One move ahead at all times

One move ahead at all times

By addressing the entire process of technology delivery, Smart Play Technologies has made its place in the top three players of India’s semiconductor services industry. With an annual growth rate of 30 per cent (year-on-year) it aims to record a turnover of US $100 million in the next two years

DIVYA M. CHANDRAMOULI

“Once you have tasted the success of building a company, you always want to come back for more,” states Pradeep Vajram, founder-CEO, SmartPlay Technologies (SmartPlay). Before establishing his current venture, Vajram founded Spike Technologies, a semiconductor design services company which was acquired by Qualcomm in 2004. Post the acquisition, Vajram led Qualcomm’s semiconductor division in India and as he puts it, this was one of the best jobs in the industry. “I was getting too comfortable with where I was and I wanted to create something from scratch before I lost the drive to start up again,” he explains. By 2008, having spent three-and-a-half years at Qualcomm, Vajram decided to combine his understanding of running a services company and expertise in the semiconductor industry to found SmartPlay with a clear focus on four verticals; logic design, analog design, software and system design. As for the industries it services, SmartPlay has a primary focus on connected cars, mobility and healthcare. Today, the Bengaluru-based company has a workforce of about 1,200 people spread across eight offices in India and the U.S.

During the global economic crisis of 2008, we tackled the challenge by sticking to the fundamentals of business. We had a meeting with our entire team and shared our plan. We stressed that there would be no layoffs and that those with a salary of less than Rs. 4 lakh per annum would not be affected. In this period (2008-2009) we grew by nearly 300 per cent and we gave back to our employees what was rightfully theirs.”

The right amount of fight

Vajram doesn’t shy away from stating what could have been; he admits that had the founding team of his first venture shown more aggression, Spike Technologies could have leveraged its advantage of being one of the first Indian chip design companies to make it big. “We lost our way by being too protective of what we had built,” he shares while adding that this time around, his approach will be one of cautious aggression. He believes that SmartPlay’s biggest differentiator lies in the delivery of technology. While cost arbitrage does play its part in winning a sales pitch, Vajram insists that it is only one among many contributing factors to success.

Today, SmartPlay lists many Fortune 500 companies as its clientele and in 2011, it signed a deal with Intel Custom Foundry and has since delivered numerous projects including a test chip development platform (architecture to GDSII), DDR3/4 PHY verification and layout of Analog IPs along with the participation in various customer tape-outs on Intel Custom Foundry’s 22nm and 14nm platforms. In its journey thus far, if there is one challenge that the company continues to face, it would be talent acquisition and retention. In an industry where attrition rates are as high as 30 per cent, SmartPlay has maintained a rate of close to 13 per cent and that is deemed reasonable. Vajram states that there are multiple retention strategies that the company uses to engage and motivate employees to grow with the organisation’s ascent. “At SmartPlay, openness is in our system. We always encourage our employees to raise their voices and ask questions and that can happen only when you are open about the way you work,” he says. Interestingly, the company’s human resources team has implemented a programme called ‘My Voice’ which allows employees to address their concerns to senior management and find the desired solutions resulting in improved internal systems.

Over troubled waters

When Vajram talks of how the company saw off the global economic recession of 2008, his initial reaction is “not again”. While the company’s approach to troubled times might be old news, what stands out is its ability to beat depression, by sticking to the fundamentals of business. Back then, SmartPlay needed to reduce its overall costs by 30 per cent to breakeven and the senior management curtailed expenses with a decision to cut back on salaries first. The company cut salaries by 20 per cent, across the board, while ensuring that it kept the communication channels with employees wide open. “We had a meeting with our entire team (then 60 odd) and shared our plan. We stressed that there would be no layoffs and that those with a salary of less than Rs. 4 lakh per annum would not be affected,” says Vajram. “In this period (2008-2009) we grew by nearly 300 per cent and we gave back to our employees what was rightfully theirs.”

The road ahead

From the past to the future, Vajram is confident that the semiconductor business will continue to grow robustly. “The Internet will help us stay connected to everything and we are very interested in a few spaces such as creating embedded software systems for connected cars,” says Vajram. He adds that the company ploughs nearly 50 per cent of its profits back in and its focus industries will remain mobile, automotives and healthcare. While SmartPlay will look to maintain its growth rate of 30 per cent, year-on-year, it will also look to grow its team by nearly 35 per cent. In the very near future, SmartPlay Technologies will look to register itself as a Rs. 500-crore company and that, for the founder and his team, will be one amongst many milestones to follow.


Snapshot 

SMARTPLAY TECHNOLOGIES 

Founder: Pradeep Vajram

Year: 2008

City: Bengaluru

Industry: Semiconductor design services

Revenue Outlook: Rs. 500 crore in the next two-three years

Healthcare Mobility semi-conductor services Smart Play Technologies

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