Q & A with the ex-Cisco stars who launched the hot enterprise mobility start-up, Agito Networks

Cisco is the leading networking company. As evidenced by so many start-ups with Cisco roots, there must be something special about what goes on there, and how Cisco develops their employees. While this development and these experiences serve Cisco well, it also proves to be the breeding ground for today’s (and tomorrow’s) entrepreneurs who are innovating at new start-ups.

Tim Olson and Pejman Roshan
Recently had the chance to get some feedback in Q & A format from the founders of the HOT enterprise mobility start-up Agito Networks on their experiences back at Cisco... Tim Olson - Cofounder and Chief Technical Officer Pejman Roshan - Cofounder and Vice President of Marketing:
How did you arrive at Cisco?
Tim:    I arrived via the acquisition of JetCell in 2000.
Pej:    I joined from another company back in 1998.

What was your first job at Cisco?
Tim:    I was a technical leader in engineering. Initially I was leading several teams. One team was focused on completing our initial product called MNet which was a GSM based femtocell solution. The other team was working on adding GPRS to the solution, so we were building a SGSN node to support GPRS.
Pej:    I was a technical leader in the IT networking team, designing and deploying Cisco’s San Jose campus network. I left IT when Cisco acquired Aironet in 2000. I instantly fell in love with the notion of wireless networking in the enterprise, and knew it would change how users work, collaborate and ultimately drive their own businesses forward.

Did you get promoted during your time at Cisco?
Tim:    Yes, I was promoted several times at Cisco. When I left I was a Technical Lead II which is one step below a Distinguished Engineer at Cisco.
Pej:    Many times. Cisco is a great company when it comes to taking care employees. I moved steadily through Cisco up until my departure to start Agito with Tim and the gang.

How would you describe the experience working at Cisco?
Tim:    Cisco is an incredible place to work. For folks on a technical track Cisco provides visibility into just about every segment of the networking industry. I was fortunate enough to get a broad view of nearly every standard, product, company and trend that was happening in 802.11 (WiFi). Providing its technical leaders with this kind of experience is really an enabler for innovation, both within the company as well as for the many folks who create new companies and industries based on their Cisco experience.
Pej:    In the late 90’s it was unreal. I joined when Cisco was about 10,000 or so employees, and it was a mad, chaotic, exciting, and truly innovative place to work. How they managed to maintain that energy level and innovation as they grew and matured throughout this decade is incredible, and a testament to Cisco CEO John Chambers.

What lessons learned at Cisco can you point to?
Tim:    I would say that one of the biggest lessons I learned at Cisco was to push hard for the ideas I believe in. In the early stages of the WLAN market a small set of folks in Cisco (including me) pushed very hard to develop some automatic RF management capabilities into the Cisco WLAN products. There was little customer demand for this at the time we started the initiative, but we were confident this would be needed in the next few years. Fortunately, the Cisco culture did afford us the leeway to pursue the project. Two years later it was not possible to sell a WLAN solution that did not have some kind of automatic RF management capability.
Pej:    I learned that doing right by customers will enable you to always win in the end. We saw many competitors use less than reputable tactics to try and win deals, but by staying centered on delivering what the customers need, we are doing the right thing for them and our business. Another key lesson I learned from my vice president - always ask questions you are afraid to hear the answers to - get out of your comfort zone and challenge conventional thought. That is one of the lessons that drove us to inventing and innovating our location-aware mobility router.

What did you see at Cisco that worked?
Tim:    One of the strong values Cisco brings is diversity of thought. Because Cisco acquires young companies full of bright minds, Cisco always has a wealth of ideas available to stay ahead as the market leader. There is no doubt that it is difficult to manage all the viewpoints inside the company, but the results of that diversity far outweigh the cost.

How did Cisco prepare you for your next role, to be an entrepreneur?
Tim:    This is really the same answer as to why Cisco was a great experience for me. As a leader in networking, I was exposed to the industry at both its highest and deepest levels. This allows the visionary folks to quickly gain the knowledge they need to create entirely new products and markets.
Pej:    As I grew in my career at Cisco, I evolved from a very technical mindset when I was in IT, to customer and business focused mindset when I moved to the wireless networking business unit. Being able to understand customer issues and pain points, applying that understanding into evolving/inventing a product to address those pain points, and doing some good for customers was a core part of my job at Cisco. It was also the aspect I enjoyed the most!

Why is Cisco unique in this particular experience (training tomorrow’s leaders)?
Tim:    There really are few companies in the world that have such broad exposure in the networking world. To add to that, Cisco strongly encourages folks to innovate. The semi-recent focus on emerging technologies in Cisco allows innovators to go after new ideas.
Pej:    Cisco gave me the unique experience of seeing industry trends early on, access to understand what other companies in the space are thinking about, and a large and diverse customer base to reach out to and get their feedback and information on their issues. Combine that with brilliant engineers, and you can certainly see why Cisco is the leader in the networking industry.

What are you doing now that you could not do at Cisco?
Tim:    At the end of the day Cisco is a big company. Big companies must have processes in place that do often slow down the delivery of new products into the market. It is clear that for some markets speed is a very valuable asset and without it the market may be missed. We felt there was an immediate need for the product that would become the Agito RoamAnywhere Mobility Router, and moving outside of Cisco would be the fastest way for us to deliver on our vision.
Pej:    In starting Agito Networks, I had a few motivations: 1: I clearly saw an opportunity to address a customer problem in an emerging industry, and with that build a successful business. 2: The nature of our product, the RoamAnywhere Mobility Router, is complementary to the infrastructure Cisco provides, not a replacement for it. 3: We are entrepreneurs at heart! Agito Networks is enabling us to build a great company, product, and team ourselves. That is something that no large company can provide!

Having left, how is your interaction with Cisco today?
Tim:    Our interactions are very good. I still work with many of the technical folks at Cisco since we are all working hard to enable the mobility market. Markets emerge must faster when companies work together to solve market-blocking issues. Cisco understands this well.
Pej:    Excellent. Enterprise FMC (eFMC) and our award-winning product, the RoamAnywhere Mobility Router, drive WiFi and IP telephony and UC, which makes us a great partner for companies like Cisco. We have been working with them, and will continue to, in this fast-growing market.

What is your exit plan? Keep in mind that many times Cisco ends up acquiring start-ups launched by ex-Cisco employees.
Tim:    Our plan is to build a strong business. To do that we need to build a product that solves customer problems. For now, our focus is on building that business and if we do that well the right exit for Agito will show itself to us.
Pej:    We smile every time we hear this, and we hear it quite a bit. Our focus is on building a sustaining, profitable company, and we are off to a great start. We launched the company back in October to rave reviews and recently announced availability of the RoamAnywhere Mobility Router. 2008 is the year for eFMC, according to analysts, and we are excited to be the leader in the market.

Did YOU find this Q & A as fascinating as yours truly?

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