May 11, 2011

Mass High Tech

Entrepreneurs' conversation: Acme Packet's Andy Ory

Silicon Valley entrepreneurship is known to celebrate bravado and success. An example is the so-called “PayPal Mafia.” It’s been well documented that PayPal spawned high-growth startups including Linkedin, YouTube, Yelp, and Slide. But did you know that Boston has its own startup mafia?

The Boston area has been home to several companies that have spawned multiple success stories. One that has been notably below the radar was Boston Technology Inc., an innovator in phone systems and voicemail. Employees of Boston Technology have gone on to found dozens of technology companies including ATG, Priority Call, Acme Packet, Cha Cha, and others. In typical New England fashion, the dramatic successes rising from this innovative technology company have rarely been celebrated.

One of the most successful members of this group; one of the shining stars of entrepreneurship is Andy Ory. Andy is co-founder and CEO of Acme Packet, a provider of technical infrastructure that enables delivery of interactive communications — voice, video and multimedia sessions — and data services across IP network borders. Forbes Magazine listed Acme Packet as the best-performing stock of 2010, a year in which the stock price rose 424 percent. Recently the company reported a 45 percent rise in Q1 revenue versus 2010. The company has a market capitalization in excess of $4 billion.

Andy is a serial entrepreneur in the most literal definition of the word: he has started two companies, and both have achieved great success. He started early, leaving the rapidly growing Boston Technology to start Priority Call Management at the tender age of 24. He co-founded Priority Call with his father, who invested with his retirement funds. Priority Call grew into a leader in network-based solutions that allowed service providers to offer prepaid calling, enhanced messaging and one-number services. Andy led the company through its acquisition by LHS Group for over $160 million.

Like many entrepreneurs, after their first big payday, Andy wondered if he could build another company from the ground up. “You begin asking yourself, are you a one-hit wonder?” Andy said in an interview. “Did I just get lucky?”

“Someone comes along and pays off all your expenses and you don’t have to work anymore. But then you find out that you like being part of a community, you like learning and growing, you like challenges, and you find out that you actually want to go do something challenging — you want to create another business,” he said.

So Andy jumped back onto the playing field and founded Acme Packet. But even though he had built a business from the ground up with Priority Call, Acme Packet was different. “I was constantly having to learn at Priority Call. I had never done any of this before. At Acme Packet, I had 10 years of learning behind me and I had a much better sense of what I needed to do.”

With the flexibility of being able to create the kind of management team he wanted, Andy went on to hire many of the same people he worked with at Priority Call. “We built relationships, we grew together, and when the time was right, they came over to Acme Packet.”

“It’s really lucky to be a part of an environment where there are companies to learn from, networks to participate in, venture capitalists, universities to provide trained and educated students that you can bring into your company and grow,” he said. “These are the kinds of things this region offers. And that’s really fantastic.”

Andy believes that the true measure of a company’s success is the new ventures it spawns. “Part of spinoffs is that they grow individuals and then those people spinoff and do something new. But their heritage is from the company that taught them what the high tech business is all about,” he said. “The real value are the people who breathe life into entrepreneurial ideas.”

But a few billion in value creation isn’t too shabby a metric either.

By Brian Shin, CEO of Visible Measures