Future Top Dog in the Cloud?
By Peggy Aycinena | April 27, 2011
Zak Homuth is Founder of startup Upverter. So far, the company's small and the product in alpha, but none of the Upverter (http://upverter.com/) guys think they're going to stay that way. Per Homuth, “In 10 years, we'll be the top dog in EDA!” Okay, so here's a rapid-fire Q&A with Homuth, conducted by phone in late April 2011. Take note of the responses, just in case his prophesy says turns out to be accurate.
Q – Cloud computing in EDA sounds good on paper, but if it's so intuitive, why aren't Cadence and Synopsys already doing it?
Homuth – From the startup point of view, the answer is that those companies have been around for 30 years, more or less, and most of their innovation is acquisition-based stuff. Most of their good talent has left, so innovation's no longer in their DNA. The web is a very different beast than writing desktop tools, the type of desktop software that the [established players in EDA] produce. Plus, [if they move to the Cloud], they'd be shooting themselves in the foot, cannibalizing and killing their own market. So, they can't do it technically, and they're very handicapped [by their legacy market position].
Q – Is it just a question of hiring younger engineers?
Homuth – If you're asking where the vision comes from, hiring younger engineers isn't the simple answer. But, it is true that the skills needed to build things for the web [require] a different mindset from those who have built traditional EDA tools. They could, however, possibly fill the void by buying somebody, or a company, who can do it.
Q – Even it they did buy it, how would they implement it if they don't have skill to do it?
Homuth – Again, for over 10 years the game for Mentor, Cadence, and Synopsys has been acquisition. They've bought lots of IP, and lots of big products [to add to] their product lines. But the effort's been very disjointed, and there's been an additional side affect from the acquisitions. Mentor, for instance, has 2 or 3 different competing product lines, different tools that actually compete with each other. It's just bizarre. So, if the big EDA companies bought [Cloud-based] technology, they wouldn't actually be able to integrate it, and it might even hurt some of them. Surely, however, they could work with companies who could help them take their desktop applications and convert them to the web.
Q – If the customers are accustomed to buying desktop applications from the traditional EDA vendors, how do you go about changing the mindset of the customers?
Homuth – Not to sidestep you question, but the problem we're trying to solve at Upverter is collaboration. People are isolated and not working together, so the question is: How do you give an editor and version control [to these people], so they can share their designs from scratch. At Upverter, we've distilled down that problem, and built an editor that's capable of [supporting] collaboration, with reference blocks that can be shared on the web.
As far as beating that [concept] into people's hearts and minds, it plays well into our grass-roots approach. [Our target customers] are the hacker and hobbyist community. A lot of them are software guys, lots are just consumers. Many of these people are doing electronics in their basements, and are never going to be buying hundreds of thousands of dollars' worth of design tools, so they don't have the baggage of traditional EDA. Their biggest problem is getting collaboration. We're talking about companies with 4 or 5 teams spread all over everywhere, where their current collaboration tool is just email.
Q – What's new in what you're offering compared to geographic and time zone collaboration tools that have been around for years?
Homuth – Yeah, there are great huge packages out there for revisions control, and the biggest companies today now use very simple collaboration open source project management tools like GIT. But, we've got a back-end that allows collaboration, and a front end that allows CAD. We know schematics, we know PCBs, and we're going to provide a better parts library that will allow designers to take [their projects] where they want to. If they want to replace their entire system with our product, that's great. If they just want to use a portion, that's great too.
Q – So where will you be in 10 years?
Homuth – Currently, we have a 3-to-5 year plan where there are several things we want to see happen. We want to see people collaborate on hardware, we want to see people share reference designs, and we want to be the GitHub for circuits. We want to be the focal point that will make a distributed hardware project really happen. We'll be filling the need for the best parts library on the web, and in the world, and as a result you're certainly going to see a lot more designs happening in the basement. We're going to start with those guys in the basement and help them work in the Cloud.
Meanwhile, we are preparing to launch our schematic editor in the next month, with our next major milestones and 6 month time line being a PCB editor and a Cloud router. We believe that if you're making PCB tools, you should be very nervous. We're only about 6 months away from parity with Altium – admittedly a pretty aggressive 6 months – where soon we're going to make the designer's life a whole lot better with professional level tools and Cloud-based collaboration. We're building tools that will help people build better real world things. It's really exciting.
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