The Next Chapter for E Ink: Talking with CEO Russ Wilcox About Yesterday’s Acquisition News

6/2/09Follow @wroush

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supply others. The market can see many types of displays, and we’ll continue to focus on building an ecosystem of multiple e-paper sources and multiple e-paper devices.

X: So PVI apparently feels there’s no contradiction between making its own e-paper product and supplying parts so that others can make similar products?

RW: That’s not uncommon in the electronics industry. For example, you’ll see a big guy like a Samsung or a Sony with one division that makes chips for digital cameras, and another that makes digital cameras, but the chip might also be picked up by a few other brands. It takes the investment you’ve made in the core technology and allows you to spread it out over multiple different developers and paths to market.

X: You are one of the few people at E Ink who has been there throughout the entire ride, since 1997. What’s it like to finally reach this exit event?

RW: I’m really glad to be able to get some payoff for the people who put money into E Ink. I guess we went through eight rounds. That’s a lot of investor meetings, and all the way along you’re telling investors how you expect to make money for them. It’s very gratifying to be able to put reality into that. Everybody who has invested in E Ink in the last five years is going to do well.

For me, personally, my view is that it was time for us to become a public company. Given the size of the company and the amount of investment going on, it was just no longer appropriate to be venture-backed. The IPO market is closed, and these guys are very good friends that we’ve worked with for years, and together we make a pretty interesting public company that’s totally focused on e-paper and traded on global exchanges. And there is no SarbOx to contend with, because they are headquartered in Taiwan and are on the Taiwan stock exchange. So this is pretty interesting. I view it as the next chapter of what I hope will be a longer story of expansion.

X: For a lot of companies, an acquisition by a far-away foreign company might lead to some difficult cultural readjustments and communications issues. It sounds like you’ve already dealt with a lot of that with PVI.

RW: We’ve already been working with them for five years, and as I said, they’re our top customer. We have massive communications going back and forth with them already, and all of our management team knows all of their management team, and all of our engineers know all of their engineers. So there is this great interface between the companies already. We have compatible styles. This is a company that was the first business in Taiwan to build an active-matrix display factory. Their management team and ownership loves e-paper passionately, the way we do. It’s just a great fit. They are betting their company on e-paper. I think it’s going to work well, and it’s a known quantity on the cultural elements. That doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy. There is the time zone difference, and the language challenge. So it’s not easy, but I’m certain it can suceed.

X: After most acquisitions of venture funded startups, it’s not too long before the CEO and other senior leaders depart. Sri Peruvemban [E Ink's vice president of marketing] said today that E Ink’s top officers are staying in place for now and that the future shape of the management of the company is “to be determined.” What are your own plans?

RW: I’m utterly absorbed in what’s going on here and I’m going to stay totally focused on it. I’m going to try to build a global multinational of some importance in the e-paper space. I think we’re just starting to see the impact on society. As a business person—and fundamentally I’m a business guy—this is a really fascinating business, and it’s becoming even more … Next Page »

Wade Roush is a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @wroush

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