good solution when the system is not too complex and dynamic analysis is not required.

In 2005 Sylvian and I believed two things:

  1. The spreadsheet approach would be no longer be satisfactory for the next generation of SoC designs.
  2. Temperature issues would become a critical constraint for more and more electronic applications because of:
    • Increasing dependency of the leakage current with the temperature at each new technology node.
    • Increasing integration capability also increases the power density and the pressure on costs of chip packages.

This led us to found Docea Power in 2006. We collaborated with research centers for two years to develop our first product, Aceplorer, which helps architects explore low power/temperature architecture.

Q: How did you get started?

In 2006 we started with $400k by winning the national innovation award organized by the French ministry of research. We also received grants also from European and national Research projects as we are involved in several collaborative projects. We had service revenue as well from customer engagements during our first two years.

Q: Can you give me a brief overview of where the company is today?

Aceplorer and our methodology have been adopted and deployed by several major chip and system manufacturers, including ST-Ericsson. At DAC 2010 we announced a common laboratory with CEA-Leti around 3D chip design which raises new challenges like low power / thermal architecture exploration.

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?

First, we bootstrapped Docea for almost 4 years. Our first round of funding was done only this year. It was not an easy exercise to develop a product, get the first customers and drive our solution to industrial maturity

Second, we have managed to raise an investment round in a tough context for EDA start-ups. Fortunately our revenue growth and strong  customer references made it possible.

Q: What has been the biggest surprise? What was one key assumption you made, perhaps even unconsciously, that has caused the most grief?

The economical crisis was certainly the most unexpected event for us. Late 2008 corresponded to the launch of our first product Aceplorer but also to the beginning of economy slow down. The situation couldn’t have been worse. Fortunately we were able to get our first customers in 2009.

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?

In our original plan we didn’t anticipate the emergence of new standards related to power topic. In 2007 a new area of standardization appeared and two new standards started fighting : CPF first, proposed by Cadence, then followed by UPF driven mainly by Synopsys, Mentor Graphics and Magma.

We have modified our original roadmap to include support for both of these standards in our Aceplorer product.

Q: Any other remarks or suggestions for entrepreneurs?

Three things I have learned in the last four years:

  • Cash flow is key when you are bootstrapping: understand where  you are spending money, what commitments you have made on your  cash, and when you are likely to see revenue.
  • People make the difference, not the technology.
  • Be more than a vendor, be a partner to your customers: you must collaborate with your customers, not just sell to them.

Q: Thanks for your time.

Founder Story: Paul van Besouw, Oasys Design Systems

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in Founder Story

This interview originally ran Aug 11, 2010 in EETimes online at http://www.eetimes.com/electronics-blogs/other/4206103/Interview–Paul-van-Besouw–Oasys-Design-Systems


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: Can you talk a little bit about your background?

I am a founder of Oasys, along with Johnson Limqueco, vice president of R&D, and Harm Arts, CTO. We were part of the core R&D team at Ambit Design Systems, which was acquired by Cadence. At Cadence, the team focused on physical synthesis, connecting traditional synthesis to physical design.

I have a Master of Science degree in Electrical and Computer Engineering from the Eindhoven University of Technology in The Netherlands.

My entry into the EDA industry goes back to when I was at the University of Eindhoven. I was part of a group doing EDA research and I got an email from Rajeev Madhavan, who was starting Ambit. He was looking for software developers who had experience developing RTL synthesis front-ends. I was just finishing my Masters degree and trying to figure out what to do next, so the timing was perfect.

That was 1995. I talked to Rajeev Madhavan and he invited me to come out to California. I packed up my suitcase and came over, and that is how the whole thing started. It was initially meant to be a six-month project but it turned into 15 years.

Just coming out of University with no industrial experience, it was a great opportunity. There really was nothing there. Everything had to be built from scratch, and it was a great learning experience. We had a small core R&D team of about six that built the foundation of the Ambit technology.

Q: Can you talk a little bit about what led you to found your company, what was the problem that motivated you?

By building synthesis technology at Ambit and separately building physical technology at Cadence, we realized that we were forcing design teams to deal with a suboptimal solution. We saw how hard it was to integrate synthesis and place and route together in a way that produced the best quality of results. Traditional synthesis turns RTL code into a quick-and-dirty netlist and then runs a powerful but slow optimizer on that netlist. Our goal is to produce the best starting point for physical implementation by producing placed netlists that in turn enable the place and route tool to deliver the targeted quality of results.

It took two years to build a new chip synthesis technology from scratch, we call it RealTime Designer. The first prototype solution was qualified on an actual design and the engineer’s reaction was priceless. After they had verified the design and validated the quality of results on site they said: “Holy smokes! The run really did take less than 15 minutes.”

Q: Can you give me a brief overview of where the company is today?

RealTime Designer has proven itself in dozens of benchmarks and is in use in production flows. For example, Renesas in Japan has been working with Oasys for more than two years and its chief engineer considers it to be the most advanced synthesis technology. In fact, he thinks that it has the potential to change the usage model.

Design teams today are more sensitive about letting their company names be used as a reference. Most of the design teams we are working with have single vendor relationships, and several of these customers have EDA CEOs as their executive sponsors. That makes it tricky for them to come out and say anything about another competitive technology.

Just before the Design Automation Conference this year, we announced that Juniper Networks had selected RealTime Designer for the design of its next-generation networking chips. Juniper thoroughly evaluated RealTime Designer and concluded that it offers high-quality results and performed well in the Juniper design environment. Juniper approached us because the runtime of the existing tools was way too slow and took forever to get from RTL to GDSII. Debashis Basu, vice president for Silicon Development at Juniper Networks, gave RealTime Designer high marks, noting that it is a great tool that fits a very real performance need.

We followed this announcement with the news that we signed a multi-year strategic licensing agreement with Xilinx for our Chip Synthesis technology. Vin Ratford, Xilinx’s senior vice president of worldwide marketing, said that with programmable chip sizes growing and complexity mounting, Xilinx needed to look at a new generation of synthesis to support the needs of its customers.

Q: It has been reported that Xilinx is an investor in Oasys? Is either Xilinx or Juniper an investor in Oasys? Are any of the executives of either firm an investor in Oasys?

Juniper and Xilinx are customers and not investors. Neither has taken an equity stake in Oasys. None of the executives at Juniper or Xilinx is an investor in Oasys.

Juniper licensed our RealTime Designer software to use in its design flow. Xilinx licensed the Oasys Chip Synthesis technology and is modifying it to support FPGA designs; it will have the Xilinx brand.

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.

Joe’s keynote speech at the 43rd Design Automation Conference in 2006 outlined three rules for building a successful company in EDA. The rules talk about how to “think like a fish,” and that you should “write your press release first,” and to “fundamentally change the rules.” It was around the same time that I started my discussion with Joe. I talked him through the technology and how we did things. He definitely saw the potential of this kind of technology where it could fundamentally change the game rather than trying to play the game, which is basically what we had done at Ambit.

Q: What has been the biggest surprise? What was one key assumption you made, perhaps even unconsciously, that has caused the most grief?

From the very beginning, the team was focused on building a better implementation technology, and on getting better quality of results through place and route. We expected to improve the capacity and runtime as well, but really did not expect such a huge improvement. I think this must have been the biggest surprise, although a positive one.

On the negative side, the biggest surprise was when the economy weakened so much. It has made the funding environment challenging, to say the least, and has also caused customers to become cautious about considering new tools.

One big challenge is that we are competing in a mature market. That sets the bar extremely high since design teams only start to become interested once the tool is better than the incumbent technology in pretty much every respect. And, not just incrementally better, but compellingly better.

If you go back to Ambit, the motivation for design teams to buy Ambit was different. Synopsys had a monopoly. Ambit had a good technology, but it was more a “me too” implementation. We had the advantage of doing it from scratch and were able to do it a little bit better than what Synopsys had done at that time. Clearly, one motivation for design teams to go with Ambit was just to have a competitor in the market.

Ten years later, it is more difficult to innovate and come up with new technologies. Nobody got fired for going with Synopsys. Adopting a new technology in a critical path of your design tapeout is a big deal.

If you start a technology company and are able to compete in the market today, it is all about building a complete solution. It is one thing to have a promising technology that shows some good results on one or two designs. You have to be able to build out a technology with all the bells and whistles and still show that advantage over a large number of designs.

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.

Nobody embarks on a startup thinking it will take six years just to get to market, but that was the reality we faced. On the other hand, it did allow us to focus on maturing the product before announcing the product and/or company. We were able to close some significant business, which is driving the company right now. We continue to focus on building our customer base and growing the business based their success.

When we started, we had a different perception than we have now. With my background from Ambit, I knew what it would take to build things from scratch, but we were still counting on the funding to be there. In hindsight it was a blessing because we were forced to do more with less. It was a core team that worked on the technology from the ground up rather than having some ideas, build something and then have a big team work it out. In the end, it has helped the technology mature in the way it did because it was a technology completely different from what we had ever done before.

However, it definitely took longer to develop the technology because of a lack of funding. It took us three years to get a prototype to work and to get to a point where we could start engaging with some design teams. However, when we did, we realized that we had something different that was even better than we had imagined.

Q: Any other remarks or suggestions for entrepreneurs?

Starting a company sounds glamorous but it is hard work and takes perseverance. The two pillars that allow the company to go through some of the tough times are the support of your family and a founding team that works well together.

Obviously the founders have to believe that what they are doing will make a difference. They need to learn to balance out the highs and lows to keep the team motivated.

I have been very fortunate in being able to key surround myself with great people. Oasys has extremely knowledgeable people as investors and on the board of directors. It is easy for a founding team to get absorbed by the technology, so it is important to balance it out.

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.

Q: Thanks very much for your time.

Slides from “Working For Equity” Panel at SVCC 2011

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in Events, Founder Story, skmurphy, Startups

Here are the slides from today’s “Working for Equity” panel at Silicon Valley Code Camp. It was a standing room only crowd of over 70 that made for a very interactive session with the panel:

  • Liz Fraley founder of Single-Sourcing Solutions.
    Before founding Single-Sourcing Solutions, Liz Fraley worked in both high-tech and government sectors, developing and delivering technical design and strategy of content creation, management, and delivery. Specializing in practical development and deployment, she continually looks for new ways to share information and strengthen the ecosystem of professionals around her.
  • Apurva Mehta founder of RecordBox.
    RecordBox is a virtual notebook for music students which makes the creation, storage, organization, and annotation of educational recordings easy. Before RecordBox, Apurva worked as a systems engineer in the Cloud Platforms group at Yahoo! in Sunnyvale. He has been programming enthusiastically since his early teens and has only recently taken up the entrepreneurial challenge of transforming products into businesses.
  • Carl Ludewig CEO of  Ludewig Multimedia.
    Carl wants to change the way applications are developed by empowering designers and business users. In a world where the cloud, mobile and desktop need to fit together, Ludewig Multimedia looks to take a holistic approach with the next generation of software design tools. Carl’s prior venture was the mobile advertising company Ad Infuse, which was sold to Velti in 2009. Carl is a software engineer and musician who believes that creative talent is the key to success.

B.V. Jagdeesh on “Startup Leadership Lessons Learned”

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in 4 Finding your Niche, Events, First Office, Founder Story

Mr. B.V. Jagadeesh gave a great talk on “Lessons Learned Starting, Leading, and Succeeding at Multiple Startups” tonight at the GITPRO meeting.  Mr. Jagadeesh co-founded Fouress (a bootstrapped consulting firm), co-founded Exodus Communications, was CEO at NetScalar (and stayed on after  its acquisition by Citrix as a VP/GM),  was  president and CEO of 3Leaf Systems, and is today  president and CEO of Virtela.  He is an accomplished entrepreneur (more details on LinkedIn and CrunchBase) and he gave a very candid talk on his entrepreneurial journey starting with his arrival in the United States in the early 1980′s to work at Novell.

I have had the privilege of hearing experienced entrepreneurs talk about lessons learned but it’s normally been a small group, a half dozen or dozen folks in a conference room or 15 or 20 around a Bootstrappers Breakfast table. This had that same sense of practical candor but there were perhaps a hundred to a hundred and twenty folks in the Oak Room.  It was a candid an insightful talk punctuated by frequent questions from the audience.  What follows are a few stories that I thought had a particular emotional resonance with the early stages of a startup.

He came from a family of teachers and professors of modest means. They were delighted when he graduated with bachelors degree in engineering and went to Bombay to earn a Masters degree. When he  was able to get a job in America it was unprecedented success. His new job allowed him to buy a used car which was one of the first owned by his family.

This made for a difficult phone call when he called his father to tell him he was going to quit his job to start a company. He had tried to work on it on the side with his future co-founder but came to understand if it was going to move forward he would have to focus on it.

“How much will this new job pay?” his father asked.

“It’s a startup, once we get clients I will be able to make some money” was Mr. Jagadeesh’s answer.

Needless to say his family thought he was making a mistake, but his calculation was that he had enough money saved to live simply for a year, he would pursue his dream of his own company and if it didn’t work out he would go back to being an engineer for a while.

Exodus went on to spearhead the concept of offsite co-location datacenters, changing the model from on-site data center served by an ISP. It enabled a number of companies large and small to establish a significant presence on the Internet.

His tenure at NetScalar saw the company narrowly avoid shutdown and go on to establish a  new paradigm for Internet connectivity management. He had to prepare two speeches for the employees, one where he announced that the company was getting shut down, and one where they announced  new round of funding (from Sequoia as it turns out). He was able to give the second speech and returned 8x to Sequoia when Citrix acquired NetScalar two and half years later.

He had to give the other speech a few years later as CEO of 3Leaf Systems when a key ASIC needed another spin and he was not able to convince investors to help. His point was that in both cases you had to prepare for the likely outcomes and take responsibility as CEO for what happens, doing the best that you can for your employees and investors.

One theme he stressed repeatedly was the need to impose the discipline on yourself and your team to prepare and act with the professionalism that your competitors are going to bring to the market. He talked about one team that he is advising that has met with some initial success. They realized that treating their offices as dorm rooms had been OK when there were a few founders, but now that they were growing and had two dozen  employees they needed to establish a more professional tone–without spending a lot of money. So they spent a few thousand dollars at IKEA and held furniture assembly parties. The new look changed both internal attitudes toward the workplace and those of  customers and potential investors who visited their offices.

He talked about volunteering to help the IEEE Silicon Valley put on events and conferences while he was still working at Novell. They met more than two decades ago in the Oak Room where he was speaking tonight .  By volunteering to find speakers he was able to have conversations with managers and executives at many companies that allowed him to develop a network that helped out as he was growing Exodus and NetScalar.  He felt a sense a coming full circle: he was now the invited speaker in the same room where he first started out as a volunteer.

It was a candid and reflective talk, Mr. Jagadeesh not only offered a wealth  of practical advice, answering a number of very good questions,  but he also communicated a fundamental sense of what it means to be a CEO: you need to take action and take responsibility for outcome of your actions.

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