It took Silicon Craft Technology CEO Manop Thamsirianunt six rounds of experimentation, but his IC chips have gained global recognition
The dream to build an integrated-circuit (IC) design business in Thailand would never have become a success if Manop Thamsirianunt, CEO of Silicon Craft Technology, had not possessed the strong patience to overcome all obstacles.
Manop is a product of reverse brain drain. He chose to leave a bright future as design manager at Silicon Valley-based IC company Exar to work in Thailand.
Returning in 2001, he was head of IC design-business development at Thailand IC Design Incubator (TIDI), a unit of the National Electronics and Computer Technology Centre, finding ways of fostering the business in the Kingdom.
At that time, the idea of IC design in Thailand was in the early stages, and it was very difficult for Manop to persuade local entrepreneurs to jump into the area. Manop therefore decided to leave TIDI and set up his own IC design company in hopes of using his experience gained abroad to make the new company a model for other local entrepreneurs to follow suit.
With this intention, Manop got together with four other IC design experts in 2003and set up Silicon Craft Technology, the Kingdom's first IC design company. As a founder, he hoped to make the new company a showcase to push locals into the IC design business.
But Manop's road to that goal was far from rosy. In the first six months, his new company had hardly any customers.
"It's very difficult to get customers, because no local companies would trust technology development designed by Thais," says Manop.
This situation really hurt Manop, who had spent more than a decade working on IC design with many international chip companies. But Manop never felt discouraged. Instead, he tried to rethink and find new strategies to make his company - and more importantly, Thais' capabilities - recognised in the market.
From focusing purely on IC design, Manop said he reshaped his company's strategy to focus on developing chip products to be sold abroad.
"Since Thais did not yet trust our technology development, we had to change our strategy to create a reputation in the international market. We believed if we could attain recognition on the world stage, it would be easier to make locals trust and accept us," he said.
This strategy proved a success. Silicon Craft developed application-specific integrated-circuit chips used in electronic devices and radio-frequency identification (RFID) chips that were sold in many countries. The company came to be recognised as a chip provider among international technology manufacturers.
"We would say our products performed at the same level as world IC manufacturers like Philips, Texas Instruments and EM Microelectronics," he says.
Currently, all of the company's chip products are exported. But after more than a year of marketing efforts, local manufacturers have begun to show an interest.
"This is because they see our chips integrated in products being sold worldwide, and this makes them begin to trust us and want to buy products from us," he says.
Silicon Craft today has succeeded in gaining 20 international customers and enjoyed revenues of Bt15 million for the first time last year.
Manop said he faced some very hard times until his company reached this stage. He nearly shut down the company in the second year of operations. Not only did the company gain no income during the product research and development period, it also faced big problems in its chip-product development.
"We designed the circuit of an RFID chip and found after it came out in a prototype that it did not work."
Manop endured five rounds of failures with the RFID chip design. The first time that the chip had a bug in it, he tried to narrow down the problems and fix them, but after fabrication a second time, the bug was still there.
"We put all our efforts into finding out the problem, but it still remained after the third, fourth and fifth times, and we still couldn't solve it. This made me nearly give up," he says.
But with his last breath, Manop decided to make a final bet. He says now there was nothing to lose and the only way he could move was forward.
Luck and hard work finally fixed the problem, and the chip came out with the required functions.
"It took us almost two years to fix the bug. But it was really a good experience that helped us understand more when we came to develop the radio-frequency-based chip," he says.
To date, Manop says he is satisfied with what he has done with the company. He has turned its red ink into black with a steady cash flow. From the Bt15 million in revenues the company gained last year, he hopes to generate at least Bt50 million this year.
Manop also expects the launch of the company's new RFID chip used for animal ID - which he claims is the world's tiniest chip and has the lowest price, only 9 US cents (Bt3.25) - to boost company revenues.
Meanwhile, he plans to return to his first intention on the first day of Silicon Craft's establishment: local chip design, which will be a key strategy this year.
"We believe the strong recognition we've gained from abroad will create greater confidence for local customers to use our customised design service," he says.
He says his company's success is just about at the halfway point today. What he wants to do next is make Silicon Craft one of the top five chip brands in the global RFID field by 2009 and then be listed on Stock Exchange of Thailand a year later.
"There are a lot of things to do, actually," says Manop, "but I never get tired, because I see my work as a hobby, and so I never grow bored with it."