More on "The Big Score"

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  • March 21, 2012

As a practice I don’t read many blogs because there are too many of them and most of them seem trivial.  If there has been a more relevant or better one than Mike O’Dell’s brilliant post, “The Big Score,” I’d like to read it. Several colleagues suggested I offer a little bit of the back story on NEA’s role in the advent of the Ethernet.

Luck had a lot to do with it. I met Bob Metcalfe in late 1980 when he was leaving Xerox PARC. He had just co-invented the Ethernet at PARC and now wanted to commercialize it.  But he did not want to steal it; he wanted to have Xerox help him.  He had the support of Intel and Digital Equipment Corp, as well as Xerox.  The idea was that these three companies, working in concert with each other could create an industry standard.  The early competitors used what was called Baseband and TokenRing Technology, whereas Bob’s was referred to as Broadband.  NEA led the seed financing and I had a direct hand as a board member in Corporate Strategy, Personnel Development and Financial Implementation from thereon.

I had invested in Apple in late 1977 and had personally visited nearly every personal computer start-up in Silicon Valley in 1977.  I was convinced the PC could transform the concept of computing and turn the industry of computing from time sharing to the “Bicycle of the Mind,” or as Sun subsequently called the local area network – “the network IS the computer.”

Had I not witnessed the lift-off of Apple, I doubt I could have believed in the Ethernet.  Everyone knows I have very little technical ability, but I listen well and I learn fast.  I actually regard my meager built in technology smarts as an advantage because it forces a process of discovery, which is highly exciting and not boring.

When Bob Metcalfe described his idea of a Local Area Network (LAN), with connected storage (he called it the Cloud), computational capacity and print, I could understand how this took the PC idea and multiplied it.  Thus was born “Metcalfe’s Law.”  I won’t duplicate Mike’s comments because they can’t be improved upon.  Let me just say I totally understood the game we were playing and the stakes at risk.

The original team at 3COM (which stands for Computer Communication Compatibility) had many great people.  I stayed with the company as a Director until 1987, when I felt the company had drifted from the original mission and let Cisco, which was a late starter behind 3COM, take the market leadership, I left the Board. I thought at the time and know it clearly now, that the management was distracted by acquisition and acquisition attempts.  As a consequence 3Com failed to focus on product evolution, particularly as the technology evolved to switches and routers.  However, the base Ethernet Technology let the cat out of the bag.  Ethernet prevailed and the future of computer technology was transformed.

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