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29 November, 2006 - 15:07 By Staff Reporter

DisplayLink CEO, Hamid Farzaneh

Backgrounder: DisplayLink in Cambridge designs chips which it says will power the “second display revolution.” The technology allows PC users to easily connect to multiple monitors using USB, making it much cheaper and simpler to take advantage of the benefits of working with more than one screen.

Research from the mighty Microsoft, which knows an opportunity when it sees one, shows that multi-screen working can increase productivity by up to 30 per cent. As processing power accelerates, the firm believes that multi-monitor computing will be the next big thing, as several people could then feasibly work from a single CPU, each with their own screen, over a local network.

Another venture with roots in the now legendary AT&T Research lab in Cambridge, DisplayLink was founded in 2003 by Dr Quentin Stafford-Fraser, credited with inventing the webcam and Martin King, father of predictive text messaging.

DisplayLink, which was known as Newnham Technology until earlier this month, has come out of the traps fast, seeing the first commercial product to use its technology launched in June. The company is hotly tipped to repeat the feats of other AT&T Research alumni, like Virata, Level 5 Networks, Ubisense and Cambridge Broadband.

 

1) How does DisplayLink’s technology improve on the ‘state-of-the-art?’

Before our technology, achieving networked displays – i.e. streaming visual content from one host to a number of displays – was either inadequate – poor and inconsistent visual quality) or cumbersome – requiring significant processing electronics for each display – and expensive.

2) Your publicity material talks about your technology powering a second display revolution, what exactly does this mean?

The first display revolution enabled the interactive association of one display – initially CRT, more recently digital – with one processing host – PC, Notebook, PDA, etc. The second revolution enables multiple displays to connect to one or to multiple PC/Hosts at user’s bidding. Historically, people buy a PC with a display attached to it. In the future people will add displays as needed for a particular purpose, and decide which computer to attach it to. Displays can be computer monitors, TVs, or application specific – such as for calendars, instant messaging or photo flipper displays.

3) What are the benefits of using multiple monitors?

Firstly, user experience. It’s a bit like broadband – once you have it you never go back. Think about a desk – people have naturally evolved to use a 3ftx5ft desk space to do thinking work. Yet the PC has constrained us to a 19” display. The future moves us back to the norm for a very good reason – it’s more enjoyable and importantly more productive. A number of studies have reported the substantial productivity increases achieved from using multiple monitors – including one by Microsoft.

4) How broad is the scope for applying the technology?

Essentially any display. That sounds very broad, and it is. Initially as with most new technology revolutions, uptake will be amongst those of us who use computers heavily, mostly in business applications: for example office workers, laptop users. However, connecting multiple rooms in the home to a single PC has clear advantages. This can include connecting the TV to the laptop over wireless.

5) What is your long-term strategy for commercialising the technology?

To enable the most people to take advantage of the technology the quickest, we’ve adopted a fabless semiconductor model: this means our technology is built into silicon chips, driven by software on the host PC, which enables the whole IT industry to embrace the opportunities and discover applications we’ve not even heard of.

6) Kensington are your first major customers, what other products are likely to utilise the technology in the near future?

Kensington were a pioneer and used our first generation technology. Our second generation technology, based on the chip family that we started sampling this past summer, is actively being designed into a number of innovative & very useful products that will soon be announced publicly by some of the largest CE firms in the world. Given the typical six to nine months design cycle, you can expect a rapidly increasing stream of such products to be introduced to the markets in the new year, starting at CES (Consumer Electronics Show 2007, Las Vegas, USA) in January. At CES we will provide more details on our product plans and we’ll also have a few very exciting customers and technology announcements.

7) At what stage in the company’s development do you anticipate raising further venture capital, and when the time comes, what kind of exit do you plan to provide for investors?

We have to date raised over $22m, primarily from Atlas Ventures, Benchmark Capital and Esprit Capital as part of our Series B funding. We are thus well capitalised for the foreseeable future but, in the context of the incredible traction we see in the markets – greater, I must say, than our wildest expectations – we may decide to raise more capital in order to accelerate our development and marketing activities.

We have a solid preference for an IPO which we believe can help us further strengthen a highly innovative and independent enterprise. Our investors are seasoned and very supportive. We intend not to rush the process so that we can fully use the flexibility derived from being privately held before we embark on preparing for a public offering.

8) What was the rationale for head-quartering in Palo Alto, CA, whilst retaining the R & D department in Cambridge, UK?

This arrangement is highly beneficial as it gives us access to one of the best technology poles in the world – Cambridge – while giving us solid roots and antennas in Silicon Valley. This avoids the risk of being blind sighted by some trend or technology developed elsewhere. Silicon Valley doesn’t have an exclusivity on technology, but it remains a massive fulcrum for much of the ideas, forces and trends that shape our world.

9) The company has said that it feels that it could be Cambridge’s next billion dollar company. On what do you base this assertion?

Our primary market has a TAM of over 100 million units. Our next wave markets that will be built on technology we now have in R & D would add at least the same order of magnitude to our TAM. Highly profitable and fast growth companies achieve valuations in the range of five to 10 times annual revenues. That means we’d need sales of $100-$200m to be capitalised at over $1bn.

10) Considering how young the company is, it has made good commercial progress. How has it achieved this?

The formula is very simple and combines three important principles: build a team of exceptional people, be customer-driven and maintain concentration. We have one of the very best teams I have ever worked with, we are stubbornly focused on our customers, and we insist on doing no more projects than we can flawlessly and timely execute.

 

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