My Lunch with Andy Ory: Acme Packet CEO Talks Startup Lessons, Growing Pains, and Building the Next Great Boston Company

6/29/11Follow @gthuang

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‘How many VoIP calls fill up a session border controller?’ And that’s when I look at you and say, it’s not about VoIP. When you connect the service infrastructure of every single enterprise and service provider, what you end up with is a session overlay network that’s extensible to applications that are far more interesting.”

He’s talking about things like online video, multimedia, and other kinds of data that are becoming pervasive. “We’re living in a time where there’s a reversal of the normal trends,” he says. “It used to be that technology would start inside of enterprises and move out to the consumers. Now it’s the consumers who are bringing technology to the enterprises. There isn’t a clear delineation of my applications data and technology that I use at home versus what I use at work. The Apples and the Googles and the Microsofts and the Yahoos—they’re able to market through the consumer, and then the consumer starts bringing this technology into the enterprise, and the enterprise needs to deal with it.”

And that’s what Acme Packet is trying to provide on a huge scale—a secure, trusted, regulation-compliant way for businesses to communicate with customers (and other businesses) over existing networks. By selling its “session oriented network” software to big companies and network operators like Verizon, AT&T, and British Telecom, Acme Packet hopes to be the glue that binds together application developers, businesses, and network operators in a brave new online world.

“Our goal is to exist at every single service-island interconnect point—hundreds of thousands of them—and make them all work safely and securely, and make it extensible to the application folks who want to write their own applications,” Ory says. “I am convinced there’s a great business here.”

Investors seem pretty convinced too. The company has shipped some $850 million worth of products and services since its inception, and Ory says it will pass the billion-dollar cumulative mark this year. “And it feels like you’ve got your foot in the water, or even less,” he says. “Of those hundreds of thousands of interconnect points, we’re at less than 10,000. That to me is really energizing.”

Like most successful companies, though, Acme Packet has had at least one near-death experience. In November 2008, the company’s stock was down to about $3, and the vultures were circling. The recession was in full swing—yet that actually had a lot to do with the company’s resurgence, Ory says.

“We decided to invest more heavily in our go-to-market. We put more sales people, put more channels in place,” he says. “But the biggest difference was the external marketplace, not us. I believe that markets create companies, not the other way around. In the second half of ’08 this disruption occurred … Next Page »

Gregory T. Huang is Xconomy's Deputy Editor, National IT Editor, and the Editor of Xconomy Boston. You can e-mail him at gthuang@xconomy.com or call him at 617-252-7323. Follow @gthuang

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