On October 12 VaST Systems Technology Corporation announced the promotion of Jeff Roane to the position of Vice President of Marketing reporting to VaST's CEO, Alain Labat. Jeff has over 20 plus years of applicable semiconductor and design automation industry experience. I had a recent opportunity to interview Jeff. I was particularly interested in his view on the role of Marketing and how best to fulfill that role.
Would you give us a brief biography?
Gee, do you have two hours.
We can skip the prenatal and early childhood.
Those are the formative years that are so important. I'll try to be brief. I began my career at Texas Instrument as an IC designer back in '85. I did leading edge design, processor design on the military side. From there I went to Synopsys, ventured off into the EDA world. I joined as an application engineer at a very early stage, pre IPO. I was instrumental in bring up the central region, experiencing my first taste of a Silicon Valley startup. The rest is history. Synopsys went on to become a tremendous success. Career wise I was promoted up through the ranks, running what we called the north coast region applications and services. Moved out to Silicon Valley and did my tour for 6 years also with Synopsys. Ran marketing for their Arcos simulation. Left Synopsys and joined a startup called Ambit Design Systems. Notable achievements there, we were the only company that was successful and able to compete and win against Synopsys. We ultimately got acquired by Cadence. A pretty good acquisition as acquisitions go. I stayed on there and got promoted thought the ranks. Ultimately ran marketing for the Cadence SP&R division that included Ambit synthesis technology as well as Cadence's mainstay P&R solution. We were in early stages, partially at Ambit and partially at Cadence, of developing the first combined synthesis, place and route tool. This was the PKS technology. I stayed on with Cadence for a couple of years. I left in 2001, again getting the urge to do a startup. I decided to found my own, a company called ProphICy Semiconductor. A colleague of mine, myself and a third party formed ProphICy to do the next level of automation for design implementation. One way to think about what we were doing is very similar to what Reshape (ultimately acquired by Magma) is doing now, basically adding another layer of abstraction to implementation tools to handle bigger designs with fewer manual resources. We did that for a few years. I joined Vast in 2005, just last year and here I am today.
You are Vice President of Marketing.
What do you see as the role of Marketing in a company like Vast?
It doesn't really differ at Vast. It's similar to other technology startups. The role of Marketing put simply, especially in a startup with new technology, is to define the marketing requirements and turn those into products or to refine existing products. The other role is market development. We are in a position where we are really the only company that has this innovative high-speed and cycle accurate solution used for virtual prototyping. We have a very nice portfolio of existing customers. For the most part the market is greenfield. There is a lot of headroom to expand. The market development activities center around communicating what your technology is capable of doing and what your existing customer base is able to accomplish with that technology. There are a host of other duties as well. Marketing does not operate in a vacuum. We work closely with R&D and with our field application engineers.
On the product definition side, how do you go about defining the product direction or the product requirements?
Again with new technology things are a little different. I consider that at Vast R&D we have some of the brightest minds applied to this problem. They have managed to innovate and develop a solution that doesn't exist in any other company. To answer your question about how to go about refining and developing - part of the input comes from the market. That's traditional marketing. You have to go into listening mode and beyond listening mode to inquiry mode to really get at the root cause of some of the issues or challenges your customers are facing. The other strong input actually comes from our R&D team. Our technologists who have delivered this great technology are at the forefront of advancing it. It's really a combination of taking what is possible as defined by where the research will take the technology and turning that into products that have demand. You can understand demand by listening and understanding the root cause of the design challenges that customers are facing.
On the market development side I sense it is not the case of switching a Ford driver to a Chevy but rather getting people to adopt a different methodology.
You are absolutely right. Let me give you some specific examples. If you think about what we do, the reality is that people are getting these large and complicated designs today without us. Given the penetration we have achieved to date most of the market is in that state. What is happening is that design complexity is clearly a moving target. If you look at the markets we service, the automotive, consumer and wireless, there is a very strong trend, a megatrend, toward software content. The way people are writing their software for the most part is using hardware prototypes. That's something that simply won't scale. That design practice will not persist. There is a market need to have a better way of developing software well in advance of silicon availability. That's the buzz behind concurrent engineering that you hear so often talked about. Where our solution comes in is as a different vehicle for enabling concurrent design. The way we do that is that we have tools that allow our customers to construct very accurate and very high performance models of their silicon embedded systems. To the extent that our customers can do that well in advance of silicon availability, they have a way to get to market sooner to deliver high quality products.
The sales pitch is very attractive. I imagine the challenge is to convince people using a less than perfect development methodology to accept the risk of adopting a new process.
Anytime you are asking someone to change what they are doing it is a challenge. People are change averse. Engineers are thought not to be change averse but to some extent we are the worst of the breed. It is because designing anything related to ICs and electronic systems is a complex endeavor. The risk you speak of center not so much on what you can do but on what you can't do, what falls off the plate. The only way around that is proof. We are actually at a good disposition because what we are doing is visible. The next wave of customers we engage can look to the previous wave of customers and can understand the benefits that came out of those early use experiences.
How do you get customers who have successfully used your product to go on the record? Maybe they do not want to share what they consider a competitive advantage. Maybe their PR or legal department objects.
You just hit on none of the frustrations of my job of marketing. My selfish company goal is to get existing customer to talk about their usage so that we can win more customers. The reality is that many of our customers consider our solution a competitive advantage. They are leery about sharing the benefits of this with their competition. If you look at our market focus, we focus on automotive consumer and wireless. Consumer company A wants to keep it very quiet so that consumer company B doesn't get wind of what they are doing because they think and rightly so that they have very advanced technology that enable them to get product to market sooner. That's just reality. Anytime you have new technology that delivers benefits you have those kinds of concerns. There are ways around that. There are various ways that customers talk about what they are doing. The technical community has a very vibrant and diverse set of events when technologists step up to the podium and talk about their own technology advancements. For example last year at Data there was a exhibition theater. One of the Infineon technologists gave a great presentation. He was proud of this work. He had pioneered much of the employment of virtual prototyping to their path and next generation cell phone designs. It was heavily laced with Vast because we were their solution of choice. There are similar papers published on a website for an SAE Conference with mentions of Vast. It's very clear they are using our solutions. That's kind of how we get customers to talk to their competitors. We can point them to publicly available references. When it is not a case of a competitive issue, we can use references. We can put a prospect in touch with a customer and they can talk about our solution on the phone. We do that quite a bit. We don't encounter signoff or legal issues that are required to go through a PR or legal department that gates any and all public written statements.