August 20, 2007
Helpful Advice for Entrepreneurs. Also post-silicon validation, debug and in-system bring-up from out of the ClearBlue by Dafca
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As impressive as your resume is, I missed seeing any prior CEO experience.
Laugh. You are not the only one who missed that. I must have forgotten to put it on my resume.
What caused you to want to tackle such a position and why would Miron and others want to hire a person with no CEO experience?
Great question! The answer is that I had not originally intended to be CEO. I was helping Miron out of a sense of civic duty and good karma for lack of a better incentive. Miron is a life force. Anybody who knows him or even has met him knows that about him. I figured that it would just be a good thing for the technology, for the product and for the industry if his vision of on-chip instrumentation could become a reality. There was already and there would be a severe bottleneck exactly at the place where Miron was standing and a problem that he already knew how to solve. I saw my role initially as being a facilitator, make the right
introductions. By then I had a very good relations with the venture capitalists. By no means was I famous but I was well known for my role in Neolinear and having an unusually deep technology background.
To make a long story short, it is actually a funny story. As we got closer to the A round funding I called Miron up on a Sunday, it was Fathers Day. I did it very deliberately because I wanted him to get use to being a startup officer. He was going to be CTO. This meant you are on duty 24x7. Your life and your energy are fully devoted to the cause. Coming from a large company which he did there was going to be an enormous amount of culture shock. In fact there was. Miron was nothing if not a good sport. He picked up the phone on a Sunday, one of the many Sundays that we continue to speak to each other on. I said “Things are looking pretty good. It is time for you to start thinking about who you want to be CEO. I have taken the liberty of assembling a list of five names of which I have already spoken to four. They would like to meet with us.” Miron who is from Eastern Europe spent most of his career at Bell Labs after training in Israel. I tell people affectionately that I hit the trifecta in that one. All of the stereotypes of clear thinking but stubborn commitment to particular objectives, let me say diplomatically, were absolutely true with him. So very abruptly he almost snapped at me. He said “I have already picked my CEO and it is you.” He then hung up the phone. I said to myself that’s just Miron being Miron. I picked up the phone to call him back because he literally hung up. It was like “That’s a stupid question. Obviously you are going to do it. Why did you bother me on a Sunday for that?” I picked up the phone (it’s a true story) and the hand of God came down from the sky and said “Don’t be stupid. If they don’t want you to be CEO, let them tell you.” The original appointment was supposed to be for 6 months. They figured that I was mature enough and grown up
enough to hire a bunch of good people, buy computers and establish the broad architectural strokes. They would hire a real CEO when we had launched, once we had done the hard part of assembling the first team. After 6 months we had a board meeting and I said “Guys, my 6 months are up. It would probably be good if we could recruit somebody.” They looked around at each other and said “Oh no. You’re fine. Stay put. We will tell you when you are done”. That was four years ago.
Were there any surprises beyond the appointment itself? Did you learn anything?
That’s a two hour conversation, one that I would be happy to have. I tell people that DAFCA is the best thing I have ever done. You have graciously noted that I have been at some pretty interesting places before I came to DAFCA. I have a pretty good basis of comparison. It is also the thing that I have done the best. I say that without the certainty without even the prospect of a large economic outcome. I have every reason to believe that we are hitting the market at exactly the right time with exactly the right technology. It has been by far the most spiritual, most challenging, the best growth opportunity. I mean that both technically, commercially and personally. It would take me ten minutes to list just the surprises, never mind explain them: how I have developed and matured as a professional and a leader; how the technology has developed and matured. What used to be a science project is now a commercially available product. The market has changed from when we started. Frankly Miron gets a lot of the credit that the major theme is right. He basically knew that the semiconductor industry was going to be stalled unless they figured out what to do with silicon that was coming back from the foundry that was not perfect and whose complexity far exceeded anyone’s ability
to verify and validate pre-silicon. All of those three things seem to be coming together for us. Your question about growth and evolution is a long and difficult one but it has a loud answer that is “Oh, hell yes”
What stands in the way of substantial economic success for DAFCA, if it is the right technology at the right time?
Right now we have tremendous amount of momentum. We just got our fourth chip from the foundry. Now we can demonstrate to a justifiably skeptical not to say cynical customer base that this is the most economical and reliable way to go. I tell people somewhat tongue in cheek that we are selling predictability. It is a little bit different marketing message than you normally get in the EDA circle which I do not come from. One of the advantages we have is that I sort of cut my teeth in other places which are just as difficult if not more difficult but are well outside the moribund EDA industry. To answer your question directly we need now to accelerate our marketing profile. For that we are going to need to spend more, cash for sure, more time, spend more creativity on making more people aware that this has in fact been proven in silicon and in a variety of different large and complicated methodologies to be the way that chips will be designed in the future. The first and most severe challenge to DAFCA’s economic success is getting over what I describe as a psychological, even an emotional, barrier that many project managers have. They want to believe that they have first silicon correct. It was I believe the economist Joseph Schumpeter (famous about 40 years ago for the concept of creative destruction) who came up with a funny way of describing how new technologies are introduced to the market. He said that the first thing you have to know is that it is difficult to convince a man that you can improve his productivity, if he is being paid not to know to that. Our biggest barrier is that we have a customer base legitimately concerned and sensitive but there are non-rational fears that we can address technically and scientifically to say “Yes it works. Yes, it helps and yes, it is going to make your life a lot easier.” But many people who are used to doing the same job in a certain way and are in some sense paid not to be innovative solve the biggest
problems in a somewhat avant-garde way will unlikely want to have a conversation about how many respins and how many functional errors they have had and how many system integration nightmares they have experienced and how many hardware/software code debug problems that have prevented getting their products to market. So it is a sort of diffuse responsibility. It is our job to find the guy who is ready to take that risk and to demonstrate that the risk is much smaller than the benefits he is likely to experience by being able to see inside the device on-chip and at speed.
A more recent book on that theme would be Clayton M. Christensen “The Innovator’ Dilemma” subtitled” When New Technologies Cause Great Firms to Fail.”
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-- Jack Horgan, EDACafe.com Contributing Editor.
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