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Tue, 07 Sep 2021 01:23

It's time. We dive into the unbelievable history behind the quietest technology giant of them all — and as of recording the world's 9th (!) most valuable company — the Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company. This story checks every box in the Acquired pantheon of greatness: China, America, MIT, Don Valentine, Silicon Valley, "real men" looking silly, and... moats literally built by lasers. We're not kidding. Pull up a seat and settle in for a great one!

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Do you think people can tell when we're like fishing for teaser quits? I think they'll be able to tell on this one. Welcome to season 9 episode 3 of Acquired, the podcast about great technology companies and the stories and playbooks behind them. I am Ben Gilbert and I'm the co-founder and managing director of Seattle based Pioneer Square Labs in our venture fund PSL Ventures. And I'm David Rosenthal and I am an angel investor based in San Francisco. And we are your hosts. Well listeners, David and I are coming at you live, well sort of live, together from Seattle in person. First time since our Ethereum episode David. That's right, which was not that long ago. Love that we're back in the swing of things. I know it feels listeners, you probably don't notice a difference, but it feels totally different to be doing this with you in person, David in full 3D. The energy in the room is electric. Well today's episode is on TSMC or the Taiwan semiconductor company. It is your classic. Most people have never heard of it, but it's the ninth largest company in the world episode. It's a wild. Boris Chang founded TSMC at age 56, retired at 74, then came back to age 78, inked the deal to make all of Apple's chips. And yeah, we're going to tell the whole story here. It's wild. It's nuts. They make literally every chip in every iPhone sold today and soon to be in every Mac sold. If you're excited at all about Nvidia, AMD, Qualcomm or even any of the chips that Amazon Microsoft, Facebook, Apple are making all of those chips or nearly all of them are actually made by TSMC along with all the chips in your cars and your smart home devices and fighter jets and everything. Unbelievably, this company that the entire world relies on is on an island that some countries feel is a sovereign nation and the people's Republic of China feels is actually theirs. So today's episode has it all ascending from startup to tech superpower, an underdog founder, and of course, a good dose of geopolitics indeed. Now before we dive in, I'd like to welcome our presenting sponsor for all of season nine pilot dot com pilot is the backbone of the modern financial stack for startups and is backed by all star investors like Sequoia index, Bayzo's expeditions and stripe. They are truly the gold standard for startup bookkeeping and like I've been saying all season pretty much all of my portfolio companies run on them. They are truly awesome and we're so excited to have them with us now over to our conversation with pilot co founders with seam Duhar and Jessica McKellar. So Jessica, I know there's a fun story around one of your very first customers. Can you tell us that story? Yes, I mean, one of our earliest customers is my husband's first company. Wasim Jeff and I had already been through two companies together and it was so interesting to watch him go through that journey for the first time. And then it was delightful that my company could support him on the finance side through that growth. And in fact, that company was acquired. And actually he's back with startup number two also using pilot testament to the quality of the product. I love it. You've grown quite a bit. Who are some of the folks that use pilot today? I think one of the real reasons that folks come to pilot today is quite strongly demonstrated track record of expertise, meaning we work with a thousand plus startups. We've worked with folks like scale, lattice, gem, air table, open AI. No one is doing the work that we do to the quality bar that we do it at the scale that we do it. And I think that's really the big unlock for pilot, which is we can help you out when you're two people in a garage, when we can help you out when you're multiple hundreds of people with a full time finance team and a controller and a CFO and all that good stuff. Love it. You can learn more about pilot and whether they can help your company eliminate the pain of tax prep and bookkeeping by going to pilot dot com slash acquired. And thanks to Waseem and Jessica, all acquired listeners. If you use that link, you will get 20% off your first six months of service. Thank you pilot. As we talk about so often on this show and are definitely going to talk about on this episode. If you are a startup, anything that does not make your proverbial beer taste better, you should outsource like to TSMC or AWS or pilot dot com. All right. Well, listeners, it finally felt like the right time to do this episode amidst this global chip shortage that we've got going on that David, I think I've heard even forward has paused the production of F-150s because of this. So it is like a massive impact on the world. I think we've had TSMC on the agenda to do for like two and a half years now in our little Google doc. Totally. Well, I feel like we haven't called it a mini series, but let's call it a mini series on semi conductors and like silicon. Our episode. Yep. Our map so this is part one. That's right. We've done a ton of PA semi. Yep. Okay, listeners, it is time to jump into the history and facts and David's going to lead us in that. But as usual, even though we're going to be very excited about some companies, less excited about other companies, this show is not investment advice. We may have investments in the companies we discuss. It's for entertainment and informational purposes only and you should do all of your own research, even if you listen to the show for research purposes, go do other research too. As well. Do you hold TSMC? I don't. I mean, I wish I did. I do not. I really wish I did starting pre pandemic. I'll have to think about it as we go through this episode. Okay. Speaking of, we start in Ningbo, China in July, 1931. Just about one year after Warren Edward Buffett was born in Omaha, Nebraska. And there are going to be quite a few parallels here as we go through this episode. But in July, 1931, in Ningbo, China, our protagonist, Dr. Morris Chang, order of the propitious clouds with special grand cordon, which is the highest civilian honor that anyone in Taiwan can hold. Sweet. So he's like a knight of Taiwan. It's the order of propitious clouds. And I think there's like nine ranks of it. And the highest is special grand cordon. And he's special grand. He's special. Yes, he's very special. So he was born then for those who are unfamiliar with Chinese geography, Ningbo is a small city just a bit south of Shanghai, you know, small. Like it's about eight million people, you know, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, China skills ridiculous. But certainly wasn't eight million people when Morris was born in 1931. No, but I bet it was still probably pretty big. Hmm. But yeah, today eight million people crazy. So Morris's father was a county official and later became a bank manager. So the family moved around a bunch, a good bit within China. As his father was transferring for work. This is pre people's Republic of China. This is pre World War II. This is a very different place. Right. The leadership is not communist. No, no, no. So his early childhood years were like middle class, not wealthy, but like pretty well to do relative to your average Chinese citizen. Then when he was six, the second Sino-Japanese war breaks out. And Morris and his mom flee the main part of China to Hong Kong. And they go to live in Hong Kong for a few years to escape the air raids and the fighting. And then on December 8th, 1941, three hours after Pearl Harbor, the Japanese attack and invade Hong Kong. And Morris talks about this. He's like, yeah, everybody knows Pearl Harbor, like December 7th, 1941, what people don't often talk about is like the same thing happened in Hong Kong three hours later on the next day. They fly in Hong Kong, so they flee again back to China. They end up in Shanghai this time and they stay there for a few years until 1948 after World War II is over. But that's when the Chinese Civil War breaks out. That would lead to the Chinese communist revolution. And so they flee again back to Hong Kong. So this is crazy. Morris, before he turned 18, he has lived through three major wars. The second Sino-Japanese War, World War II, and the Chinese Civil War. Crazy. So the next year in 1949, which is the same year as the establishment of the PRC, the People's Republic of China, Morris turns 18 and with the help of an uncle that he has in Boston, his life completely changes. He gets accepted to Harvard. So he goes to the US. He goes to college at Harvard. Wow, talk about a change of fate. Talk about a change of fate, a change of seeing, everything. Morris says much later, my reaction entering Harvard was sheer ecstasy, almost disbelief. What a country. The United States was at its peak in its moral leadership and its political leadership in terms of democracy and it was the richest country in the world. Not to mention stable. I mean, you could say what you want, you could count on the fact that it's likely that 10 years from now, whatever economic structure or political structures exist will continue to exist. If what you want to do and what he ended up doing with his whole life is innovate, having that stability around you and all those structures enable you to do that. Yeah, like we just take this for granted, you know, but this is a good reminder. Like, at the very least, he's probably not going to have to flee Boston to continue his studies. And he does end up fleeing Harvard as we'll get into. So Morris loved it. That quote we read, like he was so overjoyed to be there, but he realizes he has kind of a new problem in America and at Harvard. His parents aren't coming over. He's on his own. He's got to support himself and make his own way. And at that time, his race is probably going to limit his opportunities. So as he says, quote, in the early 50s in the United States, there were Chinese laundromen, Chinese restaurantaires, Chinese engineers and Chinese professors. Those were the only respectable professions for Chinese no lawyers, no accountants, no politicians. And what is Harvard turn out, lawyers, sort of accountants, maybe politicians, yes, not a lot of engineers. Certainly finance professionals, certainly finance professionals. As we will see as we will go along, Morris is much more than a finance professional. But Harvard actually didn't have an undergrad engineering program at the time. Huh, that's crazy to think about. If you're really, really focused, you're probably going to go down the street in Cambridge from Harvard to MIT, to MIT, which Morris does. So he only spends his freshman year there. And then for his sophomore year, he transfers to MIT so that he can study mechanical engineering. We're going to have to the next episode that my Tim co-sponsors, we're going to have to add TSMC to the alumni company's list. Amazing. It is amazing. Like the number of companies in market cap that have come out of that university is incredible. In pilot, right? And pilot. That's right. We have so many companies to add to the list. All three co-founders from pilot MIT alums. So Morris, our man, he has learned the ways of the world in the US. He's focused. He finishes his under. He starts mechanical engineering a year behind at MIT. He finishes both undergrad and his masters in the remaining three years. And what year is this? This would have been 1951 when he transferred fall of 1951. OK, so like to contextualize what's going on in the tech world right now with quotes around it, because it's not so much a world as a very small continent. I mean, you have all of the post-World War II defense spending that went in, particularly on the West Coast, over it with the innovations from Stanford. But has fairchild semi-conductor been started yet? No, no, no. So maybe Shockley semi-conductor. Shockley semi-conductor is probably just getting going, but we're probably still in vacuum too. Like Bell Labs and like the transistor, to give you a sense, Silicon is years away. Transistors are probably just getting going. They're not in the integrated circuit yet, and it's all being done in germanium, not silicon. Wow. So it's like this is OG. So after he gets his masters in the three years, Morris wants to stay and do a PhD fully complete his technical training, but he ends up failing his qualifying exams twice. They give you two chances to take and he fails twice. By the way, that's a good time to say. So David and I watched and listened to every footage that Morris has ever spoken that has been released publicly to prepare for this. He is very funny. Oh, he's great. The way he talks about this, he says that unfortunately the biggest impediment to him going forward was that he failed the qualifying exam. But fortunately for him, they were kind enough to let him take it a second time, which he also failed. And he has this really dry clever sense of humor. So one of the interviews he talks about, one of the Stanford ones, he gets a question from the audience about how did he kick his smoking habit? Yeah, the questioner is like, I know you used to smoke like, how did you finally stop? And he's like, I never stopped. I still smoke. He's like 94 years old. And he goes on to make the case for why he's a pipe smoker. Yep. And actually, even though smoking is hurtful to his lungs, it's actually beneficial for his mental life. So he's pretty sure it's prolonged his life. He says he's delved into the data and pipe smokers live longer than non-smokers. I'm sure you can find data to support that. And I'm also sure you can find plenty of data to refute that. But yes, this gives you a sense of who Morris is. Okay, so he's failed his qualifying exams. He's got to go out and get a job. And not as a PhD, he's got to go get a job as a super entry level as an engineer. I mean, he has a master's degree, but still. Okay, so Legend has it. He has a couple job offers. The one he really wants, remember, he's a mechanical engineer. And this is like super early days of technology. There was electrical engineering at this time. Right, right, right. Yes, he could, but he didn't study electrical engineering. But like in terms of where you would want to work, like it's not really on anybody's radar screen, especially Morris is that like you're going to go enter the tech industry. So he gets his dream job offer from the Ford Motor Company. Oh, no way. Yes. I didn't hear that. And this is like, I'm sure this is apocryphal. So let's repeat the apocryphal story and propacitate to hundreds of thousands of people here. So the legend has it that Ford offers him a salary of $479 a month to go take an entry level job. And then he has a competing offer from Slovenia's new semiconductor division. And Slovenia, I know of this company only because my vacuum growing up was made by Slovenia. Yeah. Well, we're going to talk much more about Slovenia in one second. This is the competing job offer he's considering. They offer him a salary of $480 a month, $1 more. And legend has it that Morris asked Ford to beat Slovenia's offer. They didn't. And so he took the Slovenia job offer. I'm sure that is a hundred percent apocryphal. But you know, Morris, he's great. So speaking of Slovenia, do you remember, I'm sure some portion of our audience remembers, but do you, Ben, remember who else started their career in Slovenia's semiconductor division right around this exact same time? We've talked a lot about this in this person on the show. No. Donald T. Valentine. No way. Yep. That's right. So he started at Slovenia after Fordham or maybe it was after the military. He had a pet chocolate. Well, no, then he was at Raytheon and then he joined Fairchild. Fairchild, okay. After the traitorous, he left Shockley and started Fairchild. You're better at remembering these deep details of older episodes than I am. Well, I do a lot of research with you. And sometimes research includes past acquired episodes. There you go. We've truly like become a circular function here. So they didn't overlap. Donald Valentine and... They were never in the same place. They were in different locations and different job functions, very different job functions. But they were both, I believe, both at Slovenia. Amazing. I'm crazy. So Don is out chilling in California, like we were talking about and falling in love with California. He's playing water polo. He's like, oh my gosh, I never going to leave this place. Morris, he's on the grind. He gets posted as a junior engineer at Slovenia's Ipswich Massage Shoesets plant. Not quite the same glamour as Don out in Southern California. So remember Morris is a mechanical engineer. He doesn't know anything about electrical engineering, but he's working in this new semi-contact conductor division. So after work, he's living in a hotel, by the way. He doesn't even get an apartment. It's like some company sponsored hotel, like what a sad existence. He goes home, back to the hotel, from work. And he studies the best textbook that he can find about electrical engineering, which is entitled Electrons and Holes in Semiconductors with Applications to Transistor Electronics. Written just recently, you know, a couple years before in 1950 by William Shockley. Oh, wow. Yeah. Shockley and two other guys basically invented the, I'm not sure it was the first transistor, but the first transistor of the type that everything else would then be sort of built upon when they were at Bell Labs, not too long before this. Yeah, not too long at all. I mean, again, it was vacuum. Like any aquas of vacuum tubes. And then Shockley invented the transistor. And then in a sack, we're going to talk about the integrated circuit that Bob Dois and Jack Kilby, who we're going to talk about, invented, co-invented. But anyway, okay, back to this moment in time. So Morris is just studying the Shockley textbook in his hotel room. But like he's not a college, he doesn't have any teachers. He just has the book. Wow. But he's very resourceful. So he figures out that one of the senior engineers at the plant is kind of an alcoholic and hits up the hotel bar almost every night. So what Morris does is he comes home from work in the early evening. He studies in his room for a couple hours. And then later at night when the older colleague shows up at the bar, Morris goes down to the bar not to drink, but he brings the textbook and he asks the guy, he's like, I don't understand this. I don't understand that. Like, girl, he's just like buying drinks for his buddy. So great. Incredible. Here's the quote. He says later, he being the older colleague didn't solve all my problems, but he solved enough so that I could move ahead. He was my main teacher about electrical engineering. So great. Wow. So this goes on for three years with Morris is like, he's like rolling hard. Like he's burning the candle at both ends, working and at the bar, but not drinking, learning. But as he is learning the industry coming up speed, it becomes pretty clear to him that if he really wants to go places in this new emerging industry, Slovenia not really the right bus to be on so to speak. And obviously Don Valentine figures out the same thing and jumps to Raytheon and then to Fairchild. Morris says that the moment when this crystallized for him was there was a talk that a senior manager at Slovenia gave at the plant. And the quote that the senior manager said that stuck with Morris for the rest of his life was we at Slovenia. We cannot make what we can sell and we cannot sell what we can make. Real great position to be in. So Morris is like, damn, I got to get hell out of here. That's a signal to move on. I've ever heard one. Totally. So, you know, like Don Morris leaves Slovenia for greener pastors. However, not to California. Halfway in between. We're just looking valley. Yep. Halfway in between. So we talk a lot about Fairchild and the trader. Silicon Valley, blah, blah, blah, you know, the place to be. Like here's the secret. Silicon Valley is all marketing. Like the biggest semiconductor company in all types digital analog everything at that time was not in California. It was in Dallas, Texas. It was Texas instruments, which of course, me, you, many people in our generation know of as the people that made our graph incalculators in high school and college. But of course, at this time, I don't even think they had a consumer division yet. They were speaking. No, no, no. No, T.I. was the juggernaut. Like now Silicon Valley is Silicon Valley. But then it was like, you know, okay, California, I don't know, West Coast, wherever like T.I. was the big incumbent. They were the juggernaut. T.I. actually got its start. I had no idea before doing the research here. In the 30s, like you're like, how did a technology company end up in an semiconductor company end up in Dallas, Texas? They started making instruments, Texas instruments for measuring seismic activity for oil exploration. So all the oil made sense back in Texas. They were like the TSMC, they were the technology provider to oil companies. And that's what led them into computing and into digital to power that business. Oh, wow. And yeah, so they were huge. Not just huge in terms of like the company, but they were the technology leader. So Bob Noyes, like I was saying a minute ago, is credited, you know, when he was a fair child, inventing the integrated circuit and all that. Well, he was the co-inventor simultaneously. It was co-invented by Jack Kilby, who was at T.I. and Jack was actually the one who got the Nobel Prize for inventing the integrated circuit. Gordon Moore, who was also, you know, a fair child and then founder of Intel along with noise, he would coin Moore's law. But Jack has a great quote to about the implications of de-integrated circuit. And semiconductors, he says, what we didn't realize then, this was a little later, when they were inventing it, was that the integrated circuit would reduce the cost of electronic functions by a factor of a million to one. Nothing had ever done that for anything before. Wow. It's such a great way to frame it too. Like this had never happened in human history where like there was this like this thing that used to be ex-expensive in terms of resources. And then magically one day, it's a million times cheaper. Yeah, that's crazy. I didn't realize it was on that scale. This is probably a good time to talk about some definitions, because there are some things that we've thrown around already that it's worth. I think everyone has a general understanding of what these things are, but it's worth understanding more precisely before we move on. The first of which is a transistor. The best way to think about a transistor is not the tiny little transistor that's on a silicon die today. But think about it as a little encased piece of circuitry with three prongs coming out of it. Those three prongs will save the technical names, basically have an input and output and something that controls the input and the output. It's a switch. It has two purposes. The first of which is being a switch where you can decide that either lots of stuff is going to go through it, stuff being voltage current or none or it rounds to none. And so that way you can decide, hey, this binary piece of equipment is either off zero or on one. Okay. So that's a transistor. Now a transistor can be made out of lots of different things. It can take any implementation. Why is everybody talking about silicon? Well, silicon as an element is a semiconductor. It is a metaloid. It has some properties that make it like a metal, like a conductor. It has some properties that make it non-conductive. Like imagine trying to move electrical signal through a piece of wood. It's not going to work. But imagine moving it through copper. It's going to work really well and you're never going to be able to interrupt it. Well, geez, wouldn't it be great if we had some material, a semiconductor, where we could modify whether current was flowing through it or not? We could switch really easily. Exactly. Well, and lots of things are semiconductors. Communium was the main material for a while, but like, germanium is expensive and rare. So it can be... So it can be... I sand. I think it's like the second most plentiful, mindable element on earth. Huh. Yeah, I mean, it's sand, right? Yeah. Well, so there's one other major thing though. So we've been talking about transistors before. The IC. Yeah, the IC. The integrated circuit. The integrated circuit. Transistor, you know, like it's a switch. Before the IC, people are making switch. Like you make one switch at a time. You wire it to another switch. That's like, you know, if you've seen photos of any act and vacuum tubes, like literally they're plugging one tube into another. You're still doing that with transistors. Yep. When noise and killby invent the IC, now you can put a lot of switches on one thing. And, you know, fast forward today, like, you know, the latest processor, you know, the five nanometer processors that TSMC and basically nobody else is churning out. I don't know, billions, trillions of switches are in like a tiny little... Integrated circuit. Without the integrated circuit, that never would have happened. So this invention, this miraculous invention of the integrated circuit. It happened in 1958. When did Morris Chang join Texas Instruments? Oh, fascinating. Coincidence? Yes, totally. Absolutely. Coincidence. Absolutely a coincidence. And again, to Pegasan history here, we're still, I think, 10 years before the founding of Intel. Yes, exactly 10 years. Yeah, Morris obviously wasn't working directly with Jack on inventing the IC. But like, this gives you a sense. Like, TI, like, this is the place. This is like Google plus Facebook. Without the world paying attention to them. Yes. So Morris gets assigned as his first project to a sort of problem child within TI. They have entered into a deal with IBM. IBM is working on their first mainframe computer, major project that's going to use transistor logic instead of vacuum tubes, the IBM 7090. And they anticipate so much demand for this product. Usually IBM manufactures everything for all their products themselves. But they're like, we need more chips than we're going to be able to make ourselves. So we need a second source for our chips. They turn to TI. And they're like, hey, we can give you all the designs for, you know, how to do this, this chip that we want for our product. We want you to additionally manufacture some of these in addition to our own line. You might even say almost like a contract manufacturer of chips or like a foundry business almost, you know, hmm, interesting. But it's not going too well. So IBM's own plant is turning out transistors with about a 10% yield, which means that of, you know, every hundred chips that they turn out of the plant, 90% of them fail and only 10% of them work. That's the first party line. The TI line has about a 0% yield. Like they're lucky if they're getting any that way. Most everything coming off the line fails at TI when Morris shows up. So Morris would say about this later, quote, the supervisor was concerned. The operators were concerned. Everybody was concerned. So Morris, remember, he's mechanical engineer by training. Right. So he starts tinkering. He's like, well, I know, you know, this is a mechanical process, you know, chemical and mechanical process creating this stuff. I'm just going to use my training and like optimize it like a good mechanical engineer. So he starts doing some stuff and after about four months, he gets the yields at the TI plant up to 20%. So twice as good as the first party line at IBM. And there's a great profile. There was one of the main sources for this episode in IEEE spectrum. Oh, yeah. Great industry magazine that will quote from here. They write suddenly even TI president Pat Haggardy knew Morris's name. IBM thought Chang had just gotten lucky. But when the company IBM sent engineers down to talk to him, Morris described the theories he'd been testing and explained why his experimental process worked. This achievement propelled him into his first managerial job creating a germanium transistor development department with 20 plus engineers reporting to him. So this is his first big win here in the Foundry business. So on the back of all this, TI is like, all right, we got a rising star here. They offer to sponsor him to go finally get his PhD. They even offer to continue paying his full salary while he's getting his PhD. What? What they're paying for. Right. So they think like very highly of him. Very, very highly of Morris. I mean, this one probably made the millions doing this in 1958. It's funny. I don't know anything about the commercial success of that particular IBM mainframe. But if it's the first one that's transistor based instead of being vacuum tube based, I have to imagine it was like far more efficient for customers, customers are probably lining up for it. I bet there's a lot of demand. And me, what's Morris making a year, like $20,000? Maybe. You know, how much does it cost to go to Stanford then? Not much. So it's like, sure. So Morris goes to Stanford, but like he's now like a pig in mud. He is found is calling. He can't wait to get back to Texas, back to TI. So he finishes his PhD in two and a half years. Wow. Wild. One of the Stanford interviews is with John Hennessy, the president of Stanford. At the time. And they're joking about like, he's like, John's like, Morris, how did you tell the students? How did you finish your PhD in two and a half years? I was like, I was focused. I didn't do much else. So by 1964, he's done, he's back at TI. And this is right as people have discovered the silicon is like way more cost effective and scales up way better than. And I, if I remember right, the initial attempts at using silicon were that people didn't know how to work with it yet. And so even though it was more abundant and cheaper, there's some particular manufacturing process that you have to do to silicon in order to make it as viable as it became. Yes, that is definitely correct. I don't remember exactly what it is. It's one of the, you know, there's so many silicon's on my conductor terms. Like it's not moss, a metal oxide, some of the conductor that comes later. We're going to talk about it. But it's some one of those things that's like an innovation about how to transform, how to dope silicon to make it work as a function. And produce it at scale as a semiconductor. And listeners, this is where you should start to get the idea that especially today, manufacturing these products involves the most advanced process in human history consisting of layers of innovation and chemistry, physics, mathematics, its breakthrough after breakthrough after breakthrough, all building on top of each other, which need to all happen in the manufacturing process. So even here in what, 1964, we're starting to get into the level of complexity where it's some of the most advanced science ever done being applied in an engineering and manufacturing fashion to get even marginal results, you know, at 20% yields off the manufacturing line. And you know, a little previewed if that's for today. TSMC, their contract manufacturer for silicon, that is what they are. TSMC has 40% operating margins as a contract manufacturer. It's not like this is just like there's no technology or are in like, they are one of the most advanced technology organizations in the whole world. Like there is so much IP just in the manufacturing. Take out the design, take out the functions, just like making this stuff is so hard. I mean, now like it involves like lasers, like it's, we'll get to it later. It's going to blow your mind how this stuff is done. Anyway, so Morris, like he's coming up, he's learning like literally as this whole industry is getting developed, like he's right there. So a couple years after he gets back from Stanford, he's still rising through the ranks in 1967. TI makes him a general manager of one of the divisions within the semiconductor business. And that's where he has his next big breakthrough. And this is on the business side. So Morris notices what they're doing, setting up these new plants for all these successive new methodologies and processes of manufacturing, you know, at this point, integrated circuits and silicon, like semiconductors and pumping out these chips. It's super expensive to do this, like super cost capital intensive. So what TI and everybody else in the industry did, when they would start a new product line that would use a new, you know, fab for chips. They charged a lot of money for it because like, man, they put a lot of money into these things. So like right off the gate, you want the latest, you know, new hotness in the end products that TI selling, they're getting in charge a lot of money for him. Yep. Morris realizes he's like, that's not actually optimal to do that. Because as evidenced by his first big win at TI with IBM line, there's a learning curve until like getting the yields right and learning how to manufacture a new process. And in the beginning, you're going to have really low yield. And so what you want, ideally from a, you know, fabrication perspective, is you want to have a ton of volume from the get go. Like as soon as the plan is online, you want to be running at max capacity so that you can a learn as fast as possible, get yields up to the profitable levels. And then you want to still be running at max capacity as long as possible because are you already spent the fixed cost, right, to make the plan? Basically, you always want max capacity. So when you started out by pricing so high, you kept demand low and you weren't able to get up to capacity fast enough. It's almost like they didn't realize the benefit of the potential operating leverage that they had because they were just passing their exact economics onto their customers and saying, you basically have to pay us for us to do all these fixed costs. And then you'll get all the benefits of the cheap it is to stamp it off the press every time, whereas what they really should have been doing is saying, we will make an investment. You know, we'll eat the cost of having to spin all this up. But boy, are we going to be super profitable on every chip that comes off the line? Yep, totally. So Morris is thinking about this. He hires BCG and they come up with the idea of actually pricing low to start to drive this volume and speed up the yield curve. And then also the side benefit of that is if they're pricing low and everybody else is pricing high, they're going to grab a ton of market share and probably keep that paying consultants. So what's over here is Morris is quote about this. He says, this was in the late 60s and Boston Consulting Group was a very small outfit when we did this and we used loads of data, a lot of theory and a lot of effort. The result was so called learning curve pricing. We would automatically reduce so start low and then continually automatically reduce the price every quarter, even when the market did not demand it. And this was a very successful effort, even though it was somewhat controversial. A lot of people thought we were being foolish. Why would you reduce the price when you didn't have to? But we did it because we believed in it. And indeed our market share just kept expanding that combined with other strategies made the TI integrated circuits business the biggest IC business in the world and also the most profitable. So this is like right when Intel is getting founded. So like screw fair child, screw national screw into like TI is kicking all of their butts and it's thanks to Morris. No, it's wild. Huh. And interestingly enough, the ecosystem around TI, and maybe I'm off on this, but the reason I always thought that fair child was sort of so I suppose successful in those days was out of all the defense spending and research that was being done at Stanford, the government as a customer. But is Texas Instruments playing in that ecosystem at all? Good question. Probably. I mean, I think this is a case of like the rising tide is floating all boats like yeah, fair child's killing it, Intel's killing it, nationals killing it. TI is just killing it bigger than anybody else I see. So on the back of this, Morris gets promoted to VP at TI like one level below the CEO running the entire semi conductor business that happens in 1972 and he becomes the obvious leading candidate to be the next CEO of TI, which he's like, yeah, I want to do that. Like, yeah, I'm focused. This is like what I love. This is why I've been going to the bar for three years. We need a textbook. Exactly. But might be fair to say history turns out a knife point. Things don't entirely go as planned. There's three different viewpoints as far as I could identify on what happens next to Morris at TI. He does not become the next CEO. Obviously, viewpoint number one is simply and probably fair that he was just discriminated against because he was ethnically Chinese, although at this point, I'm pretty sure already he was an American citizen, but anyway, and he got passed over for I have no evidence for it, but not be at all surprised that that was part of what was going on. Yep. So that's one. Two, second point, which Morris totally acknowledges. TI was a really big company. The semiconductor division he had made it probably the most successful and the most fastest rising division within the company, but you mentioned calculators. They were starting to launch the consumer products division at this time. And so in 1978, so six years he's running the semiconductor division as VP. They move him over to VP of consumer products in 1978 because this was a big new strategic initiative and it wasn't going super well. And they're like, oh, Morris is a great manager. He can fix this and turn it around. Different set of competencies though. Yeah. I mean, marketing. Yeah. Here's Morris' quote on this. Mark Shepard, then Chairman and CEO of TI, agreed with the prevailing wisdom at the time that a good manager could manage anything. In this case, I think he was wrong. I found the consumer business to be very different, like you're saying. The customer set completely different. The market, completely different. And what you need to get ahead in that business is different too. In the semiconductor business, it's just technology and costs. In consumer, technology helps, but it's also the appeal to consumers, which is a nebulous thing. And not Morris' strong suit, at least not anything he's trained in. Yeah, that makes total sense. So in 1983, five years after he gets moved over to take over the consumer business, he hasn't turned it around. It's still struggling. He gets demoted to quote, head of quality and people effectiveness, which is like pretty much a slap in the face like this dude built your semiconductor business. Is this when he says he was put out to pasture? Exactly. So that's number two. Here's number three. I found some evidence on this. It's unclear to me how much of this is Morris' fault versus his successor. But while Morris was definitely responsible for making TI semiconductor a powerhouse, at some point towards either at the end of his tenure running it or under his successor, they totally dropped the ball. And this is when Silicon Valley in California takes over. So in the mid 70s, the semiconductor industry transitioned over to the metal oxide process of Maws. You ever hear about MOS, Maws, semiconductors? Precursor to CMOS. Exactly. So that happened in the 70s. And TI, again, was well they had the best engineers, they were well positioned to lead this transition, they didn't. And actually most of the talent within TI that were the ones that led the industry transition to Maws left, including probably most prominently a guy named LJ7 who left and founded a company called MOSTEC. And then he later became a semiconductor venture capitalist and founded seven Rosen Ventures, which was one of the early BCFs. So he was a TI guy. And he left. And the culture at TI, as shown by Morris, his experience was, this was not like trader estate, Silicon Valley, you leave, it was like your company man, you know, stay at the company. So Motorola poached a whole bunch of Maws engineers from TI and it all kind of fell apart, culminating in the biggest huge loss of, this is really history turning on a knife point. In 1980, so Morris has already transitioned to consumer products. IBM puts out a secret RFP bid proposal for a secret project that they're working on. This is 1980 by a new group based out of Boca Ratan, Florida. Do you know what I'm talking about Ben? I have no idea. So some listeners might know what I'm talking about. This is the secret project. This is the RFP to be the microprocessor, the CPU for the secret project. Wait, wait, what year is this 60? 1980. 1980. 1980. No, I have no idea. The IBM PC. Ah, okay. That was at a Boca Raton. Yeah, it was a secret project, like a Skunk Works division of IBM, to build the PC, which was a big, you know, IBM was the mainframe company. We're going to build a personal computer. So Skunk Works project and TI, you know, a couple of years earlier on, or Morris would have been the leading, an obvious candidate. Remember, he had the relationship with IBM going all the way back. TI probably should have been the processor chosen. Right. Instead, of course, it was Intel. I think it was the 8088 that was chosen for that first one. Wow. Boy, did that set things in motion? Well, then the architecture standardizes on X86 and like, boom, there goes the whole next generation of computing away from TI over to Intel. The sort of family of IBM within-tell processors and eventually running Microsoft operating systems. Yeah. And then all the IBM clones all running in-tell processors. Okay. So this is really where that is a major loss. That is a major loss. In the highway of history, TI accidentally took the off ramp there. They did. Now, okay. So like, is that Morris's fault? Is that not more? I don't know. All three of these things, like certainly some discrimination. Certainly like the culture at TI was, we rotate you around. You're going to fix consumer. He didn't fix consumer but couldn't. And then this like the semiconductor powerhouse took an off ramp as you say. All that like his career TI is basically over. So he was the rising star. He was, everybody thought he was going to be the next CEO and at age 52 in 1983 after he stays a couple years being the like head of whatever. He was something staff. Yeah. Yeah. He just resigns. And he's like, wow. Well, I guess this is it. My career at TI, 30 years, done. He's still regarded super highly in the industry though in the semiconductor industry. So people start calling him with opportunities. And he wants to be a CEO. I mean, that's what's on his mind. That's the, he wanted to be CEO of TI that didn't happen. Like he wants to be CEO. But he whittles it down to two opportunities he's going to consider. One is to go to a competitor called General Instrument, which people may have heard of. Another one of these old chip companies. It was based in New York and Manhattan and New York City actually to go be their COO, the number two there with a like understanding that like, hey, things go well in a couple of years. You'll replace the CEO, become the CEO there or to become a venture capitalist. Really? Yeah. So he was weighing the two. I don't know where or how I couldn't find that out. But he was weighing these two opportunities. The VC idea is going to come back up in a big way in a second. Obviously he goes with General Instruments, GI, a he his dream is to be CEO. B's got this chip on his shoulder from the way TI ended. So yeah, great. So he goes off to New York, you know, he leaves Texas. He goes, lives in Manhattan, things are going to work out of GI. The thing though is a GI had a very different culture than TI. No, TI was this research like build, develop technology, push the ball forward. GI is this like New York based. They were almost like at the time like a proto tech private equity firm. Their strategy was they just acquired lots of different semiconductor businesses, either independent companies or divisions from other companies. Try to integrate them. No, they would acquire them. They would like get these business units in good shape. No, they'd sell them again. Oh, really? Yeah, they were like literally they were like a financial engineering firm. Basically, definitely not Morris is cup of tea. So he only stays there a year, it's clear that like that's not a good fit. So he resigned again. So within, you know, less than 18 months, he's had two major major setbacks in his career. And like, basically, you know, his dream is over. Like, here's the quote from him. He says, after these two setbacks at TI and GI, I did not think that my aspiration to be the CEO of a major US company was in the cards. Well, turns out he was right. He was not going to be the CEO of a major US company. So how do we go from like this dude in his mid fifties, former rising star now washed up from that to like his entire one is CEO of TSMC. I don't think you could ever script this. I think this is probably the most unique, every founding story is unique, but I think this might be the most unique founding story we've had on acquired so far. So back when Morris was at TI when he was running the semiconductor business there, he went over to Taiwan a couple times to talk about building a manufacturing plant there. TI would own and build a manufacturing plant like outsource to Taiwan, not like a TSMC style business like as a TI plant there. Anyway, he had no connection to Taiwan. Remember, he's Chinese. Like he's not, he's not from Taiwan. Like people are like, oh, I was like, oh, Morris, you went back to Taiwan. He didn't go back to Taiwan. Yeah. Taiwan was a strange land to him when he first got there that it's not going back. So it's not the land is a strange place to him. But like if he is going to call some place home and return there, is it the people's Republic of China? Well, I think he would say at this point it's America. Like he's been in America for very long. That's a great point. He's a US citizen like, well, I don't know what he would say. It's complicated. So anyway, so he had met a bunch of government officials in Taiwan when he was talking about building this plant over there. And that was back in the 70s. Now we're in the 80s, mid 80s. Taiwan at this point, it's a manufacturing nation. You know, they have no IP, they have no technology like the great Morris quote. You have it. Okay. The quotes great. All right. So this is Morris. We had no strength in research and development or very little anyway. We had no strength in circuit design. I see product design. We had little strength in sales and marketing. And this is of course referring to Taiwan as a nation. And we had almost no strength in intellectual property. The only possible strength in Taiwan that we had. And even that was just a potential one. Not an obvious one was semiconductor manufacturing, wafer manufacturing. And so what kind of company would you create to fit that strength and avoid all the other weaknesses? The answer was a pure play foundry. Yeah. I mean, that was Taiwan at the time. So to give you a sense, the typical gross margin like the average gross margin of a Taiwanese company at this point in time in the mid 80s is four to five percent zero four. Two zero five percent gross before you even have overhead operating costs. Yeah. I mean, it was like, you know, if you were a group around when Ben and I did, you know, sort of born in the 80s in the US, you see maiden Taiwan on everything like, you know, Barbie dolls toys, clothes like everything was maiden Taiwan. You know, now it's maiden China or maiden Vietnam or elsewhere. But maiden Taiwan was super low end like physical manufacturing stuff. Yeah. So, way pull forward the seven power section like as Hamilton Helmer would sort of explain, if your margins, particularly your gross margins are only four or five percent, you're in a, an industry or a business where all the profits are arbitraged away and everyone's just raised to the bottom on prices and no one's able to build any real enterprise value because everyone's just out competing each other for pure commodity. I mean, four to five percent gross margins like people used to hammer on like Amazon, I guess for being like a low gross margin business in the like 40 percent, you know, anyways, I can't even imagine running a company with that level of gross margins. So the Taiwanese government though, they wanted to come up in the world. They were like, this is not where we, this is where we are now. This is not where we want to be. Yep. So they knew that technology was the way. And so they had decided back in the 70s that they would establish an initiative called the Industrial Technology Research Institute or itry. And the goal was it for it to become like the bell labs of Taiwan to like do some tech transfers from the US and elsewhere and like home grow some real technology businesses in Taiwan so that you know, maybe they can lift businesses out of poverty there at least. And so Morris wasn't like going to Taiwan to start TSMC. He was being recruited to itry. So one of the ministers he had met a guy named KT Lee, but because of this, he would also become like venerated in Taiwanese history. He's known as the father of Taiwan's economic miracle literally because of this. He recruits Morris to come over and run e-tree like be like the head of Bell Labs Taiwan essentially. And this is like a ridiculous thing for Morris to do. Like he had been, you know, captain of American semiconductor industry of the fourth league. This is like he was put out to pass to a TI, but at least he was still a TI. And then he was like, COO a general instrument. He's going to go over to Taiwan and take this like a research park there like what? And like every time someone starts something like this, it doesn't go well. A government top down innovation mandate from a country that's not a world power tends not to turn into a gigantic economic success. This is like all the, you know, countries and cities and the like that are like, oh, we're going to build the next Silicon Valley in totally XYZ. And we're going to recruit some former Silicon Valley person to come do that. And it's going to work. Probably not going to work. Yeah. So everybody tells him not to do this. All his former colleagues, his wife at the time, tell him not to do this. His marriage was actually falling apart maybe in part because of this. And you know, he's had all these experiences like, you know what, I just, I need to change a scene. I got to get out of here. So he takes the job. And he figures, you know, it's going to be because he is like a problem. He thinks about this as like the pseudo retirement, going into. So here's his quote, by then I was financially pretty secure. I was not rich, but you also have to realize that the standards of wealth were much lower back in 1985. And he's going to live in Taiwan where, you know, corporate magnets have five percent gross margins. But so he says, but still in absolute standards, I was financially secure, which meant that I could live according to the way I desire, which was actually pretty modest for the rest of my life without having to earn a living or a salary. This is retirement. He also makes a joke. I remember after that about how, by the way, interest rates were higher back then. So that was much more achievable on West Principal. So 1985, he goes over, he takes over as president of E3. It's kind of a culture clash. So this is retirement for Morris, but he's still coming from this hard charging industry. All of the employees of E3 are people in government jobs in Taiwan. And government jobs, not even, you know, in like a democracy because Taiwan is like not really, like it's under martial law. I think that it just ended. You know, this is not the same, you know, these are like jobs for life. You're a government official in a non-democracy type organization. Morris says back then they considered me a foreigner who suddenly became their boss. They were scared of me and they were right to be scared of him. So there was one thing though that the government had done right before Morris showed up, which was they had successfully negotiated one technology transfer license in the semiconductor industry. From did you find out what company this was? This is probably what they were trying to negotiate with TI for it, but I do. It's a three-letter acronym. Oh, yeah. Yep, yep, yep. We haven't talked much about it on this show, but this is another talk about captains of American industry. RCA. RCA, that's right. Yeah. So RCA, semiconductor line and the government in the 70s, the Taiwanese government, had negotiated a tech transfer for this is like 10-year-old semiconductor technology, right? Yeah. This is not like the latest generation. No. TI and Intel and everybody, like, you know, in Fairchild there, you know, national, they're leading the way, like they're at the bleeding edge of semiconductor, you know, manufacturing process. RCA was already at least a generation behind by the time it actually gets onto the ground in Taiwan. There are two and a half generations behind the leading producers. So it's like the only thing that you could do with that is super low-enzed. Right. There are some category of goods that don't need a fast or the latest processor and total, even today, when TSMC or Intel or Samsung or whoever built a fab, the leading edge fabs, they produce the leading edge stuff for a while and then the new generations come on. They don't shut down the old ones. Right. It's just chips that don't need the same bleeding edge performance. Yep. They keep getting made on the old ones. And often that's automotive or now what we think of as IoT, but like the stuff in your smartphone, obviously, is the leading edge. Yeah. So the government, E3 does actually spin out a company using this old RCA technology that would be called UMC, United Micro Electronics Corporation, not a technology leader. It actually does, okay, in the long run, they would later spin out their own chip design business. So UMC was doing both fabrication for third party clients and designing some of their own chips with the fab that they created, they spin out their chip design business later, that becomes media tech. Oh, no way. Yeah, which is a $50 billion company today. So like, you know, the government did pretty good. Like, this is pretty good. Totally. We're doing. And you know, one more so right because of this, he's not starting from a standing start. Right. It's not good, but there's some acquired. They created a company. There's a paved path. So he gets to work in E3s, working on all this. He's transforming the organization into a high performing organization. And then all of a sudden, out of nowhere, KT Lee comes back to him and is like, hey, great, you're running our Bell Labs, you're running E3. Now I want you to start a company. And Morris is like, he's like, I'm a KT's like, yeah, yeah, you know, not, I don't want you to have somebody else in each of you. I want you, Morris Chang, to start a new semiconductor company here in Taiwan and I want you to make it into a global leader. I'm more like, um, okay. And you know, I think he doesn't say this directly, but well, he's got a great quote. I'm going to say it in a minute, but like, I remember this is not a democracy in Taiwan at this time. Morris is also on his third job in three years. And like, yeah, he doesn't need a seller to survive, but like this is kind of the end of the road for him. Like if he gets fired here at E3, like he's legit, like done, done, done, done. So he kind of doesn't have a choice here. The quote, this is so Morris. So great. He says, um, it was like in the movie, the Godfather, it was an offer I couldn't refuse. And I do think the implication was ghost art and intel or ghost art and IBM. It wasn't ghost art. The very first pure play foundry. Yeah. Lee had no, he's a government. He's a minister. Right. He was like, go start a semiconductor company, make it a world leader. Right. Those semiconductor companies, they do really well. So go do that. And that's of course, when Morris says, okay, I'm being told I should do this. I have some latitude I can take and some liberties I can take on how I do it. And the quote that I read earlier about evaluating exactly what type of semiconductor company should I start. That's how he sort of informs the business plan. So Lee is like, all right, good, where? Kapiche, we're clear. Like come back to me in a week with a business plan. Tell me what you need. And we're going to make this happen, right? It's more like, okay, a week, all right. And then like a day later, Lee supposedly is like, actually, I need you, I'm going to need you coming on Friday. So like you got like three days. And you know, they say necessity is the mother of invention. And yet these three days are like what creates the, you know, now ninth most valuable company in the world. Morris comes up with this brilliant idea to create a pure play foundry company to be a contract manufacturer. Sounds genius today and hindsight as Steve Jobs would say, you know, it's easy to connect the dots looking backwards. But at that time, was this a good idea, David? Well, no. The answer is no. You know, like we've sort of said all along, all the chip companies, all the, you know, American and European and, you know, Japanese, all the leading semiconductor companies, they made their own stuff. You know, and there was some sharing of production and some, you know, companies were emerging that were borrowing production from, you know, the big guys. There's a great quote right around this time from Jerry Sanders, who was the co-founder and CEO of AMD. And he famously said in the mid 1980s that quote, real men have fabs. That's right. What a quote. So ironic because in the 2000s AMD would spin out its fabs and go fabulous. Global foundries. Yeah. I mean, to global foundries. But yeah, like this is not an obvious idea. Like if you wanted to be a real semiconductor company, you made your own chips. And the idea was like, yeah, I mean, this was so, this isn't like manufacturing barbie dolls here. Like this is a real technology. Like you need to control it, soup to nuts. And already at this point in history, I mean, this is an important point to make because I didn't realize this coming in where I thought, wow, Apple really outsources their manufacturing. They outsource some of it to TSMC and some of it to Foxconn and like maybe some of those people will start to do each other's work. No, this is a completely different thing. Assembling an iPhone is completely completely different than taking a brand new design for a next generation chip and manufacturing that ship. One is manufacturing and one is alchemy. The alchemy can only be done by alchemists. I think even here in the late 80s, we're already at the point where like it's manufacturing to be a magician to do that. You need to be a magician to do that. Yeah, it's not like, well, I got a factory. No, no, no, no, no, for the opposite of that. We said in a minute, this is a bad idea. So Morris says now, however, there was one problem with the pure play foundry model and it was a fatal problem. It could be a fatal problem, which was, where's the market? He sounds like Don Valentine here. Here's the market. Show me the market. This whole idea, it was really a solution looking for a problem. And of course, the solution being that like all we have is manufacturing capability here. So let's start a company that just manufactures and it's like you're looking around like okay, you got Jerry over at AMD is like real men have fabs. You know, it's like, yeah, you know, they're not real start up. I mean, there are startups, but all these startups are building their own fabs like nobody wants to do this. So nonetheless, you know, he has to start a company who's literally got a gun to his head. But he does have the core insight here. It's interesting. These companies don't exist yet, but Morris has reason to believe that people will want to start fabless chip companies and that they will need a foundry to fab those chips. And so he says, when I was at TI and general instrument, I saw a lot of integrated circuit designers wanting to leave and set up their own business. But the one thing or the biggest thing that stopped them from leaving those companies was they couldn't raise enough money to form their own company because at the time, as we were just saying real men, it was thought that every company needed manufacturing needed their wafer manufacturing and that most capital intensive part of a semiconductor company of an IC company does the manufacturing. And so I saw those people wanting to leave, but being stopped by the lack of ability to raise a lot of money and build a wafer fab. Totally, right? But those companies, if you build it, they will come. They haven't started yet. They haven't come yet. They haven't come yet. So, Morris is kind of got like, he knows what the long term market is going to be, but he's got to find the short term market. He needs some like real politic here. So what's that going to be? So he says, well, maybe I can go around to the big guys. They've been doing just like my first thing back at TI. They've been doing some line sharing for either new products that they need excess capacity for or for older products that they need to transition some fabs, but they still need to make components. Maybe I can take some of that off their hands. And so he goes around and he goes, he talks to Intel, he talks to TI, he talks to everybody in the industry and they're like, yeah, he talks to Motorola. Like, sure, fine. And the government had told him, okay, you know, figure out, it's going to take, we know it's going to take a lot of money to set up a fab. We're good for half of it, but you got to go raise the other half of it. And we want you to raise it from like an Intel or a TI, you know, somebody who's going to be your first customer and that they're going to be bought in. So he's like, okay, so he does the rounds. He goes to talks to everybody. He gets meetings with Intel. He gets meetings with TI. They're both like, you know, Morris, we like you. But no. So he said the last ditch effort and he has a meeting with Phillips, the Dutch company. They have a semi conductor business. So Morris, he has a great quote about this. He says he would describe Phillips as the first rung of the second raiders in semi conductors, but they were the only interested option. So they put up 28% of the capital. The government puts up 50%. It ends up being 220 million in total. 110 is probably a lot more than what the Taiwanese government thought they were going here. And then literally the premiere of Taiwan, like the head of the government has to then go around to all the other business leaders in Taiwan and like strong arm them into investing the rest of it. The other, what is that? 22% I guess. Yeah. We also should quick here say, remember that Phillips was a Dutch company because that's going to come into play later. I don't know how that's going to come in the point. Yeah. Put an opinion. Okay. Okay. We got a surprise coming. I'm going to be surprised here. We're doing a real, doing a real time, doing a live. This may be the craziest part about the whole TSMC founding story. I'm 99.9% Chair Ben, you do not know this. Ooh. Do you know what the pre-money valuation was on TSMC? No. I couldn't find that anywhere. It was $0. Morris, Chang, got no equity in the company. No. So 100% of the company was owned by the investors. 50% by the government and the other 50% were owned by the investors. Morris got nothing. He just got to keep his salary. Here's the government employee. Wow. There by the grace of the government. Oh my God. Isn't that unbelievable? Like this is so the opposite of Silicon Valley. I wish he wore $3 billion today. Well, what he did as TSMC started to work, he basically put all of his money into buying. He bought his own shares in the company. I don't know if it was on the private, made it privately before they went public in on the Taiwan Stock Exchange in 1994 and then the New York Stock Exchange in 1997. But yeah, he put basically all of his excess cash flow into buying TSMC shares. Oh my God. Isn't that wild? So the government owned 50% of the whole business. And you can see their perspective too. They're like, hey, we hired you to do this. And then we told you to do this. You are our foot soldier. Right. You know, we are the mafia. Wow. Yeah. Things had really not gone well in his career that he was willing to take that deal. Yeah. Crazy, right? And okay, before we go on in the TSMC story, we need to have two real quick sidebars. Yeah. We're talking about the summer's 1987. When TSMC gets officially stood up, they raised the money at a zero dollar pre-money valuation. Do you know what other two? Well, other company, other big thing happened in 1987. We have covered it on this show in the chip world. Is this the founding of ARM? Yes, it is. Yes. Yes. ARM. JV between Apple, Acorn, and VLSI Logic, which was the sort of manufacturing partner. They were an A6 company that's a whole nother sidebar. We're not going to get into. But yeah, 1987. What a year. Brand new, unconventional, instruction set architecture. It's totally different than the X86 stuff that the whole industry and world seems to have standardized on at this point. The Anna Smirabelis for the semiconductor industry. And useless, right? It's in 1987. It's hamstrong. It's very few instructions. PCs are always plugged in. So what do we need a low power chip for this thing? Pathetic. Real men have fabs and real men use power. Okay. So that's sidebar number one. ARM gets started. Okay. I was wondering, I don't actually know the relationship because obviously today a huge amount of volume of TSMC's manufacturing is making chips for iPhones, which since the outset has used ARM. Chips that are using all mobile devices, iPhones, and Android, all of which are ARM and lots of servers that are ARM. So presumably there's some relationship coming between TSMC and ARM. Well, they're really close partners. I mean, the way now like this stuff is so integrated. The architecture companies like ARM, the design, the EDA companies like Synopsis, these guys are all deeply, like the engineering is all deeply in bed with one another. Okay. So you mentioned EDA. I'm going to take your sidebar and I'm going to, you're going to raise me. You're going to raise you one more sidebar. So listeners were two clicks out here. So this is a pretty good point to talk about how the value chain went from one company that created transistors and then they designed the chip, they manufactured the chip, they marketed the chip. Here's how the value chain looks today. And I think you've already alluded to like, I think in the 80s it already started to look like this. First there's EDA. There's electronic design automation. This is the software that chip designers like professional chip designers use to do their work. So Synopsis, I think cadence. Yeah, cadence. There's another big one. Yeah. That's like, I don't know, Excel or like Figma for like chip designers. Yeah. That's what they use. Productivity tools. Yeah. So that's category one of four. And of course, as you can imagine, the software to design the chips probably has to be very aware of the manufacturing capability of who's going to be manufacturing the chips. But let's put a pause in that for a second. So then of course, there's the fabulous chip design companies. So today I think Apple and video Qualcomm, Broadcom. Broadcom. Eventually AMD after they stopped being real men, apparently. Fans of innovative new startups now like Cerberus. PASMI. Tesla. Before Apple acquired it. Yeah. PASMI is coming in a sec. Okay. Okay. So you've got the EDA companies that are making the software, the fabulous companies that are designing the chips using the software. Then third, there's one company that we have not talked about yet. One component of the value chain. And these are the people that manufacture the machines. Oh, yeah. That go into the factories that the foundries operate. There's actually one between, well, no, actually I think above EDA. There is one more part of the value chain. There's a fifth, which is IP. So that's all like ARM. Oh, right. Yeah, like architecture IP. There's actually a ton of companies now that do just straight up IP. And I thought before this episode, they're like, oh, just shell companies that sue one another about IP. It's not that. The systems are on a chip now. So like everything is on like one chip basically. You need a USB functionality in your chip. You don't need to design it. Just buy some IP off the shelf that's like, so they're companies that do that. Yep. Okay. So that's a good point. So that's our fifth sort of like IP. They own the instruction set architecture. They kind of create the general rules that you're playing by when you're designing a chip such that whoever's writing the compilers knows what assembly language they're targeting that can then operate on the chip that's going to be designed. So we covered the EDA. We covered the IP. We covered the fabulous companies. There's somebody before we get to the foundries, which is the equipment manufacturers that sell to TSMC. So more historically, you've got lamb research. You've got applied materials in the US. You've got Tokyo Electron in Japan. But today, I just want to give everyone a taste of this and then we'll get more to it later. There's a company that is also Dutch based. Oh, there it is. There it is. So there's a company called ASM Lethography, which was originally ASM Lethography and Lethography is marginally in scope for this episode. There's a whole thing we could do on the magical process that is Lethography. Taking me back to my high school photo lab. Right. And the L, you know, is Lethography. So the company was originally called ASM Lethography. They make the most advanced chip manufacturing machines in the world. They're the only company that makes them. They're located still in the Netherlands. Their biggest customer is TSMC. This is where I want to bring it all the way back around. And we of course will talk about the magic that is these machines later. It was founded in 1984 as a joint venture between Advanced Semiconductor Materials International ASM Lethography and Phillips. Oh, wow. I did not know that. So that's crazy. It's the beginning of the relationship between TSMC and there. Oh, wow. And what a strategic point. I mean, because like, you know, well, it's TSMC's insane capital operating cashflow production that enables them to spend catbacks above anybody else that allows them to buy more ASML equipment than anyone else, but that relationship, wow. I mean, these machines like, we'll get into it later. Yeah. It's going to blow your mind what this stuff does. Okay. Back to my second sidebar. Also going to be worth it. P-S-M-I. Right. We did an episode wave, this like episode 20. This is like an acquired was a very different show when it was like actually about small acquisitions that totally. Yeah. So I don't know that we actually covered this, but I uncovered in the research for this episode, do you know the origins of P-S-M-I? No, I don't. Okay. So arm, my sidebar number one, you know, 1987 also created, right, they're just an IP design company like I was saying in your sidebar. It's like inception over here. So they just license out the arm architecture to other companies that then design using the arm architecture. One of their original licensees was deck digital equipment corporation like OG, you know, way back in the day. Yep. So they took the arm architecture and they tuned it for performance and they called what they did at deck their version of arm that they created strong arm. That product line within deck would later be acquired by Intel of all places. Okay. Crazy. Why Intel acquired an arm architecture. Right. I think they're the X86. Yeah. They remarcated it as X scale. You know, I think they ended up shutting it down. Huh. So a bunch of the core engineers on the team, like the deck team that have been working with arm from back in the day and they're like, we just got acquired by Intel. What the hell? Like, you know, screw this. We don't want to go worry for Intel. There's no interesting flourishing alternative architectures at Intel. Yeah. We're arm engineers. We can go start our own company. That's P.A. S.M.I. That's P.A. S.M.I. So the leg is the underpinnings of all of Apple ships today. Totally. So the lineage of all of Apple Silicon, probably the most valuable, defensible part of Apple today in terms of like technology was deck, you know, arm and deck to Intel. To P.A. S.M.I. Dappled. Whoa. That's wild. So I don't think I ever knew that. So you can trace Apple Silicon all the way back to Apple. Yeah. Because arm was a J.V. Right. With Apple. Yeah. Crazy. With Intel and deck. Wow. Okay. So back to back to TSMC. So like the short term market is like, more is basically bags all of his old colleagues. In the US and European, you know, and Japanese. Assembly conductor industries to just give the drags to to TSMC and it really was the drags. So here's Morris on on what this was. The IDMs would let us manufacture their waifers only when they didn't have capacity or when they didn't want to manufacture the stuff themselves anymore. Now when they didn't have the capacity and asked us to do the manufacturing, then as soon as they got the capacity, they would stop giving us orders. So it wasn't a stable market. So wasn't actually a thing they wanted to outsource. They were just like they didn't have the capacity. So they needed some extra excess space. But then when they got the capacity online, they took it away. Right. And then when they, the chips that they gave us that they didn't want to make anymore, well, the reason they didn't want to make it was it was losing money. So like they basically were just transferring their losses on producing these chips. Oh. Did TSMC? So how did they get out of this? And use the conventional conclusion at the time was that there was no market. That's why the Pure Play Foundry idea was so poorly thought of. What very few people saw and I can't tell you that I saw was the rise of the fabulous industry. I only hoped for it. And then as you said, but I had better reasons for hoping for it than the people that didn't tell a TI Motorola because I was now standing outside. When I was at TI in general instrument, I saw a lot of these IC designers wanting to leave, start their own businesses and the constraint was setting up their own fabs. Now remember, so like yes, he saw that a TI, but remember, he had been considering becoming a VC instead of going over to each tree. So this is the ultimate end around. He becomes essentially like the world's best semiconductor VC. He takes an index out on the whole future innovation and entrepreneurship market in semiconductors by becoming the platform that they're going to build on instead of like going and investing in them. He's like the Y-cominator of semiconductors. Right. We're in many ways the Tencent. Tencent of course also does direct investing, but the idea that you could get distribution through WeChat. It's not distribution, but it is manufacturing. There is a thing that you have to raise 10 to 20% of the capital that you otherwise would have needed to raise if TSMC exists. And just like Don Valentine, when he left to go join VC a generation earlier, again, it's not VC. It's TSMC building the platform, but Morris is a hero. So all these engineers, they all look up to him. And he knows a lot of them personally. The ones he doesn't know, like who's not going to take a meeting with Morris Chang, right? He almost ran TI. Totally. He did all this amazing stuff. It's interesting because it's like with the incumbents, of course, because they had it in their DNA to be a manufacturer. Of course they wanted to take the most profitable things and manufacture them in house. But if you actually are betting on all these startups that will never develop DNA to be their own manufacturer, they never want to take that back. Yeah. And so Morris is now going down to Vandalizing and he's like, all these great designers, like, we're an option for you now. Like, you want to leave, you want to start going, come, you don't need a fab. We'll be your fab. You know, it takes a couple of years for a couple of years TSMC has to survive on the drags from the the IDMs, the big guys. But after a couple of years, these startups get going. They're going to be a little companies like Qualcomm, Broadcom, Marvel, Nvidia. These are all started with TSMC. Nvidia was started in 1993, only ever raised $20 million dollars and never opened their own fab. I believe 100% with TSMC. Wow. Well, maybe they have other sources, other founders too, but like the vast majority of their business from the beginning and Jensen talks about this, Jensen Huang. I took him actually a little while to get on Morris's radar, but once he did, the vast majority of Nvidia's chips, TSMC makes them. Nvidia is what, like, $350, $400 million market cap company now. It's wild and only raised $20 million. Like that just would, it's like that AWS for, you know, chip companies. Never would have been possible before. So this is what's super cool. I don't think Morris saw this. This even exceeds his wildest dreams. He was hoping for this fabulous market to take off, but this creates this insane flywheel for TSMC. So the fabulous market starts to grow, which they're like seeding and enabling it. As that happens, TSMC's revenue grows. And because they have 50% gross margins and 40% operating margins, they can take that profit and buy more advanced machinery and make more fabs. Advanced the level of their technology. Remember, they were starting from behind technology. Within about 10 years, they catch up and then they start to exceed everybody else. So as they push the manufacturing process technology forward, their manufacturer better chips with smaller wave, you know, process lengths, they're enabling their customers, which are the fabulous companies to get better and better performance. As they get better performance, the fabulous companies can address more of the market and more use cases. So their existing customers get bigger and new fabulous customers start, which gives them more revenue, which repeats the whole cycle. And you know, it goes slowly like any flywheel. Like it takes a lot of effort and a lot of time to start turning it. But fast forward to now. So in the early 2000s, when TSMC finally caught up to the level, the bleeding edge level of technology with other semiconductor companies, there were 22 companies that were at the leading edge. I think it was like, I don't know, let's call it a 150 nanometer process or something like that at that point in time. 22 and TSMC finally broke it into the back. They were one of the 22 by the late 2000s, it gone from 22 down to 14 that were at the leading edge. By the mid 2010s, there are six. It's basically Samsung and TSMC, right? Today there are two at five nanometer processes, the current leading edge. It's only TSMC and Samsung Intel has been trying to get there, but they haven't been able to. They've fallen behind. And the next process is going to be three nanometers. TSMC is going to launch that next year. By the way, just slip six months. Interesting. Well, Samsung has already slipped to 2024. Whoa. So very likely in the next process, it's just going to be TSMC. Which means that you will see that on an Apple slide somewhere announcing the next iPhone, talking about how it's a three nanometer process. I'll take all the credit for it and TSMC is totally fine with that because their job is not to market. It's to empower their customers. This flywheel, it's just like unreal. What happens here? They run the table on the whole industry. It is interesting. I mean, the industry went from vertical to horizontally integrated where the very best products in the market became horizontally integrated. And it's interesting how I'm trying to figure out what drove that because at some point, I guess there's a couple components to it. One is the speed at which Moore's law happens makes it such that you can't be good at everything. You can't be good at everything from EDA to making the manufacturing equipment to running the manufacturing process to designing the chips. You're not going to write your own instructions at architecture. People didn't need to break into best of class. More. This has got this great quote about this that I have in here. So he says, the semiconductor business is like a treadmill that speeds up all the time. If you can't keep up, you fall off. That's Moore's law. From 22 down to 2 down to 1, even when their competitors are only doing the one thing the TSMC has done, if you fall behind by a step, you're toast. Right. And it's because, I mean, there's this big part of it that you're talking about that hasn't come up on other episodes because we tend not to talk about companies that require a lot of manufacturing prowess. But in order to stay on that treadmill, the number of tens of billions of dollars that you need to be spending into CapEx is going up. So you need to be enormously profitable so you can build the factories for the next generation. Yeah. I mean, well, there's two things. So yes, that is 100% true. And the scale of this now, I mean, TSMC just announced they're going to spend $100 billion in CapEx over the next three years, $30 billion this year, $60 over the next two. And I bet that keeps going up. So that's a lot of billions. Now here's the, you might even say, like this is so strategically important. When people are talking about this, certainly China is talking about this. The US government is now talking about this. Governments might need to come in and just like, with a bazooka of money and create other, you know, options because like almost all their manufacturing is in Taiwan. It's in this like strategically geopolitically challenged location. We need to re-enshore some of this in the US. China of course wants their own. You can't just spend the money and do this. The US government could come in and say, we're going to spend a trillion dollars this year to do this. Because we're going to get to powers later. But there's like this marriage of scale economies and process power that the TSMC like in this industry. There is no amount of money you could spend to catch up next year. You can't because the engineering is so hard and the learning curve takes decades to like get to this point where you know, I was listening to a podcast, a Bloomberg Adelaide to podcast about this where they were talking about this and their reporter who covers TSMC is great. China, you know, they're asking questions like the will China could just spend a billion dollars and do this, create their own fabs and they're doing this. What's the company called SMIC? SMIC. SMIC. SMIC. Because basically TSMC seems to have picked aside in the US. And so with a little bit of prodding, I'm sure, from various presidential administrations over the last five years. The guy who covers TSMC was like, they can do that and they are doing that. But they wouldn't know what to do with it. And it's not because they're dumb. It's the hardest thing in the world. It's the hardest thing in the world. It's to do this stuff, to make the equipment that ASML does and to manufacture the way that TSMC does, it is the hardest thing to do in the world. Yeah. Anybody else could get all the same equipment from ASML? Actually, that's not true. So they're saying, even if you could, you wouldn't know what to do with it. Right. And it's not because you're dumb. It's like, they're only like a small number of people in the world that can operate this stuff. All right. I'm jumping out of my seat here. So I have to, I'm going to do the ASML thing now. So the reason that some people can't get their hands on the ASML equipment is because the Netherlands did not renew their trade agreement with China. Also likely, likely it has been reported that probably that is because of US prodding to say, hey, these pieces of equipment you're making seem pretty specialized. You're the only people in the world who can do it. And it makes the most cutting edge semiconductor manufacturing technology. Let's not sell that to SMIC in China. And so they're not doing that. Now you might say like, oh, come on, how hard can this stuff be? Well, these machines... Tell us then what these machines do. Well, first of all, they cost $200 million for a machine that makes the chips. And that's going to go up to like $300 million. And by the way, on a lot of this, we have a lot of thank yous for John Bathgate and Britain Johns from the episode of the knowledge project that they went on to talk about a lot of this stuff. It takes $47.47 to ship one of these machines. So you buy one, your TSMC, you buy one and it arrives. And of course, the $7.47, then there's a crew of ASML employees on site not only to assemble it, but then to help you run it. So like you mentioned, these companies are deeply integrated with each other to be able to pull this off. Okay. So what does running it mean? Let's do it. Okay. So it becomes exponentially harder to manufacture chips the more dense they are. So David, you mentioned that 150 nanometers or so from several years back. And we know now that the M1s are made on this 5 nanometer process. Well, the wavelength of white light, of regular light is 193 nanometers. Oh, that seems like a problem. Well, it's certainly wide. But you know, we're human. We come up with clever solutions, we can solve this. And so you shoot it through a lens and maybe you shoot it through some water. They're like a laser. Well, not yet. But even that really only gets us to like 11 nanometers. So how the heck are we supposed to make these chips where the transistors are ostensibly only of five nanometers apart when what we've done to date shooting through lenses and shooting through water gets us to 11 nanometers. Well, okay. So this is crazy. You have to create a plasma. So what they do, and this is called extreme ultraviolet light or EUV, this is a process that is just wild. On one side of the machine, you drop molten tin. On the other side of the machine, you then hit it with a highly specialized laser. You perfectly pulse them. It explodes into a plasma which creates extreme ultraviolet light. Now of course, this is hard enough to do as you can imagine how that might work. But you actually have to do that 50,000 times per second. Yeah. And what I read is that the accuracy with which that laser needs to hit the drop of molten tin is more precise than the calculations to send the Apollo missions to the moon. And you got to do that 50,000 times a second. Unbelievable. And now of course, think a little bit more about this. But wait a minute, that wavelength is so small, we're going, you know, shy of 11 nanometers here. We're going to five nanometers, three nanometers, that actually it is absorbed by all known mirrors, which were used to reflecting light, but they don't reflect this light because the wavelength is so small. So part of this process involves reflecting it like a bunch of times, like 20 or something before etching the silicon. So what do we do? So ASML actually needed to invent a new type of mirror to do this. And they also needed a contract with a German company to make this special type of laser, which is the only known company in the world capable of making it. So like, this is crazy hard stuff. They only make 50 of these machines per year or so. They used to have competitors like Nikon used to compete with ASML on this, but it's too hard. They gave up. They had extreme ultraviolet lithography is, and of course, we haven't talked a lot about this. And I think it's outside the scope of the show, but just to overly simplify lithography is kind of the process of taking that silicon wafer and etching a design on it. And if we want to do that in smaller and smaller ways, we get to do with more and more specialized equipment. And at the end of the day, if you want to make the M2, the M3, you know, the A18 X-Bionic, whatever, it's going to be called like there is no other way to make it. But then this extreme cutting edge alchemy. It truly is alchemy. So you know, Ben, so you're a government. You want to throw 100 billion? I'm going to be like, like, acquired is doing really well. Like, we're on a tear here. We've got power. We've got brand power. We got all sorts. We got network, you know, economies. We got our community like we're doing well. We should invest in that. We should do an opportunity. We should compete with TSMC. Screw the government. We'll do it. We've got a couple hundred million dollars. We'll buy this stuff. You know, you have a CS degree. You know, you're the more technical one of it. You can run this stuff, right? You can, when we get the shipments from ASMR, you can make this happen. Wouldn't know the first thing to do. It's like even if we could invest the cash, even if we could build the facility, even if we could buy the machines, which by the way, that's going to be hard because there's 50 some on back order. So like I can't even get it. I can't see as like, ordered out all of them for years. It takes people who have done the most advanced manufacturing in the world ever in history in order to know how to do the next version of it. And this is why TSMC has 40% operating margins. It's crazy. Totally crazy. I'm just like in awe of this. Completely. Okay. So a little while back before we get totally geeked out on that, which was awesome. You said something like, how do we get this flywheel effect? You know, it's great. But like, how do we really get from TSMC started taking the drags from the IDMs, then the Fabulous companies came along, how do we get from there to like, now there's another really important chapter here. And you're going to flash us from like 93, 95 to like, 2010-ish. Is that what it's about to have? 2008. Well, first, we'll stop in 2005. So 2005, you know, things are going well. Better than more I've ever imagined. These Fabulous companies are getting started in videos. Killin', I mean, I was making gaming PCs at the time. I wanted those Nvidia GPUs. But Nvidia wasn't a top 20 stock in the world. I mean, in television, like Nvidia, come on. Right. Real men have fabs. Okay, maybe we're beyond that part, but like, they were making GPUs like Nvidia stock tracked, like whether they won the next Sony contract for the next PlayStation or the X-Pie. That was the market for the PC. That was the market. Right. You know, great market, but it's not what we're talking about. It's not about machine learning. It's not about crypto. It's like, is the next PlayStation going to include your chip or not? Totally. That's still great for TSMC. It's awesome. 2005 Morris is 74 years old. He's like, all right, I did it. I did it. Not been, yeah, been buying TSMC stock with my own money. It's done well enough. I didn't really need to work anyway. I'm going to call it. I'm going to retire. Ready retire. Ready right off into the sunset. He hands the reins of TSMC over to his longtime lieutenant Rick Sye. And he retires. He spends a couple years. He's just chill. I don't know what he's doing. But he's like reading all sorts of studies. He's on his second marriage, which he credits his second wife for like really reinvigorating him and inspiring him. Then it's summer of 2009. By the way, that's right around the time that people were starting to speculate that EUV might work. Like all this had been kind of an interesting to this point. Enter the BitScience projects before. Yes. Oh, cool. I didn't realize that. Yeah. Well, this is going to make what happens even more sense. The financial crisis had happened in 2000. And chaos everywhere. We've talked about it lots on this show. Surprise press conference. TSMC summer 2009. They announced that Morris is returning to lead TSMC as CEO. Rick is out. Morris is coming back for the third act of his career. I don't even know what number he's wearing. He's not 45 because that was the second act. He's like Jordan. He's beyond Jordan at this point. Coming back, he's going to be CEO again at age 78. Rick would actually have a second act himself. Do you know what Rick is doing now? No. Rick is CEO of MediaTek, which is behind the view of UMC. So he's doing fine. Rick is doing great. But Morris comes back. Why does Morris come back? But this is Harold that is kind of a botched transition. Right. Well, there's a lot of stuff going on. Like from Morris to Rick, people kind of viewed it as like, you didn't really do a great job bringing in the next CEO of the company. Maybe I don't know enough to say. Okay. I think maybe. Also, like there's a lot going on at this moment in time. So the financial crisis. Yep. That's like a crisis. That's affecting everybody. So that's one thing. But the other thing. So in the press release, there's quote from Morris. He says one, this move will not affect TSMC's fighting spirit and is likely to spur greater intensity. But two, he says that he sees quote, golden opportunities ahead. What are these golden opportunities that he's referring to? It's 2009. Mobile. Right. The smartphone. 2007 in July, the iPhone comes out. 2008, the iPhone 3G comes out with the App Store for the first time, the SDK, all these developers building for it. But of course, and Android comes out in 2008. Yep. Apple had to this point while building this operating system, the scaled down version of OS X, it's Unix. But they weren't designing their own chips. They just used it off the shelf Samsung chip. They got it right with saying, hey, we got to use ARM in these things because we need a really low power device. So they've done actual God's work and magic to be able to bring a PC X86 operating system creative sub operating system from it. Compute in your hand. Totally that runs on ARM, like a miracle. But of course, it's an off the shelf Samsung processor. Totally. Well, even that's great for TSMC. It does not make that. OK, so that's one where you're talking more about that in a sec. But we should say, and Samsung also fabbed it. Because Samsung is both a chip designer and a. But the point is on mobile, the previous whole paradigm of computing and silicon, everything was PC. It was like stuff plugged into a wall. It was Intel. It was X86. And like, yeah, TSMC could now access some of that because AMD went fabulous. But like, come on. But now all of the leading companies that are going to make silicon for design. So our ARM companies, you know, Qualcomm, Broadcom, MediaTek, Apple, like who all are fabulous. All are fabulous. OK, so that's a big opportunity. And guess who knows all of those people? Morris. And we should say, 2009 was an interesting tipping point because if you'll remember back to the 2007 introduction of the iPhone, Steve Jobs has a slide where he says their hope, their goal, is to get 1% of the existing smartphone market. So Apple had no notion. I mean, Google had no notion of how big smartphones were about to become. In 2009, we're starting to see, I think, the iPhone 4 came out. We're starting to see a ton of different OEMs making Android phones. You're moving into this era where everyone's looking at each other going, oh, this might actually be the next computing paradigm. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Well, that was half of the next computing paradigm. Remember back, when this is when I started in VC, there were two waves that like everybody was talking about. Noble on social. Mobile. And then all consumer, you know, shifting to on the consumer side, everything shifting to mobile. That was what happened. Bring your own device. Well, sort of, you're on the right track. What happened in the enterprise? The cloud. The cloud. Right. So you got mobile and you got cloud. And it's like so simplistic, but like those are the two things that drove trillions of dollars a market cap over the next decade. Well, what's the cloud? So first, the cloud is good for Intel. Right. X86. You're putting CPUs in the cloud. Amazon's buying lots of the clouds. The cloud's the best thing that ever happened for Intel. Totally. Incredible server architecture. It was the best thing that ever happened in Intel. But as the cloud progressed and computing workloads progressed, the CPU became a lot less important. Like what's AI started becoming a thing? CPU, like yeah, maybe maybe you need some of that. Maybe you'll use Intel. Maybe you'll use ARM, like whatever. But like what really matters? Well, the majority of cloud workloads are still on CPUs. Yeah, OK. OK, fine, fine. But you're right. The future looking. Why is Nvidia now a $403 billion billion market cap company? It's not because of the PlayStation. And it's bigger than Intel, right? And Nvidia's 2X Intel's market cap, something like that. Yeah, it's the cloud. The notion of chips that are really good at parallelized processing, which is GPUs, and matrix multiplication effectively, vector math, versus the CPU, which are sort of these general purpose work courses built for the operating system that runs on your computer, super good for serial. Of course, there's like multi-corporate. There's 64 cores on a CPU now, so they're good at parallelization too. But all this stuff, especially machine learning as GPUs. It's GPUs and specialized, like the Tesla Dojo stuff. That's not X86. Oh, yeah. We're in this. I mean, the other thing that foundries enabled the fabulous era enabled is the custom chip, like everybody's building custom chips for all sorts of things. Yeah. So you got these two big golden opportunities that are coming online. And Morris is like, I got this. When we should say we should clarify too, I think Tesla uses Samsung. Oh, interesting. I didn't know. Not TSMC, or at least for part of it. And I think they actually even fab their chips in Austin in the US. Really? Yeah. So this is an imagine that's going to last. This is like the beginning of the like, what everyone's sort of hoping for in the US is this like return to American manufacturing of chips. Yeah. They're going to have to go to TSMC though in the next generation, because like, you want three nanometer. It depends. I mean, it depends what the workloads are in it. Yeah. It depends what you need. Well, anyway, point is Intel's dominance is over. And the index on all that's going to take over is TSMC. Yep. And Morris, riding back in, he comes in. He gets these deals done. So like the Apple deal, 2012. Morris Chang. 78, 80 years old. And I think the Apple rep on that was Jeff Williams, the classic Tim Cook's Tim Cook. That's right. I think there was something where it was even like a one went over to the other's house for dinner or something. And it was like a living room conversation to ink the deal for, hey, we bought this company, PASMI. We've been designing our own chip architecture in house. We're going to launch, I think it was the A4. Yeah, I think that was the first one. And it was Apple basically saying we think a lot of people are going to buy a lot of iPhones in the future. And we are competing head to head with Samsung, because they're a company that is not clear on strategy. They have a consumer angle here with the Galaxy phones. They think they're also kind of a foundry, which we have. And jobs hated Samsung famously. What did he call them? He called them some derogatory term. Well, there's been a few interesting things. There was Steve Jobs saying he was going to wage thermonuclear war. That was on Google, right? I think that was good. But he had some like, oh, Samsung, they're just like coffee, like something that like really put them in like. It was about the lawsuits. It was like when they kept stealing apples, like designs. Yeah. And then there was something else where someone, this is later, but Tim Cook read the quote on stage about it being a toxic hell stew. Well, it doesn't get any better than that. No. But Bloomberg reported that it was a really big risk for both companies, both Apple and TSMC. Apple was relying on a company that was then seen as an also ran. And the quote is, if we were to bet, I think this actually, Jeff Williams, if we were to bet heavily on TSMC, there would be no backup plan. And for TSMC, it meant an initial investment of $9 billion, fabs are expensive to build, and devoting 6,000 employees to building a dedicated plant for Apple in just 11 months. It took several years before it even began producing the chips. So that was in 2010. And then I think 2012 was the launch of the A4. Designed by Apple built on the PASMI acquisition, and of course, fabbed by TSMC. And I think it wasn't until the iPhone 6, which was what, 2014, 2013, something like that. That they were solely TSMC? I think so. And that was like the huge hit product. Because remember, the 6 was when they first increased the screen size. And those things flew off the shelves like. I'm pretty sure some iPhones had Samsung fabbed A4s and 5s in them. And some had TSMC fabbed ones. But I think by the 6, which was the, I mean, Apple's all iPhones were huge winners, but I think the 6 was like mega winner. And I think that was all TSMC. Huh. 9 billion of manufacturing capacity just for a deal with one company paid off. So that was a bet the farm deal. And kind of like something only Morris could do. Totally. I mean, it really speaks to founder, Gravitas. Yeah, even if he had no, I could he as a founder, no, I could either be in five. So after getting that deal done in 2013, Morris steps down as CEO again, but he stays on as chairman. And then finally, once like it all plays out, and TSMC is on top in June of 2018, Morris retires presumably for real. He even stepped down from the chairman. Yes. He fully retires from chairman at 86. Oh my God. Crazy. Wow. So it was 2018. So I mean, let's talk about now. So 2020 TSMC, we alluded to this operating profit of $20 billion on $48 billion of revenue. They took 17 of the $20 billion in operating profit and plowed it all back into CapEx last year in 2020. Beginning of this year, January 2021, they give guidance that they will raise CapEx from 17 last year in 2020 to 25 to 28 billion in 2021. In April of this year, 2021, they raise it again to 30 billion forecast for the year and a hundred billion over the next three years. And this is when like, that's like the real shot across the bowel that everybody wakes up, the financial markets wake up and they're like, holy crap. TSMC has cornered the market. Even Samsung's not gonna be able to keep up with this. It's wild. It is wild. And there's a bunch more to talk about with today. But first, I wanna talk about our second sponsor for season nine, pitch book. Any time we're talking data, we're talking pitch book. Absolutely. Well, as many of you know, pitch book is the, maybe all of you know, I think at this point, pitch book is the leading financial data provider for VC, PE and M&A. Their platform includes a database with information on more than 3.1 million companies. I will tell you that they do not sacrifice quality for quantity because 96% of their clients rate pitch book's coverage of private companies has better than any other data provider. I'm just gonna stop reading the script here because I think everybody sort of knows the very highest quality you can find on any company out there is gonna be on pitch book. It is just such a joy to have them as a partner. And frankly, like we have just been using their data for acquired forever. And so it's so cool as I drink here from my pitch book water receptacle. Nice. I know. You know, we're talking about all the enabling technologies that have, you know, and waves that have enabled TSMC. I think personally acquired his really in terms of quality of the show really hit an inflection point in the last few months. And I think you could trace that too. The use of pitch book data. I think you can too. Well listeners, we have a special offer today and for all of the season, you can explore their database firsthand and you get a limited access program, which includes free access to the largest database of private market intel for two whole weeks. So you can monkey around in this crazy, crazy forest of information to sign up, visit slash acquired or click the link in the show notes to see how pitch book can help you. So more on today, David, TSMC today. Well, okay, so let's be in data. I think this is the data point. It really kind of says everything. So since the first IPO in Taiwan in 1994, TSMC has had compound annual revenue growth of 17.4% for 27 year revenue growth. 17.4% compounded for 27 years. Now the IRR, the equivalent of valuation on market cap. So it was four billion market cap at the Taiwan IPO in 1994. Today it is 550 billion. So that is a 20, like a 19.9% IRR, starting from a four billion dollar base over the last 27 years. So 20% IRR over 27 years, incredible by any means, starting from a four billion dollar base. It is now the ninth, currently as we record the ninth most valuable company in the world. And I think other than Saudi Aramco, it is the only company in the top 10 that we haven't done on acquired. Oh, interesting. As a, yeah, the oil companies are not, other than Saudi Rancor, the US oil companies are no longer in the top 10. But Berkshur is- That might be foreshadowing some future episodes. So this season, ooh. I mean, they're in hallowed grounds at this point. The other thing that just talking about financials today, so crazy that they grew 31% in revenue from 2019 to 2020. So they double their keger from 2019 to 2020. Yeah, it's nuts. Talk about accelerating growth. Okay, so they're in 2020, their adjusted net income was $17 billion. How are they gonna go spend 100 billion over three years? Is that gonna be out of profits of each of those years or do you think they're doing some kind of financing? I don't know. I don't actually don't know if they've done any financing. I'm quite confident they'll make enough profit to fund it organically because big news just in the past week. They started this alloyal in the year, but now they're really doing it. They're getting away from Morris's second big innovation of the- Reducing prices. Reducing prices. In fact, I think they're gonna raise prices. They're gonna raise prices. This year by 20%. So the first announcement a couple months ago was they're not gonna cut prices. And then they just announced they're gonna raise prices. Nobody's ever done this since the pre-mortist days. Pricing power in action. Totally. I mean, what a clearer picture of how they have taken a commodity business and turned it into, I mean, this has gotta be one of the biggest moats of all time. Totally. I mean, they've got 28 billion of cash and cash equivalents on the balance sheet. And they're gonna use that and all the cash that they generate from their operations to plow directly back into making sure that everybody else is five plus years behind. Unbelievable. The other thing is that they already are the largest. They have over 50% of the market for foundries, like for all contract manufacturing of chips. And like 95 plus percent of the profit. Correct. I thought where you were going with that. It is also true that they have 90% market share on the current generation, like the leading edge chips. Yes. Yeah, exactly. In the five nanometer, Samsung has like 5, 10% market share and TSMC has 90 plus percent. In many ways. Going to 100. They're the apple of semiconductors. They don't have all the market share, but they have all the most profitable market share. Yeah, exactly. That's, they are the iPhone of semiconductors. Like you can still buy previous generation, you know, worse technology from other. And for plenty of, you know, on the AdLots podcast, this was actually, they talked about, like the bear case going forward for TSMC. And one potential one is that, oh, well, the processing power is so good that like you're not going to need the leading edge anymore. I find that a really weak argument. Like you always need the leading edge. Like you think Tesla doesn't want the leading edge? Totally. You think Apple doesn't want the leading edge? Software will always match the complexity on the most advanced hardware it can run on. Totally. Which is why like I love when people are like Apple slowing down my computer. I'm like, yes, I'm sure that's what's happening. They wrote special code that they're putting on there to make the consumer. No, it's because every piece of software it just always assumes that it has the most advanced processor on earth. And it always gets to developers. Sure, they test on two and three year old equipment. But no one's making sure that the six and seven year old laptops are as performant software designed for the current generation of hardware. You think they Google an Amazon are going to be like, now we're good. Right. Hell no. It actually is worth touching on. There's one other interesting bit about this five nanometer process, which first of all is a marketing name at this point. What it used to originally referred to was the length on the gate on the transistor. At this point, it's not exactly five nanometers and the additional performance is not going to come from making smaller gates. Here's the interesting thing though. You actually can't put these transistors much closer to each other. So if you think about silicon atoms that are between the transistors, you can only fit five of them in a nanometer. So in a three nanometer process, sure it's worth it to be. Yeah, 15 or a great. Right. At some point, you cannot subdivide silicon anymore. So either we need to change the substrate or the innovations are sort of going to come from elsewhere. That's right. Yeah. Which has always been the case. Moorslaw was technically the doubling of the number of transistors on an integrated circuit. Now it comes from multicore. It comes from all the other advancements of figuring out how to make chips do more stuff faster. Yep. That I think is going to keep going. And I think it's going to keep being expensive and getting more expensive. And I think TSMC is the only company that's going to be able to keep up at the leading edge. Yeah. Do you know David about more second law? Ooh, no, I don't. So everyone knows about Moorslaw, but there's this second one, which is also known as Rox Law. After Arthur Rock. Yeah. OG. It states that the cost of a semiconductor chip fabrication plant doubles every four years. So with fabs today costing $15, $20 billion, I don't know that that's proven exactly true, but it's certainly... Well, shoot if we just look at TSMC's cap X forecasting, they're going from 17 to 30 to 60 over two. So that's way faster than four years. So the interesting thing is when you combine these two things, the Moorslaw and Moors Second Law, it implies that the leading company that most profitable company will become the monopoly. When it take all, there you go. And it's fascinating that both of these things, these laws aren't actually in conflict because Moorslaw is about effectively when you really look at it from a financial perspective operating expenses when producing at scale. And Rox Law is about the upfront capital expenditures to enable all that production. So it's everything we talk about on the show. It's being able to pile investment into fixed cost as much as possible at huge scale in order to realize the benefits of making as many of the thing as humanly possible at global scale. And TSMC interestingly is the most perfect example of this. And I say interestingly because we almost always talk about operating leverage and scale in the context of software on the internet. This is how venture capital started because actually manufacturing chips, the operating leverage that comes from huge amount of fixed costs into foundries to make chips and then hopefully be very profitable, 50% gross margin on those chips. Venture capital financing was built for that, for semiconductors. And it just so happened to work just as well or even better with software on the internet, even better in the notion that gross margins of software can be 80 to 90% not 50%. But I would back that down because it doesn't have the sort of mode, defensibility characteristics that being able to plow your catbacks into manufacturing capability does. Yeah. So we do power now. Absolutely. Let's do it. Let's do it. So for folks new to the show, this is one of the discussion topics we do for every episode is we go through Hamilton Helmer's excellent seven powers. The best business theory book. Totally. We've had Hamilton on the show. He's amazing. Go read the book if you haven't. He identifies seven powers, essentially, sources of defensibility being which he defines as long-term differential profit margins versus your competitors, as we've been talking about on the whole show. The seven that he identifies are counter-positioning scale economies, switching costs, network economies, process power, branding, and cornered resources. And we almost always talk about network economies. We talk about counter-positioning on this show. Sometimes we talk about branding. Sometimes we talk about branding. We're talking about none of those this time. Yeah. We sometimes talk about scale economies, which we're going to definitely talk about here, but I think we're going to have our first process power if I'm a forecast. But let's start. Let's go down the list, counter-positioning. I mean, maybe you could. When they were starting, and in particular, would the incumbents have started with the exact business model? No. Because their profit center was the integration, that all the margin you get of integrating, design, and manufacturing. And by saying, nope, we're going to be a pure play manufacturer, TSMC, theoretically, was saying, no, we're going to take less gross margin, and we're just going to make it up in volume. I'm actually not sure it played out that way. I think they have more, I don't know what Intel's gross margins are. I actually don't know. I would suspect they're higher, but I don't know. Right. Yeah, there was counter-positioning here. I don't think I said this when we were going through it. But before TSMC and the pure play foundry model, if you were either a fabulous company, one of the very, very few, or you were another IDM, and you were trying to get some excess capacity, you rent it from another IDM. Mostly IDM is that we were like, okay, you're strong on them, you got a grave of strategic relationship, they'll give you some capacity. But they also demanded the right to market your products under their brand, too. Oh. So obviously TSMC wasn't going to, so yeah, there was counter-positioning like the IDM, there was no way they were going to do it. TSMC was going to do. Right. Huh. Okay. Scale economy is absolutely. That is the biggest, it's one on top, too, with process power in my opinion. Switching costs. Well, it's funny. Now they're huge switching. You can't switch off TSMC. No, unless you're going to stop being on the leading edge, if you're going to change from being a phone company to an automotive company, you can switch off of them. Well, I think it's even deeper than that. Again, we haven't gone. Listen, I probably think we've gone deep technically on this episode. We haven't even scratched the surf totally. But yes, if you want the leading edge, now you got to be TSMC. But you got to be so integrated with TSMC to do this. Say you want to switch to global foundries, or one of the other competitors out there, of which there are a few. You can't just call up global foundries and be like, hey, I'm porting over, expect my business on Monday. Right. It takes years, because you're so deeply integrated. With the process. Yeah. So yeah, big switching costs. Network economies. It's not really worth talking about. Not in the traditional sense. This is not Facebook here. And certainly none of TSMC's customers really benefit from other customers being on it. No, I do think there actually is, I don't think Hamilton captures this in his seven powers. And I don't know if he would consider this one, but there is like an ecosystem aspect here. Because the EDM companies and the IP companies are so deeply integrated with TSMC, if you want to be using ARM for instance, or they're kind of the best integrated with. Now, I don't think that's network economies. That is kind of like this ecosystem thing. TSMC actually has a name for this. They call it like the open innovation something or other. It's some corporate name, but it means this. I do wonder if it's actually worse for a lot of people that Apple is a TSMC customer, because who else has access to the five nanometer process right now? They're going to take as much as they try. Yeah, good point. Process power. Yes. I think the other thing picks are, this is the first time we've really, although we weren't doing seven powers during. Yeah. To me, this is the clearest example I could ever imagine of process power. It takes all 40 years of TSMC's history to have arrived at where they are today. And even if 10 people left and tried to start the next TSMC, to be able to create what they've created at this point from scratch, virtually impossible. All of their IP, all of their people, all of their know-how, all of their relationships with ASMR and the like, yeah, no amount of money. Can replicate it. I think the only thing that will unseat TSMC is a complete paradigm shift. Yeah. Something where like what mobile did the desktop? If there's something where the compute required in the future is unable to be provided by anything that TSMC is good at today. If all the crazy laser, molten tin, ASMR stuff, we were talking about, if all of a sudden there's discovered a new, either different or way cheaper way, a quantum computing, yeah, way to do this, then that kind of could reset the playing field. Yeah, yeah, totally. But even little shifts, I bet they'd be fine. If everyone figured out that like, hey, silicon's not the best substrate and we can figure out a better substrate. If there were like an AWS moment, oh, which is funny because TSMC is the AWS equivalent, but like where something happened that just made it way cheaper than it used to be, you could now get access to the technology and the know-how, orders of magnitude cheaper than it is now, that would take away a big part of their power. But I don't see that happening. No. Absent a paradigm shift. This is TSMC's solution. They're pretty much, they're in the groove. So I think we should skip branding and corner resource for now. Like I just don't, it's not really worth talking about. I mean, literally they're antithetical to branding. Like, it's the couple's brand, it's not TSMC. So how do you define, so this is, I think it's a good time to enter our geopolitics discussion because I was thinking about the other way that TSMC could fail would be that China decides, the moment is right to go and assert our force and take over Taiwan. Depending on how you see it, either annex Taiwan or assert it's, as always, claimed sovereignty in Taiwan. Yes, actually start enforcing what has been right the whole time, I think as they would sort of say. Yeah. If they're resonating in my casual tone in English from America, then doing all this business with the West, I have to imagine that assuming that it didn't start a full war, like an actual World War, which may, then of course they would start using all the TSMC manufacturing capacity for all the Chinese customers. And Huawei's been a TSMC customer for a long time. Yeah. So how do you capture that in power? What is the power, or maybe like, let's not, that's like a bare case. Right, let's not get too specific on this, but maybe in a general sense, how do you capture the power that a company has that comes from regulatory environment? Where would that get classified under? That like they have a lot of room to be operating safely. Maybe cornered resource, I guess. So you're saying this is like an anti-power for this. This is a rightness. Exactly. Exactly. Yeah. I suppose that all that matters is things that you have that your direct competitors don't. So in this strange straw man that I'm putting together, it would really be about what if you were located in a country that none of your competitors were also domiciled in and being there gave you some special ability to be more profitable than others. Which they had in the beginning with the government of Taiwan. Basically the mafia boss was like, this is happening. We're gonna make the strong arm. Everybody in the old business leaders in the country do investing in this. We're gonna make sure that this happens. Yeah. Okay, well let's put a pin in that, because you're right, it turns out that it's actually not a perfect power discussion. But the geopolitics thing is interesting. Well, I think it's the bare case for. Right, that to me, absentee, enormous computing paradigm shift is the way that TSMC has an enormous risk in the business. Yeah, totally. Which does make it kind of surprising that, you know, they haven't diversified their geographical operations very much. So this is interesting. So they're facing a lot of pressure for this. They are spending, I think, $12 billion this year to start a plant in Arizona, which will not be the three nanometer, I don't even think it'll be the five nanometer. It's not their most advanced manufacturing. I think the US is subsidizing in a big way. I think this part of the Biden administration's most recent bill to try and bring some semiconductor manufacturing here. But they're also starting a fab in Japan that came out in their last earnings call. So they're doing some... And they have operations in China, I believe too. Yep, they're doing some diversification. But I don't think it's for this reason. I think it's because they're basically getting free money to open fabs and other places. And Morris has even made comments like, I don't think it makes any business sense for us to have the leading edge in those countries, even though those countries want us to have them there. I think it makes sense based on the ecosystem that we've created in Taiwan to keep operating it here. So the question is if it directly helps, let's take the US, for example, the US's prowess as a semiconductor manufacturing force in the world to have TSMCs Arizona plant or if it's really just indirect and the idea is like, let's try this as a first stab. We'll get more people in the US familiar with doing this again. In case we need to... Restore this? Yes. Really, the... I mean, this is a scary, scary future to contemplate. And I hope to get it doesn't happen. But really the thought exercise here is what would happen if China and X is Taiwan tomorrow? Which is scary for a number of reasons, the smallest of which is this corporate takeover. It's scary for a lot of people, their lives. Well, it's not... Yes, scary, but I wouldn't say it's the smallest, like everything. Like imagine if we didn't have access to semiconductors anymore to leading edge semiconductors. Like, that's everything. What part of our lives do not run on? Right, semiconductor. We can't make F-150s right now. It'd be like if, you know, like basically all of our technological progress would stop. Yeah, you're right. So I think the question is, and I don't know enough to answer this. Well, what would happen, right? Like, would it be possible to airlift the process power that TSMC has physically out of Taiwan to somewhere else? You get all the people, ASMR now sends the stuff somewhere else, you airlift everybody out, there's an evacuation. Does the process power come with it or not? Like, I don't know. That's a good question. I mean, if the Toyota production system is an example where Toyota tried to, there was that factory in a joint venture with GM. Yeah, the newbie plant that's now the Tesla plant is on. With Toyota trying to replicate their process somewhere else didn't work. Now it wasn't under threat of war. Right, this one would need to. It's actually a good question. If you think about like the US's sort of strategic defensive weaknesses, what's more important having onshore semiconductor capability to continue advanced technology in the nation or Boeing, like our ability to build, which we've always held up as this example of the US needs that to stay US-owned, to stay operating, stay profitable, to stay prosperous, because it is a matter of the US way of life that we're able to protect. Well, Boeing needs semiconductors. That's a great point. So we're now outside our depth, but is it actually more important to have cutting edge semiconductor capability here than airplanes or any of the other sort of defense supply chain? And maybe the answer here is like, it's like, Korea, same situation exists in Korea with Samsung, right? Like North Korea is right there. I've been there. I've been to North Korea. Like I went to the DMZ, like it's so weird. It's like an amusement park. Weird. It's super, super weird and bizarre. But yeah, North Korea is right there. Maybe it's the same like China is right there, but this isn't actually going to happen. But like, I don't know, it feels in the last year, like the risk of it actually happening has ratcheted up quite a bit. I think so. I mean, it's like globalization as a whole. It is in the best interest of everyone to continue to share resources, to continue to entangle everything until somebody decides that it's not, and then we have a big problem. And hopefully for lots of reasons, it just continues to be okay that TSMC is located on an island that is of disputed claim. Yeah, maybe the best thing. Which towards the end of the episode? So we can, we mean, indulge our weirdness here. Maybe the best thing that could happen is my carve out a while back was the book by the Harvard Chair of the Harvard Astrophysics Department about Umu and Muah, the visitor that he postulates as an alien spaceship. Maybe if we discovered that aliens are real, that's the bed lights are going to be the uniting force, you know, like all these conflicts seem pretty petty. Yeah. I wouldn't use that as an investment, because you said so. No. Okay, before we get into playbook and just hit some things that I think we missed during the narrative, or at least didn't find enough point on in the narrative, I have a, what would have happened otherwise that I would have hit? We haven't done this in a while. No, we haven't. So, and I'll just read this as a direct quote from Bloomberg, and there were some awesome sources for this episode, all of which are our linked in the show notes. In the mid 2000s, as Apple Inc was preparing for the release of its new smartphone, Steve Jobs approached then CEO of Intel, Adalini, about providing the chips for the iPhone. Intel already sold iPhone, the processors that ran on its max. But jobs made- We did have video to acquired so that everybody can see the look on my face right now. I'm just like, literally I got like fist in the air. I'm so happy. And remember, Adalini was the guy that Jobs brought out on stage during the Intel transition. Yeah. And they were bearing the power PC to say, this, you know, this is the future, this is the partnership. So, okay. But Jobs made what Adalini considered a low-ball offer, and Apple awarded the contract to Samsung. It later began designing the chips itself, eventually outsourced production at ESMC, a contract manufacturer in Taiwan, that would have been a bubble bubble. So what could have been Apple went to Intel and said, do you want this contract? Because they were partners on the Mac. Totally. And apparently it was less about the fact that, I'm sorry, you want to use ARM? What? No, it was more about the money. It was more about the money. And it was more about, we felt it was a low-ball offer. Oh. Biggest strategic error of all time. All right, I'm going to postulate a playbook theme I'm put for it as a possibility. More than a playbook theme, what's the, you know, like in geometry, there's like the, there's like laws the way that are proved, but then there's like postulates that like you can't prove them, but like our fundamental understanding of the universe doesn't work if they don't work. Whatever that is, axioms, I don't know whatever it is. I'm going to put one of those out there. Please never make strategic decisions based on economics. Hmm. This is prime example, like the number of, and we talk about this all the time on the show, like VCs passing over evaluation on something, you know, uh, and Dreson getting cold feet about a $300 million valuation on Uber. Yep. Right. This Intel move passing on, on being partnering with Apple. And maybe more specifically than economics, because like you could imagine that you would want to pass on this if Intel didn't get any of the upside from the deal. Assuming that the structure is right, then passing because a number is too low in the structure. Or Ford Motor Company, not hiring, or is chained over $1, you know, like whatever, like it's just like, uh, humans are so prone to cutting off their noses despite their faces. So we already have the Rosenthal doctrine of never been to the bed against the internet, but now we have the Rosenthal postulate, which is never make district decisions based on pricing. Based on pricing. Based on not economics pricing. Hmm. I like it. I need to add a new section to the acquired website. All right. All right. Next on playbook is another one on Intel fading. So it takes a very long time to become irrelevant. So despite Intel's sort of stock price being, I think TSMC's like two and a half X Intel stock price. As a matter of fact, ASML is actually larger than Intel by market cap now. They are the sole source provider of one thing in the value chain to mostly one company and they're bigger than Intel now. I'd be fascinated. Okay. So public markets investors who are listening, shoot us a DM and Slack or post in general. acquired FM at or acquired FM. Whatever channel works for you or Twitter, whatever. Be super curious how you are, if you are along this thesis that we're sort of laying out on the show, how are you playing it between TSMC and ASML? Which is now a Europe's most valuable company. Right. I mean, probably you just invest in both, but like, what is, like, how do you think about that? Right. And what's the like, up at Commer, that's kind of speculative at this point, but could be another puzzle piece here. Are you also shorting Intel through all the, like, what do you do here? All right. So my point on Intel is it takes a long time to become irrelevant. They still control 80% of the computer processor market and they have an even bigger share in servers. So like, despite everything we're saying, it's still huge. Workloads running on CPUs that are in computers and on the cloud, pretty big business. Yeah. The majority of workloads they're happening in the cloud is not Tesla Dojo. Right. It's, you know, I don't know some company that's not a tech company somewhere in the world, running their outlook server on Office 365. Yep. Absolutely. Doesn't need five nanometer process. Two other Intel things. One is that indecision has been very tough on the company. Bob Swan, who was the former CEO, started to prepare to outsource manufacturing of Intel design chips to TSMC. Whoa. Wow. Wow. Wow. I think even like two years ago, this was like the plan. They finally decided, thrown in the towel, you know, in all this a great chip manufacturing company in the world. Well, real men are sensitive. They talk about their feelings. Bob Swan is no longer the CEO of Intel. And now in a complete reversal, their new CEO, Pat Gelsinger, wants to turn Intel into a foundry themselves by which other fabulous companies can contract with Intel to build. Maybe that's right, but if so, they got to figure out, and I think they're thinking about this the right way, because they said it's going to be a fully separate autonomous division, they got to run that like a completely separate independent company of the rest of Intel. And if so, I don't actually know why Intel owns it. Yeah, I mean, well, A, let's look at AMD here, right? They did this, they spun out their manufacturing into global foundries. Which has been good for global foundries and AMD. Like global foundries is getting ready to IPO. Yep, yep, yep. So like, well, yeah, there's probably the right strategic decision, but it's not going so well. I mean, like it's going fast. It's not TSMC. Right, it's going better, probably than if they had not done that, but it wasn't, they're not a winner here. Like TSMC is the winner. Yeah. I guess the the playbook theme there is indecision is paralyzing. I mean, this company has spun its wheels one direction or the other and all its done is make itself deeper in the mud. Oh, I just looked up, I just remember this. Gelsinger was the VMware CEO. He started his career at Intel and then went to EMC and then EMC owned the majority of VMware. They became the CEO of VMware. Yeah, and he was the outside candidate to replace Bomber as Microsoft CEO. Oh, the way. Yeah, yep, yep. Huh. You know, I hear he's really revered in the organization that people think he's really gonna make some good change there. We'll see. The last thing on Intel, and it's funny, this is not the Intel episode, but there's a thing that happened here that is very similar to the fact that Kodak developed the digital camera first in their lab. They knew it. They knew this was the future and they didn't commercialize it because it's impossible to counter position yourself because of the innovators dilemma. Intel actually saw extreme UV lithography, UV first. So Intel was the biggest early investor in a UV, committing more than four billion to it in 2012. Whoa. It was slower than its main rivals, and this is from the Wall Street Journal, in adopting the technology and skeptical about whether it would work. Eventually, Intel calculated that it was a sure bet to try and improve existing ways of handling lithography. And of course, where we are today, UV completely enabled the next generation of chips to be built that things couldn't... Argument, an example for why you need startups. Right? Right. Totally. Yeah, Intel was there. They invested in it. They saw it and they were like, they put four billion in, and I think even to this day, there is not a shipping Intel chip that was manufactured by Intel using UV. Wow. That's crazy. You're right. It is the most perfect pure example of the innovators dilemma in action. That's why you need startups. Yep. We're gonna talk about that on our next series on a quiet, quiet bit that we've been foreshadowing a lot this season, but we're gonna come. All right, my next one is that if you're only looking at the outcomes that happened, you cannot reverse engineer what the probability that Odo happened is. And this is a very abstract way of me saying, the strategy of if you build it, they will come that Morris implemented is a bad strategy and it also worked. Right. And this is what's a low probability. And Valentine hated. They would never invest in developing a market. That was like rule number one. Like we invest when the market already exists, not when we need to develop it. And this is like the classic problem. This is the knock up here in Seattle. There's a lot of people spinning out of Microsoft starting companies. Classically people coming out of Microsoft would always wanna build platforms because Microsoft was the platform company and they would always have a small, too small of an understanding of the market of people that wanted that platform today and they assumed if you build it, they would come. Morris was that exact problem. And yet if something is gonna be true 10% of the time and fail 90% of the time, one at a 10 times, it's gonna work and it may have been the case. So I guess what I'm saying here is if you're starting a startup, it's impossible to know if this was actually a good strategy or if it was a bad strategy that probably just happened to work. I mean, this is the thing about startups, right? It's like there are all these rules, right? But like they can all be broken. There is no formula. Yep, totally. All right, other playbook themes? I just have one more that again, we talked about a bunch in the episode but I wanna highlight that and actually had one spin on here. I talked about it all the way back in the beginning in the pilot sponsorship. You know, the Jeff Bezos quote about AWS. As a startup, anything that doesn't make your beer taste better, the analogy back to the German beer factories and outsourcing electricity generation. Outsource things that aren't your core competency. Right, focus on what makes the beer your beer, whatever that is, proverbially taste better. And everything that is not that like finance and accounting, outsource to pilot, you'd hope like et cetera, double underscore that. But like this is obvious. So obvious, but obviously Bezos didn't say it directly and thus I think we don't highlight it enough. The counterpoint to that is anytime you see something that is like people are lots of people, lots of companies are doing that is not making their beer taste better, that is a massive opportunity to go build a platform company. Yeah. That is how you build a platform company. So you're saying if I was in Germany hundreds of years ago and I'm going brewery to brewery and seeing that they all generate their own power, I should start a power company. I'm saying if you're Waseem and Jessica, you've done two startups and you did all the finance and accounting yourself for both of them and you're like, wait a minute, this is not making our beer taste better and wait a minute, every other startup is doing this out there too. I can go build a platform company for this. All right, I'm getting beat over the head here. All right, before we get to grading, we have some fun grading for this one. We want to get to our final sponsor. We are joining the famous ranks of YouTubers and podcasters everywhere this season to tell you about NordVPN. We told you that this company is something that we're doing a little bit different in our own special way. We want to continue to tell you about how NordVPN came to be. So this is a group of childhood friends started in Lithuania. The company was founded in 2012 and the co-founder and CEO's name is Tom Oakman. Now Tom is a member of the acquired community just like all of you. It's over at Google. 9,000 strong in the Slack come join us at acquired.fmslashslack. You can DM us there. That's where Tom DMed us there. He's been listening to the show for years. So with Nord, this is pretty crazy. So it's a really low key DM that we get from him. We're like, oh, who is this guy? Oh, Nord, I've heard of that. NordVPN is now a global company with over 1,000 employees worldwide. They're used by an astonishing 15 million people. They've got this great product called NordVPN, made by NordSecurity. It works on all operating systems. It has become one of the largest VPNs in the world. Holds the title for the fastest VPN. They're also becoming a full-fledged security company now and doing all sorts of other stuff. It's so cool. And we were just like, Florida that Tom reached out, wanted a sponsor the show. And we're so grateful that we get to share this with all of you as almost like a community spotlight. Totally. And the coolest part was we got to talk to Tom and hang out with Tom and hear his story. And we're like, well, how much VC did you raise to do this? None. Zero dollars. That's a good company. Completely bootstrapped to like amazing. So cool. Well, if you're looking for a VPN service, then you should like any good acquired community member use the stuff that other listeners make. And you can sign up at slash acquired by clicking the link in the show notes or use the code acquired at checkout. So cool. Thank you, Nord. Grading. All right. So we were thinking for grading. Look, we could grade like, I don't know, Taiwan's decision to do this. So in 50% of the company at the outset. Whatever, like, you know, A plus, you know, not interesting. So we had the thought of an experiment. We'll try this for this episode, rather than like letter grading this. We'll ask a question. Where does TSMC belong in the pantheon of great technology companies of all time? Is it Fang level? Is it like top five? Is it top 10? Is it like top 20? Like, where is this? What is the right context in which we should be placing TSMC, this whole story, the company, the power, all of it? So interesting, because it really does raise this question of value chain. When we talked about the like five part value chain that exists today for making chips. And so it's interesting because you could sort of say, well, it belongs wherever Intel belonged circa 2000. Or you could say, well, the set of products that TSMC manufacturers have 100x the scale that Intel in circa 2000 had. Like, if you think about it, all this stuff that everyone's all excited about, every time someone talks about the next wave of computing and they're like machine learning, or they're like crypto, or they're like 5G, or they're like anything they tell you is something TSMC makes that enables it all. When Mark and Jason says software is eating the world, it's only eating the world because TSMC has made it so freaking cheap to manufacture silicon. And then you can run whatever you want on that silicon. And it's the cost of compute asymptotically approaches zero because TSMC, TSMC, TSMC. So how much do we ascribe to them versus ASML? How much do we ascribe to them versus the entire landscape of talented chip designers out there, including the like 600 chip designers at Apple, working on the Apple Silicon, is hard to disambiguate that. So where does it belong? I mean, it's probably the most successful and important B2B hardware company of all time. I think we can safely say, at this point, it surpasses Intel. I mean, gosh, right, like that's a big statement to say, right, like Intel Silicon Valley, the traders say like all of it more is law. But in compounding, all the value shows up at the end. So it is true that the value that TSMC will create in the world over the next year, two years, three years is probably more than the entire silicon industry leading up to this point combined. I mean, hell, they grew 30% last year. At like an already unimaginable scale, like Intel's not doing that. Right. Okay, I think we can say it's above Intel. I probably wouldn't say it is above Facebook Amazon, Apple, Microsoft, Google, in terms of pure value creation in the world. I mean, Devils advocate, you could argue that none of the innovative things those companies are doing now happens without TSMC. Yeah, unless the Foundry model, the Fabulous model was inevitable. Yeah, maybe somebody else would have done it. Yeah. Maybe, but they didn't. They didn't. Of course did. I mean, guys, the thing that I'm like, it's really just beating me over the head in this episode, and we've probably beaten all of you over the head with the earliest I have is, you know, look, there's the geopolitical risk with being in Taiwan. Other than that, I don't know that there is a stronger mode that any company has in the entire world than TSMC. Compared to all the FANG companies in Microsoft, like those are very, very strong modes. But like we've seen all of those, you know, they've changed their new companies, they've emerged, they've like, you know, Microsoft fell and then now it came back with new strategy and like Facebook's not that old and Google's not that old TSMC is impenetrable. Yeah. They're, yeah, they're business model and the cost required compete are such that they have. It's like bulletproof. It's everything but bulletproof. Yeah, totally. Sadly. To say, yeah, sadly, yeah. So, you know, I don't know, maybe we're exaggerating because we're like so deep in it. Like we always get, we always go native on these episodes. Right. The only way it could be more valuable is if the company had an army. It's like if people talk about the US dollar is backed up by the full faith of the US government, which implies guns. Yep. And so it's only because everybody's currently playing by the rules that any business gets to stay in business. And so this one just happens to be a little bit more at risk than other ones when it comes to that. All right. So I think we can safely say top 10. I think the question is, is it top five? Well, it defensibles this interesting question. So in 30 years, will TSMC be a huge company? Well, they've got this dynamic going right now with this flywheel where like structurally nobody can catch them. Something unforeseen has to change. But something unforeseen will change because it always changes. Right, right, right. Yes, yes. True. Who's had the most similar dynamic in the past? Standard oil. Either been successful or unsuccessful. Standard oil is a good one. Cough, foreshadowing. I mean, that's kind of what that is. It's a very different style. But same sort of dynamic with standard oil, right? Was like they crowded out like structurally how they were set up. And we'll talk way more about this later. Nobody else could compete. Right. And the rich kept getting richer. And they kind of still exist. That's the best part. That is the best part that can still exist. Yeah. All right. I'm with you. I'll go top 10, but probably not top five. Yeah, it is. I mean, like what I'm wrestling with is how much of it is just like marketing. And I want me marketing in a bad way. But like intentionally TSMC rides under the radar. Like they intentionally have no brand. Right. The brand is the customers. They want the customers to succeed. So we don't hear all the time about them like we do the fan companies. Yeah, we will start too. I think anybody who tunes into this episode probably saw the name of the episode and then thought, hmm, I should tune into that because I've seen more about this thing recently that I've obviously didn't know about. Kind of like we did when we were like, we should do this episode. It's finally time. Yeah. Yeah. All right. Well, that's where I want to leave it with grading. All right. So I'll put a stick in the ground. I'm going to say, I think I'm with you. Top 10, not top five yet. But maybe we need to revisit this. I will definitely say it's the most successful B2B hardware company ever. And the question is, is that the most successful B2B company ever, say it's probably just competing with Microsoft there. Yeah. And again, maybe even like across all industries, right? Like look at, I mean shoot, semi-conductors run everything. Yeah. And they run semi-conductors. Semi-conductors are the new oil, David. OK, OK enough. Enough. We got to bring this one home. Carvats? Carvats, let's do it. I've got two. Jenny and I were just down in Santa Barbara for a couple of weeks, rendered an Airbnb down there. So great. We did that last year. Hopefully this becomes an annual thing in the summer. Yeah. Escape the freezing San Francisco summers. So while we're down, we don't watch a lot of TV usually. But it was like, change of scene, summertime in a new place. We're like, well, we'll watch some TV together at night. So this is like for the percentage of you out there who are like living under a rock like me with TV. We've watched now most of Ted Lasso season one. Because we heard season two was terrible. But that made me think, well, it was terrible. It was terrible. But season one's great. That made me think, oh, if people had this upset about season two, that mean season one was really good. It's so good. If you haven't watched it, we're on episode eight now. So we're not quite done. So good. Love it. And then the other TV show we watched, this was Jenny's suggestion. Old school throwback show called Greek, which aired in the mid-2000s, and is about Greek like, sorority and fraternity life on a fictional university. And it's just so good. It's like what does heartwarming, period pieces, but it was right from when we were in college. So yeah, it's fun. Nice. All right. David, watch in TV. Who knows what could change in the world? Right. Maybe TSMC's mode isn't as deep as we thought. All right. Well, mine is a book that has been recommended to me for two or three years now. And I finally got around to reading. And it was awesome. It's called Who Is Michael Ovitz? And if you've read Shudog, and you've read the right of the lifetime, and you've read, what's the Ford one? An American icon, these like iconoclastic. What's a, there's a Sam Wollfounder business built in America. Yes. This one needs to be on your list, especially if you've enjoyed any movies or TV shows that were put together in the last, well, let's be specific. Or like two part injuries in the Hollywood series. Totally. From like 1975 to 2000, Michael Ovitz put everything together. And it is just wonderfully written book about an unbelievable business story, the strategy behind it, the way that with Creative Artists Agency, they just completely upended the entire industry in Hollywood, and did it really without ever talking to the press. And we're very tight-lipped about it. For some Hollywood outsider, I found the book really, really wonderful, really compelling. I also think I previously had only read the right of a lifetime and watched the Disney Plus special about sort of the history of Disney and Disneyland. I don't feel I had a full, I had a one-sided view of Michael based on just his short tenure at Disney. Yeah. And I was going to say, yeah, what a great connection with, acquired in Disney and Tiger. And what kicked it off was doing the Andresan episodes and hearing about how they have they based it on CAA. So especially if you like those episodes or if you like the Disney episodes or if you are a movie fan or if you like these classic CEO business stories, who is my glove, it's just an awesome read. So cool. Well, all the media that we grew up on, you know, like, probably even more so because we were kids, but it was the adult movies that were coming and the kids movies too. But when you're a kid and the adult movie that you really want to see, totally. Like, too young to see. And just all these such classics, like Goodfellas, that was just my previous carve out or Jurassic Park, or just everything that they packaged. It's cool to hear how it came to be. Super cool. All right, well, with that, thank you to, pitch book and NordVPN and click links in the show notes. I don't think we told you at the beginning, but you can join our Slack, slash Slack, come hang out with 9,000 other talented, smart, good looking people like yourselves. You should become an acquired LP. We go deeper. In fact, we just did our most recent LP call. Really fun to do that and have Matt McBrady join us too, who obviously was on our most recent LP episode, talking about the Fed and macroeconomics, difference between monetary policy and fiscal policy, which I just learned about, inflation, interest rates, all that stuff was super fun. So obviously you get all 50 plus, probably like 60 or 70 episodes at this point. Including actually our full episode with Hamilton. That's right. It was only a preview that we put in the main feed. I think the full episode. Actually, understanding seven powers is available there with Hamilton. So become an LP, it supports what we do, and it lets you be closer to the show, and we love our LP's. 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