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February - 2007 - issue > Executive of The Month
Ahoy! Here’s a Spy Glass
Sriparna Chakraborty
Wednesday, February 21, 2007
Dr Ajoy Bose is a smart leader with deep technical expertise His company—Atrenta is forging into Electronic Design Automation market that is highly specialized and difficult for new players. It is a big challenge. Bose has deeply thought through the opportunity he has before him. He is cognizant of building a company that truly adds value for future electronic designs. Bose’s fine art of balancing technology and business should make him succeed. He has a grand vision: To take design automaton to the next level.

The predictive analysis tool
Bose’s footprint in the EDA industry had given him enough exposure to understand the pains of chips designers. At the back of his mind he always wondered if the hardships of designing complex chips could be minimized. His inquisitiveness led him to conceptualize a product that could provide designers an early visibility into their design risk and help them get to the source of the problem and figure out the best way to debug their design.
Boses’ product—SpyGlass, a design analysis platform, as he called it—correlates RTL coding violations with schematics (automatically generated) to detect the structural problems before it reaches the gate level. By being able to predict where RTL code will cause problems later in the design cycle, SpyGlass, suite of tools helps eliminate time-consuming design iterations.

Detecting the problem early on would only mean that the development cost would see a radical drop. Customers of Atrenta are today seeing a 20 percent reduction in the time to get new chips to market and a 30 percent reduction in design costs.

Bose believes that there is no other company like Atrenta, which takes a complete view of the entire design cycle and detects flaws early. So, Atrenta has no direct competitor. However, there are specific competitors for each part of the design cycle that it addresses. For example, there are specific point tool vendors who detect design flaws for clock deign or power alone. “Atentra is a one-stop-shop. We offer a single platform that lets you solve all your design problems. That has given us better momentum and better growth than our competition,” says Bose.

Building the product was a big challenge. His team of engineers in the U.S. and India toiled to build the product’s backbone—the synthesis engine. Their challenge was to develop a product that could delve deep into the structure of the design and do in-depth tests.
Once the product was ready, Bose’s next big challenge was to take it to the market—a market, which was dominated by the big players of the EDA space. He took a judicious decision of establishing sales channels across geographies—Europe, Japan, Taiwan and India. “If you are in for a long term EDA play, you need to control your channel,” says Bose. “Most of the small players in the EDA space build a small channel, get some traction and get acquired. To build a stand-alone company for long term, you ought to have your own channel. Your success will start getting severely limited if you don’t have direct control of your channel.”

Having its own sales force made sense for Atrenta in another way. It gave its product developers direct access to the customers. “Communicating with the customers directly and understanding their design problems is crucial when you are building a complex product. This is more so true with the rapid changes in technology,” notes Bose. Today, the company has 120 customers and includes the top 10 semiconductor companies.

When the sales force is far away from the headquarters, keeping them in sync with the company becomes a challenge. Scaling up the sales force, training them and ensuring they go out and articulate the product value to prospective customers is indeed an expensive proposition, especially for a start up.

Bose knew early on that building a sales channel required him to have huge financial muscle. In the last six years, Atrenta has till date raised $43 million four rounds of funding. “The complexity of managing the finance is lot more significant when you want to build the company of the future. You have to manage the business a lot more creatively,” he explains. In a sense, technology challenges were less severe than the business challenges, discovered Bose. “It is a tricky problem, a lot more complex than doing real R&D,” he feels.”
Creative management in others words means bringing in innovation in all dimensions of the business. For instance, the company’s investment in setting up an R&D in Noida, India is paying off. Bose wanted to leverage the India story to do more than just R&D. Today, Atrenta’s customer support and pre-sales activities are executed from India. For Bose, this scalability problem was solved in a cost effective way.” By creatively managing money, he created a longer runway that gave him a better chance for success. “It also increases your ability to sustain uncertainties,” he adds.
Bose believes that most entrepreneurs fail to forecast when their product will be ready. They assume that their product is going to be ready and start investing on marketing and sales only to realize that the product has been delayed. This will hurt them. He feels that entrepreneurs need not invest until their product is ready. It does not mean that one shouldn’t invest at all. By doing so, one would starve his opportunities by not making investment at the right time. The proper timing of investment playing a key role in the success,” says Bose.

The Birth
After spending nearly 15 years at AT&T Bell Labs and Cadence, Bose had bootstrapped Interra, a design services company. One of Interra’s customers, a major semiconductor company, wanted a tool that would automatically inspect RTL IP (intellectual property) and evaluate its reusability. “Those were the days of the Reuse Methodology Manual and the first big excitement about IP reusability,” explains Bose.

Interra developed the tool, met the contract and quickly found a flock of other major customers for the software. Then a light went on. Explains Bose, “we looked at what we’d done and realized you could learn a great deal about the final design by analyzing the RTL, and that this could happen very early in the design cycle.” Thus an opportunity for a spinout was born, christened Atrenta.

It is quite visible that Bose was aware of the market opportunity since the start. Usually, a techno entrepreneur is enamoured by the sophistication and complexity of the technology problem that he or she is solving.

Entrepreneurs should think through what the true opportunity is in order to succeed “You might build a fancy product. But there may be only a few people who want that product,” says Bose. His awareness of the market opportunity and appreciation of scalability of business helped in creating a niche for Atrenta.
Bose and Atrenta is the successful story of a technical evolution intertwined with an individual, powerful idea: that great riches could be found by scrutinizing RTL code.
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