Ajaib Bhadare and Paul Elliott’s concept, to produce a low-cost, simplified SONET add-drop multiplexer (ADM), took the market by storm in less than four years. From the humble sketches concocted on a white board in 1997 to first product shipments by the summer of 1999 to more than $1 billion in sales a year later, Cerent was quickly snapped up by Cisco Systems, allowing the Internet giant to engage Tier 1 service providers in a meaningful way .
“Cisco will be the vendor of choice in the next-generation SONET ADM market,” wrote a Fiber Optics News (FON) beat reporter. “Cisco has sold more than 30,000 of its ONS 15454 product line, has recently completed Telcordia’s OSMINE process that RBOCs require, and attained price per port levels that are a huge competitive advantage.”
The success of the Cerent 454, rebranded as the Cisco ONS15454, was more than satisfying for its founders and early engineering team. FON added, “CIR analyst David Gross, one of the authors of the report, says the market has embraced Cisco’s strategy that simplicity and low price will beat out sophistication and proprietary technology.”
“Here is a platform that has more than 700 customers and not one is an RBOC,” Gross says . “But it has completed OSMINE certification, and the feedback that we got from the RBOCs is that the product is generally strong. The 15454 is really the big, giant competitive platform that startups are going to try to compete with. A minor element in Cisco’s success comes from their aggressive financing of CLECs, but the product would have been successful without that.”
Success grew for the Cerent platform, including with RBOCs, in spite of the much-publicized telecom meltdown, and the initial MSPP product offering from Cerent would ultimately splinter and spawn a specific Metro DWDM variation of the ‘454’ that also continued the upward trend for revenue growth.
 Up until the Cerent acquisition, Cisco’s service provider team primarily dealt with the telco’s IT departments to ensure routers and switches were used in their internal networks. It was the Cerent acquisition that allowed Cisco to deal with the telco’s planning, engineering, and operations personnel in the network infrastructure side of their business.
 Fiberlane was the forerunner to the Cerent and Siara Systems companies. Ajaib Bhadare, Mike Hatfield (Cerent’s COO), and Terry Brown (Cerent’s VP Sales, Marketing, and Customer Service) resonated with Joe Nacchio’s (of QWEST) philosophy on startups versus big companies and his view of knowing what needs to be done. Joe believed, “Real innovation and value creation was not going to be by the big companies. It was going to be by the new entrepreneurial upstarts who are betting on new technology and taking the risk.'' He implored QWEST employees and suppliers alike, “Always be sure you understand the technology around you. Always be sure you understand the economics of the industry. Always be sure you understand the customers.” These were words that these Fiberlane’s executives already lived by.
 Startups trying to survive during the telecom meltdown of the early 2000s that did not have a product that captured the imagination of independent telcos were doomed to fail. Mahi Networks, another Petaluma-based startup founded in 1999, failed to gain traction with its multi-service switching fabric as it was “too big” for most telcos and the large service providers would not entertain the notion of buying from a startup in tough times. Mahi did not follow the Don Green “AFC Playbook” that Mike and Terry adopted for Cerent’s sales strategy, maybe because Mahi could not.