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Anthony Zona '81 is founder, president, and CEO of Quantum Bridge Communications, a hot start-up in the high tech industry.

 


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Connecting the Next Generation

By Maria V. Caliri '86, M.B.A. '92

Imagine driving on an interstate highway and approaching an unexpected detour that suddenly sends you inching along a dirt road for miles. Soon rocks, gravel, and the inevitable traffic jam hamper your commute.

Anthony Zona '81, founder, president, and CEO of Massachusetts-based Quantum Bridge Communications, likens this scenario to the bandwidth bottlenecks occurring in the first mile of public access networks. Bandwidth, or transmission capacity, is limited in computer systems both by transmission media--such as copper wire or satellite--and by the electronics sending and receiving the media--like servers or modems. As a result, major backups exist on the information super highway when Internet service providers cannot offer their customers high-speed connections.

 

Quantum Bridge is eliminating these slowdowns through Optical Access Networking, state-of-the-art technology that allows carriers to use a fiber optic set-up to transmit voice and print data to various end users. OAN can deliver data up to 100 times faster than traditional access technologies, including cable modems. "Fiber optics only touches five to seven percent of the buildings in the United States. Our affordable product allows competitive service providers to deploy fiber optics to small and medium-sized companies that need greater bandwidth for such business services as electronic commerce," said Zona.

Sophisticated in its approach to providing high-bandwidth services, the Quantum Bridge Optical Access System utilizes an optical access switch housed with the service provider and an intelligent optical terminal located with customers to transmit and receive data. Zona compares optical terminals to the cable boxes found on the tops of televisions in most homes.

Large companies are beginning to notice Quantum Bridge and its products' advantages. One of the interested behemoths is Comcast, the country's third largest provider of cable services, which is expanding its cable operations to deliver digital services. Realizing that the small and medium-sized business market is underserved, Comcast is testing Quantum products to provide speedier Internet services to its customers. Other customers testing Quantum Bridge's products include various local service providers and a day-trading firm that survives on its ability to be connected.

While the Quantum Bridge Optical Access System's technological superi-ority stands on its own merit, the money Quantum Bridge is raising through investment companies also enhances this start-up company's attractiveness. It received $6 million in initial funding in November 1998 from venture capital firms New Enterprise Associates and Lazard Technology Partners. The company also received personal investment funds from its chairman of the board, Gary Bowen '68.

With this seed money, Quantum Bridge turned its initial ideas, written on a pizza shop's paper napkin, into a legitimate business plan. "The risk seemed scary at the beginning, but at some point, we felt confident in our abilities," said Zona, referring to himself and co-founders Jeff Gwynne and Jeffrey Masucci.

The chance these gentlemen took appears to be paying off. In addition to developing a larger customer base, Quantum Bridge is gaining attention from its peers in the high-tech industry. Some of the awards the Quantum Bridge Optical Access System has received include Product of the Year from the Massachusetts Telecom Council, Product of the Month from Telecommunications magazine, and the 2000 New Product Achievement Award at the ComNet Expo 2000 trade show. Most recently, Telecommunications named the company a Hot Start-Up.

These honors, along with the founders' tenacity, helped steer the company through another two rounds of investment, bringing the total funding to more than $124 million as of April 2000. Atlas Venture, the original investors, and Texas Pacific Group led the latter rounds; other investors include Morgan Stanley Dean Witter Private Equity. In addition to helping Quantum Bridge expand into new markets, the money will help Zona achieve some short-term goals.

"We want to more than double our team from 160 employees to 350 within nine months, and we want to expand our product portfolio. Further, with the acquisition of 100,000 square feet of office space in Andover, Mass., we will operate from multiple locations," he said. It is important for Zona, however, to control these major growth spurts. "As we grow, I have to manage the whole culture to ensure that technical people thrive in this environment."

One of Zona's ongoing concerns is to grow his firm without creating the kind of bureaucracy he encountered earlier in his career. With a bachelor's in electrical engineering from URI and a master's in applied mathematics from the University of Massachusetts, Zona joined AT&T's Bell Labs in 1984. Initially, his experience was enjoyable. "I understood the technology and gained experience in the telecommunications market. It was fun to take ideas from concept to development and to make a product that served customers' needs," said Zona.

The environment changed dramatically, however, during his 14-year tenure. The companies broke up; local-and long-distance service companies separated; and Bell Labs ultimately became Lucent Technologies. During these transformations, the corporate hierarchy became increasingly layered, thereby slowing decision making to a crawl and stifling creativity.

It is for this reason that Quantum Bridge has no organizational chart. "I have never found them useful. People should be measured not by their titles but by the commitments they make and deliver to a company," Zona said. "You also shouldn't be limited by the company's vision statement. You need one, but realistically you can only manage the next 30 to 60 days."

Zona openly shares his philosophy with his team at "The Week That Was" meetings held every Friday for all employees. These sessions serve multiple purposes from addressing rumors circulating through the office grapevine to introducing new employees, who are asked to sing a song.

Zona also uses the meetings to review mistakes made in the previous week, but instead of lamenting, Zona celebrates mishaps. "People taking risks will make mistakes. If employees are perfect, they are not making enough decisions," he said.

Zona was certainly not mistaken when he made the decision to develop and market the Quantum Bridge Optical Access System. While many companies have rushed into the optical access market within the last six to nine months, Quantum Bridge maintains a 12 to 18-month lead over its nearest competitor.

The system represents cutting-edge technology designed to allow service providers to cost-effectively deliver high bandwidth access to business customers.

Maria V. Caliri '86, M.B.A. '92, is the editor of Gilbane Bulletin, a biannual news magazine published by Gilbane Co. for its customers and friends throughout the construction industry.

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