Tech Overlook

Cisco Turns Up the Innovation Dial with Decibel


Today, I am excited to announce that Cisco is launching a new, independent venture capital firm, Decibel, focused exclusively on early stage investing in the Enterprise. This is the first truly independent effort ever formed by a major technology company. Decibel is designed to bring together the best of both worlds – the capabilities of a best in class, early stage VC firm with the resources only a company like Cisco can offer. With Decibel, Cisco is adding another dimension to its multi-faceted approach to innovation – a relationship with entrepreneurs and the startup ecosystem at their earliest inception and with this, a lens into the people, technologies and trends that will shape the Enterprise in the decades to come.

Cisco is one of the few technology companies that led an industry defining role 30 years ago and continues to be a market leader today. In the 90s, Cisco built the internet, and today we are shaping the future of the digital enterprise. The ability for one company to remain relevant, navigate and lead through all these market opportunities and transitions is simply amazing and is due in large part to our unique approach to innovation. Cisco has a culture of leveraging both internal and external innovation – accelerating our rich internal development capabilities by our ability to also partner, invest and acquire. In essence, Cisco has always recognized that there is significant innovation that happens outside of the walls of Cisco, and we have chosen to embrace this capability to its fullest. Over our history, Cisco has acquired over 200 companies and more than one in eight Cisco employees have joined as a result. We have a deep bench of acquired founders, many of which play leadership roles within the company today, which continues to re-inforce this entrepreneurial spirit.

You can’t be a leader in the technology industry, as Cisco has been for the last 30 years, without constantly evolving and making bold moves. Our CEO, Chuck Robbins, has taken this philosophy to the next level, spurring us to move faster and think differently. Chuck’s tenure as CEO has seen us enter a new era of internal innovation at Cisco that is unprecedented in the 19 years I have been at the company. Inspired, we challenged ourselves to think about how we could further harness external innovation in a way that would enhance our robust internal innovation. As one of the most prolific strategic venture capitalists in the world, Cisco already has a view into future technologies shaping our markets through our rich portfolio of companies. But we realized we could do even more by engaging with the startup community earlier in its lifecycle. After all, companies such as AppDynamics and Duo Security, both market defining acquisitions for Cisco, were nearly 10 years old before becoming part of Cisco. How could we put Cisco in a position to play a foundational role in starting the next AppD or Duo?

My team explored every option we could imagine to elevate our strategic investment capabilities for early stage engagement to the next level. We quickly aligned around the notion of starting with a blank sheet of paper – what could we do if Cisco removed all constraints? Thus began the process of finding the right partner to help us begin filling out that sheet of paper. I had the opportunity to meet Jon Sakoda personally many years ago. He was a founder himself, having started his first company back in 2001, which he successfully exited before becoming a venture capitalist at one of the most preeminent firms in the industry for the next 12 years.What made Jon special wasn’t just the fact that he was a successful investor across a broad set of areas, from enterprise software to consumer internet companies, he had a shared vision for what we could do together. From the onset, we knew there was a unique opportunity to marry the best of early stage venture with the best of what a company like Cisco can offer.  Over the course of a year, Jon and my team started filling in the blanks – leading to the formation of Decibel as the first independent, early stage venture capital firm to be created by a major technology company focused exclusively on early stage investing in the Enterprise.

Decibel will have all the independent hallmarks that define a successful venture capital firm – it will move at the pace expected of the early stage market, have its own management company and personnel, and be able to make independent investment and governance decisions to support its entrepreneurs. Decibel will have a unique advantage in being able to access the resources that have defined Cisco’s success in this space – our people, founders, go to market capabilities and customers. Decibel adds another, complementary dimension to Cisco’s ability to tap into the entrepreneurial ecosystem – something that has defined our company in the past and will continue in the future. Cisco Investments will continue its charter – investing and partnering with best in class companies in Cisco’s core and adjacent markets.

It takes a tremendous amount of conviction, trust and support to put something like Decibel together. Even after 19 years, I continue to be amazed at the people and leaders at Cisco who constantly strive to be the best in everything they do. I would like to thank my team, my advisors from the venture and entrepreneurial community, and the great people at Cisco for helping shape the vision that is now Decibel.

 

 
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