Monday, October 25, 2010

Magma to Cadence: Bring it On

I attended Magma Design Automation’s (LAVA) annual meeting on September 23, 2010. Over the past year, Magma stock has handily beaten the S&P 500. Since September 28, 2009, the S&P has struggled to break even while Magma's stock has increased around 70%.

Chairman and CEO Rajeev Madhavan handled the formal portion of the meeting, which was uneventful. After the meeting, he generously agreed to allow me to ask him questions one-on-one.

Mr. Madhavan’s energy is palpable. You can almost feel his lava-hot desire to succeed when you hear him speak and move. One gets a sense that Mr. Madhavan is bustling with ideas and can't wait to share them with you.

I expressed my concern that Magma’s general business was becoming commoditized, which usually causes margins to decline. However, Mr. Madhavan told me that Magma had “substantial leadership in the analog area” with several unique, brand-new tools. He said he was “extremely confident” about the new tools. He also indicated Magma’s biggest challenges were internal, i.e., to ensure execution without incurring more expenses.

When I pointed out that Magma was a smaller player in a market dominated by Cadence (CDNS) and Synopsys, Inc. (SNPS), Mr. Madhavan compared Magma to Google's Android, contending that if size mattered, Microsoft should have been able to outcompete Android--which has not proven to be the case. He also said that “Cadence is weakest in [its] technology” and doesn’t offer the “best of anything [in its market].” To put Cadence’s technological issues in context, Mr. Madhavan said that some of Cadence’s products were “three to four times slower” than anyone else’s. When I expressed surprise, Mr. Madhavan’s eyes lit up. He immediately issued a bold challenge to Cadence, saying,“You name it, I’ll take them on anyplace...every couple of weeks or so, we’re winning evaluations against Cadence, and we’re seven to fifteen times faster” in SPICE and several times faster in digital now.

What about Synopsys, I asked? Mr. Madhavan’s tone softened. He said Synopsys is “strongest in terms of numbers” and its balance sheet, and Magma “must continue to differentiate” its own products to compete with Synopsys’ products. [According to Magma, "In SPICE Magma has a tremendous differentiation and we expect to increase our digital differentiation with our upcoming product launches.”]

My impression was that Cadence was expanding in China, so I asked Mr. Madhavan about Magma’s Chinese footprint. Mr. Madhavan confirmed his company also had “sales and marketing in China” but indicated that the industry has yet to do as much business there as in the U.S.

I asked Mr. Madhavan about his biggest challenges going forward. He said that his primary goal was getting “engineers to try” Magma’s products. Once engineers try Magma products, they tend to view Magma as an attractive partner. But Mr. Madhavan admitted that existing business practices--specifically all-you-can-eat deals from other EDA suppliers--encouraged inertia. [Note: EDA is electronic design automation aka electronic computer-aided design.] Because the consequences of missing a deadline can be so severe, most engineers prefer to stay with the more established names rather than switch, even if Magma’s products are better and faster.

Regarding my contention that EDA was becoming more commoditized, Mr. Madhavan expressed disagreement: “The very fact that [other companies] think that their products are commodities is the anti-thesis of Magma...we strive to differentiate--that’s our culture.”

How about it, Cadence? Will you take on Magma in a head-to-head contest? Mr. Madhavan is waiting for you.

Bonus: a review of Magma’s 2009 shareholder meeting is here.

Disclosure: I own a small number of Magma (LAVA) shares. My holdings may change anytime. Also, a Magma employee had the opportunity to review this article and submitted some comments to me. I included some of his comments, including the references to SPICE.

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