Interview with Roberta Parker, EdenTree Technologies

As most of you know, I try to regularly interview up and coming companies, investors, and others in the community to get a perspective on the market. I'm interested in highlighting new companies and what they are doing. My interview today is with Roberta Parker, VP of Business Development at Camarillo-based EdenTree. EdenTree is developing hardware and software for automating product labs.

BK: Tell me a bit about EdenTree - what are your products and technology?

RP: The company was formed in May 2002. EdenTree manufactures hardware and software products to automate product laboratories and equipment networks. Customers include major network equipment manufacturers, test equipment manufacturers, and service providers. EdenTree's first product is Connect_ET, a patent-pending automated cable switching system with integrated robotic controls and client/server software. Connect_ET enables secure, remote connectivity and monitoring of equipment in laboratories and other types of equipment networks.

BK: When will your products be available, and what is your go-to-market strategy for your Connect_ET products?

RP: After active, long-term Beta testing in three customer sites, we released our first product, Connect_ET, in June 2003. We are continuing to enhance the feature set, primarily in the area of "speeds and feeds" supported by the product. Although our technology is applicable to many lab and network applications in a wide range of industries, we are focused initially on seeding our product in R&D labs of major network equipment manufacturers, from which we will expand to other departments within those companies (manufacturing, sales demo and training labs, IT, etc) and other vertical markets.

BK: Who are the founders of the company, and what is their background?

RP: Principal founder/CTO Marc Hornbeek has extensive experience and published widely in network systems and software technologies. Marc formally held the position of Global Director of Test Technology for Nortel labs world-wide and has also held senior engineering positions in Tekelec, ECI Telecom and Vpacket.

Co-founders Wayne Snyder and Art Muzaffar have more than 20 years experience in network systems, software and hardware design from companies including Nortel, ECI Telecom, Vpacket, and Ixia. Bill White founded several prior software based start-ups, has held major sales positions in IBM, and as a premier executive recruiter has helped many companies get started. Roberta Parker has held senior marketing and business development roles in start-up and high growth companies including HP, Network General, Netcom systems and Vpacket. Francisco Garcia has extensive operations management experience from Pacific Microtel and Vpacket.

BK: What was the reason your founders decided to start EdenTree?

RP: Founder Marc Hornbeek has been developing the product ideas that underlie the business for the past 12 years. After the prior start-up he was working for collapsed, he found himself with a top-notch engineering team that was looking for work, plus a full complement of equipment and office furniture available for fire-sale prices. After explaining the business idea to the founding team they immediately committed to join the opportunity.

BK: How did you guys hook up with the Kieretsu forum?

RP: Gold Coast Venture Forum chairman Brent Reinke introduced founders Marc Hornbeek and Bill White to Keiretsu Forum founder Randy Williams in early 2003 when the Keiretsu Forum expanded to open a Southern California branch.

BK: Was it difficult to find investors?

RP: It was incredibly difficult to get funding. We quickly learned that we needed a hard product and sufficient early customer validation to attract even the earliest stage sophisticated investors. To get to that point, the founders and early staff had to resort to the forgotten art of boot-strapping. We tightened our belts, drained savings, sold homes and borrowed from friends and family to survive the first year. What little money we had mostly went into building product. No one got a salary. It was a real family atmosphere and the company learned a lot about the value of carefully managing money. This cost-saving culture is serving us well as we deploy our product into the current tight money market.

BK: When do you expect to raise your next round of funding?

RP: The company is seeking a B round in the back end of this year. We expect that much of that funding will come from strategic partners and customers.

BK: How big is your company right now, and are you hiring?

RP: EdenTree has 24 full time staff and 8 additional significant part time staff, primarily engineering. We are currently hiring in the sales, service and marketing areas.

BK: Finally, what's your company's biggest challenge over the next year?

RP: Our product has enjoyed unanimous support from every customer we have demonstrated it to. Investment money is now much more available to us given that we have customers and proven the market viability. For the next year our challenge is primarily to building up sales and increase our company presence in the market.

BK: Thanks!