Rise like a phoenix

As you have surely noticed, we've changed a lot of things during the past couple of weeks. Creating a startup is about of lot of things, it is also about knowing when to pivot and change strategy if it is not as successful as it ought to be. This is what we're doing, and this post will highlight the most important changes.

About a month ago we met Jean (@2lr), partner at TheFamily, and this is where it all began. Jean invited us to meet with him, and he made us realize many things (thank you, by the way!), the most important one being that we had given up on creating a community. Truth be told, we did start with the vision that our software should be free to use by the people (as long as it's for their own use), and with the intention to start a community around our tool. But we failed; we should have tried harder, but we didn't, and there are several reasons why but this is not the subject of this post. Anyway, long story short, Jean convinced us to try again, to change our message to appeal to a larger community and not only to Big Semiconductor, and we decided that, among other things, it was time to redesign our website to better convey this message.

Forget the 1%

Previously, we were targeting only the relatively small number of semiconductor companies out there. Except that big semiconductor companies are notoriously risk-adverse, as Nicolas pointed out in his post about the semiconductor industry's fear of change. The world is changing, as we witness Google, Facebook, Microsoft, and other formerly software-only companies start to design their own hardware, and the world won't wait for semiconductor giants to catch up if they're late.

And even if we had targeted developers rather than companies, seriously, who knows what HLS is? Who cares about it? Virtually nobody, compared to the number of coders out there. Instead of trying to appeal to the 1%, we should aim for the 99%.

This is why we've focused on explaining what we do to the majority of people who know how to write code. Our message is now "Hardware design for coders" and it pretty much sums up what we do. We give developers the possibility to design hardware without having to know about HDL (about what?). Sure, experienced designers have an advantage because they already know about clocks, and resets, and stuff, but we try to abstract these (and many other things) away when possible and relevant. For instance, one of the strengths of hardware is the possibility to run many operations in parallel during cycles. We have designed the Cx language so that most of the time you don't need to think in terms of cycles; and when you need to, it's easy to write cycle-accurate code.

Behind the scenes

Until now we had a Wordpress-powered site and blog, and redesigning the site seemed like a good opportunity to reexamine technical choices. I had implemented a few features with a Wordpress plugin to provide license checking, download of our software, and dynamic navigation for the documentation. And I am now convinced that Wordpress may be a good CMS, but it's definitely not a good platform to build upon. It feels like you have to hack your way around no matter what you want to do.

With that in mind, and some good advice from our friends at Homadeus, I switched from Apache to Nginx (which I found sooo much easier to configure, and also it's said to be quite faster too) to serve the different sites we have (www, update sites updates and nightly, and our jenkins); and I took a look at MongoDB and Node.js, both of which I found awesome enough that we should use. So our website at https://www.synflow.com is now powered with Express over Node.js (and uses Handlebars for templating), and relies on MongoDB to store users' licenses (and projects and other things in the future). I switched our blog from Wordpress to Ghost (which runs on Node.js too) because it is more modern and lightweight, and as I said on Twitter I love the way it looks out of the box. And because I wanted the Node applications to run continuously, without writing a line of bash, I switched from the good old init to systemd which is probably as sexy as a service manager can be (and that's saying a lot!).

Where we at

The website is still a work in progress, we are writing the FAQ, and will add a more gentle getting started. I'm working on a roadmap for our language that will be online in a few days (hopefully).

Ghost does not support comments (it is by design). We plan to install a forum in the near future, which I will then link to the blog; until then you can comment on Twitter, the mailing list, or by email (all contact information is on the contact page).

PS: and in case you missed it, "Rise like a phoenix" is the song with which Conchita Wurst won the Eurovision Song Contest :-)