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Ai Metrix

It takes a heck of a company to boast that it provided the software to run the Pentagon’s network. When it’s a small firm like Ai Metrix, that’s an even more impressive feat.

It takes a heck of a company to boast that it provided the software to run the Pentagon’s network. When it’s a small firm, that’s an even more impressive feat. Ai Metrix, network and infrastructure management provider, can make such a claim. Founder and CTO Pete Oliver talks about politics, generals, and keeping calm among the sharks.

What kinds of challenges did you find in creating your NeuralStar network management software?

We knew pragmatic buyers would go with old, tested technology. We were selling a quantum leap in functionality and we needed to find customers willing to take the risk. We found such an early adopter in the U.S. Department of Defense and we did our first deal with them in 1999. We also sold to broadband companies, but the federal government market remains a focus with us and our relationships with the DoD are very good.

What’s it like to work with the Department of Defense?

We get to sit down with the officers actually running the programs, as well as the generals who make the decisions. We’re working with some of the same engineers who were involved in the development of ARPANET and TCP/IP, it’s a very intriguing group to work with. They have every bit of the available technology for managing complex networks, and while they don’t show us that technology, they do describe the functions they need that are lacking. We get direct input into the development of our technology and it’s that input that helps drive the evolution of NeuralStar.

What kinds of challenges do you find in dealing with government clients?

The big challenge is political. We’re a relatively small company working alongside giant federal contractors like DynCorp. The biggest federal contractors dislike each other and all these giant companies have hundreds of guys working on-site, within the government where they have lots of opportunity to muck things up. We’re just a small, nimble company wanting to get the work done. We get our enjoyment out of creating quality products and then to also get paid for it. It can be a challenge in shark-infested waters.

What are some of the company’s future directions?

We’re coming up with new technology and products for the enterprise, so when the commercial market comes back around we’ll be ready for it. We’re going to be ready to take these technologies we’re developing for the government and apply them commercially when the market is ready. We’re going to emerge from 2003 with a fantastic balance sheet, well positioned to dominate the commercial market when it turns.

How did you manage to raise $23 million in venture capital during such a rough economic time?

We’re fully deployed in five military theatres with more than 1,000 users, so we’re very well entrenched. The venture capital community saw that we had a DoD presence, saw defense spending increasing and saw Ai Metrix as a way to reap the benefits. We also were diversified into both government and telecommunications. Also, we’ve always been in this for the long haul, and not just to build and flip.

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