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Right Technology, Right Time: Opportunistic Ocarina CEO Murli Thirumale (Part 1)

Posted on Wednesday, May 7th 2008

Timing is an essential aspect of any successful venture. Attempt to launch the venture too soon and the market may not exist or be mature enough to sustain your venture. Enter the market too late and you are bound to be fighting competition. Murli Thirumale has repeatedly brought high technology to the market, and recounts his successes and failures with market timing with some invaluable lessons. Here we review his portfolio of ventures and discuss his current startup, Ocarina Networks.

SM: Murli, let’s start with your background. Tell us where you come from, a bit about your background and what brought you to where you are now.

MT: My hometown is Bangalore, the city of traffic jams! I traveled up north and went to school up north in Benares. From there I went right to Chicago to go to business school at Northwestern. After Northwestern I came out here and worked for HP for the next 15 years.

SM: What type of work did you do for HP?

MT: I worked in product management, product marketing, and project management type of roles. After some time I worked as a GM of a couple of cash cow businesses in very traditional instrumentation. I worked with technologies like atomic standards, metrology communications, and network timing technologies. While I was at HP I started up a couple of businesses. One was a way to synchronize base stations using GPS instead of atomic clocks. At that time most competitors had xyz and time from GPS, and they would throw away time and use the xyz. We did the opposite. We threw away xyz and used time to synchronize base stations which allows for soft handoffs on networks. If I am driving down 280 like I did to get there, then I get handed off from one base station to the other.

That is done today through a process of synchronizing base stations with respect to each other so the signal could be handed off. We built custom OEM GPS base station timing modules for Qualcomm, and after that it was a clean sweep of Lucent, Motorola, Samsung, and about 80% of the CDMA base stations have our custom OEM, private labeled receivers in their systems.

We then took that same technology, which we called smart clocks, and spun it into central office equipment. We sold it to service providers, so it was in big racks with multiple system management. It was build to CO standards. That stuff was sold mainly to the E1 market, which is international. We sold a lot of stuff in China, British Telecom, Brazil, and then came back here to companies like US West, most of whom have been swallowed up both others.

SM: How big did that business get?

MT: Business grew to about $150M at which point I spun it out and sold it from HP. I went to a company called Symmetriccomm. I was still running the business, and went with it in the sale to Symmetricom. It has now grown to become most of Symmetricom’s business. I think it is a $250M business, but a very stable business with a high market share. It is all about consolidated everything. At that point I was at Symmetricom for a year and left it to start Net6.

SM: What is the timeline we are talking about?

MT: I spun the business out of HP in 1999. I left Symmetricom in 2000.

This segment is part 1 in the series : Right Technology, Right Time: Opportunistic Ocarina CEO Murli Thirumale
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