André Alcalde: Embracing Product-Led Growth in Electronic Circuit Design at CELUS*

While chip design has been largely automated, the same cannot yet be said for designing board-level electronics—selecting the best components and placing them on a printed circuit board is still a very manual endeavor. 

CELUS addresses this bottleneck by building a two-sided marketplace: On one side, component manufacturers can list their electronic components and application circuits, and CELUS’ AI digitizes their datasheets’ information to make the component’s specs accessible digitally to engineers. On the other side, their AI helps electronic engineers with component selection and circuit design for their particular project. 

After our last interview about CELUS about one year ago, we’re back speaking with André Alcalde, co-founder and VP of Strategic Development, about their growth strategy, what makes their platform stand out, and how Intel Ignite accelerated their journey as the electronics industry undergoes a shift from manual to automated electronic circuit design. 

Why Did You Shift Focus from Sales- to Product-Led Growth?

In the past, we focused a lot on getting component manufacturers on the platform to boost our inventory. Closing deals with larger companies naturally involves lots of sales and, as we quickly realized, also rather long sales cycles: If we talked to some customers in April, we might reach a decision in September, but if we started as late as October, it would be pushed to the next year and further delayed, sometimes taking an entire year to close. 

Now, our focus has moved toward getting more users for our platform, which also involves sales, especially when addressing bigger companies or getting more engineers within the same company to use our platform. But to be less dependent on sales cycles, we now focus more on product-led growth (PLG), which has additional benefits such as faster feedback cycles, improving our product faster, and getting more customer engagement. 

Besides word-of-mouth and peer recommendations within the professional engineer communities that drive adoption of our platform, we are especially excited to work with special groups, for example, open-source projects or student groups that need to design their own electronics to build, e.g., a race car for Formula Student or make the Hyperloop a reality. People in these groups are usually super committed, and their feedback helps us develop our platform further.

What’s Special About CELUS Platform Today?

We can give engineers very good and specific recommendations for electronic components that they can trust. Some engineers may have specific requirements or prefer some manufacturers or distributors over others—when you start a new project on our platform, you can specify these. We then take these into account alongside various other factors such as price, availability, procurement, and more.

We track how far people get within the design process—from starting a project to selecting components, and how many reach the end and download the bill of materials. This really helps us improve our component recommendations. 

Our edge for providing excellent recommendations is not just having a lot of inventory but also thanks to bringing all the electronic components’ specs in a standardized digital format. They usually come in all sorts of unstructured formats, such as PDFs, drawings, XML, or even handwritten notes. By using AI, we can process all these different formats and make each component’s specs easily accessible and comparable. 

This allows us to make sensible and not too shallow recommendations and be transparent about why we would recommend one component over another so engineers can trust us. And that trust is really crucial to realize our vision: 

What’s Your Vision for CELUS in the Future?

Our goal is to become a vital part of the electronics development processes. Many electronic engineers are using our platform, and we’re also able to automate the grunt work. 

Similar to the chip industry, where microchips have become so complex that no human can design them manually anymore, we’ll also get on the board level to a point where electronic design is done mostly by AI. Today, you can still do many things manually, but in the future, the designs will be so complex that no human can keep up with them. And like electronic design automation tools, digital tools for board design will become very important and valuable. 

This will be a transformational shift in the industry, where it’s key that engineers learn to use the design tools instead and focus on the high-level, creative aspects of electronic board design. We aspire to be one of the key players, having great inventory coverage and a sophisticated recommendation engine so that even for complex design projects, we can add value through sensible recommendations. 

It’s really a matching problem: in terms of circuits, you can design whatever you want, but in terms of synthesizing it, you have to work with the specific components available on the market—and that’s where our recommendations make the difference, pointing out the best way to implement the circuit using the actual components available on the market. 

How Did Intel Ignite Accelerate Your Journey?

We were part of the first Intel Ignite cohort in Munich in the fall of 2021, which started off super well-organized and professional. They incorporated a lot of experiences from the start from other Intel Ignite programs, such as the one in Israel. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we had many meetings online and a few in person, with the appropriate precautions put in place.

For us, participating in Intel Ignite was a no-brainer. As we’re building a product for the electronics industry, exchanging with established players like Intel is invaluable—we gained many good insights, ideas, and contacts! 

During the program, they take a lot of time to coach startups, tailored to their specific needs, assessing the potential and limitations of the technology and how to bring it to the market. But also after the program, we continued meeting people, keeping in touch with the Intel Ignite team, and exchanging ideas—it’s not just a program for three months but really about creating a long-term relationship with Intel and the other participants. It’s an ecosystem, and we could reach out to them anytime when we needed advice or help. 

What Were Some of Your Key Learnings from Intel Ignite?

I had worked previously at Intel, but more on the technical side. The Intel Ignite program got us in touch with people in marketing and on the commercial side and gave me a new perspective on talking to Intel as one of the largest electronic component manufacturers. We learned what makes component manufacturers think internally: what they were looking for when making a big decision about whether to adopt a new tool and how their application engineers would approach customers and recommend electronic components to them. Through many brainstorming sessions, we shaped the feature set of our platform today. 

Besides product development, it also helped us with other aspects, such as hiring. Our team was growing quickly back then, and we had to find a way to stay high-performing while adding many more team members. We got some fantastic advice, e.g., from founders whose startups had been acquired by Intel or people who had scaled teams within Intel to hundreds of people. It was a great experience, and I can definitely recommend it.

*Sponsored post—we greatly appreciate the support from Intel Ignite

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