In May SpringSoft made news by acquiring and merging several companies in which it had previous held equity positions. Novas and Silicon Canvas were the best known of these firms. SpringSoft has had monthly revenue between NT$10M and NT$12M every month since the beginning of 2006. In 2007 SpringSoft had NT$1,350 or US$43M in revenue and profit of NT$640M or US$20M.
With apologizes to the company the name SpringSoft sounds more like a laundry detergent than an EDA company. Naming a company or a product (really getting everyone to agree on a name) is not as easy as it appears. You want it to be simple, easy to remember and perhaps convey something meaningful that will last over the life of the company. You also want to avoid conflicts with existing product and company names. Chevrolet famously named a car “Nova” which in Spanish is no go. In a similar vein NBC came out with a new logo to considerable fanfare only to learn it was nearly identical to Nebraska Broadcast Company.
When I co-founded a company we used the name XYZ on our business plans before raising our first round of funding and really starting the company. When we actually began, we needed to give the company a real name. Our VP of Marketing wanted it to begin with the letter A so that it would appear near the top of any list. After we struggled for some time to find an acceptable name, I came up with the name Aries Technology with some help from my wife. After a couple of venture rounds the VCs got concerned that we did not have a strong mark and therefore another firm could enter our market space with a similar sounding name. I though the Fortune 500 list had many firms on it whose name contained terms like International, United, American, and General. These obvious weak marks had not stopped these very successful companies. We held a contest to rename the company. After reviewing the entries the VP of Marketing announced that the winner was Aries Technology.
When I was Senior VP at MICROCADAM, the sales team approached me wanting to change the company name. They said the “MICRO” part gave it a negative image. I said Microsoft is the largest software company, SUN Microsystems is one of the largest computer systems and Ingram Micro is the largest technology distributor. We did change the product name to Helix when we launched a next generation version. Then the sales people came and said that they wanted the name of the product and the company to be the same, namely Helix, like SolidWorks who was a fast growing company at the time. I responded that the most successful companies in the mechanical CAX arena were Dassault Systems with its CATIA product line, PTC with its Pro/Engineer and Windchill product lines, and Autodesk with its AutoCAD line. So whatever problems MICROCADAM may have it was not the name of the company.
I had the opportunity to discuss not only the SpringSoft name but also the business model and products with Scott Sandler, Vice President of Corporate Marketing and President of SpringSoft USA.
Would you give us a brief biography?
I was born as a young child. I started my career at Intel after graduating from the University of Massachusetts in Computer Systems Engineering. What I did not know at the time when I joined Intel was that they wanted me to be a verification engineer. Only in hindsight since that term hit the market did I understand exactly what they were after in me. I had a little bit of simulation in my education. This was in ’83 right at the moment board level simulation and IC level simulation were actually being instituted as part of the verification process. People were not even calling it verification at that point. I think they called evaluation engineering. I was supposed to figure out whether the boards worked. We ended up doing the first ASICs that Intel had ever done to put on Mutlibus2 boards. I ended up doing simulation with a variety of different tools validating those ASICs down to LSI logic, doing a bunch of timing analysis manually with spread sheets and applying some tools form other internal Intel processor projects to board level design including synthesis and optimization. And inventing a whole flow that was top down with behavior modeling, TRL modeling. That was a foundational experience for me because I ended up evaluating RTL tools and concluding that I liked the tools better than the design. I ended up going to Gateway, the first application engineer for Verilog. That was a great move. I stayed there through the Cadence transition. I left the industry for a while, a little over a year, and then came back as a consultant. I spent five years at Chrysalis and then came to Novas in 1999.
Of course we have just gone through a transition which I worked through with SpringSoft management to merge Novas with several other SpringSoft portfolio companies in order to create a new global organization.
You may remember from earlier interviews that my advanced degrees come from UMASS.
I do remember.
Well, one of us made good.
I never got the advanced degrees. So there are tradeoffs.
Smart move on your behalf.
I don’t know. I just call a yesterday from the school of engineering, a fund raising guy. He is after me for more for my next five years. Unfortunately they read the papers.
Could you go back in time and describe the origins of SpringSoft. Maybe you could comment on the name. It sounds more like a laundry detergent than an EDA company.
Naming is the hardest thing. You have got to come up with something that sounds good, something that doesn’t sound pretentious. They came up with this name a long time ago. It really relates to kind of spring forth from our thoughts. It is sort of wholesome. I am not saying this well. I have not practiced this. No one has actually asked me that before. It refers to a spring, a wellspring of thought.
The origins of SpringSoft?
The guys who founded SpringSoft were originally working with Dr. Paul Hong and ECAD back in the day as they say, back in the early ‘80s. They were the ECAD Taiwan team. They were doing sales support. They were there through the merger with SDA to create Cadence, right there at the beginning of Cadence with Paul. They were the Cadence Taiwan team both R&D and sales. In the early ‘90s they decided to form their own company. They started out by doing contract engineering and some distribution. They also wrote some software. They got some investment. They bootstrapped from there by generating revenue before having product. Then they introduced the product themselves since they had built a sales and support team in Taiwan. So that is the origin.
You joined them in ’99. Did they set up a US sales and marketing team? How did that happen?
That’s actually the unique and really special part of the whole organization. What they did instead of setting up a SpringSoft sales and support team in the North America, they decided and they really invented a business model by setting up Novas as a completely independent company. They were the initial investors but they treated that as a strategic investment. They set up a separate management team, a separate board. Their whole purpose was to be able to attract talent by the fact that the company would have independent equity and an independent direction. Of course it was closely aligned. It was the distribution arm for SpringSoft verification products and SpringSoft would be the distributor for Novas products in Asia. And we would do joint development together. It was a pretty original concept. They got Dr. Hong to be the chairman and effectively the founder. They were able to have a strong starter in the US this way.
Were you at Novas on day one?
No, no! That was in the 1997. There was an initial team that came in. There was some turnover. But they got Debussy off the ground. I came in ’99. Debussey was already on the ground and had a team in place but needed to be branded. The point at which I came in was the point where we needed to brand Novas and establish it as an entity in the EDA market. We were not doing any branding of SpringSoft at that time. SpringSoft was behind the scene developing products and selling and supporting it in Taiwan. But in every other region, they set up these unique entities; Novas and in parallel Silicon Canvas for their backend products several years later. Also Novaflow in Japan. Where ever you looked they set up these entrepreneurial entities where they were a board member, an investor and a strategic partner but not in absolute control.