Apple Co-Founder Steve Wozniak in Trondheim

Friday was a special day for everyone interested in electronics and computers in Trondheim.

Two student groups Startit and Spark were able to get the Co-Founder of Apple to visit the university where I graduated in 1992. For those of you who do not know the history, he was the Engineer that build the fist Apple computer. He and Steve Jobs established Apple in 1976 together with Ronald Wayne who a year later sold his shares to Jobs and Wozniak for $800.

Wozniak was the star of the student arrangement and was the last person to enter the stage.  They originally had a fairly large auditorium set up for the event, but they sold out all the tickets immediately. Then they moved it to the largest auditorium at the university and it was packed! It was a lot of student, journalists, business people and investors that wanted to listen to his story. And he did not disappoint us.

Wozniak mentioned two interesting reasons for success. First, he had no money and had to build Apple step by step for as little money as possible. Second, he had never done it before and had to be creative and think out of the box. These two things made them think business and differentiation from day one.

Another interesting thing was his comments about being market driven.

The combination of strong engineers, people with good market and customer insight is of course a perfect combination. If you combine that with good marketing and presentation of the result it will produce results.

Without any comparison, this is what we did at Atmel when we build the AVR products that led to a 1 Billion dollar business for Atmel. Still without comparison it was interesting to listen to how Wozniak described a model that was almost identical to what we did when we build AVR. And identical to many many other success stories in the industry.

I think there are a few very important lessons in this. The second most important thing after getting the right people will be to burn as little cash as possible. We all know that things take longer then expected and to run out of cash is no fun. This is an area where we in Norway have something to learn. It is not joke that many Bay Area companies start up in crappy offices like a garage. And when they move into an office they are packed. Like Tesla, Nest and many others. I remember the first Atmel office in Trondheim where we had one box as table and another box as the chair. No furniture at all…We rented a corner in a lawyers office and had to pay in advance. Due to his heavy smoking we had to leave it after a few months.

Apple stared in a garage in Los Altos, California. Funny enough Wozniak claims that Apple was not driven from the garage, but rather the bedroom! Steve Jobs took his sales calls from his bedroom and was on the street selling when he was not there. He also talked about how they worked long hours to avoid adding more people then they really needed.

To get money to start Apple Wozniak had to sell his most valuable possession!

Wozniak was clearly a very talented engineer and had a lot of in-depth stories about things he had developed. All of it sounded like groundbreaking stuff.

Like most Engineers Wozniak had a lot of practical jokes. Here is a good one:

Wozniak sounds like a great guy. I wish him well.

Here is a longer, but better video from a local newspaper

http://www.adressa.no/tv/?id=25987

Alf

A successtory that has just begun

Spending last weekend together with Matt Rogers (Rogers on Twitter) from Nest was exiting. We talked a lot about technology, innovation and how it happens.  Through Matt Ocko (Ocko on Twitter), a very connected businessman in the bay area I also got to know Tony Fadell (Fadell on Twitter).  Matt Rogers and Tony Fadell both worked at Apple for many years. Tony is known as one of the fathers of the iPod and he hired Matt Rogers to do the iPod mini. Tony left Apple in 2008.

While building his new home he was looking for a thermostat that was functional and looked nice. Hi could not find any and together with Matt Rogers he set out to design one.

In May 2010 Fadell and Rogers co- founded Nest in a garage in Palo Alto (like Apple did).

I have visited them two times and I just have to write about this as I think it will be a new Apple. Their creativity is second to none and the speed they are moving are just amazing. After 4 years they have more then 400 employees and sell a lot of products. I remember when they launched their thermostat  a while back with this video:

Recently they also launched the brand new fire detector Nest Protect.

There are two things with their product I like and that I think are setting them apart. They look nice, and they are very adaptive to the user. By using smart algorithms their products adjust to the environment and the user over time, giving the products more tailored performance and improved experience.

Nest has hired a lot of their engineers from Apple and I think this is an important success criteria. To hire people that you know are good, and that you know have done it before always speeds up your way forward. This will always improve the likelihood of success and attract good investors to support a fast growth.

I asked Matt how hard the people at Nest worked to be successful. His answer was “whatever time you go to the office, weekday or weekend the office will be full”.

And their office is by no means luxurious. They keep the cost down on everything they do to reduce their spend.

I believe this is the model to adapt. To start a new company with a group of 8—4 workers is not going to work. To start a new company means keeping the cost down and the work hours up. The amount of work is unlimited and you just cannot effort all the heads you would like.

On the other hand the employees need to be able to share the pie when it gets bigger. They need to see this as an opportunity to earn money so they later can be more independent and relax or start another company. I am not saying that money is everything, but let´s face it: It is important for an employee that dedicates so much time to build a company to get a significant reward.

Here is where the US model works better then the Norwegian one. In US stock options and shares in the company are much more common, although we see more of this in Norway as well.  This is how they keep the American dream alive in people and get them to work hard to achieve it. The first employees at Nest will make good money. So will all their employees if they succeed. So will the employees at Tesla which is another company I admire a lot. In my view Elon Musk Musk on Twitteris a new Steve Jobs. A visionary that works extremely hard to achieve his goals.

But keep in mind that they do not do it for the money. They do it because they have a passion for innovation and want to improve something they believe should be better.

Novelda radar count my heartbeat from a distance !

I have now been on board for almost a month! After visiting customers and investors I am very exited about this.

The technology is very interesting and can solve many problems that existing sensors cannot do. The Novelda radar is basically a Ultra Wideband radar that sends out very low energy pulses at a frequency up to 10GHz. You can think of the impulse radar as a sensor that sends out a pulse and then measure the time until it returns. This time will represent a very accurate distance to the object.

The great thing about the technology is that it can penetrate through material. It can see things you cannot see. Imaging a sensor that can predict what is going to happen before it happens…(maybe a little philosophical there, but…). We can actually measure your pulse from a distance just by detecting the movement on your chest when the heartbeats…That is pretty amazing !

We just closed a round of funding to get us to the next step. We got employees, private investors, VC and also US angel investors on board. I will get back to you with some exiting names if I get their approval to talk about it. Both Geir Førre from Silicon Labs (former Energy Micro CEO) and my self invested in the company in this round as well.

We are also looking for people to join the team. For development we will need the following people:

  1. Experienced RF and antenna designers
  2. Experienced MCU/DSP/Embedded designers. (We use and Coretex M4 FPU today)
  3. Signal Processing experts
  4. Finance ,HR and administration.

Anyone with advanced 1D, 2D and 3D radar experience will also be of interest ! We might as well contract some of this work so also contractors should get in touch if you are interested (and very good).

We will also need application engineers in the field very soon. The most important criteria will be PASSION !

Let me know if you have any names of people that we should approach or have the contact me directly at alf-egil@novelda.no.

Please note that this is still a in an early phase and will require very dedicated work. This is not easy so we have to work hard and be smart to make it happen. On the other hand, the reward will be substantial for people that join the team in such an early phase.

I will get back with some more posts on strategy and how we think when we build it. In general I am a believer of Focus. I have to tell a story from one of my 120 trips to the US. This was probably as early as 2000. I was sitting on the plain with girls about 2 meters high. It was the US national team in basketball and I ended up in the seat next to their coach. We started talking and she ended up telling me about how she performed an attack. She used the words Focus-Fight-Finish. Every attack was focus-fight-finish and that was programmed into every player’s head.

I have used that ever since and will use it again. You need to focus hard to succeed, you need to fight for it whatever it takes and you need to finish it no matter how hard it is.

Focus-Fight-Finish

Alf-Egil

RISC versus CISC

The old discussion about RISC versus CISC suddenly became on the agenda again after my article about AVR to ARM.

Anders from IAR systems and a few others have contacted me to say that to call ARM a CISC was not correct. There is no doubt about that, ARM is a RISC, not a CISC processor. Advanced Risc Machines develops RISC processors.

In my article I referred to the beginning of the ARM and the beginning of AVR. The first ARM device we used was one of the first ARM 7 based architectures. This architecture had a Von Neumann bus structure, which means that there is one shared bus for program code, data and I/O. Most processor architects would say that RISC processors should have a Harvard architecture where there are separate busses for the different memories. This was implemented in the ARM 9 and it almost doubled the performance of the core. There are also CISC processors utilizing the Harvard architecture so I guess the border between CISC and RISC will never be 100% clear. However, my previous article should have been written differently. My bad.

Many people think that RISC means reduced number of instructions. Reduced in the RISC term refers to the complexity of the instructions. A RISC processor has an instruction set where every instruction is executed mostly in one clock cycle and hereby becomes very efficient in terms of execution speed. However, this requires different hardware support because it can be viewed more like “parallel processing” versus a CISC that has complex instructions and some instructions have small state machines that use multiple. For example the multiply instruction take one clock cycle in AVR and 48 in the original C51 core.

When we designed the AVR we actually added a lot of instructions to avoid having every instruction too flexible. By adding more instruction we could keep them simple and very efficient. By working with IAR systems on the C-compiler we also ended up with a very code efficient machine.

For embedded processors used in control application it is also very important to have a processor that can handle single bits in registers, memory and I/O very efficient. It is interesting to note that the C51 designed by Intel in 1980 had bit level “boolean logic” operations. These operations can be used on internal registers and a dedicated portion of the RAM memory. A similar functionality was also implemented in the AVR to make it extremely efficient for control applications. The original AVR architecture before it became Atmel was designed to do very efficient descrambling of bit streams sent to digital TV sets.

The next level of efficiency for embedded application is what the I/O Communicates without the CPU involved. This was implemented in the XMEGA AVR and an even more efficient system is implemented in the EFM32 from Energy Micro. The EFM32 has a so-called Reflex system where peripherals can be programmed to wake up each other and pass data along as needed. This is mostly implemented to utilize the low power modes of the EFM32, and will also improve the performance of the system.