Making Markets EP26: The Demand for FPGAs are Driving Massive Growth With Lattice Semiconductor CEO Jim Anderson

In this episode of Making Markets, Lattice Semiconductor CEO Jim Anderson gives a rundown on the company, its most recent Q4 results, and the strategy, opportunities, and direction of the company and the strong growth for FPGAs and why this growth is set to be sustained as demand for silicon continues to rise.

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Daniel Newman: As growth accelerated in the fourth quarter, the demand for innovative FPGAs powered by software that gives customers flexibility and agility continues to explode. With growth at over 30% in its Q4 and more new customers looking to Lattice Semiconductor across compute, industrial, and client applications, the future looks bright for Lattice Semiconductor. This week, CEO Jim Anderson joins the show. Here we go. You’re tuned in to Making Markets.

Announcer: This is the Making Markets podcast. Brought to you by Futurum Research. We bring you top executives from the world’s most exciting technology companies, bridging the gap between strategy, markets, innovation, and the company’s featured on the show. The Making Markets podcast is for information and entertainment purposes only. Please do not take anything reflected in this show as investment advice. Now, your host, principal analyst and founding partner of Futurum Research, Daniel Newman.

Daniel Newman: Jim Anderson, CEO of Lattice Semiconductor, welcome to Making Markets.

Jim Anderson: Thanks, Daniel. Great to be here. Good to spend time with you. Good to see you actually in person. I think the last time you and I talked, it was over Zoom. So it’s nice to actually be sitting next to each other.

Daniel Newman: It is so great to be out and about, even if just a little bit.

Jim Anderson: I agree.

Daniel Newman: It’s not normal yet, but I will be boarding a flight next week to Memorial Congress.

Jim Anderson: Nice.

Daniel Newman: In Barcelona. And so these are the little items that start to feel like we’re getting back to normal.

Jim Anderson: Totally agree.

Daniel Newman: Although, having to take a test, wear a mask show, a vaccine passport, it’s not all normal just yet.

Jim Anderson: Yeah, but we’re getting there. We’re getting there.

Daniel Newman: We are getting there, and it is really great to be here in studio with you here at Lattice Semiconductor’s corporate headquarters, right in San Jose. It’s a beautiful facility. Nice studio, and glad to have you on, on the show.

Jim Anderson: Thanks Daniel.

Daniel Newman: So let’s start actually here at Lattice Semiconductor. I’m going to want to talk to you about your earnings, a little bit about your growth story.

Jim Anderson: Sure.

Daniel Newman: Some of places that you guys are playing. It’s been an exciting couple of year. They coverage you guys in MarketWatch as one of the up and coming semiconductor companies to watch because of the fact that you’ve had such strong growth. It was actually pretty remarkable heading into that last part of last year before a little bit of tech pullback, but still a great year overall.

Jim Anderson: Yeah.

Daniel Newman: But because Lattice Semiconductor is a growing entity, but not necessarily a household name just yet, give me and the audience just that quick sort of introduction to the company and how you present it.

Jim Anderson: Yeah. We may not be a household name, but in your daily life, you certainly use Lattice products in your daily life all the time, whether you’re connecting to a data center server, sometimes client devices, all sorts of devices that we go into. So you’re most likely using Lattice Silicon in some way. But as where Lattice is focused, first of all, we’re a semiconductor company. And the part of the market that we focus on is FPGAs. And the simple way to think about FPGAs is to think about them as really flexible, adaptable, reprogrammable, silicon chips, right? And because they’re really versatile and adaptable, they get designed into just all sorts of applications, especially in some of the kind of newer and evolving applications.

And so Lattice is actually one of the companies that originally founded the programmable logic space. We’ve been around for now, actually we’re approaching 40 years now, so been around for a long time. And specifically, where we focus, is in really power, efficient, small size, very, very easy to use programmable logic and FPGAs. And so that’s where we really focus our innovation. That’s what our customers love about us. We’ve been doing that for many years and that’s really what’s driving our growth right now too. And so you would see us in all sorts of applications like data center servers, 5G wireless infrastructure, client computing, all sorts of different client computing devices, industrial automation, robotics, and automotive of electronics too.

Daniel Newman: So you’re playing in all the spaces.

Jim Anderson: We are.

Daniel Newman: That people are really interested in.

Jim Anderson: Yeah.

Daniel Newman: I mean, the last year has brought just an immense amount of attention to the semiconductor space. We’ve had the challenges of the shortages in the supply chain, and I’m not going to hit you up about that just yet because I want to talk about your earnings.

Jim Anderson: Sure.

Daniel Newman: But semiconductors came into focus, it became a kitchen table conversation after so many years.

Jim Anderson: Yeah.

Daniel Newman: But now that everybody, between our phones, our gaming consoles, our TVs, our automobiles, all those places that you play.

Jim Anderson: Yeah.

Daniel Newman: Those were all the things that, essentially, we ran into all these issues with, in terms of getting supply in. And so it ended up creating a massive boom across semis because if you listen to all the earnings calls, including yours, whenever these questions have come up, it’s never, well, we don’t have enough demand. That’s not been the problem. It’s everybody’s [inaudible], if I get more wafer, if I get more substrate, if I can get more process, if I get whatever I need more, if I can get it, I have people that want to buy it.

Jim Anderson: Absolutely.

Daniel Newman: That’s pretty exciting. But speaking of having people that want to buy it, you had a really, really great result just yesterday. You posted your most recent quarterly earnings, gave full year, you gave some guidance ahead of what’s going on. Talk to me about this quarter because the numbers were really, really good.

Jim Anderson: Yeah. We’re really proud of last year. We had, let’s see, 26% growth year over year for full year. And then for Q4, we actually grew 32% year over year. So our growth was kind of accelerating throughout the year. And so we exited the year on a really strong trend as well. And yeah, we believe that the company has entered a new growth phase, a growth phase that we think will last multiple years to come. And this is actually something, Daniel, that we talked about back in 2019.

So when we laid out the new company strategy back in spring of 2019 at our investor day, we covered the product strategy, the market strategy, but the other thing that we talked about was the fact that we believe that the company would enter a new growth phase, a new accelerated growth phase, in kind of the 2021, 22 timeframe. So we’re really proud to have kind of delivered on that promise, right? And we believe that 21 marked the shift, a new gear change, for the company into this sort of accelerated growth rate. And what’s driving that is really a couple things.

First of all, we’ve totally rebuilt the product portfolio over the last few years. Right? So in fact, over the last couple years, we’ve been launching new products at three times the rate of what we were say four or five years ago. So we’ve rebuilt the product portfolio. We’ve got a great roadmap in front of us. And then the customer engagement and momentum is just incredibly strong right now. It’s probably, I think it’s the best it’s ever been in the company’s history. And so we’ve got great products, huge customer momentum, and we believe strong growth ahead of us, and so great growth in 21. And in fact, our profit actually grew at twice the rate of our revenue growth. And so again, we’re really excited about kind of… We feel we’re at the start of a new faster growth rate and growth trend for Lattice.

Daniel Newman: So by the way, that probably is worth reiterating, that growth in margins because for a lot of semiconductor companies, well, there’s been a mix, but there’s also been some margin under pressure, of course, because of the competitive nature of supply demand and competitive nature of all the materials has not been straightforward. So being able to manage your business and your margin to expand margin is noteworthy. For sure. Investors probably are very, very pleased to see that.

You mentioned a whole bunch of categories, Jim, and you mentioned automotive, and you mentioned servers and you mentioned IoT and edge. So you got this really strong growth, 26% quarter, 32%, I believe, was the year. Do you have any of these segments areas that you’re finding are more driving this growth, or is it kind of across the board?

Jim Anderson: Well, so one of the great things about FPGA is the type of chips that we develop is they’re very flexible and adaptable, which means that they go into all sorts of applications. So we can participate in a lot of the kind of big secular growth trends that the industry is seeing overall.

So, but just to just give you a few examples of kind of where we’re seeing really strong growth. One that we’ve seen, is servers for data centers, right? So obviously across the industry, there’s been a tremendous build out in data center servers for hyper scale data centers, cloud data centers, over the years, and we expect that to continue for the industry. But within servers, lattice, we’ve really been growing our position within servers. We’ve been increasing within each generation, what we call our dollars of content per server.

Our attach rates have been going up. We’re now at an over one X attach rate, which means on average, we ship more than one piece of Lattice silicon for every server that ships. ASPs have been going up. So we’ve been growing our position within a growing market. So servers is one. 5G wireless infrastructure, we’re still, if you look globally, we’re still in the early stages of 5G wireless build out. And we have a great position in 5G. We have over 30% more content in a 5G base station than we do in a 4G. And so as 5G, he used to be built out, we see great growth there.

Daniel Newman: What drove that, just curious why?

Jim Anderson: Yeah. So partly, it’s the better product portfolio that we brought to the market. So as we improve our product portfolio, we’re able to gain better position on those systems. And so 5G will be a great growth driver for us moving forward. We saw great growth in 2021. Another example is industrial automation and robotics. The experience of the pandemic, I think for a lot of companies really catalyzed them to accelerate their move towards automation and robotics. So if you’re a manufacturing company or involved in some sort of production, you may have had shortages in terms of workers. You may have difficulty recruiting or retaining workers. And so that’s driving you, that’s catalyzing you, to accelerate automation and robotics. We’re seeing that across the board. Lattice devices are great fit for automation and robotics. We’re designed into all sorts of automation robotic systems. And so we’ve seen really strong growth there.

And then last area I’d point out, which is kind of a Greenfield growth opportunity for us, is client computing. If you look at the size of client devices, PCs, things like that, it’s well over 300 million units or system units at chip every year, that’s a big Tam for us. And so we’ve been bringing in some really pretty exciting new user features and capabilities to the client computing market. Actually, we just had an announcement with Lenovo on their ThinkPad product line where Lattice, some of our newest devices and software are going to be integrated into Novo ThinkPads and brings really new cool user experiences to the market. So just, that’s just another example. So yeah. Lot of different growth areas for us right now.

Daniel Newman: Yeah. And it’s hard to really pinpoint one because to some extent everyone wants to know where’s the ascent or where 5G, they want to know, where do I invest in 5G or, “Hey, where…”

Jim Anderson: Yeah.

Daniel Newman: And of course, to your point, the PC, the death of the PC has been largely overestimated. Right?

Jim Anderson: Definitely.

Daniel Newman: And we’ve seen how essential the PC has become throughout the pandemic.

Jim Anderson: Definitely.

Daniel Newman: And then of course there’s different formats, and I’m sure you guys will have capabilities to move up and down with bigger, larger format and smaller format, mobile devices. And actually, something came to mind as you were talking, is you’re mentioning a lot of these areas that you’re in. And I think sometimes people can become a little bit confused because they’re like, “Oh, so you’re competing in 5G. So you’re competing with Qualcomm, or you’re competing…” And you’re not. One of the things that makes the Lattice story so exciting or interesting is that you guys work in parallel with so many of these sort of known silicon makers.

Jim Anderson: Absolutely.

Daniel Newman: And you’re part of the bomb.

Jim Anderson: Yeah.

Daniel Newman: And when people think of it, they might think of the general purpose CPU as the silicon in a product, but there’s lots of Silicon. In cars, there might be hundreds of pieces.

Jim Anderson: Oh definitely.

Daniel Newman: And the point is they you’re attaching, in a very strategic way, and you’re getting this one X plus per server ship, for instance, not because you’re trying to necessarily go after general purpose CPUs, but you’re saying we’re working in parallel. We’re developing… Give a little bit more about that, how you guys kind of coexist, because I think that’s an interesting thing that people don’t always understand.

Jim Anderson: So we partner with a lot of companies across the ecosystem. So you mentioned Qualcomm, Qualcomm’s a partner of ours. So we build reference systems together where Qualcomm silicon and ours are working together to provide a great user experience. We’ll also work with AMD CPUs, Intel CPUs, and we’ll partner to make sure that their chips and ours, first of all, work great together, but they bring an even better experience or new capabilities or features to the customer.

Daniel Newman: Yeah. And it got me thinking, because some of the security technologies that you guys have developed, I know I’ve talked with some of your executive team in the past on some different podcasts, and we’ve even talked about some of the misconceptions of FPGAs. But listening to some of the security technology use for the boot on a server to make sure that where an FPGA can play a really important role for safe booting of a server. I mean, just simple things, or in the client space some of stuff you’re doing with AI.

Jim Anderson: Yeah. Yup.

Daniel Newman: And the talk a little bit about that because I thought it was really interesting right now we’ve got so much data protecting people’s data privacy, and you guys are putting kind of what I would say is imperative technology into client that can be used to make PCs safer.

Jim Anderson: Yeah. So in fact, we have FPGAs that include specific security technology that help protect the hardware platforms. So for instance, you mentioned client servers, if you take a server, for example, one of the things you want to make sure is that the hardware itself, including the firmware, has not been corrupted in any way from a security perspective. It used to be that people were really just focused on security more at the higher level software layers, but now people want to make sure that the entire system is secure all the way from the software to the fundamental hardware and firmware underneath. And so you can use Lattice devices, some of our secure FPGAs, to ensure that right when the system boots up, that the hardware and the firmware have not been corrupted.

So for instance, the Lattice device will go out and check the firmware and make sure that the correct firmware is on the system. And actually, it keeps a golden copy of the firmware inside the Lattice device, and if it does detect a bad piece of firmware, it can actually repair that. And so making sure that the platform, right from the very beginning of when it boots up, is secure is one of the things that we can bring to servers.

And we’re seeing designed in across multiple servers, that same technology is applicable to client devices as well. I mean, if you want your servers to be secure, but definitely your client devices as well, because they’re out there in the wild, right. So, yeah, it’s a great new technology and capability that we’ve been bringing to the market.

Daniel Newman: And it’s sort of a simple way to get under the hood there, is you’re going to be able to repair it before the vulnerability could potentially get to some of those more sensitive softwares.

Jim Anderson: That’s exactly right. Yeah. That’s a great point, yeah.

Daniel Newman: Because when I first heard about it, I’m like that’s really smart. It’s a pretty straight forward and simple layer of the design.

Jim Anderson: Yep.

Daniel Newman: That you really do some risk mitigation. And with what happened over the last few years, with some of the vulnerabilities in general purpose Silicon, we don’t need to rehash that again. But having those additional layers of security and catching it earlier can be really, really meaningful to companies-

Jim Anderson: Absolutely.

Daniel Newman: And to of course, this whole industry.

Jim Anderson: Definitely.

Daniel Newman: But so let’s bounce towards one of my favorite topics I like to ask, especially when I bring on companies that, as I suggested, maybe not everybody fully understands the business. You are growing so fast, you are attached to so many of these key partners in the industry, trends like 5G, automotive, automation, which by the way, that deserves its whole its own conversation.

Jim Anderson: Yeah.

Daniel Newman: Who would’ve thought Silicon and human capital would have such a tie together. But right now, when companies can barely find people to work, being able to automate steps in your business processes is becoming exponentially more important.

Jim Anderson: Definitely.

Daniel Newman: But you’re out talking to people, whether it’s at the Thanksgiving table, whether it’s a small group of maybe people in tech but that don’t necessarily know… What do you feel sometimes about Lattice isn’t being fully appreciated in the market?

Jim Anderson: Yeah, that’s a good question. I think, let me think in terms of both customers and investors, right. If I think about customers, I would say, we’re getting a lot of love and appreciation from customers. So I’m actually not too worried about customers because customers they definitely see that we have our strongest product portfolio we’ve ever had in the company’s history. They see the roadmap in front of us. They see not just the hardware devices we’ve been building, but the software we’ve been building on top of that. So when I look at the customer engagement and momentum, it’s off the charts. And so I’m not worried about customers, I think we’re getting plenty of appreciation from them.

But if I talked about investors, I do think there’s part of the Lattice story that’s underappreciated still by our investors, and I’ll contrast it. And I think it’s software, it’s about our software strategy. And I’ll contrast it with our hardware strategy. So I think the hardware, the devices that we build, I think that’s really well understood by our investors because they’ve seen over the last couple years, as I mentioned earlier, we’ve tripled our rate of new products that we’re bringing to the market versus a few years ago. We’ve rebuilt a hardware product portfolio. We’ve got a great roadmap in front of us. We’ve got a new platform we’re launching second half of this year. So I think that’s really well understood, the hardware part of the story.

I think the part that’s underappreciated is the software strategy we’ve had in place. So over the last few years, we’ve made significant investments in software to make it really easy for customers to design Lattice chips into their devices or to switch from a competitor’s device over to our device. And specifically, what we’ve been investing in, is these kind of application specific solution stacks. And we brought four of them to market to date, we’ve got more on the way. But they’re basically prebuilt software tools and libraries that make it really easy for those customers to use our devices. And then the benefit for the customer is that they can get to market much quicker.

The benefit for us is that accelerates our time to revenue, right? So we can get customers into revenue for us much faster, and it also creates stickiness over the long term. So I think that software strategy is kind of understood, but I still feel like it’s a little underappreciated, the power of the software that we’re building and the power to accelerate revenue over the long term. [crosstalk] going to ask a question-

Daniel Newman: Well, no, I was just thinking it actually, to me, if you look at some of the company these that have seen their multiples grow the fastest, especially in semis though, it’s the companies that are increasingly becoming software first organizations and the silicon hardware, the manufacturing is sort of, it’s a supporting cast of the business.

Jim Anderson: Yeah.

Daniel Newman: And I can think of one big AI company, for instance, that if you actually talk to some of their engineers, they will say, we’re not a chip company, we’re a software company. And to the extent is people are looking for companies like yours, Jim, to come to them and say, “Here is the solution.”

Jim Anderson: Absolutely.

Daniel Newman: “Here is the stack. Here’s not just the hardware, here’s the hardware, the software, here’s the framework, here’s deploy it. Here’s how you scale it. We’ll be your partner, we’ll be side by side to build this thing up. And as tech evolves, Lattice is going to be here for you. I know…” And that’s kind of how you’re seeing thing… Like I said, you see some Silicon companies in the low double digit multiples and you’re seeing some reaching 40 and then at their peaks it was 70, 80, 90.

Jim Anderson: Yeah.

Daniel Newman: And it’s not because of the huge margins in hardware. Oh, are the expense of setting up new fabs in process, it’s the software. It’s the software and scale.

Jim Anderson: Absolutely. Software is at the heart of our strategy. And it’s not to say we don’t invest in the chips. You got to have the chips too.

Daniel Newman: You have to.

But we are absolutely investing in the software, and not just organically. We’ve been investing organically, but inorganically too. We just did acquisition, last quarter, we acquired a company. He called Mirametrix.

Jim Anderson: Yep.

Daniel Newman: Which brings artificial intelligence technology in general, but specifically Mirametrix are software experts in computer vision. And computer vision has, I know you know this Daniel, that it has applications across multiple different markets, client computing, all sorts of industrial applications, automotive electronics, and so we think this is just a great addition to Lattice. Mirametrix is deployed on already over 20 million end user systems. And so they bring a great of ability into Lattice. But to your point about solution, that allows Lattice to bring a full solution all the way from the hardware layer up to the application layer. And so we’re able to bring a really complete solution to our customers, which is a tremendous help to them and really benefits us in terms of long term stickiness.

Which by the way, I loved the solution, I believe it was tied to Mirametrix, but the whole ability, like on client to be able to sense presence.

Jim Anderson: Yeah.

Daniel Newman: And to be able to know, because that’s one of the biggest vulnerabilities, people don’t realize visual hacking and stuff like that though. You’re sitting on an airplane, I mean, I don’t mean to, but sometimes I’m reading people’s emails. Because, I mean, you’ve got your big open laptop and you’ve got sensitive, confidential… I’ve seen people do and M&A, you’re sitting on an airplane, you’re-

Jim Anderson: Yeah.

Daniel Newman: And what I’m saying, is someone gets up and goes to the bathroom, and we’re doing it on accident, but if someone is on purpose in a coffee shop… So just these opportunities, just building technology to reduce, remove that opportunity. I know you’re not there, the machine, I know you’re not there. I’m going to shut down.

Jim Anderson: Yeah.

Daniel Newman: And I’m not going to make this data available again until I see that you have returned. It’s straightforward.

Jim Anderson: Yeah. Yeah, one of the applications you’re talking about is the Mirametrix and Lattice Silicon, what it can do is detect if somebody sneaking up behind you and looking over your shoulder. And what it can do is throw a warning sign up, and let you know that, “Hey, somebody’s trying to visually hack your system.” Right, so, absolutely. And there’s a bunch of other cool use cases for it as well, but yeah, the computing-

Daniel Newman: I just remembered that one, because with the vision-

Jim Anderson: Yeah, that’s good.

Daniel Newman: That’s a really very real world application.

Jim Anderson: Definitely.

Daniel Newman: How vision can… Of course, in vehicles for paying attention, things like that. I mean, gosh, I know our cars are all going to drive themselves, but they’re not yet. So maybe we could have some technology that could… I’ve always said that like, how does a car not really know yet that you were multitasking? How does it not know you were on your… it does.

Jim Anderson: Yeah.

Daniel Newman: But it doesn’t, and it’s kind of, societally speaking, we need intelligent software in Silicon that actually enables us to measure, manage and keep track of this stuff, but do it in a way that’s not too invasive. And so we got to balance human privacy and rights what technology’s capable of.

Jim Anderson: Absolutely.

Daniel Newman: I know we got to wrap up here.

Jim Anderson: Sure.

Daniel Newman: So I want to end in this with a sort of a forward looking question, you’ve got this great growth. You’re seemingly accelerating, to keep the automotive puns going forward here.

Jim Anderson: Yeah.

Daniel Newman: Where does that next wave of growth come from for Lattice Semiconductor?

Jim Anderson: Well, I think it’s really coming from the places that we’ve already been growing. So our big growth areas are communications, computing, industrial, and automotive, and it’s a lot of those places that we’ve been growing over the last couple years. Right. So, for instance, in the communications and computing segment, that segment grew over 30% last year for us. Right. And where we’re seeing growth is 5G wireless infrastructure build outs. Servers, we believe we’re continuing to grow our position in servers. Like I mentioned before, client computing, which we talked a little bit about today. That’s really… We’re at the very early stages of fully tapping into that growth opportunity for us. And industrial automation and robotics, we talked a little bit about that, we’re really well positioned there. And then automotive electronics, that was a great growth area for us last year. We’ve got a very full design [inaudible] pipeline in front of us. And so I think auto electronics is another place, ADAS, infotainment systems, where you’ll see Lattice grow.

And so, across those multiple different growth areas, we feel pretty good. And we’re also going through new product cycles, we’re ramping up new products. Our latest platform that we launched is Nexus, and last year was just the first year of a full year of revenue from Nexus. We have years ahead of us, of that platform fully ramping into full peak production. We’ve got a new platform called, Lattice [Savant], that’s coming at the end of this year, that actually brings five times more capacity and capability to our customers and doubles our addressable market. So that will launch second half of this year and that’ll create a new revenue stream for us further out in time. And so, yeah, we got a lot of both, from a product perspective and from a customer market perspective, a lot of growth engines underneath us. So we’re pretty excited about this kind of new phase of growth we’ve entered in 21 and the future moving forward.

Daniel Newman: Well, as you head into a new year, I want to congratulate you on the results last year. It was great results.

Jim Anderson: Yeah.

Daniel Newman: I want to thank you so much for joining me here on Making Markets, Jim Anderson, we’ll have to have you back soon.

Jim Anderson: Thanks, Daniel. Really appreciate it. Thanks for the time.

Daniel Newman: Thank you.

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Author Information

Daniel is the CEO of The Futurum Group. Living his life at the intersection of people and technology, Daniel works with the world’s largest technology brands exploring Digital Transformation and how it is influencing the enterprise.

From the leading edge of AI to global technology policy, Daniel makes the connections between business, people and tech that are required for companies to benefit most from their technology investments. Daniel is a top 5 globally ranked industry analyst and his ideas are regularly cited or shared in television appearances by CNBC, Bloomberg, Wall Street Journal and hundreds of other sites around the world.

A 7x Best-Selling Author including his most recent book “Human/Machine.” Daniel is also a Forbes and MarketWatch (Dow Jones) contributor.

An MBA and Former Graduate Adjunct Faculty, Daniel is an Austin Texas transplant after 40 years in Chicago. His speaking takes him around the world each year as he shares his vision of the role technology will play in our future.


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