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Tomorrow, I'll be talking about one of Lucio Lanza's latest areas of interest, having had breakfast with him recently. But I thought I'd also republish a blog post that resulted from a chat that I had with him that I did a few years ago.
In 2014, Lucio Lanza won the Phil Kaufman award. One distinction that he has is that he actually worked closely with Phil early in his career before his untimely death on a business trip to Japan. So I went along to his office in Palo Alto to hear the story of how Lucio got from Italy to be one of the few venture capitalists that still invests in EDA and the semiconductor ecosystem.
Even if you have never met him, it would be a reasonable guess from his name that Lucio Lanza is Italian. And you’d be right. He grew up in Milan and went to Politecnico di Milano. He read lots of philosophy in high school, but decided if he was going to affect the world he had better study engineering. So he got a degree in electronics doing work on satellite communication. In those days, the politecnico was short of funds and so of the 1000 people in each year’s intake, only 25 were allowed to study electronics due to the cost of the labs. But as a result, they had their pick of jobs in Italy. Lucio graduated and decided to go to Olivetti. In a weird coincidence, many years later, they would do a big strategic agreement with VLSI Technology, where I worked, and I would find myself in Ivrea a couple of times, essentially an Olivetti company town outside Turin/Milan. Back then they were most famous for typewriters and the company-owned hotel in town (long since closed) even looked like one. Olivetti decided to move aggressively into electronics. It was a huge company with 65,000 employees at the time. They set up a group of 17 people in downtown Milan with Lucio. He designed the 16-bit CPU that made Olivetti a leader in machines for banking and stole business from NCR, Siemens, Ericsson, and others. The group, now 65 people strong, got moved to corporate headquarters in Ivrea and put in charge of all electronics. A big decision was who should be the semiconductor partner. They split their microprocessor into parts and then asked companies if they could build it. The first partner was Monolithic Memories (after Intel, Motorola, and others had turned them down). Then AMD wanted to become a second source for military applications, and that became the well-known AMD 29000 bit-slice technology. It was Lucio’s processor chopped up.
They started to work with Intel. But the processor itself was only 5% of the system cost; they needed a portfolio of peripherals, too. Olivetti standardized on Intel’s 8080, so for a year or two, Lucio worked for Intel, paid for by Olivetti (with no Intel stock!). In 1977, Lucio realized this was a stupid compensation plan, and joined Intel working on peripherals. Then he was in charge of the 186 and then strategy for microprocessors. But at Intel, strategy does not mean you make decisions, you just run the process by which decisions are made. One key person was the head of the engineering team, who was Phil Kaufman (yes, the Kaufman award guy). Next was Ethernet. At this point Xerox had created Ethernet but were basically the only user of it. Communication protocols were all controlled by the phone companies. But Lucio realized that if they could make Ethernet a standard, then they would control the protocol and bypass them. They needed Xerox (customer), Intel as a semiconductor manufacturer, where they both worked, but also a system company. Phil and Lucio flew to Italy and unsuccessfully tried to convince Olivetti to be that company. Lucio already knew everyone there, so it was the obvious choice. They flew back to the US despondent. The very next day, they called Gordon Bell (in another weird coincidence, he was chairman of the board at Ambit, where I would later be the VP Engineering) and asked if DEC would be the system company and he said yes on the spot. It was a big gamble for everyone since at the time Ethernet had precisely two customers, Xerox PARC and University of Hawaii, who had developed the original Aloha protocol on which Ethernet was based. So a market of two. It seems Phil Kaufman had an amazing ability to convince people. So that was how the original DIX (DEC-Intel-Xerox) “blue book” Ethernet standard happened and the start of what made Ethernet such a dominant networking technology.
Another Intel colleague, Aryeh Feingold, had left to found Daisy Systems. Phil Kaufman left to go to Silicon Compilers. After a little dance, Daisy convinced Lucio to join Daisy, which is how he got into EDA (although back then we called it CAE, computer-aided engineering). He started in a fairly junior position since he had to earn his stripes, and a few months later was VP marketing. He stayed for three years.
Daisy realized that they couldn’t sell into the core semiconductor groups of semiconductor companies since the groups already had their own workstations and software. In those days, every big semiconductor company had a huge internal EDA group who developed design tools since, in most domains, there was nothing available to purchase. However, the people who would accept them were the designers in system companies who didn’t really have IC design expertise. So they started a huge program to make it easy to go to foundries by supporting all their libraries. They educated system companies to ask the question “Which CAE workstation supports your library/foundry?” and Daisy had 12, which was a lot more than anyone else. Once they had traction there, they started to get into the semiconductor companies, too. So that is the story of how Lucio Lanza got into EDA.
Lucio did a lot of consulting on strategy for EDA companies while also being a partner at USVP, before he founded his own fund Lanza TechVentures. One of those companies was Cadence. To quote Joe Costello, who was Cadence's CEO back in that era:
Lucio had a true gift for anticipating the products and technologies that would soon be needed by our customers. Sometimes his insights were controversial but his predictions were always right on.
A few of Lucio's investments that ended up as part of Cadence were: Forte, Cadmos, Chronology, Cynapps, and Jasper. You can see the whole portfolio, past and present.