Albert Bender is back in the Triangle, taking over as the chief executive officer at LVL7 Systems.
Bender, who founded and sold NetEdge before moving to Atlanta to join optical startup Cirrex, took over as CEO at the three-year-old networking software venture on Feb. 5. But his appointment and a shuffle of LVL7’s top management wasn’t disclosed until Monday.
Bender insists he was in no rush to be publicized as the new executive. His preference was to make sure LVL7 employees understood what was happening, and he already has been on the road extensively as LVL7 launches a drive for more investment.
“I was on a plane a day after I started working for the company,” he tells Local Tech Wire with a laugh.
Bender was recruited by LVL7 investors, including H.I.G. Ventures in Atlanta, to exploit the market opportunity the company already has developed with its award-winning software that helps firms speed up development of next-generation networking gear.
“The company’s business was really flat for the past two years,” Bender says. “Now it’s ready to take off. It was time to bring in an executive with a lot of experience who knows how to branch a company during growth.
“Not that the founders couldn’t do this,” he adds, “but they didn’t have the experience I do.
“You only get one shot for that home run.”
New roles for co-founders
Calling LTW between meetings in California, Bender went to great lengths to describe how he came to take over the company and how LVL7’s co-founders — Ernie Baker, the former CEO, and Erik Dixon — remain important members of the management team.
“I wanted to make sure everybody is happy and that they understand why we were bringing in a new CEO,” Bender says. “Everyone is worried about it and other challenges which I wanted to address right up front.
“Announcing (my appointment) wasn’t the most important thing. I don’t have my ego attached to getting my name in the press.”
As part of the shakeup, Baker and Dixon have been placed in what Bender describes as “key customer roles.”
“Our business is ramping,” he adds, “and I didn’t have enough people touching the customers.”
Baker’s role “is well defined. He will be managing all of the strategic partners LVL7 already has, and he also will manage channels to market for us,” Bender says. :Erik is still with the company. He is vice president of business development, and his role will be increasing the number of customer opportunities in Europe, the eastern US and Asia.”
Veteran of start-ups
Bender has been involved in four startups, including NetEdge.
“We were the first company to open in the South End of the Park,” he recalls with pride. “We were quite famous in those days.”
Bender, who has a doctorate in electrical engineering and also was a senior executive at Nortel in the emerging days of Internet telephony, sold NetEdge and moved to Atlanta to launch optical networking firm Cirrex. That firm also was funded by H.I.G. Ventures, but it ran out of cash and folded at the end of 2003.
Paul Pishal, a former executive at Scientific-Atlanta who sits on LVL7’s board, recruited Bender for the LVL7 top spot.
“That’s pretty good news when a company is shut down, the investor has lost money and he is prepared to put you in another portfolio company,” Bender says gratefully.
“This is my fourth startup company. I’ve been there and done this before,” he adds, noting that “I’ve already raised six rounds of venture capital — over $50 million — so I certainly know the drill of how to raise money.”
LVL7 closed on $12.5 million, in August, 25 percent more than the targeted amount. Its software, customer base and revenues drew interest of H.I.G. and Gabriel Venture Partners out of California plus previous investors Accton Technology Corp. and Neal Hunter, a founder of Cree Research.
Bender says he wants to raise more money, add “upwards to 16 people this year” to a staff of 63, and see LVL7 execute on the opportunity it has.
“We do have revenue and we do have excellent tier-12 customers, and our business is growing,” he says. “Those are all characteristics of a successful company.”