I have to admit I missed this item of news that came out last October.
And the news was that successful MEMS company InvenSense had announced that its founder and CEO, Steve Nasiri, would be stepping down from the company. He stayed on the board of directors until the end of the year to provide a smooth transition to his replacement as CEO, Behrooz Abdi.
But now Nasiri is gone from the company. It feels like it was a rather hasty exit and it leaves behind a mystery.
InvenSense Inc. (Sunnyvale, Calif.) is a supplier of motion-tracking components based on inertial MEMS sensors. It was the first fabless chip company to breakthrough in the MEMS sector and under Nasiri's guidance went from startup founded in 2003 to becoming a public company in November 2011. It remains one of the beacon examples that there continues to be life in the semiconductor startup cycle if investors are prepared to look for the places where technology truly solves problems for customers and creates value.
And for the preceding eight years a lot of the energy of the company came from founder Nasiri who drove the outsourcing of the so-called Nasiri manufacturing process to foundries TSMC and Globalfoundries. This was not only to allow them to be dual-source suppliers of InvenSense CMOS MEMS components but also to open the process up to other would-be fabless MEMS companies.
What is not clear is whether Nasiri, having taken InvenSense public, felt his work was done and wanted to:
a) take a rest;
b) try a different challenge;
c) just return to private company roots – where many entrepreneurs do feel happiest.
A fourth possibility is some sort of board room coup which imposed the transition to a new CEO.
The form of words used in a transcript of a conference call to discuss InvenSense's fiscal second quarter suggests it wasn't Nasiri's choice. Such transcripts are not always 100 percent accurate but Nasiri reportedly said that the board felt that it was time to transition to a new CEO. He was also reportedly asked about what he might do next and said he hadn't thought that far ahead and didn't have any plans to start another company.
Which all sounds a bit stilted and doesn't clear up the mystery at all.
But InvenSense's loss could be another company's gain. In terms of guiding fabless chip company startup through that difficult incubation period – where so many fail – he has been there and done it. That experience is probably worth at least a couple of million dollars from the venture capital and strategic investor community.
Besides the mystery of his departure there are the questions about his future. Will Nasiri have the appetite to do it all over again? And will he want to do it in the MEMS space where he has extensive knowledge and experience but could be continually rubbing up against his old company? And then again companies often get lawyers to write non-compete clauses into settlements made with departing executives, which might limit Nasiri's freedom to operate in the sector for a while.
Although he has decades of deep MEMS experience he may prefer to start with fresh technology or work in a different way as a business angel guiding a next generation of entrepreneurs. If Nasiri does decided to plunge back into the startup pool he will need, and I wish him, good luck.
David Patterson, known for his pioneering research that led to RAID, clusters and more, is part of a team at UC Berkeley that recently made its RISC-V processor architecture an open source hardware offering. We talk with Patterson and one of his colleagues behind the effort about the opportunities they see, what new kinds of designs they hope to enable and what it means for today’s commercial processor giants such as Intel, ARM and Imagination Technologies.