Panditi Puts Spurs to Polaris
The startup confirmed last week that it had hired Panditi, chairman of the board of Avici Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: AVCI; Frankfurt: BVC7), as its CEO (see Polaris Picks Panditi as CEO). Today, the startup confirmed that it has cut about 20 percent of its staff, or about 20 people. (No one's ever accused Panditi of being slow on the uptake.) Light Reading spoke with him yesterday about his new job.
Panditi came to Polaris from Convergent Networks Inc., where he was CEO for about a year. Prior to that, he was president and CEO of Avici from June 1997 to mid 2001, presiding over that company's IPO in July 2000.
During his tenure at Convergent, Panditi steered the broadband switch maker toward selling to cable multiple service operators (MSOs). Panditi "is the man who came on board last year and helped us get focused on the cable space," says Carl Baptiste, managing director of marketing at Convergent. "We couldn't afford to be spreading ourselves across multiple markets. [Incumbent carrier] requirements are way different than MSO requirements."
The company began participating in a few trials with cable operators that are trying its ICSX Call Management Server, which offers primary line Class 5 voice services over a packet-based hybrid fiber-coaxial (HFC) network. Convergent is also getting recurring revenues from the telecom customers, such as Broadwing Inc. (NYSE: BRW), that had bought its earlier switches.
Despite these promising developments, Panditi felt tempted by the chance to head up a young West Coast telecom supplier once more. "I had a very good team at Convergent, so it's not like I was needing to move on to something else," says Panditi. "But the job was certainly back in the world that I was more involved with from my Avici days."
Panditi's start at Polaris is, in a way, a return to his roots. Like his time at Avici, Panditi comes to Polaris at a time when the startup is taking a new product to telecom vendors and trying to score some initial sales.
"Unlike a lot of telecom vendors now, it's a market where you're not trying to push some new technology out there for a yet-to-be-determined service," he says of Polaris's optical transport switch. "It was something that people are looking for right now."
Polaris's switch is meant to replace old digital crossconnects by doing their job in a smaller space while adding the functionality of several Sonet add/drop multiplexers (ADMs). Its capacity starts at 240 Gbit/s and scales to 2 Tbit/s, and it handles circuits in smaller increments than core switches -- VT1.5 (1.7 Mbit/s) chunks vs. STS1 (51.84 Mbit/s) chunks.
The company says it's in trials with several carriers, but it hasn't booked significant revenues yet. It is, however, aiming to convert at least one of those trials into a sale by year's end. Obviously, though, time is of the essence. The company, which has raised $77 million in funding to date without a down round, cited market conditions as the reason for its recent staff cuts.
Despite the layoffs, Panditi says he's not intending to change much at Polaris -- just add some sales and marketing savvy. "[Former CEO] Ray [Kao]'s strength is being the technology leader and architect of the company," he says. "What I bring is more on the side of sales and marketing, so it’s a nice complement." Kao remains as Polaris's chief technology officer.
"Anything in telecom right now is going to be challenging, but I also think that the opportunity [at Polaris] is very promising," Panditi says. "In the traditional telecom space, the best time to start building a business is when things are slow. Then you can focus on what really makes the customer successful with a product."
— Phil Harvey, Senior Editor, Light Reading