“This is a story of transformation…” that is how the narration of the video that Cisco invited me to record in November 2016 starts. In it, I can tell a little bit about the story of my company and how we change our strategy based on what we learned at DevNet.
Although the video is great and I encourage you to watch it, it is hard to recount the whole journey in just two minutes. Here, I will try to tell you a little bit more about Altus.
I have two co-founders, my brother Alonso Bogarín S. and Rafael Campos G.. Our story together starts around 2002. Rafa and Alonso had just graduated as Electronic Engineers from the Costa Rican Institute of Technology (ITCR, by its initials in Spanish). They started a company with other university friends.
At first, it was going to be dedicated to electronic projects however in their final semester before graduating; they got involved in a new initiative by the ITCR, the first Cisco Networking Academy in Costa Rica.
Soon, they became instructors at the Academy and began training a new group of professionals in an area relatively new in Costa Rica, networking.
Alonso is the one I must thank for giving me the idea to learn about networking. When I started college, also electronic engineering in the ITCR, I became assistant to Rafael in his Networking Academy classes. The first two modules I was Rafael’s assistant, the last two, Alonso’s. Rafael still teaches in the Academy, fifteen years straight. That must be a record. Alonso and Rafael were and still are in so many ways, my mentors.
I joke that I was meant to be involved in networking. My maternal grandfather oversaw the telegraph in his small town, allowing people to communicate was his reason to be proud. My paternal grandfather was a firefighter, he was the mechanic in charge of the fire trucks, but he had to go to the field from time to time. If you mix both abilities and skills, what do you get? Me, a networking engineer. We allow people to communicate themselves; we are the mechanics of the hardware that permits that and, yes, from time to time, we need to rush to put out the fires in our networks.
Going back to Alonso and Rafael’s first company, they invited me to become a partner after a couple of years. The company dedicated to selling Cisco devices and implementing technology projects. Business was good, but we were too many partners, around seven or eight, disagreements aroused and it impacted the company. Soon, it went bankrupt.
Alonso, Rafael and myself, as in Alexander Dumas’ novel The Three Musketeers became one for all and all for one. We faced the debts in that first company and started a second one, Altus Consulting in April 2007. Entrepreneurship is entrenched in our DNA.
Altus’ first business objective was only to do consulting, hence the second part of the name. But soon, we started selling Cisco devices once again, mainly because old customers of the first company still wanted to do business with us.
Again, we picked up the pace and grew our business. A couple of great deals in the early years pushed us forward. Around 2009, we created a managed services area to improve how we approached big deals, and that was a great decision. However, although business was good, we were a vanilla ice cream company, it is good for those that like ice cream but you can get it almost in every store, and it does not make too much of difference which brand.
The way out of the dilemma seems simple, differentiate yourself, but, that is more easily said than done. Thankfully, Rafael had been going to Cisco Partner Velocity events in 2009 and 2010. That last one was in Barcelona, and one of the talks was about strategy and differentiation, the primary call to action in the session was for the attendees to learn about the concepts in Michael Porter’s works. Copies of Understanding Michael Porter were given to the audience, and we took advantage of what we learned.
We needed focus. We liked Cisco Collaboration Architecture and based our new efforts in becoming the experts in our area in that technology, that was our goal for 2011. Thankfully, at the end of that year, Cisco announced a program that was going to test for Collaboration skills in its partners. We participated and proved our expertise and Cisco gave us the Collaboration Innovators award; we were one of the five companies that were picked by Cisco. A small business from Costa Rica with the same recognition as global powerhouses like Presidio or CDW that is no small feat.
That focus and advanced expertise improved our business immensely, and Cisco noticed. In 2012, we won Commercial - Partner Led Partner of the Year for LATAM.
To say business was good is an understatement, but, presidential election season in Costa Rica, a saturated market and a ripple effect of the US recession hit us tremendously hard the following years. We were facing the same threat as with the first company; bankruptcy was on the horizon. Our financial discipline and our competitive advantage kept us afloat, but our ship was going in the direction of becoming irrelevant and not a key player in our market.
It was back to the drawing board. Using what we learned in the first company and our experience in the past years with Altus, we started thinking about how we could differentiate ourselves even more. Create our own game and rules.
We stumbled upon Marc Andreessen’s essay Why Software Is Eating The World and began working in our software strategy, but, again, it is more easily said than done. We had an electronic engineers background, and we were networking people, we were not software developers, not by far.
In 2013 we took the software development area as our most important growth initiative. However, we needed to learn a lot. Our first efforts were disorganized. We were trying to bring to market a solution but learning at the same time. We took the wrong decisions several times, and our efforts were not getting the expected results.
Also, at that point, it was somewhat hard to develop software in the Cisco ecosystem. Documentation was all over the place, and some of the technologies were not as mature as it was needed.
I had gone to Cisco Live LATAM in Cancun 2012, but I had the curiosity of attending the US one. As our financial situation was not the best, I had to be very price conscious in my expenses on that trip. I booked the cheapest hotel I found online and somewhat close to Moscone and register with the explorer pass to Cisco Live US.
By a stroke of luck, that explorer pass allowed me to attend the DevNet Zone, a new program from Cisco at that time. To be honest, I did not know what DevNet was. I just wanted to see Cisco Live US. However, I went to the registration page and scheduled my whole week in DevNet.
Imagine my surprise, we were trying to develop software that integrated with Cisco hardware, and here it was a new developer-oriented program. I felt the same way as I did in 2011 and 2012 with the Collaboration Innovator initiative. We focused on Collaboration and Cisco had a recognition for innovators. We were developing software and here was Cisco with this new initiative. Talk about the stars aligning.
The week was awesome for me. I was front row in every session that I could attend. I needed to learn as much as possible. It was my duty. I had to go back home with as much information as I could. I had to take advantage of DevNet.
It was a very productive week for me. I talked to multiple experts, and they offered their sincere advice and guidance. In a week, I felt that my knowledge jump ahead six or twelve months. I know it sounds exaggerated, but when you are starting, having labs at your disposal, people to answer your questions and discuss the decisions that you have taken and analyze a better one, it made a huge difference. I was there from 8.00 am until I absolutely had to leave, if a lab was available or somebody was available to talk, I was in DevNet.
Amongst the sea of people in Moscone and specifically in DevNet, there was a woman running the show. She was very friendly and always with a smile on her face. I talked to her in several of the sessions, and as I was always front row, she came for my opinion of the topics recently explained a couple of times. A networking engineer from Costa Rica, a developing country, being able to exchange views with a Cisco Vice-President, Susie Wee, was out of this world for me. The conversations were not just formal discussions, Susie showed genuine interest in what I had to say and needed as a Cisco partner from DevNet. I made sure to look for her the last day when I was leaving to express my heartfelt gratitude for her effort in leading this new program.
When I got back home, everything changed. Our innovation rate improved a lot, and I took what I learned in DevNet zone and made well-informed decisions. We, as a company, put everything that we had in this effort and the rewards came quickly. Business improved and our path became clearer. Very soon, that bankruptcy threat disappeared. Our software solutions combined with Cisco hardware changed our business deals a lot, and our profits increased because of that.
After Cisco Live San Francisco 2014, our whole team had the DevNet page as the go to site to find information about Cisco technologies relevant to developers and that made a humungous difference in our day to day operations.
We kept improving our software with the information that I got that week of May 2014, and I became, probably, one of DevNet’s biggest followers. As soon as I learned that DevNet was going to be available in San Diego 2015, I registered for it and once again, I was not disappointed. It was a great week, lots of information to absorb and advice to use in our software. Once more, a leap forward in our software practice because of that week. Mainly around DevOps, microservices, and containers.
In our commercial efforts, we went from just being attendees to Cisco Live LATAM in 2012, to having a stand in World of Solutions to show our software in 2014 and 2015.
Once more, as it happened around 2011 and 2012, our alignment with Cisco strategy had a great reward. In February 2016, we won Cisco ISV Partner of the Year for LATAM. Our software practice was getting a lot of recognition.
Then, Cisco Live Las Vegas 2016 happened. I was invited by the DevNet team to joined them in the DevNet Innovators series and showcase Altus’ applications. Also, I was asked to be a speaker in a panel about driving digitization in companies using Cisco APIs, and as a surprise, I was even invited by Susie to accompany her on stage in a session in the IT Management program. At that time, I was at the peak of my professional life.
Also, DevNet 2016 changed me a little bit more and not in a professional way. Everything that I have said before is important, but, personally, that week in Las Vegas was in a league of its own. I had very pleasant and heartfelt conversations with the members of the DevNet team. I could feel their interest in the future of my company and their legitimate proposal to help in any way possible if I needed something. It is not that those same feelings were not there in 2014 and 2015, it was that I had gain confidence with several of them and jumped a little bit the professional barrier and went into the personal area a bit more. That warm interaction made an impact on me.
When I got back home, I felt the need to write an email to Susie to express the gratitude and tell her my story. It was the only thing I thought I could do to pay back the debt that I had with this amazing group of people that were very committed and passionate about their work. I needed for them to understand that their recent efforts allowed our company to turn around and our future to be dazzling.
That email is the one mentioned in the video. I wrote it a Friday evening, at the end of a great work week and I asked Susie to share it with her team if she thought it was worthy of the attention. If I had known all the things that email triggered, rest assured, I would have spent a month checking it for grammar, spelling, punctuation, etc. It haunts me a little bit to this day because I just wrote it and sent it, and English not being my native language, I have a hard time not making errors.
The story is compelling. The industry is changing towards software-led solutions. We have done that, in no small part, thanks to DevNet. We have taken the right decisions to improve our business and avoid disruption or commoditization.
I think that is what motivated the team at Cisco to invited me to record the video the same week of Cisco Partner Summit in November 2016, in San Francisco. Up until that time, my greatest professional week was Cisco Live Las Vegas 2016. However, that week in November, we got Cisco Solution Innovation Partner for LATAM for 2016. Our second consecutive award thanks to our software practice. Wendy Bahr, Senior Vice President of Cisco’s Global Partner Organization, in her general session, highlighted our story. Alonso and I were invited to the stage with Nirav Sheth to talk about our transformation, and I got to record the video.
The following week was Cisco Live LATAM 2016 in Cancún. Rafael, Alonso and myself were invited to give several sessions and keynote a couple of forums. Alonso and I were again, invited to join Susie on stage in her IT Management session.
Those two weeks together are the top of my professional career.
I need to take some time to mention six persons that made the whole video experience easier for me. I am a shy person, a little bit introvert, so the idea of being in front of a camera is not something I take comfortably. From the first emails, Janel Kratky and Chris Oggerino were very supportive. The day of the shooting, the recording crew, Andy Kong and Bobby Huerta were incredibly professional, and they made me look good, a tougher task than that they will not have in their life. Jillian Zimmerman and Sara Steffen, the Cisco team that coordinated and accompanied us during the day of the shooting, were immensely friendly. Having a someone to talk, laugh and support you when you are nervous made the whole experience more precious, both did that.
I know this whole story is long. However, I would like to highlight several things here, and the impact, Cisco as a company, has had in my life.
- The Networking Academy is where all started. It is a corporate responsibility effort from Cisco. You can see the results of that program in our success story. Students from developing countries highlighted in a global success story.
- Programs like the Partner Velocity, now, Marketing Velocity gave us the correct information at the right time, to change our business. There are many programs in Cisco dedicated to improving the partners’ business.
- With the information of the previous point, we took better decisions, but there was still an ingredient missing, at least for us. DevNet was that ingredient. It changed the course of our company.
- The dedication of the Cisco team to helping its partners is astonishing. I am mentioning Susie Wee directly because of the impact she had on me at a time I needed the help. It came from someone at the top but with great humility. She is one of the many Cisco employees that has help us get this far. From the local organization in Costa Rica to the CANSAC, LATAM, Americas and all over the world who have helped us shape our business. The list is too long, but I will not forget what you have done.
You can see the commitment that Cisco has with its partners. Our whole journey is a testament to the way Cisco drives business. In many moments of our entrepreneur life, it has been like a brother watching over our shoulders and offering the advice that we sought.
As I said before, our industry is changing. The only constant in the technology business is change. We need to adapt quickly to that. The impact of software and programming is going to increase exponentially. Cisco has been, is and will be, by far, the market leader and the torchbearer in this transformation. It has a global reach, and my story is proof of that. Few companies can say and demonstrate that their impact is worldwide and that they define a whole category. Without Cisco, networking, and communications, in general, would not be the same.
This story of transformation is not something that happens in a couple of days, and although, I am the one highlighted in it, it is not mine. It is Cisco and Altus’ stories intertwined. It is of a technology world leader successfully transforming its business to being driven by software and helping one of its partners in the same journey. As I hope it is evident in this article, it started many years ago, and different events needed to happen to get to this point. DevNet Zone in Cisco Live San Francisco 2014 is what brought all the previous efforts together and pushed us to this new world in a superb way. That moment completely changed my company and my life.
It is not easy for Cisco, a worldwide leader to change course, to take new variables into consideration and disrupt itself before being disrupted. Cisco has done that, and software is now pushing their growth. I am sure they will continue to define what communications, IoT, Collaboration and other areas are in the near and far future. Also, I am sure they will guide their partners in each transition and will help them adapt.
As in every story, in Altus, we have had our ups and downs. We are not near perfection, and we will need to keep innovating to stay relevant. I am confident in our future because of the remarkable group people that make up our company and the enriching partnership that we have with Cisco. There has never been a better time to innovate and disrupt in this ecosystem; it is only getting started, and it is going to get better.
In the email, I wanted to express to the DevNet team that their unyielding passion for their work makes a difference in the world. I hope the video makes that acknowledgment public. It is important to recognize when a group of people is as dedicated to their work as they are and the experience of collaborating with them is as exquisite as it is with the DevNet team.
I can honestly say that DevNet team and everybody involved in our story has a friend in me. It is the least I can do after so much has been given to me.
I will always be grateful for Cisco and its employees’ impact on my life and my company’s journey.