Marc Fleischmann is a serial entrepreneur with several companies under his belt. Currently, he is a co-founder at Datera, but in today’s interview, we talk mostly about his experience at Transmeta, which gave Intel a run for its money.
For Marc there are two key qualities that have kept him going in new startups: first, the willingness to do it, through passion for the task at hand. Also, he cites a certain insecurity that keeps him on his toes and drives him to continue to grow, expand and try new things.
A native of Germany, Marc began programming by the time he was 11, before the PC era. At 13, he read an article about Steve Jobs. The article was written in Palo Alto and he knew that’s where he wanted to be. Within about 10 years, he’d made it there.
While Germany is prosperous and industrialized, it’s also conservative. Marc didn’t feel much support for his drive to develop new ideas, and that fueled his dream of coming to the United States.
He started his first business while still in Germany – making clone computers (what any PC that was not made by IBM was called back then). He ran this throughout university and was able to sell it shortly before graduation. At the time he began to see the potential of TCP/IP and the early days of Internet, and wanted to move in that direction.
Looking at the playing field, Marc thought Hewlett Packard, with its new RISC processor, had the best system to power the Internet, and he landed a job with HP Labs in the early 1990s. After about a year working in Germany, he was transferred to the US on an L1 visa. While he says HP was great and in the forefront in many areas, they actually lagged behind in Internet, which is where he still wanted to be. So shortly after getting his green card, he decided to leave.
His big opportunity came with Transmeta. He secured an interview while they were in stealth mode, and was actually concerned and unsure when, during the interview, he found out their project was microprocessors, not Internet.
Transmeta originally wanted to develop high-end processors to outdo Intel. However, one of the big problems that Marc and his team recognized was the low battery life of portables. They were able to develop chips that had much lower power consumption, but they then had to persuade management to move in that direction. However, Intel had a strong hold on the US market, although Transmeta was able to make inroads with Japanese companies. They were so successful that from 2000 to 2001 the company more than doubled its revenue.
Marc tells the story of how Intel was apparently stealing their trash to find out their secrets, although Transmeta was careful to make sure anything sensitive was shredded or otherwise protected. And in the end, a suit was brought against Intel for patent violations, which led to a $250 million out-of-court settlement.
In 2006 Marc went back to Germany, as he saw Berlin becoming a startup center in Europe. He’d admired Zynga for its approach to applying analytics to social gaming, and worked to develop a game platform with a high level of in-game consumer analytics. He saw important differences between the US and European markets for entrepreneurs:
- In Germany, there is more focus on precision and execution. There is a smaller “exit market” for startups, which means less potential to sell. So investors tend to focus more on risk
- In the US, focus tends to be on the endgame, when the company can be sold and the investor can get high returns their investments.
Marc sees that each can learn from the other – the exuberance of America balanced with more focus and precision is still a tough balance for him to achieve, but one he thinks will be beneficial.
Marc’s latest project, Datera, is born to satisfy the data infrastructure for the data era. The data storage solutions they offer can be compared to self-driving cars. Your destination, or intent, is what matters, and you’ll no longer have to focus on all the other factors around it. Datera came out of stealth mode last April. Marc’s personal satisfaction has always come from building something meaningful, and he sees that Datera has the potential to do just that.
For those who want to be entrepreneurs themselves, Marc advises that they pick a problem that’s difficult enough and important enough to solve so that you can create something meaningful.
Three Qualities Needed in an Entrepreneur
- Taste – the instinct to pick a target that no one else can see
- Talent – the skill to hit a target that no one else can hit
- Drive – the persistence to see your journey through to completion
He also says that there’s no easy answer to whether someone should spend time working for another business before their own startup: it really is a matter of taste.