Cisco Partners Take Notice As Meraki Founders Launch IoT Startup

Meraki founders exploded out of stealth mode Tuesday, aiming their sensor startup, Samsara, squarely at the Internet-of-Things market.

Sanjit Biswas and John Bicket, two of the three founders of the successful cloud-based networking provider Meraki, which was purchased by Cisco Systems for $1.2 billion in 2012, formed the San Francisco-based startup shortly after leaving Cisco earlier this year, surrounding themselves with former Cisco Meraki executives.

"We're excited because unlike networking, where Cisco really dominates the market, there's no single dominant player in sensors, and we think there's an opportunity to build a very long-lasting large company here," said Kiren Sekar, vice president of product management and marketing at Samsara, in an interview with CRN.

[Related: Meraki Founders Say Bye-Bye To Cisco]

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Sekar said the executive management team and technical leadership teams at Samsara are all from Meraki, including himself, while other employees hail from companies like Google and Apple.

Sekar said Samsara doesn't view Cisco as a competitor right now, but instead sees large, traditional industrial sensor vendors like Morristown, N.J.-based Honeywell and Milwaukee-based Johnson Controls as the competition. He also left the door open for a possible partnership with Cisco in the future.

"We're very open to working with other companies that help get our technology out into the market," said Sekar. "When we left Cisco, we left with a very good relationship with the management team over there, but we don't have anything specific to announce with any specific partners right now."

The startup recently racked up $25 million in first-round funding led by Andreessen Horowitz, a multibillion-dollar venture capital firm founded by Marc Andreessen. Andreessen will also become a member of the company's board.

Samsara's vision is to allow customers to deploy sensors by the thousands to gather more data and better insight for a business than what is currently available in the market. The startup plans to disrupt the traditional sensor model with an integrated, software-centric solution that includes hardware, data analytics and networking software, according to Sekar.

"We thought about how we could build a product that combined sensor hardware and networking and cloud services, so then you could have a very easy-to-deploy sensor system that lets customers use sensors in types of places they couldn't use [them] before," he said. "Having an architecture that connects sensors to the Internet and lets people who are already using sensors today be able to take much more action based on their sensor data, that's something that is immediately appealing, and we think there is a large market right away ... We're taking a very similar approach to what we took in building Meraki into the sensor market."

With Samsara's vision and proven executive team, Cisco partners told CRN the startup is definitely a company Cisco needs to keep a keen eye on.

"We need to watch these guys," said a top executive solution provider from a Cisco Gold partner. "Their [Meraki] product proved to the world that you can actually have secure, mobile wireless control from one [graphical user interface] off of any device. They even get into mobile device management, and in the last version of Meraki, the update I just downloaded, I can push down applications now through that. These guys are really quite interesting and smart."

Another top executive solution provider on CRN's Solution Provider 500 list and Cisco Gold partner said Samsara could be a possible threat to Cisco in a year or two, as well as his future business strategy around IoT.

"They're obviously a company to watch out for," said the executive.

Both Cisco partners "definitely" expect to see Samsara rack up millions more in venture capital funding in the future. Sekar confirmed to CRN that Samsara will seek another round of funding.

"We're very much looking to build a big, long-term company here in terms of how we're going about building the products," said Sekar.

With fewer than 100 people currently employed at Samsara, the startup isn't planning to unveil a partner program or any alliances just yet, but is open to both ideas in the future.

Samsara is expecting to ship its first products within the next month or two, according to Sekar.