How Conferences Will Persist: Rebooting DAC

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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