During much of the previous decade, Mike Volpi was rumored to be CEO-in-waiting at Cisco Systems. But after it became clear John Chambers wasn't going anywhere, Volpi left the networking giant where he'd spent more than a dozen years. These days, he's a tech investor at Index Ventures.
In this week's Elevator Pitch, Volpi looks back on his time at Cisco and weighs in on the future of the mobile industry -- including a possible divorce between Google and Samsung.
Q How'd you get into this racket?
A I'd had a very long-standing relationship with Index, which was founded by one of my classmates; he roped me in as an adviser when I was still in my Cisco days. When I left Cisco in 2007, I became CEO of a startup called Joost, which was funded by Index and Sequoia Capital. When that journey ended, I liked what Index had done for me, and I respected their approach to doing venture, so I felt this was a firm I'd like to be part of.
I spent two years in London to get to know the firm's culture, then two years ago I opened a California office along with my partner, Danny Rimer.
Q What kinds of pitches are you looking for now?
A I generally concentrate on early stage stuff and enterprise technologies -- everything from my old stomping ground of networking to storage technologies, cloud computing, big data, etc. And increasingly, SaaS and cloud services are the areas I focus on.
I'll also do a few things that are consumer oriented; I have the pleasure of being on the boards of Sonos and SoundCloud. Music is one of my personal passions, and being in the consumer business shows us what the latest and greatest enterprise technologies are. For example, we recently invested in a company called Elasticsearch, because Sonos was using it all the time.
Q What's the next big thing going to be?
A There isn't one thing that's going to be big, but there are certain fundamental themes that are impacting almost every industry we're in right now. In the enterprise space, the two big, pervasive themes are mobile and cloud; I still think the "cloudification" of the enterprise is in its early stages. As consumers, we use Dropbox, but enterprises have not really adopted that.
The other is data. In the e-commerce business, you can serve your customers better because you have data about them. Right now, we just think of that as insight -- "I noticed a lot of my customers are buying a certain flavor of toothpaste, so I'll order more." But the whole notion of data-driven enterprises is an enormous theme that we're just scratching the surface of.
Q What's the biggest mistake entrepreneurs make?
A The one thing I'd encourage entrepreneurs to think about is the length of the process they're undertaking. Building a company is a six-, seven-, eight-year journey. People think, "I'll start this thing, and I'll exit for $3 billion in six months." That may happen. But you have to hope for the extraordinary outcome and plan for the middle of the road. Whom to hire, whom to partner with, how much money to raise -- a lot of people make those choices in a very short-term context.
Q You were on the board of Ericsson until last year. Any thoughts on the consolidation we're seeing in the handset industry, with Motorola and Nokia changing hands?
A Currently there are two real ecosystems: Apple at the high end of the market and on the other pole, the Android thing. Operating systems are only as good as the applications sitting on top of them, and if you're Palm or Microsoft, if you don't have the applications everyone's talking about, you're just not in the game.
The way to think about the Android ecosystem right now is Windows and Intel, which unfortunately puts Motorola, Nokia and others into single-digit market share. So then the question becomes, what's going to happen in that bilateral relationship between Samsung and Google? Having one dominant player in the hardware department wasn't Google's original hope, and for Samsung, not having any ability to control the software it packages is also an uncomfortable place. At some point, it's going to change; exactly how is very hard to predict.
Q You were once rumored to be the next CEO of Cisco. Are you having more fun as a VC?
A Look, I love what I'm doing. I'm on 10 boards and it keeps me hopping. I can work with young, early-stage companies and really help them develop. I joined Cisco when it was a small company, and that was the most fun I had there.
I still think of it as my alma mater, but what the company developed into in its later years, a much more established company, wasn't my sweet spot. Big-company management is just not that for me.
Contact Peter Delevett at 408-271-3638. Follow him at Twitter.com/mercwiretap.