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50 Smartest Companies of the Year 2019

An Interview with Rene Donkers, Fractal Technologies Inc Co-founder and CEO: ‘Our Mission is to Make the Quality of Your Design Formats an Asset for Your Business’

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“Our customer base includes 50 percent of the top 20 semiconductor companies.”

Fractal Technologies Inc is a privately held company with its headquarters in Los Gatos, California. It has a development site in Ospel, the Netherlands, and has distributors in Japan, Korea, China and Taiwan. The scope of Fractal Technologies products is to check consistency and validate all different data formats used in designs and subsequently improve the Quality of Standard Cell Libraries, IO libraries and general-purpose IP blocks (Digital, Mixed Signal, Analog, and Memories). Fractal Technologies offers Crossfire software as well as services and customization.

The company was incorporated in 2010.

Rene Donkers, Fractal Technologies Inc Co-founder/CEO,

spoke exclusively to The Silicon Review. Below is an excerpt.

Why was the company set up? And how did you expand your company and its offerings over the years?

From experience with previous companies, we have seen the need for IP validation as part of the chip design flow. The EDA (electronic design & automation) industry provides a broad offering of EDA tools to design chips or part of chips called IP blocks. QA and IP validation of such IP blocks historically has always been done by internal developed scripts and tools developed by chip design companies because no commercial tool was available on the market.

We assumed that with moving to a new technology production node, the need for a commercial tool for IP validation will increase as maintaining internal tools and scripts is not core business for chip design companies.

With the introduction of our Crossfire tool suite, we have convinced our potential customers to replace internal tools with our IP validation solution. Starting with three customers in 2010/2011, we have now over 25 customers that decided to use Crossfire for IP validation.

Crossfire is the company’s groundbreaking technology that addresses QA challenges with usability features such as high-level reporting and Transport that allow the provider and the customer to exchange data on the fly, and run the same data set. The additional features that customers are keen on are the extensive viewing and debugging capabilities. Crossfire’s waiving mechanism allows the customer to waive certain errors, which in some cases are not important for them, with the added ability to put timestamps. The basic goal is to make sure that the IP is validated and consistent throughout the full design cycle from ideation to tape-out. To support more customers, Fractal Technologies continuously adds rules every year, now having more than 300 checks, supporting over 45 formats.

Our customer base includes 50 percent of the top 20 semiconductor companies.

What challenges did you face in your initial years? What can your peers learn from it?

I would split the mixed responses into two categories. The first one was certainly a response that came up in the first years of our existence: “Why would we engage with a small, 3-4 person company for our IP validation solution”? What if you do not exist anymore in two or three years? A valid question, of course, what sometimes needed a lot of convincing to have us accepted as tool providers for our IP validation solution!

During the years, mainly because of our customer base this became less of an issue. Actually these days our existing customer base is proof that our IP validation is accepted as the right way to move forward.

The second category is the fact that we compete with an existing internal solution available at all our potential customers. Questions such as – “our solution worked past years so why would we change” – are the argument we hear when talking to new customers. Only the past couple of years, also because of our customer base, it became easier for us to convince potential customers to start an evaluation and compare our IP validation solution with the used internal solution.

As mentioned above, the main challenges are “why should we work with a small company” and “our internal tool does the job”. Guess any start-up is a small company and if you do not believe in your own product it will be very difficult to convince potential buyers. Focus and commitment at the end of the day will make the difference. Deliver what you promise and never commit to anything you cannot deliver.

“Earning trust and respect of consumers all around the world is through consistent focus on delivering high quality in all of our actions.” How do you interpret this statement?

I would say we could have written this statement ourselves. When visiting our customers we always get confirmation that our customer support and response from development is highly appreciated. Can we do better? Of course, we can do better! Never convince yourself that your performance is good enough. There’s always room for improvement.

Do you have any new products ready to be launched?

The arrival of a new IP release close to tape-out is the high-risk scenario where IPdelta™ is indispensable. Anything that has ended up in this new IP release is a danger to the verification level already achieved. IPdelta™ will analyze the delta between the two IP revisions. Regardless of object ordering within files or databases, it will compare the contents of all individual databases, models, and formats and categorize the differences it finds. Certain changes are expected – and should, therefore, be complete in their implementation throughout the different views. Some, or many, changes can be unexpected, indicating that the IP-release contains updates that are not necessarily needed for the current design and require further investigation. As the number of changes can be huge, IPdelta™ offers users a sophisticated delta-browsing interface that allows users to quickly zoom in on changes that pose a real threat to timing and power closure. By comparing IP releases, IPdelta™ provides the confidence that only the expected updates are present in the new IP release so that insertion in the final design is safe.

Where do you see your company a couple of years from now?

Our main customers want us to be an independent company to QA the mainstream EDA design tools so I can see us still being independent for the next couple of years. We want to grow our position at our existing customers and the overall IP market to consolidate our de-facto certification standard position.

Rene Donkers: In His Own Words

I started my career at Sagantec. This is how I got involved in the EDA industry. I have a financial background, later became responsible for WW customer support and Operations Management. Nine years ago, we noticed a need in the design community for a standardized IP Validation approach to replace internal solutions, so Fractal was established by the three founding members and I ended up taking the CEO role.

Given our previous experience, we decided to build Fractal with the three founders as the only shareholders. From day one, we have been and still are privately owned, without external investors or loans. Our strategy is to grow the company by adding customers and investing the returns from PO’s in software- and application-engineers. Looking at where we are today, I would say we successfully pulled this off. Fractal now has a total of over 25 customers, 50 percent of which are top 20 Semiconductor companies, at the same time, we always have several evaluations on-going so we’re looking at good continued growth prospects.

“With the introduction of our Crossfire tool suite, we have convinced our potential customers to replace internal tools with our IP validation solution.”