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Ishoni Cries Sabotage

Semiconductor startup Ishoni Networks Inc. appears to have survived a nasty internal battle with its Indian subsidiary, one that has Ishoni executives crying foul.

In May, employees in the U.S. and India told Light Reading that Ishoni was all but dead (see Two VOIP Chip Players Diverge). At the time, it appeared true: The India office was being vacated, and U.S.-based COO Amin Varis was out of the country, trying to regain control of the company's Bangalore subsidiary.

Varis arrived in Bangalore on May 2 to discover what he claims was a web of deception aimed at dismantling Ishoni. The revelations led to the arrest earlier this week of three Bangalore-based Ishoni employees who had started a rival offshoot, Ample Wave Communication Networks. They were charged with illegally copying Ishoni's software.

Varis pins the blame on Ishoni's Indian board of directors and on Vivek Mansingh, managing director of the Bangalore office. Their plan, Varis says, was to bankrupt Ishoni, then acquire its intellectual property on the cheap. Ample Wave, staffed with ex-Ishoni employees, could then support the product. (Light Reading's attempts to contact Ample Wave or the arrested parties were unsuccessful.)

Varis says Mansingh has been fired and the Indian board removed -- but adds the process was difficult and provided quite the education in international business and law.

Ishoni created the Bangalore subsidiary to handle software engineering. But, by law, the subsidiary had to be a standalone company. Hence, it got a name -- Ishoni Networks (India) Private Ltd. -- and its own board of directors. The board consisted entirely of Indian nationals, including Mansingh, who was named managing director of the subsidiary.

According to Varis, the trouble started in February, when the Bangalore office contacted him asking for more money. Varis complied but says he then lost contact with Bangalore. "After I transferred the money, the Indian operation was out of my control. They wouldn't return my phone calls."

Meanwhile, according to Varis, the Indian board began emptying the Bangalore office.

"On the 8th of April, they [told employees] the company did not have any money, even though they had $500,000," Varis says. "Something like 90 percent of the people resigned."

Suspecting something was amiss, Varis says he made a surprise visit to Bangalore on May 2, discovering only nine employees remained there. Varis claims Mansingh was trying to evacuate the office entirely by coercing employees to join Ample Wave, threatening them with ruination of their careers if they didn't comply.

The result was paralysis for Ishoni. "All our software was being done in India, so without that team, we could not support our customers," he says.

It's quite common for a Silicon Valley startup to lose touch with its overseas operation, says Raj Judge, partner with law firm Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati.

"The main problem with this stuff is that the guys [in Silicon Valley] don't physically manage a subsidiary well," Judge says.

His firm helps about one client per week open an Indian subsidiary, and the process is simple enough that Wilson Sonsini provides a "tool kit" for it. Still, many startups dive into the subsidiary game without a complete understanding of what to do, Judge says.

For example, Ishoni didn't have to staff its Indian board with Indian nationals. Judge says many companies get by with a two-person board, sometimes consisting of two U.S. board members. It expedites incorporation if one director is in India, but it's not a necessity.

More important are the logistics of control. Judge says it's vital that the overseas board be granted only limited authority, even when it comes to the company's bank accounts.

"When [U.S. companies] don't do that, they don't have control. Part of the problem is having small startups having subsidiaries halfway around the world, and they can't control them," Judge says.

Varis says all but Mansingh had resigned from the board after Varis's arrival in Bangalore. The subsidiary could not refuse a demand to place Varis on the board, and once that was done, he fired Mansingh. He then constructed a new board of six members, including himself and U.K. national Antonio Mario Alvares, who, according to Indian media reports, filed the criminal charges against the Ample Wave employees.

None of this was particularly easy, though. "I had two lawyers sitting with me all day for four or five days," Varis says.

Varis stresses that this was an isolated incident and that it hasn't dampened his enthusiasm for developing software in India.

"I've worked with companies in India, in Russia, in Israel, in Britain, in China -- I've had joint ventures all over the world. I've never come across this kind of situation. They say that in Bangalore something like this has never happened," he says.

Meanwhile, Ishoni is fighting to regain credibility and restaff its offices. Varis says he's got a staff of 20 in India and 15 in Santa Clara, Calif. The company is seeking a new managing director for the Bangalore subsidiary; for now, Varis is doing the job, making sure to stay in close contact this time. "I spend about four hours a night on the phone," he says.

The company's product, a single-chip broadband gateway for customer premises equipment, continues to ship, and Varis claims a follow-up chip should be out within a few months. Even so, Ishoni remains in rebuilding mode.

"Because we were not able to support the customers for two or three months, they left," Varis says. "We are trying to get as many customers back as possible."

Ishoni is 51 percent owned by Royal Philips Electronics N.V. (NYSE: PHG; Amsterdam: PHI) (see Royal Philips Bankrolls Ishoni) but is run as an independent company.

— Craig Matsumoto, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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ipwiz 12/5/2012 | 2:26:36 AM
re: Ishoni Cries Sabotage And what do hear today ? Mainsoft, a company in SanJose has leaked Microsoft code. So IP is not safe in the US ? All those who think laws and people are utopian should think again before accusing others.
sjd6 12/4/2012 | 11:34:30 PM
re: Ishoni Cries Sabotage "They say that in Bangalore something like this has never happened"

Yeah right.

I do believe that things going this bad are unusual,
but when I worked with a team in Bangalore, most
people really had no idea exactly what people were
working on over there. I believe the cost of shipping work over to India is much higher than
most companies realize.
skeptic 12/4/2012 | 11:34:29 PM
re: Ishoni Cries Sabotage I agree. The startups that play games trying to
go to india totally undestimate what it takes
to supervise and to remotely manage an operation
that far away. Big companies can afford the
overhead (well -- maybe its more that they ignore
it), but for startups it means hiring lots of
expensive americans which defeats the whole
purpose.

Even startups with remote development sites in
the US have headaches coordinating things. All
those problems are far worse given the distance
to india. And unless you really *know* the people
your working with in India, its very easy for
bad things to happen.

Its not that standards are necessarly worse in
india as far as honesty of doing business, but
the distance makes it much harder to watch
and to control. And startups can't afford
the process overhead that big companies use
to keep control over remote operations.

I've seen a big-and-very-dumb company which
outsourced large amounts of work to india in
order to "save money". At the end of the game,
they ended up hiring 8x the engineers that
they needed and kept their entire american
staff around as project managers doing phone
conferences with india constantly.

They ended up, by my calculation, spending more
money and having a bigger staff at the end all
in the name of cutting expenses and increasing
productivity.


jr2 12/4/2012 | 11:34:28 PM
re: Ishoni Cries Sabotage
How about IP? Considering copyright laws are different (almost non existant, the way I understand), how does startups make sure their IP rights are ensured?

Does anyone have first hand experience?
rjmcmahon 12/4/2012 | 11:34:27 PM
re: Ishoni Cries Sabotage How about IP? Considering copyright laws are different (almost non existant, the way I understand), how does startups make sure their IP rights are ensured?

Lawyers spend lots of money trying to make sure the contracts are adjudicated by the US public court system. This may be more of an illusion of IP protection than it is real. Time will tell.
gardner 12/4/2012 | 11:34:27 PM
re: Ishoni Cries Sabotage
I believe the cost of shipping work over to India is much higher than most companies realize.


Yup. It sounds like poetic justice to me. I hope we see more of it in the days to come.
sukhoi 12/4/2012 | 11:34:23 PM
re: Ishoni Cries Sabotage bitti tul-andre mai-ella tunne ante....

All those opposed to outsourcing will grab this opportunity to point out the pitfalls and cry foul against outsourcing.


sukhoi
BobbyMax 12/4/2012 | 11:34:21 PM
re: Ishoni Cries Sabotage Here is the correct situation.. Many Indians who start companies without any expertise in managing a company and managing technologies. Many of these Indian start-ups have managed to get funding by fraudulent means. In many instances Indian start-ups work with stolen ideas and stolen technology. These start-up think that if they can parcel out work to India, the chances of being detected as thiefs are almost eliminated.

It would be nice if someone could compile a list of the Indian start-ups involved in massive frauds.
Sibylle 12/4/2012 | 11:34:21 PM
re: Ishoni Cries Sabotage Craig -

Could you please explain why it is appropriate to refer to Indian as "Natives" and Brits as "Nationals". Is India still a colony ? or don't Inidian have "souls" or are brown-skinned people not worthy of the "natioal" designation? Or is there some personal bias involved ?

Thank You

Sib
KP 12/4/2012 | 11:34:14 PM
re: Ishoni Cries Sabotage Mr BobbyMax,

> Many Indians who start companies without any
> expertise in managing a company and managing
> technologies..

I think you are new to technology world.
If you are not, then look around you. Who is
managing technology and getting results out
of it ?

And don't forget what ENRON and WORLDCOM did to
you and to so many old people in US.

> In many instances Indian start-ups work with
> stolen ideas and stolen technology

Do you know, "hotmail" started as first web
email service ? Who copied it, yahoo. Who bought
it, Microsoft.

Do you know "Cerent" ? Who is running its
business based on its products, Cisco.

> It would be nice if someone could compile a list
> of Indian start-ups involved in massive fraud.

Instead of pointing at others, look first into
your pants.. You may not have seen so much dirt
before..

My dear friend, I still have a good wish for
you. I wish you do not die out of frustration.
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