Former Cisco CEO John Chambers taking over Cisco at startup Nile

Nile’s founders, John Chambers, left, and Pankaj Patel, have labored collectively for nearly 25 years.


In his twenty years operating Cisco, John Chambers turned a pc networking upstart into one of many world’s most dominant tech corporations, with near $50 billion in annual income and big clients throughout the globe.

Now, seven years faraway from promoting switches and routers, Chambers is difficult his former employer with a startup that is popping out of stealth mode on Wednesday. Chambers, 73, has teamed up with ex-Cisco improvement chief Pankaj Patel to create an organization known as Nile, which is promising to upend the world of company Wi-Fi.

It is a market that for years has seen Cisco battle it out with Juniper Networks and Aruba Wi-fi, now a unit of Hewlett Packard Enterprise. Chambers and Patel say that neither Cisco nor its present rivals have developed the wi-fi expertise wanted to satisfy the calls for of the modern-day workplace, with its swarm of units, pattern towards hybrid work and superior safety threats.

“We’re constructing one thing that our prior firm wasn’t constructing,” Chambers mentioned in an interview with CNBC. “It is an entire new space. It is not like we did one thing, and we’re attempting to make it higher.”

Nile has raised $125 million within the 4 years since he and Patel, the CEO, teamed as much as begin the corporate, although its funding rounds have remained confidential till now. Via his funding agency, JC2 Ventures, Chambers mentioned he owns 10% of Nile. Different traders embody March Capital, 8VC and Iconiq Capital.

Nile’s expertise has solely been usually accessible to clients since Might, so the corporate has an extended method to go earlier than market share conversations turn out to be significant. A spokesperson mentioned Nile has 20 manufacturing deployments, together with at Sprinklr, ThoughtSpot and the College of Missouri-Kansas Metropolis.

Nile is pitching a easy person expertise, without having for purchasers to take care of upgrading {hardware}. Fairly than promoting huge, costly containers — the Cisco mannequin — Nile will cost organizations based mostly on the quantity of people that use its networking infrastructure every month.

That is notably related at a time when employers are determining their hybrid and distant work plans. Patel says Nile’s services-only providing will save purchasers 30% to 50% at every location the place it is deployed.

“We’re very totally different,” he mentioned. “We actually align to the variety of customers on a community. In a constructing, if there are 250 or 300 customers on a given day, we solely cost them for the variety of people who find themselves utilizing it.”

Nile is much from the primary firm to assault Cisco and the opposite {hardware} distributors with a software-based different.

‘Been a buzzword within the business’

Whereas Chambers and Patel have been nonetheless at Cisco, a number of Silicon Valley startups raised huge enterprise rounds as they touted an method known as software-defined networking that concerned creating superior software program and placing it inside commodity containers. However the hype by no means materialized into huge new corporations because the incumbents, together with Cisco, acquired their means into the market.

Extra lately, Cisco has began permitting clients to pay for networking as a service (NaaS), with the 2021 introduction of what it calls Cisco+. And earlier this yr, HPE introduced GreenLake for Aruba. Nevertheless, few massive corporations have signed up for these types of preparations, mentioned Brandon Butler, an analyst at expertise business researcher IDC.

“Incumbents have tried to do NaaS for a very long time,” Patel mentioned. “It has been a buzzword within the business without end.”

Chambers says Nile’s method is to do for networking what Amazon did for storage and computing, permitting individuals to hire sources and pay for what they use every month as a substitute of requiring them to purchase, arrange and handle their very own {hardware}. IDC’s Butler mentioned that, throughout the information middle, networking is lagging behind compute and storage within the transfer towards consumption-based utilization.

Nile’s preliminary product lineup contains entry factors that distribute Wi-Fi in a facility, entry switches that hook up with entry factors and distribution switches that may join entry switches to the web. The software program lets directors see if the community is functioning correctly, find out about points and monitor efficiency of functions.

Whereas taking over Cisco is a tall process for any startup, few persons are higher positioned to know the corporate’s weaknesses than Chambers and Patel, who’ve labored collectively in some capability for about 25 years. Chambers joined Cisco in 1991, a yr after the corporate’s IPO and, in 1995, took over as CEO, a place he would maintain for the following 20 years. Patel spent nearly 14 years at Cisco and earlier than that was an engineer at an organization that Cisco purchased. By the point of his departure, he was amongst Cisco’s high 4 executives.

“Whether or not it is a public firm or a personal firm, a small or medium or massive firm, any firm is actually up for grabs so far as we’re involved,” Patel mentioned. “Why? As a result of anybody in any enterprise, small or massive, wants connectivity to do their job.”

Cisco, in the meantime, has been mired in low-growth mode for nicely over a decade, which incorporates the tail finish of Chambers’ profession there. The corporate hasn’t generated double-digit income progress since 2010, popping out of the monetary disaster, and has solely topped 5% as soon as since 2013.

For Chambers, taking over Cisco carries some irony. As CEO, Chambers was recognized to make life troublesome for his lieutenants who left for a rival firm. Essentially the most notable instance was at Arista, an enterprise networking firm co-founded by Andy Bechtolsheim and David Cheriton, who had offered a previous firm to Cisco.

In 2008, the duo employed Jayshree Ullal, who had been a high Cisco govt, as Arista CEO. It was a transfer Chambers took personally. In 2011, in response to the Wall Road Journal, Chambers “informed executives to maintain Arista from profitable any new enterprise from Cisco clients.” His gross sales employees then fashioned a “Tiger Workforce” to impede Arista’s “advertising efforts and forestall its preliminary public providing plan,” the Journal reported.

In 2014, Cisco sued Arista for patent and copyright infringement, setting off a protracted authorized battle that ended 4 years later with Arista agreeing to pay Cisco over $400 million to finish the litigation.

Chambers informed CNBC on the time of the lawsuit, “We wanted to ship a message to the market that we’ll defend our innovation and likewise defend our clients.” Ullal responded, telling CNBC that Arista was “positively blindsided and disillusioned.”

“John ought to no less than have picked up the cellphone and known as me,” Ullal mentioned on the time. “As a substitute it was within the press, and we solely obtained it 5 days later.”

When requested in regards to the comparability between what ex-Cisco executives did previously and what he is doing now, Chambers known as it a “honest query.” He mentioned that he and Patel have been out of Cisco “for a few years” and have accomplished roughly eight startups collectively since then. He mentioned Nile goes after a market in transition that each one the incumbents have failed to alter on,” and he added, “I’ve all the time believed your competitors all the time comes from beneath.”

Chambers additionally introduced up one other Cisco alum, who left the corporate to construct a thriving competitor known as Zoom. Eric Yuan, Zoom’s founder and CEO, had joined Cisco in 2007 by means of the acquisition of WebEx. He left Cisco in 2011 after failing to get traction internally for his effort to construct a extra trendy video conferencing system.

Yuan began Zoom, which turned a family identify throughout the pandemic due to how straightforward its video chat software program was to arrange and use on any machine within the workplace, at house or on the transfer. Chambers is extremely complimentary of Yuan and even makes use of Zoom for his digital conferences (together with this one).

“He was very inventive,” Chambers mentioned, of Yuan. “I want we would been sooner on our toes to steadiness that.”

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