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'Steve Jobs Gave Me A Porsche'

From Iowa to Cupertino in a Porsche given to him by Steve Jobs, onetime Apple reseller Craig Elliott recalls a career that now has him as CEO of cloud networking startup Pertino.

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The Porsche that started it all.

Driving away from a small town in Iowa in 1985, in a Porsche given to him by Steve Jobs, 23-year-old Craig Elliott traded farm life and his microbiology education for Silicon Valley. He never looked back.

"I can't imagine a time looking back and saying, I wish I took fewer risks," Elliott, now CEO of cloud networking startup Pertino, told CRN. There were unsuccessful business ventures and ideas that never came to fruition along the way, he said, but was pragmatic about it: "The cool thing about Silicon Valley is, here, failure is like a badge of honor."

But failure wasn’t on Elliott's mind at all in 1985 when he was awarded "Top Sales Person for Apple Computer" while working at computer reseller Beacon Microcenter in Ames, Iowa. Instead of giving Elliott a pat on the back or a signed certificate, the Apple CEO sent him a personal dinner invitation to come to California to discuss his impressive sales feat.

"It was all a little more than I could digest at the time," Elliott said, remembering opening the envelope with the Cupertino return address. "I thought one of my buddies was playing a joke on me, but I knew it was real because it was done on a laser printer and no one had those at the time, except for Apple headquarters."

Inside the envelope was the invitation to dinner with Jobs. That dinner led to a job offer in product marketing and network communications at Apple, sweetened by none other than that paid-in-full Porsche. After all, Elliott would need to leave his Iowa hometown and head west in style.

For Elliott, the move consisted of more change than just accepting a new job. He had taken the Beacon Microcenter job as a gap-year project, while saving to continue his graduate studies at Iowa State University. He had never intended to switch his focus from microbiology to computers.

He also was embarking on an entirely new corporate and cultural environment that was indeed uncharted territory. "The first building I worked in at Apple had more people than my hometown," Elliott remembered.

Elliott also assumed that being a "lowly, first-year Apple employee" meant he would never rub shoulders with the top executives. But he was soon proven wrong, as he found himself writing speeches for Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak and John Sculley, who would eventually become CEO of Apple. Elliott also remembers riding the elevator and chatting with William Campbell, the charismatic vice president of marketing and former Columbia University football coach.

The average age of Apple employees in 1985 was between 26 and 27 years old, said Elliott. "There were a lot of young folks with a lot of responsibility. We were getting our MBA at Apple with real money instead of [in school] with case studies."

NEXT: Elliott's Next Venture And New Horizons


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Elliott eventually moved on from Apple and in 1995 relied on his same head-down, move-forward drive to co-found networking company Packeteer. The Packeteer team raised $20 million in venture capital funds to get its networking product line off the ground.

"At Packeteer, we built boxes that did some really cool stuff," Elliott said. "As CEO, I was bending sheet metal and gathering inventory and parts and making things."

From 1995 to 2002, Elliott served as CEO of the networking startup, taking it public in 1999 and raising an additional $66 million. From 2002 to 2008, Elliott remained on the company's board as Packeteer grew to more than 300 employees worldwide with more than 10,000 customers. In 2008, the company was sold to Sunnyvale, Calif.-based enterprise security company Blue Coat for $268 million.

Once Elliott closed the Packeteer chapter of his life, he packed up his family and moved to New Zealand, a place he had become familiar with while working at Apple.

It was time to fly-fish.

Elliott, his wife and three children had spent close to four years exploring and building a life on the island when he received a phone call about a new networking startup named Pertino, based in Los Gatos, Calif.

"Silicon Valley is full of people running around with ideas. This one for Pertino is technically disruptive and economically disruptive," Elliott said.

Elliott was approached to be an investor, adviser and board member, all roles he remembered pursuing in his own mentors when fighting to get Packeteer off the ground.

His first answer to Pertino was, "I don't know, I really like fly-fishing."

But in the end, Elliott said, "Pertino had both the interesting technology and a business plan. When you can do both of those things at the same time, that's when it's cool to be a startup. Since 1985, I've never seen anything like this one."

Twenty-eight years after Steve Jobs gave him a Porsche, Elliott had made his living, retired to New Zealand, and has now returned to start all over again.

Pertino is already partnering with a number of MSPs and is preparing to launch a more encompassing partner program at the beginning of next year. In addition, third-party application developers soon will be able to create applications for Pertino's app store, the first app store in cloud networking, he said.

Though flyfishing is happening far less frequently these days, Elliott said he is thrilled to have his feet firmly planted back in the channel.

But no, he doesn't still have the Porsche.

PUBLISHED NOV. 7, 2013

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