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Persuasion meets passion: Inside a $125 million MPU start-up

Posted: 28 Oct 2014 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:Soft Machines? start-up? microprocessors? x86?

Passion and persuasionthese are the two words that best describe Soft Machines, a microprocessor start-up that raises a hefty $125 million in funding. Its founders shared some of the story of how they survived seven years through a historic recession and the hurdles that still stand between the company and its first revenue.

[See also: Virtual cores edge out 32bit ARM, x86 chips]

Mahesh Lingareddy always saw himself as more an entrepreneur than an engineer. When he got out of college in the 1990s, he turned down his first job offers at established companies. Instead, he joined Rise Technology, a start-up designer of x86-compatible processors.

The biggest thing I learned is it's a roller coaster ride. One day, underwriters were pricing an IPO, and the next month, they couldn't get financing to make payroll, so their people left. The team will leave if you can't pay them.

I hung around for the next six months or so to sit with the CEO as he explained what happened. I learned you need to be pragmatic. If you get emotionally attached to a particular outcome, like being in The Wall Street Journal or having an IPO, you start making wrong decisions.

Later he joined Intel as an engineer, slowly climbing up its middle management ranks. Along the way, he met Mohammad Abdallah, a processor designer full of ideas and passion.

"He believed I could build a company, and I believed he could develop an architecture, so we left," Lingareddy said.

Mohammad Abdallah

After seven years in stealth mode, Mohammad Abdallah presented the first details of Soft Machines' technology at the Linley Processor Conference.

The two saw Intel hit the power wall with its Pentium 4 that failed to hit its 6GHz and 10GHz speed targets. In the shift to multi-core architectures that followed, Lingareddy and Abdallah thought they could plant their new company.

Lingareddy put together three slides and approached his former boss's boss, Intel vice president Albert Yu, who had recently retired after less-than-stellar experiences with Intel's P4 and Itanium projects. "He didn't want to be in chips at all anymore, but after two hours with him at the Santa Clara Marriott, he wrote us a $100,000 cheque." With the seed funds, Lingareddy hired a half dozen UC Davis students, who helped Abdallah build a simulator for his initial concepts.

Later, Lingareddy heard Gordon Campbell was giving a talk on the problems with faltering processor performance. The young CEO saw his opening and buttonholed Campbell after the talk.

Once again, Lingareddy proved to be persuasive. Campbell wrote a million-dollar cheque and became chairman of Soft Machines. Along the way, another former Intel executive, Richard Wirt, became a third angel investor.

The funds fuelled the start-up's work building a proof-of-concept prototype in an FPGA. "Every time we thought we had a near-death experience, someone showed upAlbert, Gordy, Richard."


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