A Story of Three Companies

During Mobility Field Day 3, we were fortunate enough to visit with three different companies that were in different stages of mergers/acquisitions.  To be fair, the third company, NETSCOUT, hadn’t announced anything while we were onsite, it was business as usual.  This post is being written with the benefit of hindsight.  Luckily for me, it bookends my thoughts nicely so winner-winner, chicken dinner for me!  I’ll get back to NETSCOUT here in a bit.

In chronological order, we met with Arista first.  I know that some might ask why the Mobility Field Day delegates met with Arista.  Some might know why and some might ask who is Arista.  For those not in the know, you can get caught up here.  Shortest story is Arista acquired Mojo last month, so now they are a “cognitive Wi-Fi” company.  I don’t know what that means, and honestly after sitting through a 2 hour presentation with mostly Arista folks and not enough Mojo folks, I still don’t know what that is supposed to mean.  I get why they presented, but I know that as a group we were mostly confused on what was going on during the first hour.  As a first time delegate I didn’t know if the majority of the presentations were going to be this dry and wandering or not.  (Luckily for me, they weren’t.)

My thought after the presentation was here was a company that wanted to be able to support full stack across the enterprise with some version of Artificial Intelligence (A.I.) or Machine Learning (M.L.) that I am still not clear about.  Either way, they wanted/needed a wireless product they could slap their name on and go forth and prosper.  Granted, until they get an access layer switch that provides PoE (RIGHT?!?!) that won’t happen, but I suspect it won’t be too long before that is announced.  At least that is my hope after our feedback.

The next day we met with Fortinet.  Most everyone knows about the Fortinet acquisition of Meru since it did happen back in May of 2015.  What I want to discuss is how their presentation went during #MFD3 and what was learned.  After WLPC 2018 in the US, Mitch Dickey of @Badger_Fi fame wrote an open letter of displeasure to Fortinet asking them to step up and do a better job of explaining what they were as a wireless company, not just a security company.

Boy did they listen!

Fortinet did a great job presenting how their wireless product integrated with the rest of their portfolio and how it was more than something bolted on as an afterthought.  They also announced (OK, it has always been a thing, they just pointed it out) that the Fortinet wireless line was cable of running in both SCA AND MCA configurations!  I know for some of the delegates in the room, this was a new thing to learn.  I also know from some phone calls since #MFD3 that others didn’t know that as well.  The message that was delivered by the Fortinet team was smooth and eye opening.  As we left their facility at the end of the day, the general consensus was that Fortinet listened, changed their approach, and delivered with a great presentation at #MFD3.  While I agree they did a great job with their presentation and everyone was impressed, I want to point out that they didn’t really announce anything new or groundbreaking while we were there.  More on that later.

The next morning we went to NETSCOUT for their presentation.  We didn’t know it at the time, but the ENTIRE product line that they presented on was almost 2 feet out the door.  Think about this; they presented Friday morning at 9 AM PDT and when I woke up at 6:30 AM PDT on Monday they had already made the announcement.  As far as I know the ink was dry on the deal on Friday and they were just waiting for the approval on the press release wording.  Their presenter, Julio Petrovich, did a great job talking about their product line for 2 hours all while having to have some inkling, or concrete knowledge, that something was afoot.  You should go back and watch his presentation, I’ll add the links at the end, and keep in mind of what he might have known or assumed all while presenting.  Got to give the guy some props for that!  One other key piece of information is that I know that Julio will be moving with the Handheld Network Test (HNT) product line as it is “carved out” of NETSCOUT.

All of this to bring me to my point.  While I know company acquisitions and mergers and such are common place in “The Valley” (HP Enterprises bought Aruba in 2015 as a point), for me it was interesting to see such a different approach to their presentations, and possibly a lesson to be learned for whatever the HNT line that was spun out of NETSCOUT will be called.

For three years after Fortinet acquired Meru, I would say they languished in misinformation and confusion about what they were as a wireless company and what they could offer to the wireless community.  I would say that Mitch calling them out after WLPC, other feedback from the community and with the efforts of a gentleman named Christopher Hinsz, Fortinet turned their message around.  I give Chris a lot of credit because he did a nice job while he was at NETSCOUT and it was readily apparent that he had a big hand in the presentation Fortinet did at #MFD3.

To both the “TBD” handheld network testing company that we just found out about on 17 September 2018, and to the team over at Arista, you are both on the same journey, just a couple of weeks apart.  Take a page from what they did at Fortinet (just don’t take Chris, I like him at Fortinet) and learn that the wireless community is always there to help.  That was what we tried to do at #MFD3, and the community at large is always willing to chime in (some better than others) on the good and the bad that a company is doing.

Lastly, and I hate to say this, this is all about your messaging.  Not marketing, we can smell that out with both eyes tied behind our back, but your actual message.  Fortinet was able to redeem themselves by presenting a concise, cohesive message to the wireless community, and that means something.

Be honest.  Admit when things are still in the works but not ready yet.  As a community we are all used to things not going our way (ever heard of client drivers?) and are generally forgiving, especially early on.  Listen to the feedback we give on social media and at conferences, it will go a long way as you try to navigate the world of people that MIGHT have been exposed to just a little more radiation than is really recommended.

You can find all the videos from #MFD3 on YouTube
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