I recently spent time at Cisco Meraki headquarters, located in the trendy, up-and-coming Mission Bay district of San Francisco. The spectacular views of the water from the complex nearly sent me tumbling down the stairs. I toured engineering, sales, and support areas with Todd Nightingale, Meraki’s Senior Vice President and General Manager. Nightingale has been with Meraki since its acquisition by Cisco in 2012, and I found him to be incredibly open and transparent about the business and where he sees things heading (including a relatively new line of IP cameras). I would like to share some of my impressions and insights after a day with Nightingale and the Meraki team.
A vision statement has a powerful way of galvanizing an organization tasked with marketing and selling a product or service. While at Dell in the early 1990s, I’ll never forget Michael Dell’s edict to innovate and pioneer direct relationship marketing. Meraki’s vision statement is similarly to the point—the company believes that by simplifying powerful technology, it can free passionate people to focus on their mission. Nightingale’s mantra of focusing on use cases versus features echoes that sentiment. I’ve learned, in my experience as a product marketer, that chasing features can be the death of a product. Crowdfunding sites such as Indiegogo and Kickstarter are littered with examples. The most humorous one that comes to my mind is the “Rufus Cuff.” Designed to be a wearable companion to a smartphone, its “feature creep” resulted in a device that was too large and cumbersome to use. Customers were confused, the company shifted its focus to an enterprise play, and after years the product still has not shipped, despite assurances from its management team.
Nightingale also oversaw Meraki’s successful launch into the IP camera space and identified a “killer” use case that has been key to its success. In its second iteration, the Meraki connected camera line has become smaller, smarter, scalable, and easier to manage on networks, due in part to its leveraging of Qualcomm Snapdragon designs. However, where the Meraki team has disrupted this mature, aging segment is with its simple motion search use case, which can be pinpointed to a specific location down to an object. In the past, video surveillance was an “old school” technology that required the review of hours of accumulated recordings when an event occurred that required investigation. That’s simply too cumbersome to manage and I would argue that organizations squandered millions of dollars in the past not knowing any better. Proof of success materializes in sales, and the IP camera launch is the fastest product ramp in Meraki history.
Meraki and Cisco are a powerful combination
Many initially viewed Cisco’s acquisition of Meraki as a diversification strategy to help shore up the networking giant’s small-to-mid-market segment. But over time, the combination has resulted in a compelling portfolio capable of serving a broader install base. Meraki brought particularly strong Wi-Fi DNA to the table, and its focus on simplification resonates up-market for organizations that employ leaner IT staffing for network management, as well as help desk and general technical support outsourcing. This broader appeal is further evident in recent announcements from Cisco on the fast-growing SD-WAN front. I recently attended the Cisco Systems Partner Summit, and you can read my insights from the event here.
During my time with Nightingale and the Meraki team, I was impressed with not only the technical acumen but also the passion for their customers. It was evident from my visit that Cisco allows Meraki some degree of autonomy. Although there is a level of independence, clearly both teams encourage innovation, share best practices, and leverage the world-class developer resources that Susie Wee and her DevNet team have established (which I’ve written about in the past here).
What’s in a name? Shakespeare waxed poetic over the question in Romeo and Juliet, as did the author Isaac Asimov in a mystery short story. I believe a lot can be said with a name. Meraki comes from a Greek word, meaning something done with soul, creativity, or love. Meraki boasts that it’s a part of over 1.5 million active networks in classrooms, coffee shops, hospitals, and hotel rooms around the world. That’s a lot of networking love, if you ask me!