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And Then There Were Three

Back before the turn of the century, a brash new company called Magma came onto the scene. This was a time when chip design involved a series of complicated tools, each of which required an exporting of the result of one tool and an importing of those results into the next tool. Magma’s claim to fame was the single database, with each tool providing a different view into and operations on that database.

Implicit in such a strategy is a goal of being all things to all customers. No non-Magma point tools would work with Magma’s proprietary database. That’s a good thing and a bad thing: it helps keep customers locked in, but it also means that you have to be the best at everything (or damn close to it). That last bit is a tall order.

When being all things became unwieldy, they stepped back and re-evaluated things. In my conversation a couple years ago with Magma CEO Rajeev Madhavan, he indicated that he was in the process of resetting expectations within the company: if a Magma tool didn’t excel, then they wouldn’t offer it. A full flow was no longer important, and they wouldn’t waste energy on something that wasn’t awesome. You’ve heard of companies wanting to be in the top three of anything they built; Rajeev wanted to be #1. Period.

It was all about getting back to leanness and meanness and rediscovering a start-up culture. And it followed on the heels of a painful lawsuit by the relative giant Synopsys, a process that, by Magma’s admission, sapped energy and resources from development activities.

We had that conversation in a dark time for the company, when the stock was bumbling along just over $1 per share, down from a peak of almost $30 just after their IPO (with the hot ticker symbol LAVA). The question being whispered was whether the company would survive. Since then it has recovered to over $5 – a reasonable multiple for anyone that got in at the bottom, but still far from earlier heady days.

Today it was announced that erstwhile nemesis Synopsys will acquire Magma for $7.35/share – a neat little premium over today’s close of $5.72. Rumors had circulated now and again over the last year or two that Synopsys was waiting in the wings to get a low price. Who knows whether today’s strike price is considered high or low, but it’s likely that everyone can walk away with something to show for it.

At this point there’s no official news on the fate of personnel and products.

And so the Big Three (plus Magma) whittle down to simply the Big Three: Synopsys, Cadence, and Mentor.

 

(With apologies to Genesis)

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