I had a chance to catch up with Ghislain Kaiser, CEO of Docea Power, a promising new startup based in France. Their product, Aceplorer, has been gaining increasing acceptance in the power and thermal management space. Ghislain was kind enough to share how they got started and some of the key things he has learned bootstrapping a new EDA startup. What follows is an edited transcript that I have added hyperlinks to for context.
Q: Can you talk a little bit about your background?
I'm CEO and one of two co-founders of Docea Power. The other founder is Sylvian Kaiser, my brother, who is CTO and R&D director.
I worked for STMicroelectronics as senior system architect on wireless applications and before that as project leader for the set-top box division. I have a Master of Science degree in Electrical and Computer Engineering from Supelec (Ecole Supérieure d'Electricité, France).
Sylvian worked at Infineon then TTPCom, covering multiple aspects of 3G/2.5G modem circuit design like system and algorithm definition, embedded software development and validation on FPGA and silicon. He has a Master of Science degree in Electrical and Computer Engineering from SupTelecom (Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Télécommunications, Paris, France).
Q: Can you talk a little bit about what led you to found your company, what was the problem that motivated you?
At ST I was in charge of defining power management strategy at system level for wireless applications like Application Processor engine. I had a second role which was to represent ST at MIPI consortium for system power management topics where I had the chance to work with the best power experts from the major semiconductor and system integrator companies.
Most of the time architects develop complex spreadsheets to estimate power consumption early in the design phase and drive implementation teams with specifications. But this approach is not scalable with the increasing complexity of the SoC and in an environment involving multiple teams over the world.
After visiting many companies and meeting many designers and architects I can say that the Excel spreadsheets represent 90% of the solutions used for power planning. The spreadsheets are a
quite good solution when the system is not too complex and dynamic analysis is not required.
In 2005 Sylvian and I believed two things:
- The spreadsheet approach would be no longer be satisfactory for the next generation of SoC designs.
- Temperature issues would become a critical constraint for more and more electronic applications because of:
- Increasing dependency of the leakage current with the temperature at each new technology node.
- Increasing integration capability also increases the power density and the pressure on costs of chip packages.
This led us to found Docea Power in 2006. We collaborated with research centers for two years to develop our first product, Aceplorer, which helps architects explore low power/temperature architecture.
Q: How did you get started?
In 2006 we started with $400k by winning the national innovation award organized by the French ministry of research. We also received grants also from European and national Research projects as we are involved in several collaborative projects. We had service revenue as well from customer engagements during our first two years.
Q: Can you give me a brief overview of where the company is today?
Aceplorer and our methodology have been adopted and deployed by several major chip and system manufacturers, including ST-Ericsson. At DAC 2010 we announced a common laboratory with CEA-Leti around 3D chip design which raises new challenges like low power / thermal architecture exploration.
Q: What are the two or three things that you have been able to accomplish that you take the most pride in or satisfaction from?
First, we bootstrapped Docea for almost 4 years. Our first round of funding was done only this year. It was not an easy exercise to develop a product, get the first customers and drive our solution to industrial maturity
Second, we have managed to raise an investment round in a tough context for EDA start-ups. Fortunately our revenue growth and strong customer references made it possible.
Q: What has been the biggest surprise? What was one key assumption you made, perhaps even unconsciously, that has caused the most grief?
The economical crisis was certainly the most unexpected event for us. Late 2008 corresponded to the launch of our first product Aceplorer but also to the beginning of economy slow down. The situation couldn't have been worse. Fortunately we were able to get our first customers in 2009.
Q: What development, event, or new understanding since you started has had the most impact on your original plan? How has your plan changed in response?
In our original plan we didn't anticipate the emergence of new standards related to power topic. In 2007 a new area of standardization appeared and two new standards started fighting : CPF first, proposed by Cadence, then followed by UPF driven mainly by Synopsys, Mentor Graphics and Magma.
We have modified our original roadmap to include support for both of these standards in our Aceplorer product.
Q: Any other remarks or suggestions for entrepreneurs?
Three things I have learned in the last four years:
- Cash flow is key when you are bootstrapping: understand where you are spending money, what commitments you have made on your cash, and when you are likely to see revenue.
- People make the difference, not the technology.
- Be more than a vendor, be a partner to your customers: you must collaborate with your customers, not just sell to them.
Q: Thanks for your time.