“You can’t replace three expert engineers with three warm bodies,” he says. The traditional outsourcing model wouldn’t save money for most companies, he stresses, because design engineers with substantially less experience in outsourcing outfits often miss deadlines. In the world where “a window of success is rapidly shrinking,” even a three-month delay in product launch could cost a company dearly, Bagalkotkar explains.
Turning the conventional outsourcing wisdom on its head, Synapse Design goes to tier-one chip companies and system vendors, pitching its services to help clients “expand” their business, according to him.
The company’s website bluntly states:
Synapse Design target customers are companies with $1 billion in revenue, and we enable them to meet their technical & resource challenges to build the next generation products.
Bagalkotkar explains that at a time of economic crisis, clients are often forced to shrink their workforces and product portfolios. “But what they can’t afford to cut are their flashy key product lines.” That’s where Synapse Design comes in. “Our mission is to help them design their next-generation SoCs with cutting edge technologies,” not low-end products destined to become obsolete.
From fabless to design-less
The world has already seen a number of design service companies pop up. Some have stayed and others have already gone. These outfits range from small for-hire design houses to larger design service companies like eSilicon and VeriSilicon. Some chip vendors have gone not only fabless, but also design-less. Riding this wave are design service companies.
So, how’s Synapse Design different? Bagalkotkar says that he doesn’t see any of the existing design service companies as competitors. He noted that others tend to work with second or third-tier chip companies, and the focus of their service is often geographically limited.
In contrast, Synapse Design targets tier-one’s and Fortune 500 companies, and “we offer our services globally,” he says.
Further, Synapse Design’s COO Gautam pointed out that the biggest difference lies in the scale and breadth of the experience Synapse Design has accumulated.
“Compare what we do with many of the largest chip and system companies we work for,” says Gautam. Any given large chip or system companies “will generate fewer than a handful of new IC designs each year, while we work dozens.” More SoC tapeouts mean more opportunities for Synapse Design teams to improve its products and workflow. “This provides us and our customers with a tremendous advantage over the typically small design services houses,” he sums up.
The scope of the design work Synapse Design offers varies depending on its clients and their specific needs. When big companies such as AMD, Broadcom, IBM, and Hewlett Packard are reportedly laying off skilled workers, it’s safe to assume that Synapse Design will be trying to sign them up.
“Large companies are susceptible to recessions,” says Bagalkotkar. “Our mission is to offer flexibility and adaptability to our clients.” Typically, while slashing their design teams, large companies can’t simply walk away from an existing business that provides the lion’s share of revenue. Further, he says, “They don’t want to get a black eye from their customers.”
As he puts it, Synapse Design typically asks clients about their problems and intentions, then makes recommendations. After an agreement is signed, Synapse Design’s team parachutes in and closely works with its clients so that “they can still design new products while wrapping out their business.”
Synapse Design 2.0
Synapse Design now wants to take its business further, because it often sees missed opportunities for its clients.
For example, some of Synapse Design’s clients could have easily added the third or fourth products to expand their businesses, but they often walk away from those potential opportunities because they think they no longer have the bandwidth to continue their designs.
He says, “All we are asking our clients is to let us develop those third and fourth products. We’ll take the risks of developing those new products. But if these newly designed products do well on the market, we’d like to be in a position to share profit with our clients.”
Will Synapse Design’s clients accept such a proposal? The transformation from being a “subcontractor” to a fully-fledged partner is easier said than done. Under Synapse Design’s proposal laid out by him, his clients will still remain in full control of their brands, marketing, and sales.
Struggling Japanese consumer electronics companies, such as Sony Corp., for example, might be ideal candidates. Sony, under pressure to winnow down its product portfolio and design teams, still needs to come up with the next whiz-bang products. Synapse Design believes it can contribute, either by helping the company design next-generation products or work to develop a new model, such as a subscription-based consumer electronics hardware business.
But as Bagalkotkar acknowledges, without Sony knowing who Synapse Design is and the miracles it has wrought, Synapse Design won’t have a fighting chance to knock on Sony’s door. That’s why Synapse Design has come out of the closet and begun talking.
— Junko Yoshida, Chief International Correspondent, EE Times