In order to establish differentiation or to tout a significant strength of a company or a product line marketeers create new terminology or acronym such as DFT for Design for Test (or Testability) or DFM for Design for Manufacture (or Manufacturability). There are so many terms that one can speak of Design for “ilities”. Of course every design team is concerned with these metrics but a given design tool might be especially well suited to improve a design in these areas. A relatively new term is DFY for Design for Yield. DFY might be considered a subset of DFM or a new generation of DFM. Ponte Solutions is a startup firm in this DFY space. I had an opportunity to interview Jerry Rau who has recently joined Ponte as VP of Worldwide Sales.
Would you give us a bit on our background?
My background is a combination of semiconductor and EDA, a variety of different positions. My background is actually chemical engineering from MIT a long time ago. My first job was working in a fab which turns out to be relevant to my new position. When I was in the fab, I got interested in the business side and moved into marketing. From there I went to LSI Logic. While I was there I got a masters degree from Stanford in Material Science, semiconductor physics kind of stuff. I went to LSI Logic as a project manager. I was there a few years learning about the ASIC model. Then I went to Synopsys as product manager for version 1.2, so quite early there. I had a lot of different jobs at Synopsys. Went into business development and ultimately into sales. I came back around to get back into a smaller company, Ponte Solutions, and sort of put it all together into a role in a software company where most of the people around me have a background in semiconductor as well. Our mission is to bridge the physical world of what's going on in the fab in terms of defects and yield loss into the design side.
On Ponte's website your biography states “As IP & Professional Services Sales Director at Synopsys, Rau's leadership addressed significant IP license issues faced in the emerging China market.” What were those issues and how did you address them?
As you know China has a less than robust IP protection environment. While I was at Synopsys, one of my jobs was managing a sales team selling IP and professional services for Synopsys' products in the Asian market, in particular China. We had sort of a conflict. We wanted our product to be sold in the fastest growing market in the world but at the same time you are sort of (I am not sure of the right phrase) feeding the tiger. You are selling IP, you sell it once. If it's misused, it could undermine all future sales efforts. We had a great hesitation about putting out our very valuable IP into the China market. We addressed it in two ways. First, we did security audits of global thinking companies in China (I won't name them). The very biggest companies in China are trying very hard to overcome whatever bad image the China market has for IP protection. They are actually protecting IP probably better than anyone else in the world. We really dug into what they are doing to understand whether we could trust that environment or not. The second thing we did was the IP we were selling in most parts of the world was at the RTL level which is highly transportable. We looked at how we could harden the IP in a manner that when it was delivered into China, if it got out, it would do much less damage but it would be still useful to complete the design phase.
Again your biography says you managed third party sales channels. Mostly in Asia?
Yes, mostly in Asia. I took that job when Synopsys acquired Avanti. We suddenly acquired all the third party channels that Avanti had. They had many more than Synopsys at the time, mainly throughout Asia. As part of that acquisition and building out the sales channel, we decided to keep some of those on board although there were a few scattered throughout the other channels.
It is not unusual for a company to have overseas partners who understand the local culture, language and business processes. But these partners can be hard to control and may not have sufficient focused resources.
Coming from Synopsys you could make them focus, if you wanted to, because you have enough product line that they can dedicate resources or you can say this overlaps with our direct sales force and we would like to find a way to transition it in. Distribution from the perspective of a Synopsys is very different than that of small company.
What attracted you to move from Synopsys, an industry leader, to a small company like Ponte Solutions?
When I joined Synopsys, it was a small company. I was number 100 or so. It was a small company that had a great product that customers were clamoring for. I got to be part of some fantastic growth. Honestly throughout my career I was always saying to myself that I am a startup kind of guy, a guy who wants to create things. But the ride was too much fun at Synopsys, doing great things and growing to over a $1 billion. What really attracted me to Ponte is that when you talk to a customer about what Ponte does and the whole design for yield type of market, the return on investment and the need is just absolutely apparent. In so much of EDA you get into these conversations about saving engineering man-days and time to market. Everyone puts up the same slides, waves the flag around that without a whole lot of differentiation. When I am visiting customers from the Ponte side absolutely everybody rallies to that and says “Wow, if you could save us 1% on yield or help us reduce the die size without killing the yield that goes directly to cost savings and to the bottom line.” Finally I saw a company that looks like it could really make a difference in the business model of our customers. It was too exciting to pass up.
Would you give me an overview of Ponte Solutions?
The company was started about 3 years ago. I wasn't here at the time so I don't have all the details about what the motivation was. What we are focused on is what I would call third generation DFM or DFY (design for yield). It is very customer driven. The first generation of DFM was companies like TDS that are really helping companies define the process control window. That's completely on the fab side that says that the window on this edge is from A to B and as long as you are in that window we expect the transistors to function and the metal won't evaporate and so on. The second generation of DFM is what I would call optical enhancement of the GDS. Make a mask so that when you shine light through it, it won't degrade. This is commonly called RET for resolution enhancement techniques. You are probably familiar with a lot of companies doing that. That's a fairly big market and a valuable one. A lot of investment is going there. The third generation is what we are doing which is to take the failures that happen on the manufacturing side and capture them in a way that designers can do something about that, to anticipate that if I design this way my yield will suffer or if I design it this way, my yield may be better and drive my yield numbers up from the design side not just from the standpoint of can I get the process operating within this window.
The company began life as E-Z-CAD. Why did the company change its name to Ponte Solutions?
I think E-Z-CAD doesn't really describe what the company does. It doesn't help build a brand. It doesn't help people understand what it does. Ponte on the other hand is nice, it's easy to remember. It actually means bridge in Italian. That's what we are doing - building a bridge from manufacturing to design. So it sort of makes sense. It's a very nice name, short, and memorable. When it is dissected it has some relevance to this market.