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CEO Talk: Nikos Zervas, CEO, CAST Inc.

This interview was held with Nikos Zervas, CEO, CAST Inc.

 

 

 

Tell me about CAST?

 

CAST came to life in 1993. It is based in NJ, USA and has R&D offices in the Czech Republic and Greece.  As a company, we develop, sell, and support semiconductor IP (intellectual property) for ASIC or FPGA electronic system designers. Being one of the longest running companies, CAST had the chance not only to participate in the developments, but also shape what came to be known later as the semiconductor-IP industry.

 

Since its early steps, CAST founders had three key values in mind: independence, commitment to quality and focus on customer success. For us, the hierarchy has always been clear: Customers come first, then follow the Employees and last come the Shareholders. I guess that there are many companies that claim to follow the same order, but this is rarely true; especially for public companies that receive immense pressure to make their numbers look good to the market. Over the years, these values have been our driving force and have allowed us to thrive.

 

Today, despite being lean in size, CAST enjoys a good reputation among the industry leaders, such as Cadence, Rambus, Synopsys, and Arm, and is a preferred partner to companies that seek flexibility, proven, easy-to-integrate products and exceptional customer support. These are the key elements that determine our value proposition, what we call in other words “the CAST IP Experience”.

 

 

What problem did you see that needed to be fixed? What is your approach to solving that?

 

The intense M&A activity in the last decade created oligopolies in the market that were run by the industry leaders. Customers were not so happy to see themselves becoming more and more dependent on a few overpowering vendors and were looking for smaller companies that could satisfy their requirements on more flexible terms. However, there was always a question of reliability when buying from smaller companies. Because although smaller companies could develop technology faster, they could not always productize it following the industry standards.

 

This is where CAST stepped in. CAST has a unique, participative business model. We scout and partner with small, talented, and innovative R&D companies or groups within larger, international organizations such as Fraunhofer that develop IP cores under our stringent CAST standards and specifications. Then we work closely with the customer to deliver a unique IP solution, proven and audited, while we offer excellent support every step of the way, including access to developers. CAST further develops some hardware platforms integrating our partner’s technology with CAST-developed IP and 3rd party hardware to form complete subsystems and development kits.

 

 

How was the role/offering of CAST changed during the recent years?

 

Being a vital part of an ecosystem, CAST is on an evergreen journey of evolution to keep up with the new technologies related to IP development. So, on the one hand, we continuously strive to respond to the market demand for coarser grain, more capable IP cores and to use the latest design and verification tools and methodologies. On the other hand, we keep on adjusting our business models to better address the needs of the new emerging markets, like cloud acceleration. With over 27 years of customer experience, we keep on improving our product offering day by day, an  d we build quality auditing procedures and flexible licensing policies that can better address our customers’ usage scenarios.

 

 

Did any of the market consolidation (or acquisition) affected your business and how?

 

Yes, the market consolidation redefined our business approach. Ten years ago, our typical customer was a startup; so, we were structured to appeal to as many of them as possible. With the consolidation all the startups / smaller companies became organized in larger groups and their sales and marketing approach changed. Being part of larger organizations, their procedures became more elaborate, communication lost its personal tone and decision-making became more complex than before. Thankfully, having a good reputation to fall back on is important, especially in markets that run on customer loyalty like Japan; so, now we have adjusted our overall marketing and business approach and we cooperate with all the leading industry players.

 

 

Which market segment seems promising to you? And why?

 

The automotive industry is highly attractive for us; it is in fact the market segment where CAST plays a leading role with a range of cutting-edge CAN Bus Controller and TSN Ethernet IP cores. We see tremendous growth coming from this direction and this is the reason why we keep investing to expand our line of IP cores for automotive applications.

We also see Cloud-centric Data Centers growing rapidly, which has increased the demand for our GZIP lossless Data Compression and Accelerators IP cores.

Other market segments that are promising for us are the defense, industrial, medical, and scientific segment, where CAST already maintains a robust presence.

 

What is a typical customer for CAST?

 

Customers range from startups to multi-nationals, but all turn to CAST IP seeking an edge on their competition. Our typical customer is the Design architect who is looking for proven, easy-to-integrate IP cores, backed by a highly knowledgeable technical support team. CAST is really investing time and money to collaborate with its clients to come up with the best technical solution for their needs. It is worth saying that one third of our customers are repeat customers; it is an honor to see this number growing continuously across four continents.

 

Customers are focused on time-to-market, first-time-right, price, etc. Do you see a change in customer behavior in recent years? Where is the focus today and why?

 

Nowadays customers have become quite savvy. On the one hand, the complexity of SoCs has exploded and the IP cores in demand are getting more and more complex. On the other hand, the development time for a new SoC remained the same (if not shortened). So, customers demand effortless IP core integration and have minimal tolerance for mishaps. Sometimes there is tremendous pressure to deliver on ever-increasing expectations, year after year, especially when you have been in the business for almost three decades, like us. Fortunately, CAST has planted its feet firmly in the ground; All CAST employees share our commitment to perfect IP reuse under the highest quality standards and to deliver an outstanding CAST IP experience to our customers. So, we remain disciplined, we work hard, we stay humble, we improve, we respect our customers, and we keep walking the extra mile, when necessary, for our customers’ success.

 

 

Are you currently hiring? What type of jobs?

 

We are always on the lookout for talent. Now, our strategic priority is to expand our business in China, where we already have a decent presence. Technologically speaking, it is a fantastic market for us. So, we are currently in the process of strengthening our Chinese speaking sales and technical support team.

 

What is the best moment in your day?

 

By far, the best time of the day for me is lunchtime with my three children, which is now possible thanks to COVID-19. Every cloud has a silver lining…

 

How do you keep yourself energized and engaged during the day?

 

Over the years, I have managed to develop some life-saving planning techniques and time management skills. However, it is still challenging to cope with all the little unpredictable issues that pop up during the day. Thankfully, I am blessed with amazing colleagues that keep me energized via endless video calls! To clear my head, I do a couple of rounds in the garden and chat with my children. This helps me shake off the stress and get back to work with a better sense of perspective.

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