Yannick Levy, CEO of a mobile TV chip startup, decided in 2009 to pack up, leave Paris and head to Shanghai to see if China was at the other end of the rainbow.
After dealing directly with Chinese companies and doggedly pursuing potential opportunities for his company, Levy concluded: “China is a difficult market.” Aside from a conventional OEM/ODM market, there is also a large gray market for mobile handsets. DiBcom could try to sell chips into that undefined but seemingly huge market. But he concluded that the reality was that this market would be even tougher to crack.
By the fall of 2010, Levy was back in France and disappointed at what he had found. China was not the end of the rainbow. He concluded that the DVB-H standard was dead and that, yes, China has a CMMB market "but it wasn’t so huge."
After spending seven months investigating the Chinese market, Levy didn’t return completely empty-handed. While there, he stumbled into an opportunity to sell DiBcom's chips into set-top boxes heading for Latin America. He started working with manufacturers in Shenzhen, who were making DTV set-top boxes for the Argentina market. DiBcom was at the time already working with Freebox on DTV set-tops for Europe, so Latin America represented a new market for his DTV tuner technology.
At a crossroads, DiBcom could shift its mobile TV focus from mobile handsets to the automotive or set-top box markets. Levy was familiar with the auto market since DiBcom had developed a tuner capable of high-speed mobile reception that accounted for Doppler effects. Meanwhile, the set top market was growing, especially in Latin America.
“This made the M&A process interesting,” recalled Levy, and a bidding war for DiBcom began in early 2011 -- one from the STB market and another from the auto sector. Levy went with Parrot, a French car telephony specialist. Parrot paid $45 million for DiBcom in an all-cash deal, allowing Levy to return some money to its investors.
The former DiBcom team is now poised to take advantage of Parrot’s business relationship with leading auto manufacturers, while it has been able to add new Tier-One car companies to Parrot’s customer list, said Levy. His team continues to pursue "Octopus," a software-defined radio chip that addresses several global DTV and digital radio standards.
Levy now serves as executive vice president of Parrot’s digital tuner business unit. A majority of DiBcom’s fomer employees based in France and China also joined Parrot. Levy said he is happy with the way things turned out. “Parrot is a good mid-sized company that’s still growing.”
Parrot wasn't the end of Levy's rainbow, but the new owners retain the energy of a tech startup, which is more than enough to get the former DiBcom CEO out of bed each morning.