Cisco acquires Meraki: how 3 guys from MIT transformed the networking industry

Meraki founders

Quick: when was the last time you plugged in an Ethernet cable? If you have trouble answering that question, you’re one of the reasons why Cisco has agreed to acquire Meraki.

Six years ago Sanjit, John and Hans saw our Wi-Fi world before many others. Meraki offered smaller wireless ISPs a complete package to roll-out wireless networks without a lot of time, money or expertise. It gave upstart ISPs a way to enter new markets and disrupt existing ones. The benefits were obvious: the ability to scale without wires, low cost of entry, ease of use, and network analysis tools to help operators maximize revenue from their small networks.

I’ll always remember meeting the guys for the first time. We were introduced by Rajeev Motwani, Larry & Sergey’s thesis advisor at Stanford. They were a bunch of MIT PhDs who had built a very proprietary solution as part of their own thesis called RoofNet. They were clearly world-class, super smart and personable. I bought their product to test it out.  It was so easy to use, I set up a wireless network myself in minutes. You just plugged in the box and it worked. That’s all we needed to see. Chris Sacca, who was at Google at the time, was equally enthusiastic. Google bought 1,000 routers and invested as well.

Creating room in a crowd

Paul and Steve

Sometimes it’s never too late to join a crowded market. Just ask Paul English and Steve Hafner, who today announced an agreement to sell Kayak to Priceline for about $1.8 billion.

Today, Kayak’s promise of ‘One and Done’ is well known as befits a company that fielded 600 million travel queries in the first half of 2012 and whose mobile app has been downloaded nearly 17 million times.   

However, the world looked different in 2004 when Paul and Steve decided to start a company in an industry teeming with competitors such as Expedia, Orbitz, Hotwire, Priceline, Travelocity, and plenty of others. These sites, plus thousands of hotel and airline sites, which all furnished their own confusing and biased results, is what fueled the frustration that gave Kayak a chance. It’s hard to remember but before Kayak it could take thirty minutes to book a flight or reserve a room.

“I think we started like most of these tech companies begin. Just a couple of guys in their boxers coding in a dark room.”

— Drew Houston, Dropbox