On October 28th Envis Corporation announced the hiring if industry veteran AJ Sen as President and CEO. Envis, formerly Envision Technology, is an early stage startup company that offers products and services that help automatically reduce power consumption in SoC designs. I recently had an opportunity talk with AJ Sen ahd Holly Stump, VP Marketing, in a conference call.
Would you give us a brief biology? I mean a brief biography.
I could talk about biology. I will go through my background. First, I graduated as an engineer in the late 80s. My first job was as a design engineer at Zilog. I did mixed signal designs for chips that went into TVs and other consumer products. That company had an IPO. I got bitten by the Silicon Valley startup bug. I decided after that point that “Well hey, everybody else is doing it.” It has been my passion. Let me go start a company. That was what I was thinking. I did not do that immediately. I went on from engineering into marketing at a wireless company for a couple of years. I at least saw the business side of the Silicon Valley and then went on to start a company in the semiconductor space called PulseCore Inc. PulseCore was venture backed. We supplied chips for timing and EMI reduction, mixed signal chips. The company ultimately got acquired by Alliant Semiconductor. After that I decided to do something quite a bit larger in scope. We were in the middle of the tech bubble. It seemed to be the right time. I started eSilicon. I wrote the business plan at my kitchen table. My wife named the company. Then I started to put the team together to make the dream a reality. eSilicon is doing reasonably well, great revenues,; graphs are going upward and to the right. After eSilicon, I decided to start an analog service and IP company. This time I did not raise venture capital but bootstrapped it. I was the main investor there. That was Astro Services. I ran that for about four years. We were selling high speed SERDES IP. Then we sold it to a group of foreign folks, who wanted to extend their IP portfolio. After that I spent a couple of years as CEO of mSilica, an early stage company that is doing well now, making power management chips to drive LEDs in flat panel displays, for example big screen TVs. After that, I came to Envis.
The reason I joined Envis was first of all the space that it is in. I believe that the biggest pain point going forward is power when it comes not just to semiconductors but also data centers, the energy consumption in buildings. Power is the center point and the number one pain point. The second reason for joining Envis is the quality of the team. There is a stellar CTO here, Hamid Savoj. He was one of the founders at Magma and took it public. Of course there is Holly (Stump) in Marketing. The engineering team is just the best and brightest that I have come across. That’s sort of a long version of my background.
You have been involved in several successful startups. What do you believe are the key ingredients for a successful startup?
Actually, at the end of the day there are two that I value highly. First, you have to be in a big market. You can be the best at what you do in a tiny, niche market and your success is severely constrained, the growth is severely constrained. You need to be in the presence of a large or a small but rapidly growing market. The number two ingredient is the team. By team, I mean something specific. It is the mental horsepower of the team. In the Silicon Valley everybody works putting in 10 to 12 hours day. Everybody is ambitious. What separates one startup from three, four or ten others in that competitive space is the raw mental horsepower of the core team. By core team I mean the first twenty guys or gals in the company. So for me it is the team and the market.
What were you doing just before you joined Envis?
I was CEO at mSilica.
Editor: Prior to joining Envis in June 2008, Holly Stump was vice president of marketing at Sequence Design. Stump cofounded or was on the executive staff at several successful EDA startups which have been acquired by industry leaders, including Logic Modeling Systems (now Synopsys), Precedence (now Mentor Graphics), and Interconnectix (Mentor Graphics). She has also held senior marketing and business development positions at Cadence Design Systems, IKOS, and Valid Logic Systems
What is the background on Envis? Who started Envis, when and why?
That predates my arrival here by two to two and a half years. I believe Envis was started in the middle of 2006 by a founder who is no longer with the company. The goal right from the get-go was to manage and reduce power on computer chips.
We have stayed true to that goal. Shortly after Envis was founded, Hamid (Savoj) came on board and took the role of leading the technical team. We have just now started delivering product to a small set of friendly customers. The company has raised just about $6 million in one round. That’s where we stand right now.
Does Envis have any plans to raise more money in the near term?
These plans are always there. We may look at that next year. Right now what we are focused on is building our sales pipeline and getting very intimate with a small number of world class customers. We are well on our way to doing that.
What is the size of Envis now?
It is small by design. With contractors and employees, it is just shy of twenty people. I just want to make a point here. I am very happy about the fact that our burn rate is small and that we have our costs under control. This is definitely not the time to be a startup with a million dollar burn rate per year, looking for revenue or having a small amount of revenue traction because the sales mood and more so the investment mood over the next twelve to eighteen months is going to be quite challenging.
You mentioned working closely with some companies. Are you shipping product for revenue now?
We are just starting to ship product for revenue. We have not actually done that yet. The early engagements are structured around more of a design service flavor than actual traditional EDA, IP and software sales. We felt that entering the market with a design services offering actually helps us tremendously in fine tuning our feature set. And when we do roll out our products, production worthy versions of our products next year, we will have everything finely tuned just right.
As you mention power is a pain point in many different areas. Have you got some focus in terms of the friendly companies you are working with?
Right! These companies typically ship very large volumes of SoCs that have upwards of three or four million gates all the way to ten to fifteen million gates. They are quite broad in their applications. Frankly, everything from network processors, things that go into data centers all the way to wireless and consumer products. We are very horizontal when it comes to applications of the chips but they all have the common problem that they are struggling to meet their power budget. They do not want to put custom tools on their packages, heat slugs or go to different packages altogether. Just meeting their power budget is a challenge.
As I see on the Envis website, there are two products, namely Chill and Kelvin. Would you tell us is a little about each of them?
Right, now we have two products, although we have already started a couple of roadmap items that we can talk about later.
Chill is essentially a very advanced version of clock gating product. We do the traditional clock gating that designers have come to use over the years, added very clever new algorithms to take it beyond just routine clock gating. When we benchmark Chill against a couple of the other folks who provide clock gating solutions, we are getting twenty percent improvement.