We attended as many parties as possible at the Optical Fiber Communication Conference and Exhibit (OFC) in order to glean what insights we could about the optical networking industry from the kinds of parties each company held. (OK, we confess – there was nothing else to do in Anaheim.)
We rated parties based upon their ambience/location, conversation/guests, and food/drinks. We then tried to correlate the success of the party to the likely long-term success of the company. Our assumption was: The bigger and fancier the party, and the less-focused the hosts (on pushing their products), the more likely the company will hit some bumps along the road in the near future.
We've divvied up the parties into two sections: Corporate and Non-Corporate.
- Rating: **
The words “photonic materials” and “raging party” don’t often go together (as anyone who went to graduate school in optics can tell you), and they didn’t here, either... but hey, at least they had neat door prizes to give out (laser pointer/pen combinations – we product management peons are suckers for a free gift, especially in these times when the quality of OFC booth giveaways went downhill faster than Enron's stock price).
Food: Sandwiches, soggy fried finger foods, and excellent fruit (the strawberries were especially perfect – “juicy and just right!” as one of us put it. You know a party isn’t that great when the best thing about it was the strawberries).
Ambience: Mediocre. Tiny, brightly lit room.
People/conversation: Intensely focused. The room was full of guests from China and Japan, suggesting Corning’s focus on Asia may be starting to pay off. Attentive Corning people constantly pushed their products at the event (one of us was dragged off by a sales rep for at least 10 minutes to talk about their latest and greatest photonic components), further demonstrating the weak linkage between “photonic materials” and “rager.”
Summary: Based on their performance at this party, we think Corning Inc. will do well in the long term: They are focused, conserving cash (the room was tiny), getting traction in Asia (as indicated by their guest list), and taking every opportunity to sell. In attendance were folks from Alliance Fiber Optic Products Inc., LightPath Technologies Inc., and others.
- Rating: **
Ambience: Excellent. Dark room with blue lights and cool ice sculptures.
Food: Average. Undercooked pizza and pasta. Very carb-heavy – maybe the corporate marketing person who put together this event planned to run a marathon the following day?
People/conversation: Good. Eclectic mix of guests, including Alcatel SA, Convergent Networks Inc. Digest, and others. No one we met was associated with either PMC Sierra or their partners.
Summary: Everyone we met was there for the free food and drinks. To be honest, we are not even sure that anyone from PMC-Sierra Inc. even attended, raising the possibility they were all at another party (maybe held by a company that is going to buy them out?).
- Rating: ***
Ambience: Good. Large, dimly lit room.
People: Invite-only. VCs and bankers as far as the eye could see, with a sprinkling of Sevin Rosen Funds portfolio execs, including the founders of Cinta, Luxtera, and LightConnect Inc. (whose founder, though an otherwise nice guy, tried to steal one of our chairs – shame shame!).
Food: Better than at the other parties of the evening and finally something other then carbohydrates – good fish, along with a spinach, orange, and mushroom salad. Like its brethren, though, this event also had its share of pasta that was somehow simultaneously overcooked and undercooked (a new materials process that can be leveraged to make AWGs?).
W(h)ine: The party featured some fancy-looking, large wine glasses, but we did not get a chance to try them out as they ran out of wine relatively early in the evening (mental note to self – remember to plan ahead and stock up on liquor for the next recession). We hear the staff was off to get more wine, but we didn't wait around for the promise to come true (we've heard too many unfulfilled promises from VCs lately).
Summary: The mystery of the missing VCs and bankers from the OFC exhibit floor was finally solved: They were all too busy attending this party.
- Rating: ****
Ambience: Cool, off-site location at J.T. Schmidt’s brewery in Anaheim.
People: High-caliber crowd mingled, munched finger foods, and drank Hefe-Weizen. Luminaries spotted included Naimish Patel, the new CTO at Sycamore Networks Inc.; John Paul Mattia, Big Bear Networks’ CTO; Doug Green, Ocular's former VP of marketing; Jim Witham, Genoa Corp.’s VP of Marketing; and various other industry movers, shakers, and problem drinkers.
Cool tchotchkes: Beer glasses with the inscription “Heavy Drinking.” Light Reading T-shirts. One of us won a Light Reading T-shirt with the words “Light Me” – which automatically caused us to add one more star to this party’s rating (we told you, we are suckers for free gifts).
Summary: Do you think Light Reading would have published this if we hadn't given this party four stars? Seriously though, it was a way-cool party. The invite-only tag and the off-site location kept out the riffraff (apart from Teem Photonics), although there seemed to be a few pity-invites (thanks, Steve!.)
- Rating: ****
- Joe Montana in a Cierra Photonics Inc. shirt towering over the crowd (he's a tall fella!). Montana is an investor in Cierra through his VC firm Champion Ventures. As quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, Joe must have picked up some of the basics of optics in between quarters, because we heard rumors that he was expounding the benefits of photonic integrated circuits and arguing about the implications of Maxwell’s second law. He asked some difficult technical questions about double-Rayleigh-scattering in Raman amplifiers and then spiked a copy of “Fiber Optics Test and Measurement” and did his trademark end-zone dance.
- Dennis Derickson, director of product marketing at Cierra, and editor of the aforementioned bestseller, "Fiber Optics Test and Measurement.” Several people were seen making a beeline with freshly purchased copies of the book to get it autographed by Derickson and Montana. (Eric Dickerson couldn't make it.)
Ambience: Mediocre. Large, brightly lit room. Food: Nice, but nothing too fancy. Wine, cheese, crackers, fruit. People: For sheer star power, this one was hard to match. The stars of the show:
Summary: A Joe Montana spotting at an optical conference? Now that's something you don’t see every day! A good sign for Cierra photonics? Maybe they’re planning on using all that VC cash to start a football expansion team.
- Rating: ****
Product managers and business development folks from Avanex Corp., Centillium Communications Inc., Iolon Inc., Matrix Partners, New Focus Inc., Onetta Inc., Orchid Lightwave, Polychromix, Yafo Networks, and others got together to talk about the industry, to compare notes, and to eat bad Italian food at the Happiest Place on Earth’s worst Italian restaurant. A good time was had by all. No luminaries attended – just us peons hanging with our fellow mid-levels.
- Rating: ***
This event, which took place in a big tent outside of the Marriot Hotel on the last day of OFC, was a true party for the masses: good greasy pizza, soda, and beer. A bizarre touch of class was afforded by the chandeliers. Gangs of exhibitor employees wearing matching polo shirts and either all smiles or frowns (depending on how the week went) were finally able to unwind after tearing down their booths. Overall, a great way to end the week and to relax after many days in the trenches and many weeks of preparation. Kudos to the OFC for their thoughtfulness in putting together this event.
- Rating: ***
The poster session, located at the Hilton Hotel, featured beer and chips, chips, and more chips (potato, tortilla, you name it – judging by the great variety of chips, the organizers must have thought OFC was a semiconductor conference). This featured the most technical sector of OFC – you could tell by all the bow ties, muttonchops, and “Kiss me if you love optical engineers” T-shirts. A good time, if a little slow at times, although by this time we were too tired to care.