This great post by Tim Oren, about the new generation of software startups, made me sit up and start thinking…again.
Now we’ve taken a step back closer to those early days, as the combinations of open source and standards, and commoditization of hardware and software, once again make a low rent market entry feasible.
How true. Even in the mathematical and formulaic world of design automation, people prefer to work via open standards and tools (GCC, Flexx, etc. ). Which is why a move by Cadence to release an OpenSource circuit database library (OpenAccess) is a very cool thing.
I’ll try to adapt Tim’s opinions and views to the EDA industry. For a new company to break into the EDA industry, it has access to open standards like the SDC (Synopsys Design Constraints), SDF (Standard Delay Format) and now - OpenAccess. Therefore, it becomes quite possible (not easy) for a new company to build tools for validation, cleanup, verification, housekeeping, etc. on the basis of these standards. However, while on the one hand, building a product first and then searching for customers is quite an easy proposition for those in the web-app domain, I do not believe that is quite easy in the chip-design domain. The trend has always been to have contacts first and products later. For example, while a two grad-student team can beat out a google, by sitting in their garages, I do not believe Intel will even take a second look at me, if I do that. I think that’s because EDA customers are concentrated in a particular cities, companies…even buildings. The target population is not a anywhere-anytime kind. Primarily this is because of the need for powerful hardware for processing tasks (read server farms). What I cant still understand is - Can I find a way to offload processing tasks from the CPU to the GPU? The GPU is a vector processing architecture, however there could be a way. The second important task would be to have a way of making access to my technology, a path of least effort. Is web enabling the answer, I do not believe so - primarily because of the horrendous computation power required. What is the magic bullet? The second alternative is to already have a reputation in the industry. Not unlike every other industry there is. Look at Sierra Design Automation, Magma, etc. They were founded, and hence gathered credence, from the prowess (real or imagined) of their founders. In any case, I think Tim hits it on the mark when he says
Build as little as possible, as fast and cheaply as possible, while demonstrating some unique value.
This would need to be done in association with a pre-customer. Else, such fine-grained precision to hit the requirements on the dot, is simply not possible. And once I have VC investments - well that’s another story, I dont know anything about…yet.