At issue is how the startups actually market, sell, and support their equipment now that they have demonstrated, and in some cases actually shipped, production quality equipment -- especially when the more established competitors already have experienced teams working in these fields.
According to the latest Unstrung Insider report -- Wireless LAN Switches: The Market Makers -- venture capitalists have so far invested $116 million in eight switch startups, a figure that looks wholly inadequate, given the size of the task facing these vendors. The startups themselves certainly agree, and at least four of them -- Aruba Networks Inc., Bandspeed Inc., Chantry Networks Inc., and Trapeze Networks Inc. -- are set to announce new funding in the next few months.
Table 1: Wireless LAN Switch Startup Funding
|AirFlow Networks||$8 million||Expected 3Q 2003||Not known|
|Aruba Networks||$10 million||Now||50|
|Bandspeed||$15 million||Expected 3Q 2003||20|
|Chantry Networks||$12 million||June 2003||40|
|Legra Systems||$8.5 million||3Q 2003||35|
|Trapeze Networks||$16 million||June 2003||104|
|Source: Unstrung Insider|
Aruba says it is at the tail-end of closing its $20 million Series B, and Chantry says it's currently seeking a Series B of around $10 million to $15 million. Bandspeed and Trapeze are more circumspect and are not yet ready to disclose specifics, but they’ll have to talk cold, hard cash sooner rather than later, if only to win the confidence of customers and business partners.
George Prodan, senior VP of marketing at Trapeze, believes all of the wireless switch startups will need more than one round of funding to carry off their plans and make it to profitability. “A second round of funding has always been a part of our plan,” he says.
Rod Randall, a general partner at St. Paul Venture Capital and an investor in Bluesocket Inc. (a company that competes in broadly the same market) says he thinks wireless LAN switch plays are “probably in the less-than-$50-million category,” in terms of what they’ll need to reach profitability.
Not to put too fine a point on it, but the startups are now at the point where they need to ramp up headcount in sales, marketing, and, crucially, product support. Without this, the risk is that they won’t grow fast enough to establish themselves before the big-name vendors smother the market.
David Callisch, communications director at Aruba, says it can be tricky to strike a balance between prudence and ambition. “We’ve maybe focused too much on the engineering side and don’t have enough sales guys,” he concedes. “We need to ramp faster, and we’ll do that once we close the second round.”
But Callisch also warns that hiring too many sales personnel can make it difficult to properly support your customers. Typically, he says, many customers want to evaluate a single box before going on to a wider rollout, and if the vendor doesn’t have sufficient support engineers to smooth the first installation, it’s harder to up-sell later on. “In this market you only get one shot,” he says.
Paul DeBeasi, VP of product management at Legra Systems, says they’ll be seeking funding in the second half of this year, while explaining that they have so far spent just $3 million of the $8.5 million they raised in Series A to develop a working product.
Airespace Inc. says it will be “raising money sometime in the future.”
— Gabriel Brown, Research Analyst, Unstrung
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