Closing One Door and Opening Another
My last day at HPE was about two weeks ago. I think of it as more of my last day at Plexxi — rather than my last day at HPE. I spent from January 2, 2012 to June 26, 2020 at Plexxi/HPE. I recently was chatting with one of the early Plexxi employees about the company. 2012, 2013 and even 2014 seem like a long time ago.
This is not going to be a trip down memory lane. I am not going to tell you about what we did well and what we did not so well. I am not going to share any insights into HPE. When it comes to work and specifically networking, what has been occupying my thoughts concerns networking startups.
I can only speak for myself, but I strongly suspect that employees of Big Switch, Plexxi, Cumulus and others that I have forgotten are disappointed with the outcome of their effort to build a new networking company. I do highly respect all of their efforts. I have written about the Man in the Arena before and I do believe that the “…The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena; whose face is marred by the dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions and spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best, knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who, at worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly; so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.”
With that in mind, my conversation with a former Plexxi colleague was about entering the arena yet again. Would I do it? Would others do it? Is it better place to just chill out a big company or start something new? I felt very strongly about my position. If I could fund a new company or gather the investors to fund it without taking six months of meetings and stupid PowerPoint presentations, I would start another networking company. I would do this for several reasons:
- Currently there are no real new startups in networking. I mean data center networking. I am not talking about the SD-WAN market, or multi-cloud orchrestration or teams trying to put a router on a COTS hardware platform, which I think is an interesting problem to solve with a high reward potential and a high level of difficulty. There are no optical switch startups and as far as I can see, no fifth generation WDM startups.
- The eight and half years at Plexxi/HPE were an incredible learning experience. We made many mistakes, we learned many lessons and we did many things well. Doing it again, we could not make these mistakes, we could discover new ones to make!
- Plexxi was a Bridge Too Far for the networking world. We did not have enough time to make test laps around the track to perfect the solution, but what our data did show was we were really close to building something at scale that was amazing. We just needed more time and not to waste so much effort chasing the whims of people who did not understand what we were truly building.
- Networking has not really changed that much over the years. It works, customers do not have to worry about it and the majority of people find it too complex to care deeply about it and that makes the incumbents risk adverse. (Hat tip to M. Dvorkin…yes I keep a screen shot of your tweet this is effect),
- Networking is a low entropy industry and a lot of value can be unlocked if a team can figure out how to change the structure of the market by creating demand from the market. That is the magic. No new networking company will do well without the market being willing to adopt the technology.
- The best time to start something new, is in the midst of an absolute crisis and uncertainty, which is about now.
As always, my thoughts on these matters might be completely wrong.