Editor's Note: On October 27, Guerrilla RF achieved a significant milestone, announcing a reverse merger to become a public company, which will enable it to raise funds through publicly-traded stock. The new entity plans to apply to list its common stock on the OTC Markets QB tier. In conjunction with the reverse merger, Guerrilla RF raised $7 million through a private sale of stock
Before starting Guerrilla RF in 2013, you worked at RFMD and Skyworks, two of the top three MMIC companies at the time. What prompted you to start a company in a crowded field?
Working at the big MMIC companies was what led to me understanding that it ISN’T a crowded field. Every week we saw customer requests for support or new products coming in that were getting ignored. We were simply too busy addressing the needs of only our largest customers, and we simply didn’t have the resources or desire to address the needs of medium or small customers. That was the opportunity we saw, that there is a large universe of MMIC customers that are being underserved.
What's the message behind the name Guerrilla RF? Does it reflect your differentiation as a MMIC supplier?
Our name comes from our strategy. I think of guerrilla warfare as attacking a much bigger enemy in places where they are not paying attention and don’t have large resources applied. In looking at these underserved markets, we realized our strategy could lead to a significant business opportunity with a lot of revenue and good margins. We think this does strongly differentiate us, among other things.
Summarize the strategy your business is built on: the choice of markets, products and process/packaging technology.
By focusing on underserved markets, we need to be flexible in the products we develop and the technologies used for their development. We have a large menu with multiple process technologies that we can choose from to develop products with leading performance and cost.
Describe your marketing and sales approach to reach customers.
We’ve utilized an organic approach to reach new customers. We have a great internal team and have had an effective partnership with our distributors, Richardson RFPD in particular. Our internal team working with RFPD’s team have done a great job at covering a lot ground internationally and has been instrumental in our rapid growth.
Share some of Guerrilla RF's successes.
We have had several successes lately, mostly as a result of our rapid growth. We were excited to pass the 100 million unit all-time shipment mark this past summer. It has also been great to be among the top 500 of the Inc. 5000 list of fastest growing private companies for the second year in a row.
How has the pandemic affected your business?
Since automotive is one of our key markets, the pandemic has definitely had an impact on us. It has been up and down, but we are very bullish on the future of the automotive market for MMICs.
Of course, the pandemic has caused supply chain headaches which everyone has had to grapple with. Wafer foundries have been operating at full capacity for several quarters now. To adapt, we made a number of proactive adjustments with our foundry partners to help get more wafers through the line as efficiently as possible.
Assembly, test and tape and reel have also been challenged with raw material limitations and forced plant closures due to local COVID-19 outbreaks. Again, we proactively adjusted our workflows to plan around these potential disruptions.
I think we have handled this much better than many of our competitors; I am proud of how well our operations team has navigated through these supply chain challenges for the past year-and-a-half, and it’s clear that our efforts are paying off. We have been able to keep our customers’ manufacturing lines active—while increasing our shipments and revenue—even during this unprecedented time.
The pandemic and growing international tensions have highlighted the risk of overseas supply chains. Has this influenced your choice of foundry and assembly/test partners?
Certainly, international tensions, in general, and tariffs, specifically, have influenced our choice of manufacturing partners. We have had to make slight shifts in our supply chain due to these issues but are very happy with our current partners.
We are also always on the lookout for new potential partners with great technology, world class reliability and high volume capability. As a fabless company, this is one of the key advantages that we have over some of our competitors who are often held captive to their own foundries.
Reflecting on your upcoming 10th anniversary, how has Guerrilla RF's growth compared to where you thought you'd be?
I think any entrepreneur would say things have gone slower than expected. I was warned of this many times when I started out, especially by my father (Bill Pratt cofounded RF Micro Devices). While I thought we would be further along, I am definitely not disappointed in where we are. We see huge growth right ahead of us, and I’m really excited to see where it takes us.
Describe how your engineering education and experience have shaped your management philosophy and how that is shaping the culture at Guerrilla RF.
I think my engineering background has made me a better leader and had a lot of positive impacts on the culture at Guerrilla RF. Engineering is all about problem solving and that is really the perspective I try to take in running the company. We encounter constant problems, but it’s OK because that’s what the job of leadership is. That’s also a key part of our culture, just solving the problem.
I’ve encountered many corporate environments where failure was a big deal and having problems arise was a negative reflection on people. This leads to blame shifting and covering things up. Instead, at Guerrilla RF, we focus on fixing the problem and figuring out how to make sure it doesn’t happen again. It leads to a much more laid back and positive atmosphere.
Another advantage of having an engineering background comes in leading a product-focused company. I tell everyone that Guerrilla RF is a product-focused company. It’s a huge advantage when the CEO understands at an intimate and visceral level what it takes to develop new products. It helps in setting strategy, talking with customers and holding the team to realistic schedules.
What have you found challenging as you shifted from an engineering focus to overall responsibility for the company's success?
It has helped that my focus from day one has been the success of the company. Some days, this means I get to focus on the fun engineering part. Other days, I have to focus on finance and legal considerations. Certainly, some tasks are more fun than others, but I have found the challenge of running the business to be quite fulfilling.
It’s really interesting to be able to choose what to do and where to go with the company. That said, leading a company comes with some very heavy responsibilities that pure engineering rarely entails. Being mindful and positive about these responsibilities has probably been the biggest challenge for me.