Under the Tuscany Sun: From relaxation to collaboration
September 8th, 2009 by Peggy Aycinena
Tuscany Design Automation, based in Colorado, has been around for over 4 years, but is only now concentrating on making itself known. Part of that process involved bringing EDA veteran Keith Mueller onboard as CEO. Given his long tenure in the industry, Mueller knows full well what it takes to establish a message and the right business model for a successful EDA startup, and by the sounds of things he relishes bringing that knowledge to Tuscany DA.
I spoke by phone with Mueller recently about his background and his new corporate home. He told me that launching a new image and logo for Tuscany was somewhat of a logistical challenge in the 4 short weeks between his arriving at the company in mid-June and DAC 2009 in San Francisco in late July.
“Nonetheless, we pulled it off and had a great response at DAC!” he said.
Mueller added, “Since its inception, the people at Tuscany have been focused on working with early customers to develop tools for structured design and perfecting their core infrastructure and database – focused on the technology, not the messaging. They had never done a press release prior to my joining the company.
“For DAC, we decided to officially launch the structured design tool called Tego, as well as the Tuscany Dashboard, a product with a much broader market built upon their core infrastructure. Tuscany is now definitely on the radar within the industry.
“We’re going to have a broad appeal to those design houses who manage remotely located teams where collaboration is challenging. The Tuscany Dashboard handles the entire gamut of design and physical data, displaying it via the web to the different designers involved, and providing valuable feedback to project managers. It allows everyone on the team, no matter where they’re located, to visualize the design in a way that makes the team completely collaborative and efficient in tracking progress on all fronts. The same model also applies to communications between ASIC vendors and their customers.”
Clearly, Mueller is jazzed about the company. I asked what drew him to Tuscany, given that prior to this involvement he was “retired.”
Mueller said, “They had an extremely talented and committed founding team, which had already survived through the toughest two years in EDA history. They asked me to look at their website and messaging, and I found it suggested a traditional Italian countryside ambiance, relaxing on a patio with a glass of wine overlooking a vineyard. As appealing as that may be, it did not communicate to potential customers the hard-driving nature of the Tuscany technology and team. So, as I came onboard to drive the business end, we worked to modify the image.
“The engineers at Tuscany are providing something that’s really valuable – and yes, it does add some level of Tuscan ‘relaxation’ to the process in that it helps handle the complexity of remotely located teams doing huge designs. More importantly, however, designs will move more quickly and predictably to completion using our technology. That’s the message I wanted to help the company emphasize and develop.
“An additional part of the ‘rebranding’ that we‘ve undertaken since I started in June has been to shorten and modify the original name of the flagship product, Tegula, which refers to an Italian roofing tile. The product is now called Tego, invoking a reference to the same interoperable, structured design associated with Lego building blocks that we’re all familiar with.
“We want people to focus on the fact that our technology helps fit together the disparate parts of a design, and the disparate designers on a team, as easily as Legos fit together. As geometries continue to shrink and design complexity goes off the charts, a structured design methodology becomes more and more critical.”
He added, laughing, “Of course, if design teams and our customers are more relaxed as a result of using our technology, then Tuscany is exactly the right cultural reference.”
A passion for startups …
Keith Mueller has a passion for startups and the out-of-the box creativity such enterprises entail, with a track record of success that includes in reverse chronological order:
* Apache, where he was Employee #8, and served as VP of Worldwide Sales and Marketing, taking the company from $0 to over $20 million in sales during his 4-year tenure prior to his sabbatical in 2006. Mueller noted the company continues to grow, and is primed for additional success as the global and EDA economies improve.
* Silicon Perspective, where Mueller was also Employee #8, also served as VP of Worldwide Sales, and also took the company from $0 to $20 million, prior to its acquisition by Cadence in 2001.
* Anagram, where he was Employee #4, VP of Worldwide Sales, and helped build the company up to the point of its acquisition by Avanti.
* Quickturn, where he was Employee #45, and part of the team that took the company public prior to its acquisition by Cadence.
* Silicon Compilers, back in the late 1980’s, where he started in marketing and developed the foundry relationships that helped customers to compare different process option in terms of die size, power, and speed using the tool called Genesil. Mueller later made the career change into sales, selling that product which allowed designers to work at the micro-architectural level using ALU’s barrel shifters, register files, etc. Silicon Compilers eventually merged with Silicon Design Labs to becomes Silicon Compiler Systems, and was later acquired by Mentor Graphics in 1990.
Mueller said Silicon Compilers was a company ahead of its time, and added, “It’s interesting to me that in many ways, Tuscany is a combination of ideas from both Silicon Compilers and Silicon Perspective.”
Clearly, what Mueller doesn’t know about the dynamics of startups in EDA probably isn’t worth knowing. That’s also the case when it comes to mergers and acquisitions: “I’ve been through 14 M&As in my EDA career. Some have gone more smoothly, or been more successful, than others. but all of them have been memorable. And, all of them have taught me something about the business of EDA, and about myself.”
In the thick of things …
I asked Mueller if rather than heading up Tuscany, shouldn’t he be teaching Startups 101 at a business school at this point his career. He laughed and said, “Maybe, but I’m not done doing startups. I’m not ready to stand on the sidelines and teach others to do it. It’s more fun to be in the thick of the action.
“When I first came out of school, I was an IC designer. That technical background and experience helped me to better understand and relate to the complex job that my customers have to deal with. This background also was of great benefit in my EDA marketing and sales career.
“Now, combining my sales, marketing, and engineering experience, together with the customer input I solicit during my due-diligence process, helps me greatly in identifying the right startup opportunities and team. Certainly there’s an element of luck of being in the right place at the right time, but the nice thing about a startup is that you can truly impact the outcome with a lot of hard work and a willingness to participate in all phases of the business. It’s extremely stimulating.
“After I left Apache, I took 3 years off and had a number of great experiences such as traveling extensively in Africa and New Zealand, getting my instrument pilot rating, and spending quality time with my family. I also did a major remodel of our house during the first 15 months, which was a much more stressful experience than most startups I’ve been in. But, when I saw Tuscany and went through the due diligence of examining the company, it became obvious to me that the underlying quality of the company, the team, and the technology was profound. In my experience, a startup only succeeds when you have strong momentum on all fronts simultaneously – in R&D, in sales, and in management – and we have that at Tuscany.
“We’re competing head-to-head with internally developed solutions and filling a major gap in the offerings of other EDA suppliers. I’m positive that what Tuscany is offering, and will offer in the near future, provides a great deal of value to our customers, and will therefore drive our success and return to investors. This is exactly why I decided to come back out of ‘retirement’ – to enjoy the challenge and stimulation of working at an EDA startup once again.
“Now we’re a team, and I couldn’t be luckier. These folks have been working to carefully preserve their capital as they’ve developed the technology and persevered through this tough economy. I thoroughly believe the company’s now at a point in its trajectory where we can grow, establish and expand on the message, and take the products and the presence to the next phase of growth. It doesn’t get any better than this in terms of timing to be jumping in with both feet.”
Mueller laughed again and said, “Call me crazy, but I’m excited to be back in EDA!”