Breaking through using Joe Kennedy

In 1999, when a Kennedy, any Kennedy, calls on behalf of little-known start up Altiga Networks, chances are very good he will either reach “power” (CEO or President) at the identified organization, or upon leaving a voice message, will likely receive a return phone call, often on the same day, within hours.   When a telesales person representing the same company tries the same, however good the offer and message and positioning, you know the likely outcome.  Since the Kennedy family name has to be one of the most celebrated surnames on the planet, the private equity firms including Bessemer Venture Partners that had invested upwards of $20 million in virtual private networking (VPN) start up Altiga Networks knew in the fall of 1999 they had to do something out of the box in order to raise awareness and gain access to “C” level decision makers in targeted companies.  Other VPN firms were being acquired.  The industry was hot.

Around the time Joe Kennedy 2nd ran his nonprofit company, Citizens Energy which distributed cheap heating oil to the poor, he also lent his name and time (in exchange for an unknown amount of future earnings) to one of the start-ups which I worked, Altiga Networks.  Using his name, Altiga (which was a made up name; we told inquirers it was the name of a mountain range in Peru, but that was fictitious) was able to prospect higher in the organization, gain access to power, and help with sales development efficiently in ways that traditional marketing and publicity activities only dreamed of.  It is important to understand that his contribution was up front in awareness-building, prospecting and “pipeline development” and not in direct sales because a VPN solution is still very much a technology purchase.  He did need to know some things about the technology though, much like a marketing communications guy would need to know.

Ultimately, the goal of his activities was to receive evaluations leading to sales of the VPN product, but even before that, when Joe Kennedy called, it was his function to get an audience for an Altiga representative to discuss the product.  It was my responsibility to define and set up the Kennedy program and monitor his function, activities and measurement. Ancillary traditional activities like a press release jointly drafted and approved by Altiga and the Joe Kennedy people was part of the plan announcing the advisory role between him and Altiga.  I spoke with him once or twice but my main contact was one of his handlers.

On January 19, 2000, Cisco Systems announced the acquisition of Altiga Networks of Franklin, MA for $351.5 million.  The acquisition enabled Cisco to expand its portfolio in the burgeoning VPN market, and for all ninety of us at Altiga, join the Cisco family and see our stock options accelerate.  Some bought Porsches and some retired.  I held on to my stock options expecting Cisco to continue its heady climb.  The Kennedy program ended shortly after it began but it met its goals. Life was good.

Published by Richard Halpern

Retired (but busy) after a lengthy career in business marketing, communications and research. Worked at four start-ups and one turnaround. Now volunteer doing prospect research for a climate activity and social advocacy non profit, amongst other things.

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