Wednesday, February 4, 2015

How to lose my business permanently

This post is a bit different from my usual ones in that it discusses the business side of the semiconductor industry, not the technical side. The issue has been getting more and more problematic lately so I figured I'd write up a few quick thoughts on it.

Let's suppose you're a large semiconductor company who is currently making a large amount of money selling chips to a couple of major customers. You've decided that your business is too big and you have no desire to get new customers, now or in the future. In fact, you don't even want these companies to use your products in new designs. What are some ways you can get rid of these pesky engineers trying to throw money at you?
  1. Make your parts hard to find. Ask major distributors like Digi-Key and AVnet to discontinue stocking them.
  2. If someone does manage to find an authorized sales partner, pester them with questions even if they're just looking for a budgetary price quote for a feasibility study. Ask for a project name, description, business plan, names of the team members, color of the soldermask, logo, and anything else you can think of. If it looks like an initial proof of concept that the customer isn't yet confident will become a high-volume product, or a one-off test fixture/lab tool, badger them by asking about annual sales volume and volume ramp-up dates until they lose interest and buy from a competitor.
  3. Just in case anyone actually succeeds in buying your part, make it useless to them. Keep the datasheet locked up in a steel vault in your corporate headquarters. Promise would-be customers that you'll let them see it if they sign away their firstborn son and sacrifice a golden lamb on an altar made of FPGAs, but hide the actual NDA contract behind so many redirect pages and broken links that nobody can actually sign it, much less see the actual datasheet. Bonus points if your chip is something commodity like a gigabit Ethernet PHY that has nothing even remotely sensitive in the datasheet.
If you follow these rules properly, congratulations! I'll do my part to further your goals by making sure you will never get design wins in any projects I'm involved in, especially high-volume ones for large companies. Your shareholders will be overjoyed.


  1. Amen, brother. The experience you describe reminds me of my attempts a few years ago to get a Alaska 88E1111 PHY datasheet from Marvell. You'd think these companies would realize that enabling the hacker/small prototyper would lead to far more goodwill and potential sales down the road.

    BTW -- my strategy for dealing with the situation you describe is, quite honestly, to just lie. Make up a company name, project, sales volume, whatever. I don't try to claim I'm associated with a real company, but instead pretend I'm a startup with hopes to make it big. That works some of the time, at least.

  2. Marvell is not the company that prompted this post (that was Vitesse) but the two of them (along with braodcom) are now blacklisted as a result of such shenanigans.

    And while lying works some of the time, if a competitor with an equivalent part has a publicly documented datasheet and is willing to sell it to me, there's no reason not to give them my business. This is why the Micrel KSZ90x1RN series has been my go-to 1000base-T PHY for the last couple of designs. I wrote this article after trying (and failing) to get a 1000base-X PHY from Vitesse but ended up going with an equivalent Microsemi component instead.