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Ecosystem Leaders

Episode 167

January 24, 2023

#167 Kaushal Vora: Building Your Ecosystem to Create Business Value

In this Ecosystem Aces Podcast episode, Chip Rodgers is joined by Kaushal Vora Sr. Director, Head of Business Acceleration & Ecosystem at ...

In this Ecosystem Aces Podcast episode, Chip Rodgers is joined by Kaushal Vora Sr. Director, Head of Business Acceleration & Ecosystem at Renesas.

Kaushal leads the Business Acceleration and Ecosystem team at Renesas Electronics, a semiconductor manufacturing company.  The Renesas Electronics partner ecosystem started off back in 2019 with 20+ partners and is now an expansive 200+ partner community spanning across all Renesas compute platforms.

Chip and Kaushal had a fantastic discussion surrounding the best ways to create business value in the ecosystem.

Topics covered include:

Similarities between B2B SaaS and the hardware industry9:32The importance of an ecosystem in the automotive industry11:46What’s driving the growth of the IoT ecosystem?14:09What are the types of partners that are unique to industrial specific industries?19:05The different business models used to find partners21:05Renesas’ go-to-market model and ecosystem25:34Business development for partners and customers27:35

Let’s get into the conversation!

Chip Rodgers  00:07

Hey, welcome everyone. Welcome back to another episode of Ecosystem Aces. I'm Chip Rodgers, CMO at WorkSpan. And really excited today to be talking to Kaushal Vora from Renesas, Kaushal Welcome.

Kaushal Vora  00:21

Yep. Thanks, Chip. It's a pleasure being on your podcast.

Chip Rodgers  00:25

Yeah. And gosh big week for Renesas and for the ecosystem. You guys had an announcement earlier this week, about the release of a Renesas ready partner network and growing the network and you're up to, I think 300 Sorry, 200 partners, and a lot of joint solutions, we'll talk a lot about all those things. Renesas is a  leader in the industrial IOT and creating semiconductors, which is the backbone of how everything actually works. The software just lays on top. 

Kaushal has been in the industry starting back with a master's in electrical engineering, and then you were with Cypress Semiconductor for about seven years and have been with Renesas for nine years now. And yeah, and I think it seems like you sort of started with a more of a technical background or engineering degree, and then you've kind of moved into this sort of marketing and ecosystems and kind of bringing everybody together. So we will talk a little bit about that journey as well. 

Kaushal, maybe we could start with, tell us a little bit about what you and your team are up to at Renesas?

Kaushal Vora  01:49

Sure. Absolutely. Before we go into what my team and I do at Renesas, maybe I'll spend a couple of minutes just introducing who Renesas is, because I understand this podcast is viewed by a fairly diverse audience across different industry sectors, so probably good to get them oriented in terms of what Renesis does. 

Renesas is in the semiconductor space. We're one of the leading providers of semiconductor solutions. We basically make chipsets, digital compute chipsets that go into various edge, as well as endpoint applications inside the IoT. We serve primarily industrial and automotive markets. And then we also have a whole host of solutions in the analog mixed signal power timing space. 

So basically, whenever you're building a product there's a lot of semiconductor content that goes into that product, whether it's how do you power your product, how do you clock your product? How do you do the computer inside your product? And how do you basically sense the world outside, all of that happens through semiconductor technologies. And Renaissance has a very diverse and broad portfolio of semiconductors that are used in IoT and automotive applications. 

My and my focus, I am inside Renesas, industrial and infrastructure business unit, so that's about half the company. And we primarily focus on the compute space? These are not your high performance compute that you will see in datacenters, and in the cloud, but these are really constrained devices that are embedded pretty much everywhere around us. Your microwave has a few of them, your refrigerator has them. Pumps, industrial pumps, robots have them anywhere you need to do a dedicated task. 

And you don't need a general purpose multitasking computer, like an Intel processor, for example, is where Renesas plays. And then we also have applications that are in the gateway, which is where basically data gets aggregated at the edge before it might get shipped up to the cloud, or it could get communicated at different parts of the neck. 

Chip Rodgers  04:25

Cell towers, maybe your or something like that sort of thing. Is that correct? Yeah.

Kaushal Vora  04:30

We're primarily and traditionally a semiconductor player. But whenever somebody has to take our chips and build something out of it. They have to write code. They're basically writing and basically enabling certain functionality. So say you're building a smart washing machine, for example. You need to write firmware to basically control the core functionality of the washing machine which is basically spinning the motors to turn the load and stuff like that, and then the control panel, the washing machine in terms of how the user interacts with the machine. 

But these days devices are getting smarter? You might think, Oh, what if I could speak to the washing machine? How can I enable my washing machine to understand voice commands, and potentially respond to me? If I'm a maker of washing machines, I might worry about, okay, is there a way in which I could build intelligence and machine learning into the washing machine to predict that My washing machine is going to break before it actually breaks that gives an enhanced user experience, it also allows me to streamline my overall business model around maintenance. 

And I can be more proactive about maintaining my equipment in the field. And, therefore providing just a better user user experience? I might say, Okay, I want to take away all the mechanical buttons in the washing machine. But I want to have a nice touch panel, which I can just touch so now you're talking about, okay, you need something that has rich graphics. So you might need some software that enables graphics on your washing machine. And then oh, by the way, I want to connect my washing machine to the home network, so I can control it, perhaps using my phone, or something like that. Or it could be sending data back to  the OEM that has made the washing machine. So now I need some connectivity modules and some connectivity stacks. 

So what I'm trying to say is, whenever somebody is building a system the hardware is the foundation of that. But what really drives engineering resources is the software complexity? And everything is everything. You know, we're just sort of spoiled by our iPhones and our smartphones, we expect everything to be like an iPhone, in terms of its use, and in terms of its multitasking capability in terms of its intelligence. 

So there's this constant push to start making things smarter, more intelligent. And things that were traditionally dumb, are starting to embed more and more intelligence and more and more functionality. What that means is, often, customers and engineering teams are faced with build versus buy decisions because not everybody has the experience working with eight or nine different types of technologies that have to come together to actually put something together. So they're constantly looking for software, commercial grade software that they can actually put into their system. And that allows them to really work on their secret sauce, in terms of, okay, what differentiates their product from somebody else.

So that's where the need for a rich software ecosystem comes into place. And typically, our customers look to companies like us, that are providing these foundational hardware technologies to provide a rich ecosystem of software around our products. So that if they, if they have access to this ecosystem, they have options in terms of, okay, if I want a communication stack, or if I want a graphics package, or if I want something else, I have different options I can pull from and by the way, these have been tested to work with with our products, and these are partners, that Renesanse is already pre vetted.

So there, we have trusted relationships with these partners. And that's where the power of the ecosystem comes together, the real value of the ecosystem is to reduce the customer's time to market and accelerate the time to revenue, basically. And that's kind of our philosophy on the ecosystem side. So my team very long, long answer, but I thought it was important to take an example and kind of set the stage. 

What my team does is we're technology scouts, we basically scout partners across different, a broad range of technologies in the IoT space, that specialize in often very, very, very narrow things. But they're specialists in whatever they do. And basically, we've built this holistic ecosystem, as Chip pointed out over the last three years, that has now over 200 different partners that offer hundreds of solutions to pick from.

B2B SaaS is a piece of hardware

Chip Rodgers  09:32

That's great introduction, because Kaushal I think it's interesting, as you're as you're talking it's there are, first of all, I'm fascinated just by the whole the whole space but it is interesting how many similarities there are with the interest in the sort of enterprise software startup b2b SaaS. In a world that that we typically operate in, which is you're better together. It's like, it's sort of like we got certain technology, we're really good at it, but then we have a set of partners that are really good at what they do. And together, we can deliver really great value to, to our shared customers, to their customers of ours, because we get the underlying hardware customers are theirs, because they've got the software in this unique solution. 

So really interesting, that it's so vital to you guys. It's like, sort of like, there's a plain vanilla platform sort of thing, where you've got obviously things that differentiate you from your competitors, but it's, it's a, it's a piece of hardware? It's like, there's no, like you said, there's no sort of business until you build the right software on top of it and have a use case like the washing machine.

The importance of an ecosystem in the automotive industry

Kaushal Vora  11:00

Absolutely. As you said, our products are a blank slate, they can pretty much be programmed to do any compute function. Whether you're controlling a motor inside a robotic arm, or you're controlling a bunch of sensors inside of a weather station, that's understanding the local climate around, or you're monitoring certain sensors for air quality, for example. 

Or you have your device that is supporting certain keywords that you're saying, okay, hey, hey GE microwave wake up. So that we have any dedicated compute task, basically, you need a microcontroller. These days, cars have anywhere from 50 to 200 different microcontrollers, doing very dedicated tasks. And, exactly the ecosystem not only allows us to functionalize these parts in a more realistic way, they also allow us we're not there to reinvent the wheel, we can't do everything ourselves. 

And the same thing is there with customers, customers can't build everything by themselves. So this adds instant credibility in terms of, okay, if I use this piece of software, I noticed commercial grade, because this company is dedicated, its resources, and its entire business around building this piece of software. So it's going to be much higher quality than me trying to build it myself or Renesas claiming that they've done it because we're not going to trust a hardware company to build software. 

That's, that's so I think the ecosystem really excels in that space. And as you said, it's no different in the enterprise space. In the end, for something to come together, it's usually a marriage of hardware and software that has happened. And this just helps accelerate that entire thing.

Chip Rodgers  13:11

Well, oh, no, I'm just curious. So tell me Kaushal tell me about the announcement.

What’s driving the growth of the IoT ecosystem?

Kaushal Vora  13:18

Sure. Our ecosystem journey started about three years ago. When we started realizing that, okay, this is a real problem? Customers are the pace of technology and the pace of innovation has moved at such a rapid rate that if we don't do something about building a strong ecosystem around our products, customers are going to just struggle to use them, and customers are going to struggle to keep up with what the market needs? And it's funny, because I am an end user of these devices, too. 

If it's not gonna meet my requirements, then why would I pre design it? And it began three years ago, when they started when the IoT started becoming more mature. What we've done is we've systematically built that ecosystem around some of the critical trends that are happening in the marketplace. The latest announcement that we made this month we grew our ecosystem, pretty much, back in 2019, pre COVID, with about 20 partners to almost 200 partners. And one of the key things that's driving growth right now, in the ecosystem, is this trend where we're seeing a lot of intelligence being pushed at the edge and at the endpoint?

If you think about the IoT, it's a network of connected devices. So the focus and the emphasis was a lot around connectivity, and business models that could leverage the benefits of a connected network.  But all of the intelligence inside the IoT typically resided in the cloud, because that's where all the data was, was sent centrally. And that's where all the data analysis would happen centrally. And all the decisions would then get piped through the network. What we're seeing now the IoT is maturing, AI itself is maturing. And we're also seeing this big trend and 5G, where the connectivity between different devices is, is moving at a fascinating place. And the compute itself that you can now have at much lower power and efficiency is significantly higher than what you could do three years ago. It's Moore's law, right? 

So what we're seeing now is dumb devices that were connected to just send and send data up in the cloud, are no longer dumb devices, people are now thinking, Okay, why do I need to centralize all my intelligence, the cloud? Why don't I like distributed across the network? So we're seeing a lot of distribution of intelligence at the edge and at the endpoints. And that's where a lot of our ecosystem is evolving right now is partners that can provide critical building blocks for AI and machine learning in highly constrained environments.

Chip Rodgers  16:17

Tell me about that, because you mentioned that before, you said highly constrained environments. So let's dive into that a little bit.

Kaushal Vora  16:27

The processor on your cell phone is now running at say a couple of gigahertz it's it has very large resource pool, it can have megabytes of memory, or in fact, the, the actual memory on these phones can be anywhere from 128 gigabytes to up to one terabyte these days. That's because your phone is doing a lot more than just being a phone, it's doing pretty much everything and anything that you can think of, when we say constrained devices these are devices that are not multitasking, or doing things as much as a phone would be doing, they're doing very, very specific tasks. 

So you could go anywhere from you take the gigahertz down to kilohertz; these are anywhere from 16 to 200 kilohertz in terms of the clock speed of these devices. And you take now one terabyte or 256 gigabytes, and you take it down to two megabytes. So it's 1000s of orders lower in terms of the resources that you have, in terms of the compute power that you have on these devices.

And now we are talking about running intelligence models on these devices, or machine learning models on these devices to do things like classification, detection of certain voice signatures, for example, you could be detecting anomalies, monitoring machine behavior, you could be predicting when something is going to fail. So we're when we have, often the challenge for us is trying to do too much within the resource constraints that we have. And that's where the creativity in engineering comes in. And that's where these partners really excel, is because they know how to squeeze every ounce of performance from that particular device and make it more and more useful.

Chip Rodgers  18:28

Interesting. So when you were saying constrained, I was thinking of sort of constrained in, like, the size. Because it's gotta be a small sort of, but it's more than that.

Kaushal Vora  18:37

It's absolutely constrained in size.  These are heavily constrained in physical size, but they're also constrained and in Compute, they're constrained in the amount of physical memory that they have monitored. And they're constrained in every which way in which they can, they can function. They're typically running off of batteries.  They're not wall powered. So you also have to be very careful in terms of how much power you're sucking through the battery, because that's going to dictate how long they're going to be alive for. 

What are the types of partners that are unique to industrial specific industries?

Chip Rodgers  19:06

Interesting. So I would think that then you're the ecosystem is, and I love this, the term that you used earlier, that they are technology scouts.  Just like who's out there? Who's got some really interesting applications or some, some technology that we can work with and can bring customers? I would think that there, they are also very unique, and you talked about automotive industrial IoT, and you know, those, but I would think that they're very, sort of unique into industrial specific industries.

Kaushal Vora  19:45

Yes or no, right. So there could be certain types of partners that might focus on, say, certain communication protocols that are only used in a smart factory. That becomes really, really specific, because that stuff cannot be used anywhere outside the factory. On the other hand there are partners that build that provide tools to automate building machine learning, or they might provide tools that might allow you to build a graphics package. 

Now, the application of those kinds of technologies is broad. It could go into a smart city application, it could go into a healthcare application, it could go into a smart home application, it could go into an industrial application. So some of these span fairly horizontally. 

And that's the reason we don't build. We do have partnerships that are very narrow and focused in a few vertical markets. But we really focus on the technology axis like connectivity, cloud, safety, AI and machine learning. And focusing on the technology axis gives us a lot of breadth across.

The different business models used to find partners

Chip Rodgers  20:57

Interesting. So what you're talking about are some of the trends. That's sort of counterintuitive. That's interesting. But I understand based on because now you have partners that can apply to multiple applications and verticals. So that's really interesting. Gosh, oh, shoot, I forgot what you were talking about.

Kaushal Vora  21:25

One of the things that I know, we have chatted on before, business models with partners.  And I think it was very interesting, for me, it was very educational for me, when you brought up certain ways in which you go, in which way, you partner.  So typically, given that we're such a large player in the semiconductor space, we typically partner with a co sell approach, where we basically, the partner and us either we refer each other into, say, a particular customer opportunity, and then the customer has an independent relationship between the two companies, but we go in with a, with a joint solution, demonstration or joint solution proposal, because we've worked with each other as part of the ecosystem. 

The other thing in terms of our ecosystem journey has been although we're building this very broad ecosystem, we've also felt the need to go deeper in certain areas where we see a lot of growth. So we call that building selective depth in our ecosystem.  And by depth, what I mean is the level of investment we might make with that partner technology, or, we might offer a more integrated business model that that partner either sell through or a white label type of a model, or an IP buyout or something like that, where Renesas then becomes the the one stop shop for for a customer. 

And that is very interesting, because sometimes customers are also reluctant to work with a company that has only five people and is not very well resourced, and they get nervous about going into production with these companies.. So in that case we also offer some of these integrated business models where Renesas actually stands in front of the customer, so the customer doesn't have to worry about dealing with multiple players. 

And the other thing that has come out of the ecosystem is we also have started an incubation function. And we actually acquired a company not too long ago, less than six months ago called Reality AI. And these guys, we're part of our ecosystem. And we saw a lot of traction, we saw our pull from the market, they had very unique technology. And we definitely knew that one plus one would be three or more with these guys, and we ended up acquiring them. So that that also is in our ecosystem is also somewhat of a driving function into our software m&a strategy, for example, being a hardware player.

Chip Rodgers  24:05

Interesting. So, some of your partners, I love that you just have different different models where some are some sort of pure co sell. Some are where you're actually being the front end, and then some you actually just buy them. 

Kaushal Vora  24:23

Exactly. And I think that's going to be the future. One of the challenges with IoT, especially when you start going more towards the users, is the diversity in fragmentation and IoT works against you know, it makes things more confusing.  There's just so many people doing so many different things in so many different ways. And then I think it's up to some extent, it's up to the semiconductor players because we're a fairly consolidated industry to actually build these cohesive ecosystems and then provide these vetted options to customers. Because otherwise I just feel if I wasn't, I wasn't on the developer side, I would just be overwhelmed all the time in terms of okay where do I go?

Renaissance’s GTM model and ecosystem & Business development for partners and customers

Chip Rodgers  25:11

How do I start? Yeah, exactly. Amazing.  So, how do you bring the ecosystem to your customers? Are you educating the sales team? How do the customers find out about what are the different applications that that your ecosystem can provide?

Kaushal Vora  25:34

Sure, we have different models. And we have different ways in which we take the ecosystem out to market, we have a pretty comprehensive, go to market model, one of the key elements of that is a dedicated ecosystem portal. So if you go to, forward slash Renesas hyphen, ready. This is an entire portal dedicated to our partners. When you go to the main page, you can learn about our ecosystem, our ecosystem philosophy.

And then there are dedicated links to product specific ecosystems, because we have such a lot. So we have an umbrella brand for the overall partner network. And then we have a product specific ecosystem. So if a customer is looking to go build something with a specific product, he clicks on that link. 

Say, for example, we have a product line called Ra Renesas. Ra, so we have Ra ready a sub brand under it. So if you go on our ready, then if you want opens up a list of partners that are categorized by different technologies. Now, if I'm interested in artificial intelligence, I click on the artificial intelligence link, and it gives me a catalog of partners that I could tap into. 

And for every partner, for every solution that a partner offers, we provide them a dedicated webpage. And that page provides a quick snapshot of what the technology is, what are the benefits of a block diagram? We like to think in terms of block diagrams, because we're hardware engineers and engineers that are building stuff. So, a block diagram, showing how this technology works. And then what are some of the heart applications where we think this technology fits. And then we provide a bunch of immersive content, whether it's videos or design journeys, or full blown labs, webinars, and things like that, in terms of how we can use this technology?

So, if we have 300 solutions, we have 300 dedicated web pages, one corresponding to every solution in our ecosystem.  So that's how we go broad with our ecosystem. Then we also have a business development organization, which is basically feet on the ground, helping salespeople sell when they have to sell with a great amount of depth? 

A lot of our products are catalog products, you can open up and look at the specs and pick the product that fits right, if you want to know more about a power of five volt battery there's only so much you can do this, these are five products, you pick one of them, and it will work. But now, if you want to build a product that you have to program to do some specific tasks, it's a lot more depth there in terms of selling and understanding what the product has and how it can be used. So we have a business development organization on the compute side, that helps sales in the field to actually sell and also helps customers architect with our products.

So all of those business development team members are thoroughly trained in our ecosystem, they understand the different types of options that are available in our ecosystem. And when they are jointly architecting, or brainstorming the customers or problem solving the customers understanding customer pain points. It's very easy for them to say, okay, oh, by the way, you're looking for a graphics package, here are four options, and these are the differences between these options. And that's how the ecosystem is actually driven through our business development.

Chip Rodgers  29:04

And amazing, that's really cool. Kaushal this has been fantastic. Gosh, I really appreciate you helping us all understand all on, how ecosystem a lot, we talked to a lot of software and services organizations and, and you're, like, pure play right in there. And in hardware, and even a lot of hardware companies that have traditionally been hardware companies are kind of saying, Well, we're really a software company. You guys are just like, I mean, it's, I love that and you're building the ecosystem to create the business value around it. 

That's fantastic. Curious, maybe you have a lot to ask you've been doing, partnering for a long time any any advice that you would have for for any our Our audience are all partner, partner, folks, anything that that has helped you along the way, and you sort of apply or talk to them about when they're, when they're working with partners.

Kaushal Vora  30:12

Right. One of the things that I have learned is in the end, even though the ecosystem is really designed to get business and take care of customers, don't forget to take care of your partners? At least in our space, a lot of these partners are smaller companies that are looking for a platform to get their products out to market.

And one of the things we are very conscious about and are proactively doing is making sure that we take care of our partners and things work when things don't work. Giving that closed loop feedback, and having that constant engagement, I think helps us build a very healthy ecosystem around us.  So although sometimes you build something with a partner, and then you just get busy selling it, don't forget the partner.  Always, always go back and make sure that you're constantly innovating, and looking at what the partner is doing. 

And building that community I think is very critical. And I think that's one thing I didn't come from an ecosystem background.  And that's one thing I have learned in the last couple years, since I've been doing the ecosystem of Renesas is the power of the community, and always take care of the community. 

Chip Rodgers  31:43

True. Yeah. Fantastic, really great, great way to end our conversation and such such good advice. I think that's true for all partners, partners, people you really got to make sure that you're helping your partners and, and see it as a community around the company. So Kaushal Thank you.

Kaushal Vora  32:08

Yeah, thanks. It's been a pleasure being part of your podcast. And it's, I think it's really great. What you guys are doing is bringing the community of ecosystems together. And I think there's a lot we can learn from each other. So I'm definitely going to be in the audience for future podcasts. 

Chip Rodgers  32:28

Fantastic. Great. Kaushal. Thank you. And thank you all for joining another episode of ecosystem aces for Kaushal Vora. I'm Chip Rodgers, and thanks for joining and we'll see you at the next Ecosystem Aces. Thanks, everybody. 

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