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I had an interesting conversation with Michiel Ligthart and Rick Carlson of Verific. They have a unique niche in the EDA ecosystem. They provide parsers for SystemVerilog, VHDL, and IEEE 1801 (fka UPF). They really have no competition other than companies that develop their own parsers in-house, usually for historical reasons. For example, Genus and Incisive use Cadence's own parsers. However, smaller companies that Cadence has acquired had products that were (and continue to be) based on the Verific parsers. For example, JasperGold and RocketSim are Verific-based, as is CellMath, part of the Forte technology acquired a couple of years ago.
The Verific parsers are used by the whole FPGA industry (Xilinx, Altera, Microsemi/Atmel, Lattice, Achronix). A lot of semiconductor companies use the parsers for internal tools. In some cases, companies, such as IBM and Xilinx, have switched to Verific from their own internal parsers, as the cost of keeping them up to date, and especially the opportunity cost of having engineers working on something undifferentiated, has become prohibitive.
I asked them how Verific got started. Rob Dekker, the founder, and Michiel both worked at Exemplar. After Mentor acquired them, they stayed for a couple of years and then left around the same time. Rob had the idea to start his own verification company, and the first thing he needed was a Verilog parser, so he built that while he figured out what aspect of verification to attack. Meanwhile, Michael joined an asynchronous logic company. Some people in the industry heard that Rob was developing a parser and asked to license it. Suddenly he had three customers. The idea of what to do in the verification space never crystallized and so he kept working on the front end. Only the name of the company reflects the original idea of doing something in verification. When the asynchronous logic company where Michiel was working failed, Rob brought him on board. The company now has 14 people, six in the US and eight in Kolkata (fka Calcutta) in India.
For years, nobody starting a new EDA company, or creating an internal tool in a semiconductor company, even dreamt of developing their own parsers, as it takes one to two years to do. In the earlier days of Verific, people with an EDA idea would raise some venture capital, get an office and computers, hire some people, and buy a license of Verific. But since it is getting more and more difficult to get funding these days, that model is broken since startups can't afford to get a full license of Verific out of the chute.
So the business model has changed. Usually they provide a linkable library for free, without even requiring any paperwork. The startup can develop on top of it. This is the full version of what they will eventually license as source code. Of course, they can't ship product without getting a license, but even there a custom business plan is needed since money is still not available to pay up front. Eventually the amounts ramp up to the full price that every customer is charged.
They have kept focused on supporting IEEE standards. Initially Verilog, then VHDL. Then SystemVerilog when it became a standard. At DAC 2014, they added IEEE 1801 (UPF). They are also active on the standards committees. For example, the lead developer for the UPF parser is also on the IEEE committee and contributes to the standard. UPF 1.0 was basically a TCL extension so relatively easy to handle. With 3.0, it has changed and the Verific product is attractive. Currently the number of licenses is low, but it should increase over time.
I asked them how many licensees they have. Over the years they have licensed over 100 companies. Some have disappeared due to failure or mergers, and so right now they are just shy of 60 licensees. Many have more than one product so this is about 120 separate tools in a lot of different segments: logic simulation, DFT, IP insertion, synthesis, formal, RTL debug, and more.
There is no program for cold-calling potential customers. Most of them are off the radar when they start, so nobody would know who to call. But anyone starting an EDA company requiring parsers does know who to call, since there is only Verific. So Verific gets calls from people they have never talked to before asking how they get a license. Often they are people who have left a bigger company that used Verific, and now they are doing a startup.
So Verific owns the market, although it is not that big. But it is big enough to be attractive for a small company. China has never been a big market for them until recently, but they are starting to see a lot more activity there. At the risk of me sounding like a sales pitch for Verific, they run on 32- and 64-bit Linux, Unix, Mac, and Windows, with APIs for C++, Perl, and Python.
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