On Aug. 28, Altium announced a deal to acquire Upverter, a developer of cloud-based PCB design tools and services. Upverter cofounder Zak Homuth spoke with PCD&F editor in chief Mike Buetow about what the deal means for the startup company and its users.
MB: Congratulations on the deal. How does it feel?
ZH: I’m still sitting here on edge. It hasn’t really sunk in yet. We are thrilled to not have to worry about payroll, things like that.
MB: How did the deal come together?
ZH: We flirted in 2015, when Altium inevitably bought Octopart. We were part of the batch of discussions they were having at that time. Sam Wurzel, the founder of Octopart, whom I’ve known for quite a long time, became their M&A guy. In 2016 he reached out to me and we flirted again. At the time there were some things going on with our business. We were starting to do the EE Concierge stuff, and some things were in flux. I’m not sure they were sure of the direction we were going at that time. We got a bunch of inbound M&A stuff in spring 2017, and that all came to a head, and I went to Sam, who was over there fighting for us, and sure enough we were able to get a deal done. It was really fast – six weeks. When it actually came time to dance, we did.
MB: And you are taking the whole team with you.
ZH: That was a big part of the whole thing. We are not really done at Upverter. We haven’t really taken it to the mainstream like we really wanted to. That’s been a thing for us. We would like to see Upverter through, to be the thing we want it to be. That’s the thing about Altium: We all got to keep doing it. The mission is more or less the same as it always was, but partnering with Altium means we could do it for free. [Ed. note: Upon announcing the acquisition, Upverter stopped charging for its professional version.] That was really exciting. We are all still working on Upverter – the editor and user experience and design tools.
MB: Do you anticipate being merged into CircuitMaker or CircuitStudio?
ZH: I’m not really sure. My understanding is that CircuitMaker and Upverter are very much targeting the same audience. We think about monetization the same way. We target the same demographic and same user. Upverter has approached this a different way. CircuitMaker approached it like, can we take Altium and make it applicable to this audience, but was not really “built for” this audience as Upverter was. I’m not sure what it will look like, but we are both going after the same thing.
MB: I didn’t truly understand the Octopart acquisition until earlier this year. Do you think Upverter will be able to leverage Octopart in the same way Altium does?
ZH: There’s kind of two sides to that whole thing. We plan to monetize Upverter in much the same way Octopart does. We want to take it further and introduce design services and fabrication, working with people down the flow from the designers to get your money, and enabling the designers to do as much as they can as freely as they possibly can. Very much the same idea and hope we can leverage Octopart’s expertise. We are also experimenting with EE Concierge, our editor and design services tool. The plan is that becomes a first-class brand under Altium: Octopart, Upverter, and EE Concierge. It’s a really nice fit with Octopart. We want to build it into Octopart and put our data on the site. We can build plugins for the CAD tools, so even if you don’t use Altium or Upverter, you can use EE Concierge inside Cadence or Mentor. It’s totally an ideological continuation of what Octopart brought to Altium.
MB: What will your role be going forward?
ZH: I’m not especially sure. [laughs] We are still trying to figure that out. I am officially president of Altium Ltd. Canada, and I report to [Altium CEO] Aram [Mirkazemi] directly. Between me and Sam on M&A, Chris in Octopart, Leigh [Gawne] who runs Ciiva, all these cloud-based free tools, I’m somewhere in that world. We want EE Concierge to continue to be a thing, but I’m probably not the face of that. We will probably hire someone to do that. My main job is to make a million people find and discover and use Upverter to design products. Steve [Hamer] and Mike [Woodworth] will continue to develop Upverter. The vision over the next 100 days is to loot and pillage as much as we can out of Altium Designer and glue it into Upverter. We have plans for the autorouter and push-and-shove routing. Altium Designer has some good import/export stuff we would love to get into. How do we really level Upverter up fast, because of all this IP Altium already has? That’s the hope. Fast and furious updates over the next 100 days or so. We’ve been working on push-and-shove for years and autorouting for years. Hopefully we work on this for a few weeks and suddenly have one of the best autorouters available.
MB: How many users does Upverter have?
ZH: Currently there’s 45,000 registered users and about 6,000 regular users. There’s a pretty good signal that there’s a million-ish folks out in the world who would find this useful. That’s the hope: a million-plus people over the next couple years. In terms of engagement, it will never be 100% of the user base, but we’d like to see 20%. That’d be a really good number.