Ex-Cisco workers prep wireless mobility strategy

Agito Networks set to emerge from the shadows in 2007

Two former Cisco employees are in overdrive preparing to bring Agito Networks out of the shadows sometime in 2007, with a product aimed at simplifying in-building mobility for corporate users.

The founders won't go into details about the product yet. Based on comments by one of them, Pejman Roshan, Agito (from the Latin word for "to put into motion, arouse, agitate") plans to layer atop the enterprise WLAN a software framework that can smoothly link mobile handset users with WLAN- and cellular-based voice and data services.

Such an approach represents a major shift in mobility. Today, most WLANs and cellular data services focus on various kinds of field workers, such as sales staff, truck drivers, copier repair technicians, even doctors and nurses. But Agito is looking inward, to corporate offices and sites where users are moving within a building but don't want to disconnect from the voice and data services they need to do their jobs.

Roshan, 32, is a former Cisco IT staffer who shifted into product management in the company's Wireless Business Unit after Cisco acquired WLAN vendor Aironet. His partner, and longtime friend, Tim Olson, 37, is a wireless software architect, formerly with Jetso, also bought by Cisco. Olson has been active in the work of several 802.11 task groups.

The duo hatched their initial idea over lunch talks in the fall of 2005. When they first pitched it to some customers they knew, they got a surprise: IT professionals told them they weren't being ambitious enough, Roshan recalls.

"They said, 'You're thinking too small. Mobility is one of our top five priorities, and a product that can do in-building mobility is important to us,'" Roshan says. "That surprised us."

They were also surprised when customers said that dollar savings from such mobility ran second to "mobilizing" more employees, thereby allowing users to be productive wherever they are. "Cost savings give you a chance to get into the door [with a customer], but productivity gains are the real driver for enterprises," Roshan says.

The two men pitched their business plan to venture capitalists early in 2006 and from several offers selected Battery Ventures. The initial investment hasn't been disclosed.

Agito, now comprising seven employees, all of them engineers, except Roshan, is housed at the venture fund's offices. That will change soon, when the company moves into some comfortable new offices in Silicon Valley.

"Every dollar we spend screams when it comes out of our wallet," Roshan says. "But you have to make [the office] a place that people want to be if you're going to have them working there 13 to 15 hours a day."

Olson has overseen completion of the product prototype, which has been demonstrated to partners and prospects. Agito now is hiring new employees and moving ahead with building Version 1.0. Somehow, the software will have to deal with a wide range of highly variable handheld computers and smart phones, enabling them to make use easily of either internal wireless LAN links or cellular connections as needed.

Roshan admits that making the jump from giant Cisco to a two-man start-up was anxiety-provoking.

"I lost about a week of sleep between Cisco and coming here," he says. "I was asking myself, 'What have I done? Have I screwed up my family?'" Olson, he says, was better prepared, because he'd worked at a couple of start-ups in the past.

So far their friendship has survived, though deciding what to name the company took a toll. "We argued like cats and dogs over what the name should be," Roshan says. One day, the two men were a 2005 movie called "The Island," directed by Michael Bray. As part of the plot, a Latin word renovation, for "rebirth," recurred, and Roshan wondered what the Latin word for "mobility" would be.

"When we found 'agito,' we thought, 'That sounds good,'" he says.

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