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Some mild stir in Programmable ASICs

Posted on Thursday, May 5th 2005

EE Times reports: “End markets are presenting a serious problem to traditional ASIC design. Especially in consumer applications, but increasingly in other areas as well, markets tend to be fast-moving and fragmented. The system-on-chip that is perfect for midrange portable media players in China now is wrong today in the rest of the world and will be wrong tomorrow in China. SoC developers talk about product lives in months and hundreds of thousands of units, not years and millions.”

This is the problem statement, but the solution has so far been elusive. Hundreds of Millions have been invested already.

The author, Ron Wilson, however, cites a number of proof-points from the collaboration of eASIC and ST, as well as Lightspeed. This is encouraging. “We have so far created six derivative products from this design,” said Michele Borgatti, front-end technology and manufacturing manager on the overall project at STMicroelectronics. “In one instance, we were able to move from completed RTL to tapeout of the necessary via mask in 24 hours.”

Big implications for platform-based designs and building derivatives of a product family.

Also to watch, some stealth companies in the space: Ambric, this morning, announced a new CEO hire (Howard Bubb) out of Intel. Founded in 2003, the Beaverton, Ore.-based start-up closed $10.4 million in Series A funding in September 2004. Investors include ComVentures, OVP Venture Partners, Northwest Technology Ventures and individuals. Tabula has also been awfully quiet!

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Team-of-Twenty-One

Posted on Monday, May 2nd 2005

More than ever before, Indians are going back to work in India. Rajesh Jain wrote in July 2003: “There is an optimism in the air. Opportunities abound. India is rising. The time to think about a return to India is Now.”

Two years later, the trend is really and truly gaining ground.

Most US companies are chartered with the goal of reducing the % of employees in Silicon Valley or other equivalently high cost location. Anxieties abound on whose jobs are going to get dislocated, and when. There is a win-win, though, which companies and HR departments worrying about this phenomenon should try to understand.

Culturally, India is a diverse and very large country. The language differences, the cultural nuances, the cuisine variations are all dramatic and significant. Yes, there has been movement and inter-mingling. But still, a remarkably distinguishable ethnic identity prevails in each part of India.

So here is pseudocode for an algorithm on how to address the “India Relocation Strategy” for companies:

  • Do an ethnic population mapping of your Indian workforce. How many are Gujratis, Marathis, Tamils, Kannadas, Bengalis, … ? What city are they from? Where are their respective families and roots?
  • Do an ethnic map, also, of your India-born management rung that would consider moving back to India, are capable of, and interested in building, running and scaling an off-shore Operation.
  • Given that Bangalore is going fast down the path of becoming an infrastructure chokepoint, you will need other satellite offices. This means, you will need multiple General Manager (GM) types who can run significant operations in multiple Indian cities.
  • Try to find five GMs, each from a different city in India, and a core group of twenty somewhat experienced people with leadership qualities that would like to move back, to go with each GM.
  • There is your Team-of-TwentyOne per Operation.
  • The rest can be locally hired, or filled out from more junior people in the company.

    In your Team-of-Twenty-One you have already designed in management scalability to sustain a 200-300 people operation from the get-go. You’ve set the culture, the tone, the pace.

    I believe, companies that are building 1000 people operations in one Indian city are making a mistake. They would be able to draw much higher degree of loyalty and emotional bond from their employees if employees are provided the opportunity to speak their own language, eat their own food, be close to their loved ones (India still has extended family structures), and raise their children in a familiar cultural environment that they themselves grew up in.

    India is not America. People do not move as easily. Language and Food are very crucial ethnic phenomena, which Americans don’t understand because it is not part of their cultural heritage. Americans also do not understand the need and desire of older cultures to have access to their history, their legacy, their ancestors.

    Hence, my recommendation of five Teams-of-Twenty-One : chosen from Bangalore, Delhi, Pune, Kolkata, Hyderabad, Ahmedabad, Chennai, Kanpur, Indore, Cochin.

  • “In Here” not “Out There”

    Posted on Saturday, Apr 30th 2005

    About a year back, we launched a new program at the MIT Club of Northern California titled: Exploring the Mind of the Leader, anchored by Prof. Michael Ray of Stanford Graduate School of Business. In that series, Prof. Ray interviewed some well-known leaders like John Morgridge, Chairman of Cisco and Carol Bartz, CEO of Autodesk. The goal was to collect nuggets on Leadership Development.

    Prof. Ray is a very interesting character. He teaches a famous course at Stanford called “Creativity in Business” and has a book by the same name. One of his fundamental thesis on creativity and leadership is succinctly characterized by Bill Carter as “Let go and Let God”. My friend Scott Globus and I spent a lot of time researching and getting to know Michael, and concluded that he was our man, because he had something to say which both Scott and I fundamentally agreed with: Serenity is a greater source of creativity than rampant motion. Such motion, we believe, generates only Brownian Motion, ie. Motion without Energy.

    This morning, Bill wrote me an email at 6:00 AM: “In the West we have come to lack a sense of mystery partly because everything interesting is supposed to be out there rather than in here, and partly because we in the United States lack a sense of history infecting every moment which is there in Europe and Asia (and probably Latin America about which I know very little). This is the personal and collective depth dimension lacking in Silicon Valley, for instance.” I invite you to read Bill’s full email.

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    Did she clean her ears?

    Posted on Wednesday, Apr 27th 2005

    She certainly did not open her mind, nor heart.

    One of the first things I do in my Consulting Practice when I take on a new project – is to go around and interview 10-15 key stakeholders / thought leaders involved in the business. I listen to all the different points-of-views, collect the nuggets, and build / solidify my hypothesis.

    I have often wondered what process Carly Fiorina followed, when she took the CEO job at HP! If she were contemplating ideas such as buying Compaq, did she even try to get some perspective around why and why not? It wouldn’t take a rocket-scientist to have figured out that the business was commodity, and one with declining margins.

    The other exercise I often do is to assess the core differentiated assets of the business. Fiorina decided to go broad and tried to become everything to everyone. I heard her speak soon after she took the job, and she was describing her fascination … “Did you know we also do … ?” That fascination subsequently became her mega advertising campaign. A bold, wrong move, which positioned HP exactly nowhere.

    Where I am going with this is to ask the fundamental question to HP’s Board and Executive Recruiters: “Did you not figure out, that Fiorina doesn’t know how to listen?”

    Followed by, “How do you figure out during an interview process whether your star candidate knows how to listen and can draw objective conclusions?”

    Hey, CEO! Do You Know How To Dress?

    Posted on Monday, Apr 25th 2005

    A few weeks ago, Businessweek published an article that caught my eye: Where MBAs Learn The Art Of Blue-Skying. For the longest time, high-tech has produced entrepreneurs and CEOs who are, for the most part, nerds. Fairly unidimensional, Silicon Valley is not known for its taste. It is known for its amazing talent in figuring out physics and electronics. BUT.

    The but factor is Steve Jobs. Steve Jobs has taste. Exquisite taste. The staircase at the office of NeXT Computer (that salvaged Apple, eventually) was designed by I.M. Pei, one of the most fundamental thinkers in the history of architecture. And hence, it is no surprise that Steve Jobs is the one who comes up with the iPod, or, for that matter, the NeXT computer. (When I was in college, there was a “shrine” for a single NeXT machine in the computer science department at Smith College.) NeXT was a slick black animal, panther-like, precise, crisp. All those words that evoke imagery of salivating women. To me, the design of NeXT was like Pugliese, one of the greatest maestros of Argentine tango music.

    According to Businessweek, “If you are looking for a business school that teaches you how to think creatively, design new products and services, manage your innovations through a corporate bureaucracy, or present them to outside angel investors, Fontainebleau, France-based INSEAD, the leading European business-school just outside Paris, may be just the place. INSEAD has joined with the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California to offer a joint program that teaches the role of creativity in business decisions, how innovation really works, and why design may be as important to corporate management today as Six Sigma was in the 1990s. A Swiss trustee who sits on both boards brought them together.”

    I am delighted. The marriage of business savvy with design and creativity is essential. For example, I am frustrated that the Toyota Prius has not been able to come up with a better design. The world’s top-selling hybrid car is an ugly piece of industrial design.

    Of course, it would be great if the fashion business learned some business, too! It would at least help them in staying . . . well . . . alive?

    Silicon Valley Leadership: The Quest for a Legacy

    Posted on Friday, Apr 22nd 2005

    I once worked on a company funded by Pierre Lamond, veteran Venture Capitalist at Sequoia Capital. During the interview, Pierre asked me, “How old is your father? What does he do? Is he retired?” I explained, that my father (in his sixties) is an entrepreneur, and will never retire, because he still has too many things that he wants to accomplish, and that he will die trying to get through as many of them as possible, and not run out of things to try. Pierre nodded and said, “I don’t understand 50-year old executives who want to play Golf all day.”

    I had another conversation with Jim Hogan of Telos Venture Partners over lunch one day on the same subject. Jim said, “You know, when a man is successful, has made money, what he is looking for is his Legacy.”

    If you look around Silicon Valley today, there are lots of executives and entrepreneurs who have been successful, made money, and are “waiting in the sidelines” looking for the right next opportunity. VCs and Executive Recuiters recruit CEOs out of this bunch. More than ever before, there is a large population of people today in technology with prior CEO experience, many of them dreaming of something really sizeable, high-impact, game-changing and sufficiently exciting to get their juices flowing again.

    The bulk of the opportunities out there, however, are, for example, a CEO job at one of 600+ Security companies, where the best exit one can hope for is becoming a feature in the larger offering of a Symantec or a McAfee. Not terribly inspiring, is it? Even though, there is a bit of money to be made, it certainly doesn’t qualify as a Legacy-building opportunity. Additionally, it’s fairly boring to do the Nth gig in the same narrow domain, even though the mantra in hiring is Domain Expertise. (I go out of my way, on a regular basis, to broaden the range of domains that I get to play with, and that’s what keeps me engaged, challenged, interested.)

    So, what’s the point? The point is, you cannot blame 50-year old executives for choosing to play Golf or do Origami, over running an incremental business in a domain that they already know well, are bored by, and find positively uninspiring. Anyone who has been a CEO, knows, that trying to be one without oozing enthusiasm for the business is not sustainable. And with these little businesses, the CEO is effectively a glorified VP of Sales, another uninspiring little detail.

    This is a contrarian and counter-intuitive point-of-view for VCs and Recruiters: Try to recruit experienced CEOs to your promising company by offering them opportunities to learn and grow as well, rather than just milking them for what they bring to the table based on their history. Look for people’s internal fire and ability to figure things out, and be fresh and creative, without being boxed in by a 25-year history in one narrow domain.

    Good. Next Apple should buy Adobe!

    Posted on Monday, Apr 18th 2005

    Today’s News: “Adobe Systems Inc. announced the acquisition of Macromedia Inc. for $3.4 billion in stock in a deal that will bring together the software of two companies with broad resources to distribute documents, video and other media to personal computers, cellphones and hand-held devices. The transaction, part of the long-expected consolidation in the software industry, also could set the stage for an anticipated showdown with Microsoft Corp., of Redmond, Wash.” reports the Wall Street Journal.

    This deal has been due for a long while, and makes perfect sense for both companies.

    Now the next deal that one wonders about is the consolidation of Adobe and Apple. John Warnock, 64, is like a spiritual father to Steve Jobs, 50. Adobe created a suite of killer apps that made the Apple Macintosh platform widely popular amongst the creative professionals. It was what Microsoft Office was to Windows. Cultures are synergistic and in tune. It would provide stability to the Apple portfolio, which currently has quite a high volatility risk rating due to the over dependence on the iPod. Numbers look okay!

    AAPL:

    2004 Sales $8,279 Million
    1-Year Sales Growth 33.4%
    2004 Net Income $276 Million
    1-Year Net Income Growth 300%
    Market Cap $30,670 Million

    ADBE:

    2004 Sales $1,666 Million (Plus Macromedia’s Sales $370 Million)
    1-Year Sales Growth 28.7%
    2004 Net Income $450 Million
    1-Year Net Income Growth 69%
    Market Cap $14,831 Million (Plus Macromedia’s Market Cap $2,461Million)

    What do you think, Steve?

    What’s after Starbucks?

    Posted on Saturday, Apr 16th 2005

    It would be fair to say that Starbucks has penetrated the cultural fabric of America quite extensively. Now, it is also attempting to do the same with the rest of the world. It has become a place to get together with friends, an extended office, a pick-up joint, and many other things – different things to different people.

    Starbucks is a consumer concept that was pretty much unimaginable until it was implemented, scaled, funded, and scaled further. Howard Schultz envisioned the concept after experiencing the popularity of coffee bars in Italy. For those who were gutsy enough to invest in the concept (Jamie Shennan of Trinity Ventures, for example, who is still on the Board, and invested in 1990; Starbucks went public in 1992) the deal paid off handsomely.

    The world’s #1 specialty coffee retailer, Starbucks operates and licenses more than 8,500 coffee shops in more than 30 countries. The shops offer coffee drinks and food items, as well as beans, coffee accessories, teas, and CDs. Starbucks operates more than 5,200 of its shops in five countries (mostly in the US), while licensees operate more than 2,800 units (primarily in shopping centers and airports). It reports an employee count of 96,700 in 2004.

    As the US continues on its quest towards finding business concepts that cannot be off-shored and out-sourced, clearly, high-touch retail and consumer concepts such as Starbucks are highly desirable.

    Here is one that I like to fantasize about: Jazz Bars and Dance Floors of the ambience, musical quality, and vibrancy that we see in the movie, _Ray_, celebrating the life and music of Jazz legend Ray Charles.

    As American culture degenerates further into becoming more and more sedentary, obese, isolated, on-line, and uninteresting, I wonder when would the pendulum swing far enough, that someone will get frustrated enough to start something new. A new place to “connect”, a new way to “enjoy”, and consequently a new way to “employ”…

    My hope is, that those who will launch that quest will rediscover the joys of Swing and Foxtrot, as Herman Hesse described in his celebrated novel _Steppenwolf_.

    I haven’t done the business plan, and I haven’t run the numbers but I sure hope there would be money in such a venture, if done creatively, with the thoughtfulness and business savvy of how Starbucks was launched upon the world.