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.
What about tradition marcom (advertising, newsletter, websites,
)? How important are they?
They are very important. It's kind of one way to bring structure to the act of delivering messages to the market and communicating with the market. We do trade shows. This interview is one example of the importance of the marcom function to help us get in touch with editors like yourself. All of the above.
You have been in this arena for 20 years. How has the role of Marketing or how has the way Marketing performed that role changed?
That's a good and interesting question. I have not given much thought to how things have changed. Let me step back for a second to see if I can answer the question. Some obvious things come to mind. If you look at EDA over the last 20 years the market has changed dramatically. Twenty years ago you were looking at small companies, less than $100 million in sales. Now you have a situation where it is dominated by the big three. The customer buying pattern has changed as a result of these full line EDA vendors. Therefore how you actually market and sell you technology within those big three changes. If you are not one of the big three, you better be in a market that is new and experiencing high growth or you get lumped into discretionary spending. If you look at where Vast is today, we are clearly in a market that is experiencing high growth. There is strong pull from our customers. We are also in a situation too where there is no overlay with solutions offered by the big three.
Let me give you some color on the market before I dive into how we market and the differences in how we touch our customers versus Synopsys or Cadence. I don't know if it is well known or talked about but automotive is a huge industry for Vast. Typically when I talked to EDA professionals, they think of automotive as being a laggard industry. It is absolutely not the case. The backdrop is that there has been a decade long movement from physical mechanical prototypes to virtual prototypes. It started on the mechanical side. If you look at the likes of GM and Toyota, they used to design and build mechanical prototypes at around $500K a piece. They go through upwards of 60 of these to complete a car design. Over the last decade that's shifted. You are seeing vehicle designs today with no prototypes. Clearly Vast is not a mechanical CAD company. The electronics are undergoing a similar shift. It is driven by sharp growth in electronic content. On average there is about 25% of the value delivered via electronics. In 2010 that's projected to go to 40%. For hybrids it is at 67%. If you cost out everything going into a hybrid, 67% is electronics. So there is this backdrop of growth. The semiconductor suppliers are laser focused in automotive because that's where the growth is. It is about what I said earlier, about the previous shift from mechanical prototype to CAD tools or virtual prototypes. The same thing is happening in vehicle electronics and that is what Vast is delivering.
For the most part traditional EDA doesn't play in automotive. It's one that is undergoing sharp growth. The growth piece is exactly what we do. We deliver solutions for virtualizing the electronic control unit. The long winded answer to you question, to what has changed on the marketing front. The market has changed for Vast. We are focused on automotive, consumer, and wireless. We are delivering solutions which for the most part that are not discussed in traditional EDA and we are in the backdrop of this tremendous shift form physical to virtual prototyping for the mechanical.
Who is the target of your marketing effort? The CEO, CFO, VP Engineering, Project Manager, ..?
It is interesting. It varies. There's one Japanese OEM where our contacts are at the board level. Actually, this is the case at numerous accounts. We have very high level contact. When you are looking at these megatrends, it is not just true for automotive, it is true for wireless and consumer. If you look at the problem from their perspective it is how do I design a digital TV has 10 MB of software content or how do I design a headset that has in excess of 3 million lines of code. These problems go all the way to the executive staff level. Having said that, the problem has to be solved at the engineering and engineering management level. We have to have messages that address the E staff level discussion of why does it matter. It may be a good technical solution but what does it mean to my bottom line? Our messages on that front are very clear. With this methodology you can do concurrent design to shave months off your time to market. This plays incredibly well in automotive because Toyota, one of the leading OEMs, is shrinking their development cycle. So all of the components that go into high end automobiles have to be designed in a timeframe of relevance. But at the engineering level it comes down to what I said earlier about most of the market today is using physical prototypes, physical electronic boards. They wait for silicon to come out of the fab, slap it on the board before they begin to write their software. At the engineering level we have to have a convincing message of how we can do what we do because it sounds so unbelievable.
Secondly, is it complete? Will it allow me to do everything that I need to do? For the cases where it is deficient, how can we work around those deficiencies?
Are you customers the automotive OEMs, cell phone manufacturers (Nokia, Motorola), IDMs, ,,?
All of the above. This is a very interesting topic. It is one of the thing that attracted me to Vast. When you have been doing something for 20 years, you step back and reflect and think the next thing I do should really matter. Another thing that attracted me to Vast was that it was one of the few companies that could sell to the entire supply chain. You question was really “Who do we sell to?” Let me give you an example in automotive. Automotive has a mature and structured supply chain. If you look at vehicle electronics it starts at Tier 2 suppliers. They provide the processors, the electronics that go into boards. Semiconductor suppliers include Infineon and Freescale. They supply electronics to Tier 1 suppliers like Delphi, Denso and BOSC. They would create these subsystems or boards that go into automotive OEMs. We sell to all three of these. For semiconductor suppliers our solutions allow them to verify that their chip design and software content (all these chips go out the door at the very minimum with device drivers) work long before they complete manufacture. The savings is measured if you can avoid a respin which cost in excess of $1 million a pop. To the Tier 1 supplier like Delphi our solution is similar to system virtual prototype but it is a large system that contains SoC, a collection of SoCs and many peripheral components that surround them that define the subsystem that they deliver. It allows them to develop middleware application software and verify that that system well in advance of manufacturing or even new SoC content. Similarly the OEMs. I apologize for being long winded but these topics are rarely succinct.
How big a company is Vast? Can you give me some quantitative data?
We are privately owned, so I can't discuss financials or numbers. I will size it to say that we have operations in all geographies: US, Europe and Asia Pac. Our engineering is oddly enough primarily in Australia. Part of our engineering is in Silicon Valley.
How many employees do you have?
I rather not discuss the headcount. It is one of those extrapolation kind of things. Suffice it to say, under 100 people.
Do you sell primarily direct?
We sell mostly direct. We have distribution in Korea and a distributor in Japan alongside Vast KK which is a direct entity.
To what extent is the size of Vast an issue with perspective customers?
It always helps to be bigger. We are growing tremendously. Growth has to be managed. It is a healthy tracking function. Your growth kind of matches your revenue and your ability to service your customers. It is not an issue with our customers. They have deep visibility into our operation. We work with lour customers in sizing the operation. We do deals that may include additional headcount to support the needs of a specific customer who wants to grow faster than we are capable of servicing. Maybe the best answer is that we work closely with our customers. We try to size our support and operations to meet their needs and with that go bigger business commitments. The two go hand in hand.
How important is the role of standards in this arena?
When it comes to design suffice it to say incredibly important to facilitate mass adoption. When it comes to design flow no solution is an island. We are very supportive and happy to see standard organizations like OSCI gaining in popularity because they basically define interfaces that allow our solutions to work with third party solutions. From the customer perspective, they will always spend a lot more in developing and support flows than on tools. So tools that are standards compliant result in a lot less work for them to make the tool work in the context of their flow.
How many seats does a typical customer have?
Since we are selling to both hardware and software developers, the seat count gets large very quickly especially if our customers deploy our solutions. Let's simplify things. There are two solutions. One solution allows customers to architect new designs and platforms. By architecture I mean they can deal with different processors cores, different bus structures, and different components. The byproduct of that architectural exploration is that they have a system that is known to meet performance requirements. They can run representative software on it and know with certainty how it perfroms. The number of architects on a particular design is probably 1:10 or 1:20 to hardware designers, even less in some cases. Once the architecture has been defined, our solution can then be used to develop software. Now, this is where the volume goes up. If you look at the number of software designers to hardware designers, it is like 10:1. On top of that our solution is used by traditional hardware verification engineers to verify the system comprised of hardware and software components for content. It is anything but one per customer. Many seats per project. The largest seat count is on the software side.
What is the difference in marketing to software engineers rather than ot hardware engineers?
The solutions are different. What is interesting is our biggest challenge. The easiest way to market or sell anything is to address the risk issue and to be plug compatible with what has been previously been done. We have addressed a lot of energy on that topic. It is how you define your product. Software engineers typically live in a debugger. That's the window into what they are doing. One way to be plug compatible is to be binary compatible with their debugger. First of all the hardware must match the software tool chain. We do that. If you are developing in a Vast system, it is virtually unperceivable that you are using a model versus using real hardware. The big difference is that you have this big hunk of hardware on your desk with all of these probes going into it. You are sitting on a computer using a debugger, compiler, linker and loader that your are familiar with. The marketing challenge becomes: Is it fast? Is it accurate? Once you prove that it is binary compatible then you have something that enables them to develop software whereas if they were considering a hardware solution in many cases they would be looking at waiting. You are waiting for chips to finish design, to be placed, routed and manufactured. This just defines our competition. There is a period in the design cycle where there is no competition. If you are waiting on silicon to develop software, you don't have a solution during that period of time. Vast enable concurrent design by developing this model sooner. You can do presilicon software development. You can parallelize your design and get to market sooner.
When you approach a prospect, even when there is a similar firm serving as a reference, do they want to do some form of evaluation? How do they convince themselves beyond talking to existing customers?
It varies. We have situations where there is urgency so references dictate the pace of adoption. We have other situations where the application may or may not be similar to what some reference customers is doing, so they go through some pilot evaluation program to prove the software delivers. We have both and everything in between: lengthy evals, short evals and no evals.
Who do you see as Vast's competition?
The primary competition oddly enough is hardware prototype boards. That's our number one competitor, the guy waiting on that hardware prototype. In terms of other companies that are out there in this space, there clearly are some. The thing that they all lack is that they don't have this combination of performance and cycle accuracy. They wind up with solutions that are either accurate but slow or solutions that are fast and inaccurate. For some portion of the design flow, you may be able to use some combination of those inferior tools. Where we win time and time again is with the combination of speed and accuracy. If you are talking about a timing critical application, for example determining when an air bag fires, you can't afford to thumbnail. You have to be deadly accurate, no pun intended. For other software that may not be timing critical, there may be a place for these solutions. Some of the obvious one are ARM. ARM has a division. They purchased a company called Axis. Axis tends to show up when there is ARM IP. Even in those situations we get called in because if you look at designs today, there is a clear trend towards multiple processors, heterogeneous processor solutions. There may be an ARM block next to a TI DSP or a Qualcomm DSP. That's where we get brought in even in the presence of ARM. There are other companies like CoWare out there as well. CoWare currently having come from the design implementation front, basically delivering faster simulation solutions for designers who are focused on design implementations. Lately they have shifted to software. If you ask me until someone else has figured out how to deliver cycle accuracy and performance in a single solution, the competition will have tough sledding.
Would you summarize?
One way to think of Vast is that we enable virtualized design. What is virtualized design? It is actually using models to do what used to be done by hardware for the design of embedded systems. We consider ourselves to be very different from ESL companies. We see ESL as an outgrowth of design implementation. Whereas embedded system design by definition you have to deal with the escalation of software content. The real short benefit of our solution, it operates at real time speed and is cycle accurate. It enables you to do what heretofore could only be done using hardware but you can do it much sooner. That delivers time-to-market gain, cost gain and schedule gain. We focus on three markets: automotive, consumer, and wireless. We are very much a global company in scope and coverage. If you look at who's who in each of those markets, we have a strong presence in each.
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ARM MPCore Multicore Processor Enables Next-Generation Triple-Play Gateway to the Home
Spectrum's Multi-Channel Transceiver Core Provides Small Footprint Radio Application Framework for Software Reconfigurable Platforms