The Forte Corporate Culture and its Founder
Let’s pause here and define from 10,000 feet, the term “high-level synthesis software.” From all accounts, it enables electronics hardware engineers to work at a higher level of design abstraction.
Any story about Forte must start with Dr. John Sanguinetti, the EDA luminary noted for launching Chronologic in the 1990s and developing VCS, the Verilog Compiled Simulator, which is still in widespread use today.
After Chronologic was acquired by Viewlogic in 1994, he started looking for his next adventure. (As an aside, Viewlogic was itself acquired by Synopsys in 1997). Since Dr. Sanguinetti’s expertise was performance analysis and design verification, he understood that there were two basic problem areas in EDA –– logic verification and logic synthesis. He already had tackled logic verification; a closer look at logic synthesis seemed in order. For more than a decade, he had known that a change in abstraction levels from gates to RTL (Register Transfer Level --> see ”Acronyms” at conclusion of article) would improve design and verification efficiency, and that such a change might be enabled by logic synthesis.
Dr. John Sanguinetti
A true entrepreneur in every sense of the word, John is Forte’s CTO today. He is also a 2011 ACM Fellow for contributions to hardware simulation. He serves as a role model and mentor for many entrepreneurs and engineers and has been quoted as saying: “In a technical field like EDA, understanding the problem, and understanding the technology, are prerequisites.”
Since John’s name is synonymous with the word entrepreneur, let’s find out how that came to pass. “I was caught up in startup fever from my first year in the Valley (1982). Ardent was my first real startup (1986), but it was a big-time operation –– I was #24. After that, I knew I wanted to start something, but it took a while to figure out what.” That something was Chronologic.
John has been and continues as an active angel investor in the EDA industry, helping drive EDA technology and businesses forward. He has put “seed” funding into many EDA companies that have had successful exits, including Ambit, Magma, Moscape, CoDesign, Surefire, Hier Design, Innologic and, most recently, Nextop. John has been or is actively involved in more than 20 other ventures as an angel investor, mostly in EDA and many still going.
Becoming an Angel investor started innocently enough. “I was introduced to Rajeev Madhavan right after selling Chronologic to Viewlogic. Rajeev was trying to start Ambit, and I was interested right away.”
“I spent lots of time with Rajeev trying to pitch Ambit to interested VC’s. I not only made money on the investment, but gained a good friend, and felt like I had made a contribution to a worthwhile venture.”
John said he had no investment formula when he got started and referred to his early choices as “haphazard.” Many entrepreneurs approached him after his success with Chronologic and he found it hard to say no. After five or six years and a string of failures of promising ideas and technology in divergent fields, John restricted himself to EDA. “So far, none of my non-EDA investments had a positive return. All of my successes have been EDA.”
Influence on Forte
John’s technical vision, business acumen and hard-earned experience are strong parts of the corporate culture at Forte Design Systems.
Telecommuting has long been another hallmark of Forte’s corporate culture, something that’s far more common today with other companies than it was in 2001. Forte may be headquartered in San Jose, but it also has offices throughout the United States, including Pittsburgh PA, and Redmond WA, and international offices in England, Japan and Korea.
As Brett Cline, who works from Boston, pointed out, “It’s a small world. We may be in different states or on different continents, but we make use of all the available collaboration tools.” And it seems to be working.
The Forte team at DAC 49 in San Francisco in June 2012
Carving Out the High-Level Synthesis Market
In 1998, John Sanguinetti and two other engineers founded CynApps to create a higher level design environment, along with a synthesis product that would produce RTL code from higher level designs. A tool challenge and one not easily solved, and it took a long, long time, but Forte finally did it.
In this achievement we realize that this is where patience and fortitude paid off. Forte succeeded where other companies haven’t, by exhibiting dogged determination, winning over design teams one at a time, while the industry as a whole struggled to define the market category.
Long-time EDACafe readers might well recall the names of other companies with behavioral synthesis that morphed into architectural synthesis, ESL and algorithmic synthesis. None of the names stuck and their tools eventually failed. But Forte stayed on course with high-level synthesis, a term now widely adopted by the EDA industry, as the production-quality tools themselves go mainstream.
Success has finally come to Forte. John gives loads of credit to investors who believed in Forte and didn’t give up. In particular, Sam Lee, managing director at Infinity Capital, has been an investor since December 1999 and holds a board seat. Likewise, another EDA Luminary Lucio Lanza of Lanza techVentures participated in Forte’s Series A funding way back in November 1998 and has served continuously as chairman of the Forte board. “Stalwart” is the word John uses to describe both.
As an aside, investors in Forte’s first round of funding reads like a Silicon Valley Who’s Who: Andy Bechtolsheim, who was that series’ largest investor; Gordon Bell; Steve Blank; Paul Huang; and Jon Rubinstein.
Meet Sean Dart of Forte
Sean Dart is Forte’s CEO and is highly technical, an unusual combination in today’s business climate, but vital to an emerging EDA company. Sean grew up in a small town 400 miles north of Sydney, Australia, and moved to Sydney to study computer science at New South Wales University.
Forte CEO Sean Dart
His decision to study computers was a curious one, considering Sean had never seen a computer. The decision came after talking to career counselors. He was a good student in all subjects but preferred scientific studies. The advice he received was that computing was the up and coming field. This appealed to Sean because he could combine his interest in math with the practical, giving him an opportunity to merge the intellectual with a job. And, he loved it.