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Being Ahead Puts You Further Ahead

We love the underdog. David slays Goliath. All of that. And we love the myth that hard work and a better idea will always win. When we win, we take credit for deserving the win due to our hard work. (We tend not to credit any accompanying luck or support from others or the existence of infrastructure for any of our success.)

So if that’s the case, then anyone should be able to knock us off our pedestal with yet harder work and a yet better idea, right? Well, not in real life. If any of you have tried to leave the comfort of working for an established company (so tempting, but I just can’t bring myself to use the phrase “the man”…) to challenge those incumbents with a new company or even as an individual, you know what I mean. There are structural barriers built into the system that give a sizeable edge to those currently on the pedestal.

It’s like an energy barrier thing. It’s really hard to get there, but, once you’re there, you don’t have to work as hard to stay there as you did to get there.

When talking to Synopsys about their new multi-source clock technology, they described a situation very much like this evolving in EDA. It used to be that all of the players had a more or less equal shot at getting foundry attention when a new process node comes up. But not so much anymore.

The new requirements of each node have become so demanding that tool development has to start earlier and earlier, and the foundries can really only work with one company to get everything sorted – it’s just too hard to manage multiple partners.

Which means that whoever was the leader at the prior node for a given piece of the toolchain (physical design tends to come first) becomes the lead for the next node. There’s actually a pretty good rationale for this: the companies with the highest market share get more input from customers as to what their requirements are at the next node, and there’s more opportunity for feedback on the tools being developed.

So it makes sense. But it certainly does reward the winner and make it easier for the winner to keep winning in the future, possibly locking out any contenders.

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