Alf-Egil Bogen, the new chief marketing officer at Energy Micro, talks to Steve Rogerson in our series of interviews for CIEonline. Bogen who has recently taken over as chief marketing officer at Energy Micro in Norway spent most of his career with Atmel. He has more then 20 years of experience in the semiconductor industry and was the co-inventor of the AVR microcontroller. He was also a co-founder of the RF company Chipcon that was sold to Texas Instruments in 2006. His career started in the early 1990s at Nordic VLSI, which is today Nordic Semiconductor.
Bogen has a masters degree in physical electronics and computer science and has recently worked with strategies and marketing. He has been an advisor and board member of several technology companies and is passionate about creativity and innovative teams; he holds keynotes on this topic once in a while.
Bogen is often found behind his Nikon cameras or advanced video cameras. He is passionate about cycling and rides both mountain bikes and road bikes. This year’s favourite interest is competitive sailing and he is currently building up a Melges 24 team in Norway.
1. What made you decide to switch from Atmel to Energy Micro?
I joined Atmel with the AVR technology and started the design centre in Norway, which has grown to a sizeable business. It became a very strong business. But for the past four years I have been working out of the headquarters in San Jose as CMO. I decided to move back to Norway where my family were and look around for other options where I could use my competence. I knew the CTO of Energy Micro and was involved with him at Chipcon. So I got in touch to see what we could do together.
I am a creator and for me a small company is much more flexible and dynamic. It is a more innovative culture that I wanted to be part of. That’s what I like about Energy Micro. I also invested some money in the company to show my commitment.
2. You co-invented the AVR microcontroller. How significant a product was that?
It is probably in 80% of Atmel systems today and is close to a $1bn business. Starting from zero in 1995, it has grown to be a significant business. The first AVR product appeared on the market in 1997 and by 2003, we reached $100m in revenue. From there it has been growing step by step.
The combination of very efficient code execution and low power consumption was key. And it embeds flash memory in the microcontroller; at that time very few companies did that, and that is what gave us market share. It is still one of the top products today.
3. You co-founded Chipcon and that was sold to TI. How did you feel about losing control?
When we started Chipcon, we had technology that bigger companies needed. There is always a natural time when smaller companies should merge with larger companies so they can be invested in and get access to markets. Smaller companies are more dynamic and come up with innovative technologies, but the challenge is to break into the bigger accounts that don’t want to deal with smaller companies. It is a natural thing to merge things together. Sometimes that is the right thing to do.
The technology is still successful in TI and that is important to me. It is a proof that what we did was the right thing.
4. How did you get into sailing and why do you want to do it competitively?
I am a competitive person. In everything I do I want to compete. But sailing is more than that. It is teamwork. We need to work together, we have to practice together. If one person fails, the whole team fails. I started on a race boat as part of a crew. I now have good team members who are very patient with me and teach me things I don’t know.
I also have a cruising boat to go out with my wife and kids. There are no cell phones and we are out of range anyway, so it gives me a break from the business environment.
5. You have been working with microcontrollers for the past 20 years. What changes have you observed and where do you think the technology is going?
Only a few years ago, there was a lot of differentiation in the microcontroller cores. A new race started when companies started to offer 32bit microcontrollers into the 8bit world, and at very attractive prices. This looked like they were getting more for the same money, but not totally. There were downsides such as high power consumption. But people started to use them. This accelerated the transition from 8bit to 32bit. Almost everyone seemed to be offering ARM cores.
So, how do people differentiate when they are all using the same core and the same process technology? The way we differentiate is to focus on low energy consumption. We do that by focusing on the peripherals. We also look at energy harvesting. This is the way we differentiate. Others must select their own way to differentiate. The key is to select one thing and focus on that. The core is no longer so important. Everyone uses ARM cores, so you have to find new ways to differentiate.