black storm networks

So what’re you up to these days?

I’m spending a good amount of time in residence with my old friends at Storm Ventures, which reminds me of the last time I sat around with them, back in 2002. Coincidentally that was also around the last time the sky was falling, though the dot-com implosion was more localized than today’s lovely global financial crisis.

Although more contained, I think in many ways that downturn felt more severe in my world, the tech industry centered around Silicon Valley. It seemed that there were more local job losses, but more than that, the feeling of panic ran a little deeper, and wasn’t backstopped by the recent practical experience that we have today because of the prior crash. When the dot-com bubble burst in 2000, the prior domestic market crash was in 1987, and 13 years is enough time for people to forget, long enough for the prime of a career to pass through the ephemeral industries of the tech world. In 2008, the last crash was only 8 years ago, so now most people working here remember what happened the last time, and they can separate the chickens from the oracles.

A lot of people say that an economic downturn is a great time to start a new business. Of course, there’s a difference between saying it because others say it, and saying it because you’ve seen it before. In 2002, one of the partners are Storm was saying it to me, and it all made logical sense: costs were lower, recruiting was easier, competition was scarce. But I hadn’t seen it before. Tae Hea Nahm and Tim Danford at Storm were sure it was the right time to incubate a company, so they formed Black Storm Networks and recruited the founding team of Ajay Mishra, Pat Calhoun, Bob Friday and Bob O’Hara. The founders huddled in Storm’s offices through the dark days of telecom nuclear winter and built the company piece by piece.  I was lucky just to hang around and watch the sweat and optimism they put into every single day.

Jump ahead to 2005 and Black Storm had become Airespace, the leading startup for a new class of enterprise wireless networking equipment.  That year, Airespace was acquired by Cisco in a great deal for both sides. I was lucky again, for by that time my peripatetic career had allowed me first to invest in the company for another firm, and then to join the team in time to help the last push.  For most people, the story of any startup ends with the liquidity event. But I enjoy watching the afterstory too; I like to follow whether the acquired product continues to succeed, whether the team has an impact in the new company and afterwards. On that measure as well as others, I’m really proud of the Airespace team.

The product and its successors achieved a dominant market position. Airespace’s CEO, Brett Galloway, has become a senior exec at Cisco responsible for all wireless and security products. Pat Calhoun is now the CTO of one of Cisco’s biggest business units. Bob Friday continues his wireless wizardry as a director of engineering for Cisco. After several successful years for Cisco, Ajay joined Airespace’s biz dev paladin, Bob Tinker, for another startup run. Bob O’Hara pulled perhaps the best move, retiring from Cisco last year to live in Twitterville.

Anyway, my fondness for that team and those days brings me back to these days, back at Storm with time to dream. I believe it because I’ve seen it:  an economic downturn is a great time to start a new business.

Update:  Bob O’Hara adds his perspective.

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