Some time ago I had the opportunity to talk to Ghislain Kaiser, the CEO and co-founder of Docea Power. Docea is a French, power and thermal analysis company. Their Aceplorer model is a common XML-based description for capturing power behavior from informal requirements. It then generates power intents according to the UPF (Unified Power Format) description, enabling power intent specifications to be created and managed at any stage of the design flow.
The company was founded in 2006. I asked Ghislain what made you tackle the ESL power problem?Ghislain
: I spent about 10 years at ST Microelectronic, mainly in multimedia groups and for the wireless market. At this time, I was a power expert and tasked with making the chips use less power. I needed to find new solutions and that required tools to help us improve the design. The first thing I did was to look at what tools existed on the market. We wanted to use things off the shelf where possible. Unfortunately I couldn’t find what I needed. I had a precise idea about what I wanted and decided to leave ST and create my own company. I knew what the market needed and there was no solution.Did you look at creating the tool inside of ST?Ghislain
: My first feeling was to create the tool outside just because of my entrepreneurial spirit. When I told my management about it, they tried to persuade me to create the tool within ST. I asked them – what will happen during the next reorganization? The first guy to lose his job will be me because the purpose of the company is not to create tools. It is to design chips. I also didn’t think it would be the best environment in which to do this and so with the blessing of ST, the company was formed.
So, you left ST. You were an engineer and then suddenly you are about to become the CEO of the company. How did you deal with that?Ghislain
: I have long had the entrepreneurial spirit so after about three years after starting at ST, I made the choice to go back to school and get an MBA. I didn’t know if it would be useful or not, but there was something inside of me that was sure that I would find the opportunity to create something. So, I didn’t have any experience managing a company, but I like challenge and I like learning new things. During the first year, when we were developing the tool, I had the opportunity to attend a one year course about how to manage a startup given by the best business school in France. They teach you how to raise funds, how to manage intellectual property etc. After that, you learn in the field.
You don’t need the same skills at the beginning of a startup as you do when you have $3 or $4m in revenue, or $10M or approaching an IPO. At each stage you need different skills. So you either learn very quickly or you need someone else to help you get that experience.
Did you try and get funding immediately or did you bootstrap for a while?Ghislain
: We decided at the beginning not to get funding. After one and half years I decided to look for some funds. When you start a company many people tell you to raise funds immediately. I was lucky to find a venture capitalist that was willing to invest in Docea. I had all of the term sheets in October of that year and the business plan showed that we needed funds by the end of the year. Three weeks later, the VC called me and told me that the business model for their seed fund has not been accepted by the bond holders. We would have been their first investment. So suddenly my source of funds disappeared. Luckily I had a plan B.
Plan B was to continue bootstrapping and to provide some services to finance the development of the tool. It worked. It may not work for everyone, but it worked for us. It allowed us to proceed without any funds for four years. In 2010 we decided to have first round of funding to deploy the tool worldwide. We had our first customer and the prospect of others. While I didn’t really want to raise funds, we had no choice in order to do the expansion.