DVCon 2009 - Executive Panel

Tom Sandoval: Reaching the EDA customer

by Peggy Aycinena

The principle subject of the DVCon 2009 Executive Panel in San Jose in February was "EDA: Dead or Alive?"

The seven speakers on the panel were unequivocal in the answer: EDA is definitely alive, because it’s the single most important pre-requsitive for progress in electronics. The electronics industry will never die and, therefore, neither will EDA.

In the weeks after the event, I spoke at length with all seven panelists individually to follow up on various topics discussed at DVCon. This article recaps my conversation with Calypto executive, Tom Sandoval. Links to the rest of the conversations in the series can be found at the end of this article.

Reaching the EDA customer ...

Tom Sandoval – The problem with functions like the DVCon panel is how to get more non-EDA people in the audience. I’m a semiconductor guy, so when I look out at that audience I see we’re just talking to ourselves in EDA.

Q – How can we get more customers into the audience?

Tom Sandoval – As an industry, we definitely struggle with this.

Q – Where do you think the customers are?

Tom Sandoval – It’s tough. You want the semiconductor guys, but even at the big shows, the guys who show up are the CAD managers from inside the semiconductor companies. What you really want is to get to the designers and the design managers, but those people don’t go to shows like DVCon, or a lot of other shows, for that matter.

One of the things we’ve had success with is Lunch & Learn. If you go to India, for example, you can get a conference room in a hotel and you’ll get a ton of semiconductor guys eager to learn. Here in North America, however, most guys are leery of EDA people, so Lunch & Learn events are not as successful. You actually have to go into the companies themselves to reach the designers. It’s a constant struggle to make sure the message is getting to the customers.

Q – Who are your customers?

Tom Sandoval – For us, the customer is the RTL designer, the RTL design manager, or the guy who’s developing the system model.

Q – Not the CAD manager?

Tom Sandoval – No, the CAD managers are important from the perspective of looking at tools, and understanding how they fit into the flows. But ultimately, you need to get to the consumers. It’s true there are many cases where the CAD manager suggests and purchases tools, but to get to the real usage, you have to talk to the consumers.

Q – Do CAD managers buy tools the engineers don’t want?

Tom Sandoval – Sure. Often and for two reasons. Sometimes there’s a disconnect between the CAD manager and the engineers. Other times, the CAD manager has it right, but the engineers are so focused on getting their job done they can’t be bothered to try something new.

Q – Then what can you do?

Tom Sandoval – It has to happen through the sales process.

Q – Can you actually get into an engineer’s cubicle?

Tom Sandoval – Not the cubicle. But if we’ve got a compelling story, the CAD managers will invite guys into meetings, or possibly the design managers.

Q – Does DAC play a role in attempting to reach the actual tool users?

Tom Sandoval – For us, two different things are happening at DAC. We’re introducing new tools and we’re finding new ways of doing things. An initial introduction to the customer is through the CAD organization, so trying to get the initial engagement is a challenge. The goal is not to sell one license to 100 customers, but to sell multiple licenses to fewer customers, then proliferating the product within the design organization. So DAC is important for us, because we’re still at a point where we’re driving into customers for the first time. As a forum for startups, DAC is awesome.

But that’s one of the reasons the large companies struggle with DAC. They’re not trying to introduce some new whizbang technology. But the big companies pull in the customers, which is great for the startups. That’s why, when Cadence pulled out, it was so difficult. People talk about an "Industry Tax" for the large guys in EDA, but by supporting DAC they are helping to keep the industry healthy by supporting startups.

EDA is an interesting animal. It seems to me that DAC re-energizes interest in EDA every year for everybody, even for the EDA companies themselves. It’s an opportunity to get all the sales and marketing people together. You can go off and have sales conferences during DAC, and since you’re already at DAC, you can actually put the sales meeting [strategies] to use right away at customer meetings.

Q – So the customers are coming to DAC?

Tom Sandoval – It’s mainly the CAD guys. That’s the unfortunate reality.

Q – It’s unfortunate to access the CAD managers?

Tom Sandoval – No, the CAD managers are not evil, and the CAD organizations are not evil, by any means. One of the reasons that ESL has been so successful in Europe and Japan, for instance, is because the CAD organizations have charters to develop methodologies. There are only a couple companies in the U.S. where that’s the case. The rest have no central organization to deliver design flows.

If you go back 15 years, all of those companies had CAD organizations in place. But over time, everything has been cut, so when you look at who’s delivering on the bottom line, it’s the design guys who are closest to the money. At the end of the day, U.S. companies who want to stay on pace with what’s available from a new-frontier perspective, will have to re-invest and put CAD groups back in place to do that.

CAD managers are not evil, at all. For us, they’re the key to our initial penetration into the organization. In companies without CAD managers, it’s difficult. You have to get time with the engineers to convince them that your tool makes sense and should be in their flows.

Q – Isn’t it better when you’ve got access to the actual users?

Tom Sandoval – Not always, and I’ll give you an example why.

I had a very talented engineering manager working for me. He was a good manager, and meanwhile I was having a heck of a time getting the groups to learn more efficiently. I took this one guy and said, "You’re the pied piper who will make the flows more efficient." He ended up having a huge impact on the organization. It was similar to having a CAD group, but more impactful.

Q – So your sales process is about shopping for an internal evangelist for your tools at the customer company?

Tom Sandoval – Yes, plus centers of expertise.

Q – How do you actually reach these people?

Tom Sandoval – Email, phone calls, or pre-existing relationships, Some companies have CAD manager gatekeepers, some don’t. But in companies where the CAD group is chartered with new flows and making things more efficient through EDA, those organization are able to adopt new tools more easily.

Q – Aren’t you concerned about offending the engineer by inserting your tool in an established flow?

Tom Sandoval – If it’s a critical tool in my flow, and I know it works, and I know it gives me the results I need, it will really piss me off if the EDA vendor or CAD manager attempt to insert a tool or change things. But there are plenty of pain points in design today. For instance, engineers don’t like to design for test or power. If we tell them we can fix that for them they can be very open minded.

Q – But it still seems you’re at risk of forcing the tool down the throat of the users.

Tom Sandoval – Yeah, that has happened. But, I’ve got special place in my heart for guys putting chips out. I’ve been there, late at night with my guys, trying to get a chip out. We’ve had CAD problems, design problems, etc. You look at these guys and they look at you, and you say, if you just change this one thing, it will work.

Q – There have already been some pretty fancy chips taped out over the last few years, so do we really need new tools?

Tom Sandoval – Always!

Q – Why? Aren’t the existing tools good enough?

Tom Sandoval – If you look at the complexity of what’s taping out and what’s working, we can always improve the way we do design – to add functionality to those chips, to make them bigger and faster. Using existing tools to do this work is like trying to build a Prius on a Model A assembly line.

Q – So how can the EDA industry be more efficient in getting its message to the customer?

Tom Sandoval – The EDA industry needs to understand the concept of co-opetition, how to cooperate with our competitors. The semiconductor industry understands you can cooperate in some part of the company and compete in others. The cooperation can be just as fierce as the competition.

The EDA industry worries too much about the business deal and not enough about the technology. If you look at how they’ve grow the business, the really big players have grown it by doing bigger deals. But the product groups within the EDA company should connect more directly with the customer.

There are too many layers today – the FEA, the relationship guy, etc., before you finally get to the product group. It’s like a game of telephone. The kid at one end says Banana, but by the end of the line, the final kid thinks the word is Apple.

It should be my duty as an EDA vendor to talk to the actually users at my customer companies. Because my company is small, I can still get right in there and talk to these guys. What’s happened at the large EDA vendors, however, because of the way they’re organized and how their field organizations work – it’s hard for the guys in the product groups to actually get to the users who use the tools. Again, it’s the focus on the business deal at the big EDA vendors as opposed to the technology focus at startups.

Q – How old is your company?

Tom Sandoval – Calypto is 8 years old.

Q – Are you still a startup?

Tom Sandoval – Yes

Q – How do you define a startup?

Tom Sandoval – It’s a state of mind, how the company works, There’s only so much structure in a startup, and there’s still the ability for free thinking, for people to go off and do things that aren’t on the game plan. In an established company, even free thinking has to be on the game plan.

March 25, 2009

Bio ...

Tom Sandoval is currently CEO of Calypto Design Systems, an EDA company delivering RTL Power Reduction and Verification solutions to the market. A 20-year veteran of the semiconductor industry, Tom spent 15 years with LSI Logic where he held various executive level positions in sales, marketing, and engineering. He has a BSEE from the University of Southern California.

The DVCon 2009 Panel Series …

* Atrenta’s Ajoy Bose & Mike Gianfagna:
Recrafting the concept of EDA

* Javelin Design’s Diana Feng Raggett:
Government funding for R&D in EDA

* Synopsys’ Gary Meyers:
FPGAs versus ASICs

* EVE’s Lauro Rizzatti:
EDA in Europe

* Berkeley Design Automation’s Ravi Subramanian:
Setting the EDA roadmap

* SpringSoft’s Scott Sandler:
EDA dead or alive?

* Calypto’s Tom Sandoval:
Reaching the EDA customer


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