Altium - Opening A New Umbrella

If customers have FPGA expertise they can of course make their own HTL code, embed that right into their design and when we go to synthesize that all together we synthesize a custom block as well as any IP we provide from our libraries. So we have the capability for customers to expand the system and put their own IP into a library.

Is there an upgrade or migration path for existing Protel users?
Yes. Protel sells for $9,995. The upgrade price to Altium Designer is slightly more than the difference around $4K. We have made some good in inroads in our own customer base but we believe infiltration is not limited to that base.

Even though Altium is an Australian company, I understand that most of the business is outside that country.
2% of the business is in Australia, 50% to 55% in the US, more than 25% in Europe.

What challenges doe this present? Most EDA firms are US based and have challenges overseas. Of course language and culture is not an issue here.
From the benefit side having a foreign based company adds value, adds a different perceptive in the way software gets developed, in the ways it is approached and in the ways it is marketed. There maybe some advantages there. We are more of a global company because of that, less US centric in many ways. The challenge in running an office in San Diego is of course that the home office gets snapshots. Whatever that snapshot is, it is never true. That's the biggest challenge on both ends. Sometimes they get ecstatic over things that are only okay and sometimes they seem to need to probe about things that aren't necessarily so bad. It is trying to paint a clear picture of how things are going on. It is probably a challenge that a lot of other people don't have who have a headquarters right there and are selling right here.

Where is R&D located?
R&D is spread around the world. A good chunk of R&D is in Australia. We do have some R&D here through acquisitions, some of the Accel people are still here. We also have a Tasking guy working in Massachusetts. The other big site, we have about 60 people, in the Netherlands, again through acquisition (Tasking).

What's the total headcount?
We are under 300. Somewhere between 275 and 300 people?

How many in the US?
Under 40, around 36. We are a sales and support office.

With a $12 product price, what is your sales model?
We have shifted our sales model a little bit. We go direct. Worldwide we have offices here in the US, Germany, Switzerland, Japan and Australia. In smaller markets we have VARs. One exception to that is England. We have a VAR there, a long term relationship.

Direct sales, direct support. We have used a phone sales model very successfully but we are finding and this is one of the more recent changes with Altium Designer and the fact that we are spanning departments. We need to sell up. Our traditional field sales have been to end users. We have always been an underground company, grass roots. We are used to infiltrating companies this way on the Protel side. It has been very successful. What we need to do is to tweak our sales model. We have redirected our people to move up the ladder. The person who has this vision is not typically the end user. We have got to get to the engineering manager, the director and sometimes the VP, the person who has the responsibility for pulling everything together. We have hired some account managers for key account development. We are also educating our entire telesales organization to know how to reach into an organization. We are in the midst of changing that. That has happened since April.

The higher up you go in an end user organization, the greater the need for executive presence.
That maybe true. We have a global sales manager. Matter of fact we made a visit, a short notice visit, to a large company in Texas. We had a conversation last week. We've have visitors coming from Australia. The conversation was “We have so and so in town. Any interest in getting together?” We brought the global sales guy in from Germany along with a couple of people. That is the kind of executive presence we are ready and able to do. The company is mobile. For instance right now we have 6 people here form overseas. We are committed to making this model work. We will invest there. That is a change, to have a global sales position.

What level of support can you afford to provide for a $12K product?
Very interesting. If you take a look at who has this kind of vision, there are not many companies there. Let's take Mentor Graphics, they probably have the closest. There you can spend a very large sum of money to pull this together. We are a mainstream company. People who use us can not expect us to have a dedicated AE on site. That will not happen. If they require that to happen, we are not a good match for them. It is very important that we recognize that there is business that is not our business. If anyone expects to use FPGAs for IC flows, we have to be very, very careful about getting involved in that area. Sometimes we can do that. Prototypes are fine. But as far as feeding the IC business, sometimes the requirements are very different and may not be our business. Somebody who needs an AE on site, somebody who needs 24 hour support, we can not provide 24 hour support, although we are making changes to get to that point. We now have a customer care group. Issues that we don't get to by the end of the day we move to Australia. We are looking at being more proactive. There is business that we won't take and there is business that is not appropriate. We are a mainstream company.

Is Altium Designer limited to designs with one FPGA?
That's not a problem. We identify multiple boards in a chain. We identify all the JTAG enabled devices on those boards. From there inside each programmable device, we can identify the soft FPGA components. What that means is that our Nano board itself only has a spot for 1 FPGA. However, you can connect a user board with multiple FPGAs and we will recognize them.

Is your primary market designs with only one FPGA?
Not at all. Very complex systems. There are two ways to mock that up. First, you could have a user board that already has multiple FPGAs on it or you can create a test environment by stringing multiple Nano boards together. The system can be and is prepared to be very complex: multiple FPGAs, multiple processors, multiple peripheral devices.

Does the schematic approach map well into multiple FPGA designs?
Absolutely! What ends up happening is that we have the concept of a project. A project basically consists of one or more PCB schematics and an FPGA schematic for each FPGA. There can be any number of these.

What end user applications is the Altium Designer best suited for?
We are very broad based. If you look at the applications that would be exclusionary: very high end consumer products, very high volume that require high performance that would justify an ASIC. They are not the applications that would be good for us. Wherever an FPGA makes sense from a fiscal and from an operational standpoint, Altium Designer makes sense. There are industry drivers that make it not practical. Those might be where the cost of an ASIC is justified because of the high volume. There may be some other instances where the clock speed is beyond where the peripherals that we are providing operate. Again high speed applications might be exclusionary. Our target is mainstream, 80% of all designs. Niche areas we are not targeting are probably 15% to 20%.

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Review Article
  • Re: Altium - Opening A New Umbrella July 15, 2015
    Reviewed by 'vigneshrock1990'

     CEO of the greatest semiconductor IP association, amassed on the same stage to inspect a broad mixed bag of issues that will influence the future direction of the contraptions arrangement organic group.

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  • The little guy April 02, 2014
    Reviewed by 'Unhappy Customer'
    I find this article interesting as it puts in perspective the market that Altium is actually targeting.
    For people like myself who build a small number of PCB's with less than 500 components with a mixture of digital and analog and power on the one board, the product is a pain in the neck.
    Finding components which you would expect in a product like this to be fairly easy and the core of the product is just a waste of time.
    The reality is that you want to do something you make your own library of components and go from there.
    Build or download components from someone else who has spent the time to make and model them but rarely from Altium.
    Try and find a resistor or diode or op amp in the libraries, good luck.
    I hope any future product addresses this significant shortcoming.

      2 of 3 found this review helpful.
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