A bunch of ex-Cisco engineers say Cisco tried to kill their startup’s marketing event

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CloudGenix employees.
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CloudGenix

Cisco just completed its massive customer conference this week, Cisco Live, where tens of thousands of Cisco’s customers descended on Las Vegas for a week of technology and parties.

That seemed the perfect time for CloudGenix, a startup founded by former Cisco engineers, to strike with a guerrilla-marketing event of their own.

These engineers used to work on Cisco’s wide-area networking (WAN) products, which are routers and switches that connect a network across long distances.

The one thing they didn’t plan on? Cisco’s ability to block them.

The strong arm of Cisco

The networking industry, dominated by Cisco, is undergoing a huge change right now called “software-defined networking,” where software is being used to set up and control computer networks. Cisco still makes most of its money selling hardware products.

SDN is the most exciting thing to happen in corporate networks since, perhaps, Cisco itself was born, and networking engineers have been leaving Cisco in droves to launch new SDN startups. CloudGenix is one of those startups. It makes SDN software for WANs.

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CloudGenix CEO Kumar Ramachandran.
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CloudGenix

CloudGenix was founded by a group of ex-Cisco engineers, including its CEO, Kumar Ramachandran, who was once responsible for building the WAN routers that his software company now competes against.

The plan was to put together “a covert, Pepsi vs. Coke event,” Ramachandran told us, where people could try CloudGenix right next to several of Cisco’s products.

Those who setup their networks fastest would win.

They even lined up Ethan Banks as a host. He runs Packet Pushers, a well-respected blog for IT pros. Banks as like the Kara Swisher of the computer-network industry.

But when CloudGenix tried to book space for the event, they kept getting rejected.

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Attendees at the CloudGenix event.
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CloudGenix

“We contacted hotels on the Strip, like Mandalay Bay, MGM, several others. They would say, yes, we have a conference room available and when we would submit the details like our company name, we got declined,” Ramachandran told us.

Turns out, Cisco Live is so big, Cisco held dibs on all of Mandalay Bay and on at least two other hotels on the strip as well.

When CloudGenix asked them why they were getting rejected, the hotels told them, “it was Cisco that was rejecting us,” Ramachandran said.

The CloudGenix teams turned to restaurants, many of which are independent from the hotels, and booked the Aureole Restaurant, at the Mandalay Bay.

But two days before the event, a restaurant manager called CloudGenix saying it needed cancel its event. The reason? Pressure from Cisco, the manager told Ramachandran.

“We had contracts drawn up. We paid several thousands of dollars, paid for projectors, for food, drinks. Our employees are flying in, customers are flying in. You can’t cancel two days before an event,” Ramachandran responded.

In the end, the restaurant honored most of the contract, but it weirdly refused to provide the projectors and microphones, again citing Cisco as the reason.

Ramachandran found some mikes and some large TV screens and the event took place. The rosters of attendees included some names he knew: About a dozen Cisco employees and one businessperson whose job it is to scope out competitors.

“We welcomed them with open arms,” Ramachandran said.