All in on Altium?

Autodesk’s bid — declined, so far — for Altium took me by surprise. In retrospect, it probably shouldn’t have.

As I’ve noted many times, I fully expect Altium to be acquired. It’s just I was looking more in the direction of Dassault and PTC, the big mechanical CAD (MCAD) players. I should kept Autodesk in my field of view, especially after it acquired Eagle five years ago. I think I was lulled to sleep, as that was a small acquisition and Autodesk hasn’t made much of a push since to burrow into the ECAD space.

The proposal was hefty, valuing Altium at $3.91 billion. That’s not much lower than Siemens paid for the considerably larger and more profitable Mentor Graphics in 2107. Yet Altium thinks it can do better.

It just might. Autodesk’s bid prices each Altium share at AU$38.50, a 41.5% premium over Altium’s closing price on Jun. 4 and a premium of over 47.4% to the one-month volume-weighted average price. Prior to the offering, however, Altium’s stock had peaked at a 52-week high of AU$39.34 in last October. So at $38.50, Autodesk was actually underbidding a bit.

An Autodesk-Altium merger wouldn’t change the face of the ECAD industry immediately. Altium would still run neck-and-neck with Zuken for third place in revenues behind Cadence and Mentor. But it would give Altium the backing of a industry leader in 3-D CAD, and accelerate the inevitable MCAD-ECAD merger.

The Nature of Disruption

Just finished recording an hour-long (!) podcast with Judy Warner for Altium’s On-Track sessions. And while I don’t want to spoil any surprises, I will briefly touch on one of the topics we covered.

We got on the topic of disruptions. (I know, I know, it’s every keynote speaker’s favorite word. Sorry.)

In my view, ECAD software has to continue to get more intuitive and easier to use, especially for engineers who may only spend 10 or 20% of their time doing layout. If most of your time is spent using other tools, you won’t necessarily develop the hard-coded means to work the layout software. And no one wants to have to relearn the software each time they use it. So the tools must be more intuitive. And along the same lines, they need to be able to perform integrated functions with other platforms in their native environments. Users are most comfortable when operating in the environment they are familiar with.

To that end, I still think the company that breaks the ECAD industry will most likely come from outside the ECAD industry, if for the stunningly simplistic reason that engineers and their marketing colleagues in one industry are always looking for ways to expand into others.

Which is how it came to be that a maker of PCs (Apple) broke the recorded music industry and then broke phones. And a maker of batteries (Tesla) broke the automotive industry.

Going back aways, a software developer (Microsoft) broke computing, which was all mainframes and dummy terminals back in the day. (Now with app-based tablets and Chromebooks tethered to the cloud, we’ve come close to full circle.) And that same software developer broke video gaming, doing $5 billion in revenue from Xbox related sales last quarter alone and helping to spawn and massive market for online gaming.

My advice to Judy and her colleagues at Altium is to keep improving the design to manufacturing handoff — where so many manufacturability and quality defects take form — and to be wary of any company that comes up with a simpler and cheaper way to go from schematic to actual circuits, because while I don’t know who, how or when, I do know it’s inevitable.