SAN JOSE, Calif. — A problem designing a demo board for a trade show led Natasha Baker to a career as an entrepreneur. Her story shines a light on the status of online design tools and provides a role model for women in tech.
As an employee of National Instruments, Baker was using a reference design to build an accelerator board linked to a steering wheel and a Nintendo emulator. A datasheet called for design symbols and footprints that she couldn’t find in her software tool. In her frustration, she saw the need for an online source of electronic design content, and the idea for SnapEDA was born.
At 25, Baker lacked the money as well as the programming and business skills to start an online software company. But she had plenty of drive.
“I tried to learn to code, but couldn’t find enough time with my full-time job at NI, so I quit and started learning how to program with online tutorials,” recalled Baker. “I’m an EE in analog electronics from the University of Toronto — that’s why I didn’t know how to code that well.”
The self-education worked. Her initial code base became the starting point for SnapEDA, which now serves more than 80,000 users in nearly 200 countries. She was the startup’s first customer and investor, bootstrapping her efforts for four years with contract work writing technical columns for Reuters and Forbes and programming for other websites.
In 2015, SnapEDA was admitted into the Y Combinator startup program. She moved to a house in Silicon Valley, where she lived and worked with her first few employees.
“We funded her because she had all the founder skills we look for,” said Dalton Caldwell, a partner at the Silicon Valley incubator that helped launch AirBnB and DropBox, among others.
“Her technical background was impressive and, having worked as a journalist, she was an effective communicator and had good industry connections — and she had a prototype built with real users.”
Baker worked and lived in a Silicon Valley “hacker house” with colleagues in the early days of the startup. (Images: SnapEDA)
Later, the fledgling company became one of the first to get funding from Angels By The Sea in nearby Santa Cruz.
“I was president of the group at the time and didn’t do much work as a class manager for startups, but for Natasha, I was willing because the company was in my field of electronics and I wanted to mentor a woman,” said Judy Owen, an EE who co-founded the investment group after a career working at Intel, SGI, and Chips and Technologies.
“Natasha’s a bright and wonderful person, very motivated, and she responds quickly to inputs.”
Through the Angels group, EDA veterans Chris Rowen and Jim Hogan became SnapEDA investors.
“I found her story compelling and invested, and after a short time, I upped my investment significantly — I’ve doubled down on every contact with Natasha because she continues to impress me with her ability,” said Rowen, who founded Tensilica, now part of Cadence.
Baker is an example of the delicate balance of skills that CEOs need, said Rowen. “You have to be confident enough to jump out of the airplane, but still ready to take help from any and everyone you meet on the way to Earth — it’s an unusual combination.”
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