This interview was held with Koen Verhaege, CEO of Sofics, June 2020
Link to article: https://anysilicon.com/ceo-talk-koen-verhaege-sofics/
Tell me a bit about your background? How did you first get started with your company?
I graduated from the University of Leuven, Belgium, with a degree in microelectronics in 1990 and started my professional career at IMEC in the semiconductor reliability group. My supervisor, Guido Groeseneken, supported me and gave me tremendous leeway to explore and build up solid knowledge and experience in on-chip Electro-Static Discharge (ESD) protection. I could connect with and learn from the most experienced engineers in Europe at that time – including Ajith Amerasekera, Fred Kuper and Xaver Guggenmos. At IMEC, Christian Russ was my early partner and key co-worker in ESD. I remain indebted to them for the launching of my career.
In 1996 I crossed the Atlantic Ocean to join Sarnoff Corporation (previously the Corporate R&D labs of RCA) in Princeton, New Jersey. My solution tool box was immediately expanded by a broad patented solutions portfolio which I took abroad to start a worldwide licensing business. In 2000 this business was spun out and relocated to Europe. That is when the seeds of Sofics were planted, at the time under the corporate name “Sarnoff Europe”, and majority ownership of Sarnoff Corporation.
Tell me about SOFICS ? When did you start ? What were you doing before that?
Sofics (which stands for “Solutions for ICs”) is the new name for Sarnoff Europe once we (my wife and I) bought out the company in 2009. Since 2000 we had built a strong customer base in Japan and the United States by introducing the licensing of on-chip ESD solutions that did not only deliver important technical benefits (needed to get engineering acceptance), but also focused on providing material and recurring financial benefits (needed to get management and royalty bearing licensing acceptance).
What problem did you see that needed to be fixed? What is your approach to solving that?
Initially our business targeted IDM companies who lacked intellectual property in our solution space. We took them on a trajectory of custom solution development while transferring our design methodology – everything adapted and geared to their processes and integrated circuit applications. Now, I would characterize this as “IP as a service”.
How was the role/offering of SOFICS changed during the recent years?
As the industry developed and the point of gravity moved towards the fabless model, we retargeted our efforts. The new models required us to pre-develop solutions in-time for new fabless projects. That is when we evolved to a true IP model: make once, sell many – which could only be successful if we were ready with solutions ahead of the design/process election curve.
The other significant change in our offerings was to augment our solutions with portfolios of devices with custom and more integrated solutions such as robust specialty I/Os and interfaces.
Did any of the market consolidation (or acquisition) affected your business and how?
It reduced the number of clients as many merged or were acquired. But luckily, we could always add new accounts as well. As an IP provider one should always keep the next step in the lifecycle of a customer in mind when granting licenses and conditions… so many times I heard the argument: but we are a small start-up… who in our experience can grow pretty big or can get acquired. There are other ways to support start-ups then giving away the store… that is my advice.
What is a typical customer for SOFICS?
Companies, large and small, working on integrated circuit designs – this includes foundries, fabless and design service or IP providers. Any one of those companies that require a specialty interface with either high normal operation specs (like high frequency, high speed, low leakage, over- or high voltage tolerance…) or harsh robustness specs.
Customers are focused on time-to-market, first-time-right, price, etc. Do you see a change in customer behavior in recent years? Where is the focus today and why?
This has always been and will always be very important. There is no room for an IP provider that cannot accelerate time-to-market, offer first time-right and provide a cost model than beats the alternative of competitive development. If anything, these factors are of growing importance as many if not all IC companies leverage the availability of IP in the various foundry eco-systems.
What are the 3 top things you wish your customers would do better (or different)?
As our success is locked with their success, I always want my customer to excel, to be a market leader and to maintain significant market share. We will guide them with the best of our insights to make sure that they select the proper level of robustness against a recurring sustainable cost. We do not advocate to abandon existing or foundry solutions in favor of ours – we only do that (and do it with vigor) when it provides them this benefit.
Are you currently hiring? What type of jobs?
Yes. We seek raw talent with ambition and if preferably with a skill set that matches our needs. We hire analog designers and semiconductor device physicists. But most of all: we hire good people who seek ownership of projects, challenges and problems.
What is your #1 advice for people who want to work for SOFICS?
Figure out before joining any company if you really want to work and spend your energy in a career with that company. Interview them while you are being interviewed. Do not loose track of the fact that once hired you will spend the majority of your daytime there. You should find happiness and joy in your work or you will never enjoy a nice work-life balance.
Where can one find more information?
Obviously, on our web site: www.sofics.com;
What is the best moment in your day?
Early morning when I am ready to tackle the day with my dreams and ideas. And early in the evening when we have succeeded that day in making our customers happy, having brought joy to our employees and living the moment that we did well once again.
How do you keep yourself energized and engaged during the day?
By interacting with all stakeholders: employees, agents and customers, and by ensuring minimum one hour of physical activity (usually walking or biking).
What is your preferred lunch discussion topic?
What’s up? How are you? How are the kids? What are your plans for the weekend, the holiday, your vacation?
How do you spend your time outside working hours?
It is imperative to travel the world in order to improve once understanding of it – both the world of today and the history than shaped it. I have been fortunate to be able to share such experiences with my wife and 4 kids (now young adults). Traveling all continents (except Antarctica – which is still an unfulfilled dream) has been checked off on my bucket list.