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Toward Zero-Energy Buildings: Kevin Surace, Serious Materials (Part 2)

Posted on Thursday, May 28th 2009

SM: What was it like moving from National to Seiko Epson?

KS: When I was at National we would make a big die that was 400 by 400 mils. If we could yield one die per wafer, that was amazing. We were told the Japanese must be dumping because they would sell a 6 gate for much less than we would. When I got to Seiko Epson we were getting 25 good dies per wafer, not just one. We were not dumping at all, we were raking it in. Our yields were just extremely superior.

It was amazing when you started working for the Japanese and you realized their clean rooms were heading towards class one and their yields were so much better. It was a great experience.

SM: How long did you stay at Seiko Epson?

KS: I was there three or four years as a product manager engineer, which was really sales for ASICs. As a senior product manager you were also in charge of defining the products, but there was no sale that would happen without your involvement. It was a salesperson’s account, not yours, but the salesperson would introduce you and let you work.

For me it worked incredibly well. I had an EE degree so I understood the technology well. I was helping customers design products, figure out how to lay them out better, and figure out clock problems. I did all of that, but I also had five years of sales under my belt. I really knew the five steps of the sale. That was a positive thing to have, and I found myself in high demand among salespeople. A lot of sales engineers come only from an engineering background, and they could often destroy the sale because they did not know how to position the data in the correct way.

I left to join a new company, Hytek Microsystems, doing work with thick film on ceramic multichip modules. It was located in Los Gatos, and I ended up being there less than six months. I went as a regional sales director, but I did not know they had lost their two major accounts, one of which was IBM. I doubled my salary by going there and felt it was a good step up in my career. Six months later they decided they could not afford the Silicon Valley operations and that they were going to move to a new location outside of Reno, Nevada. There were opportunities for us if we wanted to go live there, but if we wanted to stay there were no opportunities.

When it came time to do the layoff notices, I helped write the letter that the CEO would read because we did not have the most experienced HR staff. We originally thought we were going to keep a skeleton crew here, and I thought I would be part of that crew. At the end of the day the CEO called me into his office and started reading my letter to me!

SM: What did you do next?

KS: A friend of mine was on the board of a very small startup called Hestia Technologies. They made multichip modules out of plastic. I stayed there for another three years or so. I learned an awful lot about small companies. It was not venture-funded. It was owned by a Korean gentleman who did not have a technical background.

SM: Did you understand the various issues associated with venture funding at that point?

KS: No. I did three years later. There was no way to build that company, with that owner, to be anything more than the owner’s hobby. That is fine. There are plenty of hobby businesses that make their owners a million dollars a year; it was just not interesting to me. When times were tough and there was no money coming in, nobody got paid.

This segment is part 2 in the series : Toward Zero-Energy Buildings: Kevin Surace, Serious Materials
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