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The limits of the Silicon Valley model
Alain Raynaud
Monday, February 11, 2008
Silicon Valley has an amazing concentration of high-tech companies, where everyone knows everyone, information flows at the speed of light and competition is extreme. So how, over the last ten years, did a remote location such as Paris, France, become the capital of hardware-assisted emulation?,
These are true stories: I went to lunch in Silicon Valley and bumped into the CEO of a competitor, for which I had been interviewed years before. Another time it was a customer that I had been trying to reconnect with (we ended up having lunch together). Silicon Valley is replete with stories of people networking and connecting (and also in some cases re-connecting). Indeed, one of the secrets that make Silicon Valley great is the fact that information flows freely, without creating inappropriate situations: no trade secrets are exchanged, nothing is stolen, but somehow, you know more than if you didn’t live there. Maybe it’s a parking lot that becomes full all of a sudden, telling you something is going on. Maybe it’s the recruiter calling you to pitch new job openings. If you had to rely on information from conferences and trade magazines, you would be about six months to a year behind and playing catch-up all the time.
This tight connection helps local companies compete as they watch and follow each other closely. But sometimes, one company taking a certain technical turn makes all the other ones take the same turn. In our case, a small startup in France, we just didn’t know any better so we continued doing emulation technology our way, separate from the Silicon Valley pack. Either it was luck or simply letting smart engineers work their magic in peace, but we ended up with a commendable product
However, you can’t always rely on distance to keep innovating. There are too many important things happening in Silicon Valley to ignore them. In December 2006, we acquired Tharas, one of our competitors in Silicon Valley. We now have a local engineering team, in addition to the one in Paris. This helps us achieve a good balance of knowledge: we benefit from Silicon Valley’s free-flowing information, while still taking advantage of the distance to continue strategic design.
Managing two teams, one on the Pacific Coast of America and one in Europe, has its own challenges. With nine hours of time difference, communication is not always easy: by the time California wakes up, it’s time for France to leave work and go home to their family. So we use instant messaging for short questions, conference calls and direct phone calls for more urgent or broader topics. We also added Wiki for persistent collaboration, which complements e-mail nicely. But it definitely helps for two people to actually meet in person, at least once, before they can really work well together. Technology can only do so much.

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