I’ve written previously about Mario Mazzola, Luca Cafiero, and Prem Jain, Cisco’s triumvirate of engineering maestros. My last post in which they figured prominently dealt with Cisco’s seeming retirement of its spin-in move.
Explaining the Spin-In
For those not familiar with the spin-in concept, I will now quote from my earlier post:
“Such deals typically involve a parent company, such as Cisco, allowing a team of engineers and business managers to leave the corporate nest to create breakthrough products and technologies. These arm’s-length ventures are funded by the parent company exclusively or sometimes by the parent company and other investors, such as VCs. The parent company’s ownership ratio of the venture increases as technology milestones and business objectives are reached, until eventually the venture is spun, in its entirely, back into the mothership. Hence, the term “spin in.”
Cisco executed a number of spin-in arrangements, but its best-known examples involved storage-networking startup Andiamo Systems, which Cisco officially acquired in the summer of 2002, and Nuova Systems, which Cisco finally acquired in full in the spring of 2008.
The companies had more than their spin-in natures in common. Both were led by Mario Mazzola, Cisco’s on-again-off-again chief development officer (CDO). What’s more, the teams at both companies included many of the same players, namely Luca Cafiero, Prem Jain, and Soni Jiandani.”
I wrote that post last summer, and, while Soni Jiandani remains in a prominent executive position at Cisco, serving as senior vice president for server access and virtualization, the other three — Mazzola, Cafiero, and Jain — are the subject of rumors.
According to unconfirmed reports, Mazzola is leading another startup effort. Cafiero and Jain might be joining him. I don’t know what this alleged startup might do, but some say it initially might function as an incubator/VC operation, on its own or perhaps in league with another Silicon Valley VC outfit.
It is not thought to be another Cisco spin-in. Given the substantial layoffs John Chambers is overseeing currently at Cisco, it would be difficult for him to sell investors, analysts, and — last but not least — employees on the merits of a high-priced spin-in maneuver that would make a few people richer than Croesus while others are being escorted to the door and entire business operations within Cisco are facing extinction.
That’s not to say it won’t happen — Cisco and Chambers could argue that a particular spin-in initiative is absolutely essential to the company’s renovated strategic vision — but the odds are not in its favor.
Regardless of whether Mazzola is fronting a standalone startup or yet another Cisco spin-in venture, it will be interesting to see what he does next.