Optical/IP Networks

Chen's Outta Atrica

Nan Chen, vice president of marketing with Atrica Inc., is leaving his post to take on the job of vice president of marketing at wireless networking equipment provider Strix Systems Inc.

Meanwhile, Atrica announced that veteran Scott Messenger would be taking Chen's place. Messenger was Director of Product Marketing and Product Line Management for Cisco System's Optical Business Unit, and prior to that was at Cerent, which was acquired by Cisco.

Chen said his job change came down to a personal decision, based on where he felt the market is going. “To me, wireless is where the world is moving to,” said Chen.

Strix makes mesh architecture wireless systems targeted at enterprise networks. (See Strix Has WiMax Plans and Wireless Mesh: New Wave Broadband.)

"The first hot application of the vision of wireless networking is metro-scale wireless mesh networking to blanket cities, towns, rural areas with ubiquitous, broadband, triple-play data networks," says Chen. "Everyone is jumping on it. It will be very big..."

So why Strix? "They have the best technology, after my due dilligence," says Chen. But Strix isn't necessarily the biggest name in the emerging wireless LAN mesh market. In fact, Gabriel Brown, head analyst at Unstrung Insider, once described them as the "best kept secret" in the market.

Recently, Strix has been trying to change that, adding metro-mesh to its previously enterprise-only product line and talking up a move to WiMax-based backhaul in the future.

Bringing Chen on board should be another boost for the company's profile. The marketing man touts Strix as the gateway to "a third generation of wireless networking." [Ed. note: Didn't we have one of those already?]

"The third generation of wireless LAN is actually routers and switches that connect without wires," Chen claims.

What he's referring to is the fact that wireless mesh systems don't require point-to-point connections between the wired network and 802.11 access points. Mesh is much more like a team sport, where each wireless "node" recieves and routes data to other radios across the network. In theory at least, this makes these networks easier and cheaper to install because they require just a few connections back to the wired network. (See Mesh Gathers Momentum.)

So, does the move mean anything for Atrica? Not according to Chen. "They’re doing fine," he says.

Chen, who is also president of the Metro Ethernet Forum (MEF), says he will retain that job. Strix, like Atrica, is a member of the MEF. Chen will report to Bruce Brown, Strix Systems' president and CEO.

Prior to Atrica, Chen was director of product management and product marketing at Force10 Networks Inc. Before that, he was director of technology at

But Light Readers may remember Chen's crowning achievement, a 2004 Leading Lights award for Best Marketing by a startup. (See LR Reveals Leading Lights Winners, A Night of Leading Lights, and Capital Spending). At the Leading Lights Dinner in December 2004, Chen took the stage, hoisted his Lightie into the air, and declared, "Now I can go to the board and ask for a raise!"

Looks like Chen and the Atrica board may have never come to terms.

— R. Scott Raynovich, US Editor, Light Reading

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WildRumpus 12/5/2012 | 2:58:02 AM
re: Chen's Outta Atrica Because he was so high profile, losing him cannot help. However, one of his main accomplishments was evangalzing Ethernet as a(the) viable alternative to SONET. For example, his role on the MEF was certainly beyond typical early stage marketing for a startup. For many, the initial job of convincing the market that Ethernet can be more than a limited enterprise solution is complete and now it's time for Atrica to pursue more traditional marketing programs. So in some ways, this is a natural transition.
tigre 12/5/2012 | 2:57:56 AM
re: Chen's Outta Atrica My 2 bits:

Being a big deal on an industry forum doesn't seem to have much impact on whether a company/product is successfull. While there is some valuable technical work being done at the MEF, the marketing people involved are hardly A-teamers and Chen had been working it a long time.

The net seems to be that Atrica needs to make some headway in the North American market. That's why they hired Messinger who I doubt would want to have to defer to Chen.

Atrica is at make-or-break time but it would be my strong guess that they won't make it. The Alcatel 7550/7750 and Cisco seem to have the products to beat in this space
lightreceding 12/5/2012 | 2:57:55 AM
re: Chen's Outta Atrica Vivek.
WildRumpus 12/5/2012 | 2:57:54 AM
re: Chen's Outta Atrica When you say you don't think they'll "make it," are you referring to penetrating the north american market or do you mean make it as in, this company's going to auger in?

If it's the latter, that's an interesting comment given their sales momentum in the far east and europe. Do you know something we don't?
canadian 12/5/2012 | 2:57:53 AM
re: Chen's Outta Atrica For a startup, having a key guy and team involved lead a high profile industry forum is always a good thing. Losing them is a very bad thing.

Customers attend these meetings, customers read the press releases. Customers who have never been to the MEF listen to Atrica just because they equate Nan Chen with MEF leadership. Atrica will continue to benefit some from the buzz he's created.

Chen was not a visionary. You never hear any techinally useful idea from him. He is simply a consummate politician and Marketing person. So his loss is not huge for Atrica internally.

It'll be interesting to see what he does in Wireless - it will be a tough act to follow.

Externally, for Atrica, this means things have really gone bad. They would not let Nan go if there was no serious trouble. Haven't heard much from the Fujitsu relationship except some minor deals in North America, so they must be hurting in any case. You can't make money selling to Reliance and others in Asia.

I take this to be a sign Atrica has 4-5 months left.
elight 12/5/2012 | 2:57:52 AM
re: Chen's Outta Atrica Man, just ask any ordinary Atrica employee present or former, it's a big loss for Atrica and maybe the management doesn't know yet or doesn't want to know. The things Chen has pulled at the MEF drove the market entirely to their direction, granted the industry would be going this way eventually. Now Atrica has to learn how to position being on top, while products and sales struggle. Good luck!
douggreen 12/5/2012 | 2:57:51 AM
re: Chen's Outta Atrica Having been in the position of VP of marketing a couple of times, I can say that it is virtually impossible to run a marketing organization effectively and run an organization like the MEF. Companies like Cisco make this someones full time job.

My guess, and this is pure speculation, is that Atrica needed a full time VP of marketing and likely wanted NAN to stay on to continue to spearhead their standards work, and perhaps run part of marketing as well. Nan, on the other hand would not want to loose most of the marketing function.

From an economic perspective, Nan is likely to already have most of his options vested. He would have to compare his unvested options agains the opportunity to get another VP position in a growing market.

In summary, my guess is that Atrica likely wanted Nan to stay, but also wanted a full time Marketing VP. From Nan's perspective, the deal just didn't look as good a the new position given that most of his options are in the bank.

One question, in my mind, is how Nan will effectively run Marketing at a new startup while retaining his leadership at the MEF. If I were the CEO, I would not accpet this, regardless of his qualifications. Startups do not need part time VPs.

WildRumpus 12/5/2012 | 2:57:50 AM
re: Chen's Outta Atrica "I take this to be a sign Atrica has 4-5 months left"

Having a VP marketing leave means the company is in a death spiral? Since when?

There's a basic rule in startups when a senior officer leaves: if one person leaves, it's personal, not business. If another one leaves shortly thereafter, then there are systemic problems.

Let's see how the rest of the team hangs together. If there is another senior level departure in the next few months, Canadian will get the crystal ball award. But it's a little early to say Game Over.
elight 12/5/2012 | 2:57:40 AM
re: Chen's Outta Atrica Well, reliable source indicated VP of Operations of Atrica just quits, although he wasn't that good. He is off their website under management...
canadian 12/5/2012 | 2:57:29 AM
re: Chen's Outta Atrica I don't want the crystal ball award for predicting a good startup's fall... I wish they succeed, for the team's sake.

However, a high profile VP of Marketing leaves, a VP of Ops leaves, no major traction rumours in the market, etc. Hmmm.

Makes me wonder what else is happening there. Something's not quite right.
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