This weekend I was in the pits for the Flying Lizard Motorsports team at the Monterey Grand Prix. It was an auction item (donated by eSilicon) at EDA’s 50[SUP]th[/SUP] Anniversary party last year, and let me tell you it was an amazing experience and a very interesting story, absolutely. But first let me tell you that if you get a “Hot Lap” ride around a racetrack and the driver asks you how fast you want to go just tell him “no limit” and hold on for your life!
The Flying Lizard team founder and lead driver is Seth Neiman. Seth was a vice-president at Sun Microsystems, a founder of Brocade Communications Systems, and served as a lead investor and board member of networking companies: Foundry Networks, Avanex, iPass, Shoreline, Juniper Networks and NexPrise. I’m guessing Seth wanted to be a race car driver when he was a kid? Seth was also lead investor of eSilicon, one of my favorite disruptive fabless semiconductor companies. eSilicon is a sponsor of Flying Lizards and that is how I met Seth.
Jack Harding, the founding CEO of eSilicon, gave my beautiful wife and I the tour and primer on racing. Prior to eSilicon Jack was President and CEO of Cadence replacing Joe Costello. Jack came to Cadence from the $420M acquisition of Cooper and Chan Technology (CCT). Before he was CEO at CCT, Jack was Executive Vice President of Zycad which is where I first met him. Quite a few Zycad people followed Jack Harding to Cadence, unfortunately I was not one of them. Ever the contrarian, I went to Avant! which was later acquired by Synopsys after being sued into submission by Cadence. There was quite a bit of controversy behind the Cadence departures of both Joe and Jack but I will leave that to you folks in the comment section.
You can read a brief history of eSilicon in the ASIC chapter of “Fabless: The transformation of the Semiconductor Industry” which is now available in print on Amazon.com. Much like what TSMC did for the fabless semiconductor industry, eSilicon transformed the ASIC business model into a success based relationship with customers. All current fabless ASIC companies now use this model where instead of paying design and manufacturing costs up front, customers purchase working chips. This success based business model has resulted in hundreds, if not thousands of design starts that we may have never had. Jack Harding and Seth Neiman are both semiconductor industry heroes, absolutely.
After watching the Flying Lizards in action I can tell you that designing an ASIC today is not much different than winning an American LeMans race. Both require an absolute team effort. Members of the team each have their specific expertise and everyone depends on each person to be excellent at what they do. And if any one person on the team or any one tool fails an entire race can be lost. The difference is with an ASIC an entire company can be lost.
eSilicon, the largest independent semiconductor design and manufacturing services provider, delivers custom ICs and custom IP to OEMs, independent device manufacturers (IDMs), fabless semiconductor companies (FSCs) and wafer foundries through a fast, flexible, lower-risk path to volume production. eSilicon serves a wide variety of markets including the communications, computer, consumer, industrial products and medical segments.