A Footwasher Media Analysis
By Lou Covey, Editorial Director
The acquisition of Magma Design Automation by Synopsys was arguably the biggest story of the Electronic Design Automation (EDA) industry in 2011. It will also most likely end up being the biggest EDA story of 2012 as well.
Most observers were stunned at the news, and not because it was an unlikely fit. It's actually a great fit and gives Synopsys a virtual stranglehold on the digital IC design market. It was improbable because of the deep-set enmity between the two companies, especially between the two CEOs, Aart DeGeus and Rajeev Madhavan. Both companies launched multiple lawsuits against each other over the past decade claiming patent infringement on a variety of technologies, all of which have been resolved prior to the acquisition but left scars throughout both companies. As one source that spent time as an employee in both companies said, "It was personal for some people and just business for others but it was pervasive.”
The acrimony between DeGeus and Madhavan often manifested publicly. DeGeus would often be absent from CEO panels where Madhavan was present, and Magma employees and supporters made sure the industry noted that Madhavan was often
not invited when the leadership of Cadence, Mentor Graphics and Synopsys were represented.
Madhavan also perennially accused Synopsys of deliberately undercutting prices in large package deals, a charge DeGeus vehemently denied, perennially. To Synopsys' defense, however, it was an unofficial industry-wide practice, according to Jeff Jussel, senior director of global technology marketing at element14. Jussel is a former ASIC designer and EDA executive (including marketing director at Magma) and is leading element14's push into embedded and electronic design services.
There was so much competition between the big four it drove a never ending spiral of ever cheaper prices. Better results, better productivity, but less and less money for the developers of that technology. The big guys could deal with it better because they had the big "all you can eat" deals. 1 million for one year, 3 million for two years, 4 million for five years. The deals looked bigger, but the terms were getting longer and the price per seat was coming down. It started killing the innovation in start-ups because there was so much pressure on margins that there was nothing left to buy from the start-ups, and the start-ups were getting pushed to the side by the deals," said Jussel. "The practice squeezed innovative start-ups out of the market because they couldn't compete and be profitable.”
Synopsys bought many failed start-ups for the cost of assets alone, eliminating competition and gaining valuable technology with little investment. As this practice continued industry wide, investors saw little upside in funding new start-ups and, at present, there is virtually no interest in funding new companies that have no chance of an IPO nor of being acquired for a premium over investment. This is where the acquisition of Magma may have the greatest potential for energizing the moribund industry.
First, it consolidates the industry nicely. Synopsys holds digital, Cadence leads in analog and mixed signal, and Mentor dominates embedded design. The lawsuits and undercutting that decimated the start-ups will be a thing of the past. Customers will have to pay what the vendors ask or be forced to build their own solutions...or look to start-ups. Which brings us to the second reason.
At $507 million, it is the single largest acquisition in the industry's history, eclipsing Cadence's acquisition of Cooper & Chyan Technologies for $428 million in 1997. When combined with the Ansys purchase of Apache Design for more $310 million and a handful of other smaller deal this year it helps release nearly a billion dollars of cash into the pockets of investors and founders. All of these deals will be concluded before the Design Automation Conference in San Francisco this July. Conservatively, the industry could see $100 million of that invested in new technology before the end of 2012.
And who will be leading that charge? None other than Rajeev Madhavan.
Madhavan could be called the single most successful entrepreneur in the EDA industry. He was a founder of LogicVision, a company that was sucked up by Mentor Graphics for $13 million in Mentor stock. He founded Ambit to attack the Synopsys logic synthesis hegemony, using guerilla marketing techniques to grab market share and, in the end, sold out to Cadence for a quarter billion dollars. Madhavan reinvested much of his take into founding Magma, which went from start up to IPO in short order. Combined with the Ambit valuation, Madhavan-founded companies account for over $700 million in corporate value. No other single entrepreneur has those kind of results in their resume.
The sale agreement precludes Magma or Synopsys representatives' speculation on who stays and who goes. There are those who hope Madhavan stays put for some time and he must make that commitment for the sake of the deal. But no one believes that DeGeus will want his nemesis hanging around the office coffee bar any longer than is necessary, and he will have followers as he goes out the door.
"I expect Rajeev to be gone within days of the deal being done," Jussel stated.
That is not to say there will be a mass exodus. According to Jussel, Magma has "some of the most intelligent and best educated people in the industry who love creating technology for IC Design. They're working for the customers, not the logo." Those are the people that Synopsys want to keep, and they will be very generous to them.
DeGeus has stated that the talent of Magma was what was important to Synopsys, not the technology, so does that mean Magma's tools are going away? Jussel laughed at that question. "We'll see how that works out. The existing installed base loves the Magma tools so they will continue to support those product lines or lose the business altogether."
But there will be business minds with wads of cash in their pockets that won't be as welcome. The doors of start-ups will be wide open for these people. That is very good news for an industry that has limped along for much of the past two decades and whose lack of consistent innovation has held back the semiconductor industry as well.
Was the Synopsys Magma deal good for the industry? Tell us why.