There’s a deep divide in the tech industry these days. New startups boast the “startup lifestyle,” often have an average age of around 25, and promote fun perks (like kegs in the office) over ones like paternity leave. They tend to work on more “exciting” things. On the other hand are the well-grooved behemoths; the Microsofts of the industry. They promote long-term employees, and forsake some of the more novel things startups promote (like all-night hackathons) for shorter work hours and a life outside the office, but move projects at a slower pace. However, they also work on long-term effect things (new technologies, hardware, software, etc.), while many startups rise and fall with no real sustaining reverberation.
In pursuing the latest and the coolest, young engineers ignore opportunities in less-sexy areas of tech like semiconductors, data storage and networking, the products that form the foundation on which all of Web 2.0 rests. Without a good router to provide reliable Wi-Fi, your Dropbox file-sharing application is not going to sync; without Nvidia’s graphics processing unit, your BuzzFeed GIF is not going to make anyone laugh. The talent — and there’s a ton of it — flowing into Silicon Valley cares little about improving these infrastructural elements. What they care about is coming up with more web apps. . .
As an enterprise start-up, Meraki has been impeded by its distance from the web scene. It simply does not have the same recognition as a consumer company whose products users (and potential recruits) interact with every day. “You say, ‘I work at Pinterest,’ and people know what that is — they use Pinterest,” Biswas said. “You tell them you work at Meraki, and they’re a little more reserved. They’re like, ‘What’s that?’ Once we explained our culture and our approach, we were able to hire great talent, but it’s always a challenge.” Since the acquisition, Biswas, who is 32, has fought to retain the spirit of the vanguard, but his struggle reveals an implicit fear — that young engineers might be willing to work at Meraki but not at Cisco (because it’s too big and fusty), or that clients might be willing to buy from Cisco but not Meraki (because they don’t really trust start-ups).
It’s easy to see why each side isn’t always appealing to the other. But for a company to be at it’s best, it needs the older, experienced workers working along with the young, passionate ones.
The most innovative and effective companies are old-guard companies that have managed to reach out to the new guard, like Apple, or vice versa, like Google.