What's PR got to do with it?
Ed Lee has been around EDA since before it was called EDA. He cut his teeth doing Public Relations with Valid, Cadence, Mentor, ECAD, VLSI, AMI and a host of others. And he has introduced more than three dozen EDA startups, ranging from the first commercial IP company to the latest statistical … More »
Constellations 2012 – an IP conference like no other
October 30th, 2012 by Ed Lee
IPextreme’s Silicon Valley IP Users Conference 2012 edition has become a must-attend event for IP vendors and users, much more than a private tradeshow for IPextreme and its customers. I sat down with Warren Savage, IPextreme’s founder and CEO, and McKenzie Mortensen, the company’s mar com manager, to talk about the conference and its role in the chip design world.
Ed: So we’re talking about Constellations 2012…the program drew informative and opinionated speakers! Definitely more than a private tradeshow. When did Constellations begin? What were your goals?
Warren: I think it was a hit precisely because it was not intended to be just another private tradeshow. The world has changed a lot since the 1990s.
Ed: Hmmm…you mean for the chip design world? How has it changed?
Warren: Well, I think it’s time that companies start evolving to better understand how to serve their customers in a way that is not hitting them over the head with sales pitches.
Ed: And that customer service attribute is one that vendors to chip designers have been notoriously lax about. Back in the late 1990s or early 2000s, I remember an analyst, it could have been Jennifer Jordan, wagging her finger at the EDA world on this count, while taking us to task for doing a bad job of selling the industry’s value to the public markets.
So how does the conference and your Constellations program change this?
Warren: Constellations began back in 2009 after years of smaller IP companies coming to us and asking for us to work with them in the manner that we do with our large IDM partners.
Ed: Like who?
Warren: Oh, Freescale, TI, Infineon, others like that. So for years, we turned them down, and “stuck to our knitting,” so to speak. But finally it struck us that the industry was naturally biased towards the bigger IP suppliers, who could afford big sales channels and all the marketing resources needed to stay at the top of the heap. Smaller suppliers, where most of the innovation comes from, often had great technology but not all the resources to compete against the 800 pound gorillas.
So, we started thinking about forming a collective, run by IPextreme, where we could organize the smaller players into a flexible association that allowed us to work together at both the technical level, such as devising joint solutions for customers, and at the business level, joining forces on the marketing and sales side where it makes sense.
Ed: How has it evolved since the beginning?
Warren: Constellations is a living thing. Companies come and go, and we work together to find new ways to maximize the return for all of our members.
Ed: How so?
Warren: In the beginning, we focused heavily on connecting the sales teams of the member companies so they could introduce their customers to other Constellations companies. We also came together on considerable marketing efforts, including events like the one on October 4th, and on some joint appearances at trade shows.
McKenzie: Warren and I spend a lot of time talking about new ways to grow the Constellations program and further enrich the IP ecosystem. The heart of the program—bringing companies together to do more than they otherwise could on their own—will always be our focus. Because the program is perpetually evolving, we have the flexibility to customize it as we go. That allows us to cater to the unique and changing needs of our current membership.
Ed: So any hiccups to the originating version of Constellations?
Warren: One change from the first incarnation of the program is that Constellations used to be open to all IP companies. However, we found with that approach that we had competitors wanting to join, but they felt that they couldn’t because they didn’t want to expose their customers to the competition. So in the current program, we limit the membership to non-competitors. If you are in Constellations, you know that your competitors will not be.
The other major change is that every Constellations member now enjoys access to our Xena IP management system. From there, a member company’s customers and sales people can make referrals of other Constellations companies’ products in a non-harassing way. Through Xena, a member can introduce another member to a customer, and it’s up to the customer to make the next move to contact the IP provider.
Ed: So the targeted customer gets an email or something once and if he or she is interested, will get in touch with the introduced vendor?
McKenzie: Exactly. Xena makes it easy to pursue the referral, but there’s no pressure. It’s something that people really seem to appreciate.
Ed: So what role does Constellations play in the chip design world?
Warren: It’s an industry association, so its principal role is to establish a community of companies that work together in a loosely-coupled fashion. It’s clear by now to everyone that IP has moved into the mainstream of the chip design world. As such, the IP community needs to grow up.
Ed: Grow up? How?
Warren: Well, I personally don’t think that IP is going to go the way of EDA and consolidate into just a few players, but rather that it’s going to be a mixture of large, medium, and small companies.
Ed: But the big guys will still make the most revenue, right?
Warren: Yes, the big guys will come up with the lion’s share of the revenue. But the bulk of the innovation will always come from the smaller providers. Our goal is that with an organization like Constellations, we can help these smaller companies become medium size, and medium size ones become big.
Ed: But it’s not solely an altruistic effort for the good of the industry, right? I mean, there has to be something in it for IPextreme, doesn’t there?
Warren: It may sound a bit sappy, but I strongly believe that a rising tide lifts all boats, as the saying goes. So helping the industry become more efficient helps IPextreme and promotes our leadership vision for the IP industry.
Ed: Admirable. But why?
Warren: I left Synopsys in 2004 to found this company because I felt there was much that could be done to greatly increase the efficiency of the entire industry through the business models that IPextreme has pioneered. Constellations is just another example of actively trying to improve the state of the industry, instead of complaining about it. It’s been my experience that if people keep doing the right things, it will eventually pay off. Cynics may disagree!
McKenzie: I’d just like to point out that the cynics haven’t been able to slow us down so far!
Ed: Well judging by the program and the attendees, it sure looked like the conference and Constellations is gathering major steam.
How did Constellations 2012 turn out in terms of audience, panels and talks? In other words, what did Constellations contribute to the chip design world’s knowledge?
Warren: As I mentioned earlier, providing a forum for sales pitches is not the idea. No one is interested in that, especially when it’s so hard to get away from the office for such things. So we made sure to organize a format and program that prevented that.
McKenzie: Exactly. I’ll be frank: if you’re selling something, come to my office to talk to me. Work around my schedule. I shouldn’t be expected to give you an entire day of my time and then give you my company’s hard-earned dollars on top of that. When it comes down to it, no one wants to attend a conference that feels like an infomercial.
Warren: That’s why our goal was to bring together people we respect who have something to share that others might learn from. I think we did really well in that. We are putting the entire conference up on the web for people to view afterwards, so our friends outside Silicon Valley will have a chance to virtually be there.
Ed: Which particular highlights or quotable quotes that caught your attention?
Warren: Well, as an ex-Tandem guy, I must say the beer provided by Strike Brewing was top shelf!
Ed: And will Strike Brewing return next year?
(chuckles all around!)
Warren: We hope so! More seriously, we had a lot of people comment about the quality of the event. People were ducking in and out all day and told me that they really were bummed that they couldn’t see the whole thing. A common theme was that the valley has lost a lot of the fun it had in the 80s and 90s and there are fewer opportunities for ordinary engineers to learn and network.
Ed: I thought the IP business panel was especially engaging. Warren, you participated in that one, right? Several intriguing topics, like the one on indemnifying IP? What can you say about that discussion?
Warren: Yes, I think this was a great panel that covered a wide range of topics. On indemnification, my personal belief is that while this is always a “hot button” issue, it is mostly a solved problem. The GSA runs a quarterly survey* on the business topics around IP and publishes actual data as to the industry norm. That data shows that indemnification is no longer a big issue.
Ed: What about 3D-IC and IP? That also seemed to be a lively discussion point.
Warren: I felt the other interesting point in the panel was the effect of 3D-IC technology on IP, especially analog/mixed-signal IP. As I noted in the panel, 3D-IC effectively extends the useful life of analog IP and reduces the costs to IP companies by reducing the amount of ports that are needed.
Ed: And the social aspect of the conference? How was that? What was the thinking behind the networking as a component of the event?
McKenzie: The reception really was a lot of fun—and that is one of my top priorities when planning events. Before I got into this industry, I taught elementary school. The most important thing I figured out while teaching is that there is absolutely no reason for learning to be boring when it can be enjoyable instead. The same goes for work—or at least it should.
Ed: So planning recess, so to speak, was a conscious and conscientious factor. After all, I guess we’re not too different from kids in class, huh? So what did we get out of class that day?
McKenzie: We’re very fortunate to have close relationships with some of the brightest minds in the industry, so our speakers and panel participants tend to be top notch. They make it unbelievably easy to put on a great conference from an informational standpoint. Add great food and drink…
Ed: …and Strike Brewing had something to offer on that count!
McKenzie: They certainly did! We had a relaxed, inviting atmosphere and some fun surprises—those things are the icing on the cake. The best compliment I received from a guest at the event was: “If I had known it was going to be like this, I would have brought my whole team.” That meant a lot to me because that is exactly what Constellations is about: bringing people together to learn from one another and tackle the challenges facing the IP industry. We just happen to have an awesome time in the process.
Ed: So what about Constellations 2013?
McKenzie: I personally can’t wait to plan the next one.
Warren: Undoubtedly, we will be doing it again in 2013. Likely we will be doing things in other countries that may not get exposed to this kind of event. We will also be doing other activities together with the Constellations members in the meantime. Nothing more we want to say right now, but we’ll let you know!
Ed: Now, you’ve got a video of the conference, right? Those of us who couldn’t be there for the whole day or those who couldn’t make it can see it?
McKenzie: Absolutely! You can find all the footage on our blog, which, I have to say, is looking very spiffy after its recent renovation. Just head over to http://blogs.ip-extreme.com and click on IPWATCH, our videos section.
Ed: Warren, McKenzie, congratulations on the IP Users Conference. Looking forward to the next one.
*This is a link to a survey questionnaire required to view survey data