We talked to Michael Hulse, founder of Agile Analog Ltd, about reinventing Analog IP and this is what he said about it.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Michael Hulse: We are doing well, thank you for asking. We, of course, have found ourselves in the middle of another lockdown, but as many are having to do we have adjusted (and struggled) to maintain a balance of helping our children with school work and working from home.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded Agile Analog.
Michael Hulse: The semiconductor ecosystem is a small world. Having started my career in the USA, I have found myself in the UK and still ran into many of the same people and having similar discussions on better ways to design analog IP. I have always had the interest to improve the processes of semiconductor design. These process improvements have come to evolve into a much better way to design analog IP within an IC (Integrated Circuit). The idea of how to create it was quite innovative; however, it was difficult to explain the disruptive nature of the solution when it was more of a process to create a product than the product itself. There is already a huge demand for analog IP, which is our product, as the market is heavily supply-side limited. It took a while, but I had to find investors and team members that understood the market in order to understand how disruptive our new technology really is. Once this happened, we have been progressing from strength to strength ever since.
How does Agile Analog innovate?
Michael Hulse: As mentioned, our company has a new way of designing Analog IP for circuits. Analog IP is basically building blocks used to make more complex features on a chip. Although many people process data in digital circuitry, the real world is still analog. This means that there is a need to interface with the real world and power the digital and memory components. For example, there are analog-to-digital converters and digital-to-analog converters to interface to the real world, there are power management blocks that power the chip in an efficient manner, and there are also clock-generating blocks that allow digital circuits to perform synchronously. These are just some examples of analog IP that are present in nearly every integrated circuit. We have a new and innovative strategy that allows us to generate these components efficiently while supplying the highest quality.
How does the coronavirus pandemic affect your business finances?
Michael Hulse: In the beginning, as with most businesses, we were not sure how it would affect us or our market. We have been fortunate to be in an industry that has not really lost too much of a step. We did some precautionary moves to ensure that risks were addressed, but in the end, we have been fortunate to not feel too much of a hit. It is unfortunate that there are some other industries that have not been as fortunate.
Did you have to make difficult choices regarding human resources and what are the lessons learned?
Michael Hulse: We did have a few decisions that were difficult, but overall we have been able to maintain the core of our company. As we are still very busy, we are currently recruiting and we have had to change how that process is handled. We now have employees that I have actually never met face-to-face and are critical members of the team. Before the restrictions started, that would be almost unheard of.
How did your customer relationship management evolve? Do you use any specific tools to be efficient?
Michael Hulse: This was a huge change. Our customers are worldwide. This would normally mean that we would spend time on airplanes and traveling the world to meet with our customers face-to-face. We now have customers that we have actually never visited and we are able to support while having many more conversations with people in more remote locations.
As for tools, we are fortunate that pre-lockdown we were already heavy Zoom and Slack users. When the lockdown restrictions in the UK were announced on a Monday evening, we had an all-company Zoom-call the next morning to discuss it without a hitch. Being used to organizing and using Zoom was very useful and made for a much easier shift to remote video calls and conferences.
Did you benefit from any government grants, and did that help keep your business afloat?
Michael Hulse: As mentioned before, we were concerned about some issues regarding how the lockdowns would affect us and we did make some precautionary moves, but the support we have used to date is not significant.
Your final thoughts?
Michael Hulse: We have been extremely fortunate to be in a position that we can continue to grow and develop our revolutionary technology. As demand for our products grows, our product portfolio also continues to grow and we are looking forward to seeing that growth accelerate. Our customers, our team members, and our other stakeholders continue to be supportive and positive as we move forward in generating new high-quality Analog IP for our customers. We look forward to the day when we can again be visiting our customers and meeting new people face-to-face.