The RFID Network interviews Dr. William "Bill" Colleran President and CEO of Impinj.
Dr. Colleran brings more than 20 years of semiconductor-industry experience to Impinj, most recently as Director of Business Development for Broadcom Corporation. Prior to joining Broadcom, he was CEO of Innovent Systems, Inc, which he led from the company's inception through its sale to Broadcom. Dr. Colleran previously worked for Merrill Lynch's Technology Investing Banking Group, focusing on financial transactions and acquisitions in the technology sector. He also has extensive engineering-design experience, both as a consultant for several Fortune 500 companies and as a Senior Staff Engineer for TRW, Inc., where he developed high-performance data converters in silicon bipolar, GaAs HBT and GaAs MESFET processes. Dr. Colleran received his Ph.D. from UCLA in 1993, his M.S. from USC in 1985, his B.S. from Notre Dame in 1983, all in Electrical Engineering, and his J.D. from Harvard Law School in 1996.
You have 3 degrees in Electrical Engineering. What prompted you to get your J.D.?
"While completing my doctorate in Electrical Engineering, I began investigating the opportunity to commercialize the technology I had been developing in the laboratory (data converter chips for medical applications) over the prior several years. Through the process of researching markets, preparing a business plan, pursuing development partners and pitching potential investors, I learned that my entrepreneurial ambitions motivate me just as much as my interest in semiconductor technology. For a variety of reasons, a venture based upon my doctoral research didn’t make sense at the time, but I had gotten the entrepreneurial bug. So upon completion of my Ph.D., I was faced with the prospect of returning to a purely technical role or moving my career in a different direction. I decided that training distinct from my technical background would best prepare me to become an entrepreneur. The natural move would have been to obtain an MBA, but as I researched the attributes of various business schools, I learned an interesting fact: the #1 source of CEOs of public companies is Harvard Business School, the #2 source is Stanford Graduate School of Business, and the #3 source is Harvard Law School. I was struck by this fact and decided that law school would not only expose me to a broad set of new and interesting concepts, but would also prepare me well for a career in business. One thing led to another, and I enrolled at Harvard Law School in the Fall of 1993, content in the knowledge that I might never practice law but would leverage my degree in other ways."
How do you think, if at all, it has helped you in your professional career?
"My law degree has helped my professional career in innumerable ways. After completing law school in 1996, I joined Merrill Lynch’s technology investing banking group in San Francisco, a role available to me only because of my combined legal and technical background. So my legal education opened the door for me to participate in one of the most exciting financial environments of all time – funding the growth of technology start-ups in the Bay Area during the dot com boom.
In addition, I use legal skills in my current role on virtually a daily basis. As CEO of a private company, I engage in myriad activities with important legal components, including contract negotiations, financial transactions, licensing agreements and employment matters, to name just a few. For better or worse, many aspects of operating a business today involve legal issues of one form or another. While I don’t act as legal counsel for Impinj, my legal training enables me to more efficiently handle matters that arise, and the critical thinking honed as part of my training in law school allows me to quickly identify core issues underlying complex decisions."
You're bio states you've had over 20 years experience in the semiconductor industry. Before coming to Impinj, what do you think your most significant contribution to that industry was? Why?
"After several years as an investment banker in the mid and late ‘90s, I became CEO of a start-up company called Innovent Systems that developed wireless communications chips. We very quickly focused the company on Bluetooth as a market with great potential and where our technology provided a competitive advantage. At the time (late 1998), virtually nobody had heard of Bluetooth, so we were making a big bet on an uncertain market. In a few short years, Innovent became a leader in the nascent market – arguably the leader. In early 2000, we were approached by Broadcom Corporation, a leading wireline communications company looking to expand its product portfolio into the wireless segment. After lengthy negotiations, we sold Innovent Systems to Broadcom for ~ $500 million in July of 2000. Of course, timing is everything, and July 2000 was very near the peak of NASDAQ. Nonetheless, I believe that growing from zero to a half billion dollars in less than three years represents an impressive achievement. Most of the credit goes to the great team of engineers we built at Innovent Systems. Today, that team forms the core of Broadcom’s wireless chip group which will sell ~ $1 billion worth of Bluetooth chips this year. I no longer follow Bluetooth closely, but I believe that Broadcom now leads the Bluetooth chip market along with its competitor Cambridge Silicon Radio."
What originally interested you in becoming part of the Impinj team?
"I was drawn to Impinj because the company afforded me several advantages, including compelling opportunities to work with new, cutting-edge technology; to develop new, unproven markets; to again pursue my entrepreneurial ambitions and to work with smart, passionate people. Interestingly, when I joined Impinj, we were not pursuing RFID at all – that focus came several years later. So my interest was piqued by the more general attributes of a technology start-up, not by the RFID market."
Besides your in-depth experience in the semiconductor industry, what other experience do you think has and will continue to benefit Impinj in your role as CEO?
"I’ve been lucky to have had a fairly broad set of experiences in my career. I began as a semiconductor chip designer, then attended law school, followed by a stint as an investment banker. These experiences prepared me for my first foray as an entrepreneur, running (and eventually selling) a start-up company developing Bluetooth chips. That collective experience – in technology, law, finance and start-up management – set the stage for my current role as CEO at Impinj."
What do you think the next major focus for the RFID Industry is going to be?
"The apparel industry is adopting item-level RFID at an amazing rate. Retailers have seen compelling ROI and are now looking to their suppliers to provide RFID tagged goods. This is opening up a new wave of companies, worldwide, that need RFID."
How is Impinj looking to fit into that focus?
Impinj has introduced source tagging systems for each of the key participants in the apparel supply chain: packaging suppliers, apparel manufacturers, and distribution centers. Our in-line and bulk RFID encoding and commissioning products provide scalability and adaptability to meet the needs of these businesses. These methods complement existing printer-based methods to allow manufacturers to respond quickly to increased demand today and to optimize for performance, cost, and quality over time.
What is your 2010/2011 focus for Impinj in general?
"We are determining how to leverage the success we’ve seen in the apparel industry to make gains in other markets. And we are continuing to find ways to make RFID easy to deploy and operate. We must reduce integration times. We’ve solved standards and performance issues. And economy of scale is improving on an ongoing basis. As an industry, we must lower barriers to adoption."
What else would you like the RFID community to know about you and/or Impinj?
"Impinj strives to continually innovate and enable deployable solutions for the marketplace. We are seeing broad interest in a variety of applications. We’ve been pleased with the interest in our new Speedway xPortal integrated portal reader, which begins shipping this month, and we are witnessing a very strong increase in demand for both our Monza tag chip and Indy reader chip products as well . This is the beginning of the growth we have all hoped for; it’s the real deal."
Impinj®, Inc. is the world’s leading provider of UHF Gen 2 RFID solutions. Impinj draws on its technical expertise and industry partnerships to deliver a wide range of products and solutions comprising high-performance tag chips, readers, reader chips, software, antennas, and systems integration. Impinj products provide unprecedented performance, integration, and cost effectiveness to a global customer base, in applications across numerous vertical markets, including apparel, inventory management, asset tracking, authentication, and serialization.
For more information, please visit Impinj.com