Announcing Samsara: Internet connected sensors

After growing Meraki from a research project to a billion dollar company, we’re going back to our roots and building new wireless systems.


We are excited to finally talk about Samsara, our new company working on Internet connected sensor systems. It’s been a busy few months so far with forming the company, getting a team together, building a product and raising a round of funding, so we thought we’d take a few minutes to share what we’ve been working on.

A little bit of history

When John Bicket and I first met as grad students at MIT back in 2002, we started with the idea that we wanted to make a big dent in the area of computer systems and networking, but we had no clue where to begin —somehow, it seemed like all the best research problems were already being worked on. After a few months of watching us struggle, our Ph.D. advisor Robert Morris pointed out we’d be in grad school for “a long time,” so perhaps we should just build something useful because we’d probably discover something interesting along the way.

MIT Roofnet hardware from 2004

We ended up working on a project called MIT Roofnet, which combined inexpensive WiFi radios with routing software to create a self-configuring wireless network that provided the students of Cambridge, MA with free wireless Internet access. As our advisor predicted, there were several interesting research papers that came out of the project, from routing protocols, to wireless measurements, to figuring out how to make the system self healing. By 2006 we realized we’d come up with a fundamentally new way to build networks, so we dropped out of grad school and started Meraki, to make it easy for others to build networks of their own.

Over the years, Meraki made all kinds of networking products, from WiFi access points, to routers and Ethernet switches, which were both powerful and easy to manage. We invented the concept of “cloud management,” which made it easy for IT admins to set up and manage networks of all shapes and sizes from anywhere in the world. We found there were more and more IT problems we could solve using cloud-based software and each year we doubled revenues until Cisco acquired the company for $1.2B in December of 2012.

Meraki co-founders: Hans Robertson, me and John Bicket in 2012 with one of our best selling WiFi products

Venturing into the world of sensors

After spending the next two years successfully integrating Meraki into Cisco, where it grew to over 700 employees and became one of the highest performing business units in the company, we decided to take a break and work on something new. We found ourselves back in a similar place to when we started grad school thirteen years ago — this time we wanted to have an impact in something big and ambitious beyond computer networking.

Growth in MEMS sensor shipments, as seen in Mary Meeker’s Internet Trends report (http://www.kpcb.com/internet-trends)

We quickly realized we were unlikely to develop new energy technology or embark on building rockets, but we also saw there was something exciting in front of us—while we were busy with Meraki, new generations of smartphones had driven down the cost of both sensors and wireless radios. It’s now possible to embed a wireless connection for one-tenth the price, in one-tenth the space and for one-tenth the power than a decade ago. Dreams we had in grad school about connecting everything around us are becoming a reality: the tiny chip in the Intel photo below transmits data almost as fast as the MIT Roofnet radio in the picture near the top of the post.

Intel’s Curie module: CPU, memory, radio and sensor less than the size of a dime

We are definitely not the first to notice the technology trend behind the Internet of Things movement, but we realized no one was building products the way we did at Meraki, by combining hardware, software and cloud into an easy-to-use system. This is what got us really excited: we believe that if we make it easy to deploy sensors and analyze data, that customers of all types will finally be able to install them by the thousands in places they’ve never been used before.

Raising $25M in funding led by Andreessen Horowitz

All of this context and history brings us to today’s news: we’ve raised $25M in funding led by the venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz to help make large-scale wireless sensor systems a reality. We are particularly excited to have Marc Andreessen himself join our board, who famously observed that “software is eating the world” back in 2011. Marc immediately understood if we “collapse the stack” and take care of everything from hardware to cloud services and analysis, we’ll open the door for customers to deploy thousands of sensors at a time. We are excited to have an investor who isn’t afraid of an ambitious plan, while appreciating that we are early in the process.

This infusion of funding gives Samsara years of runway to focus on building a great product experience, and we’ve already begun assembling a great team of engineers, designers and product talent from MIT, Stanford, Google, Apple and Meraki. We are also excited to ship our first products to early access customers within a few weeks — for more information, check out samsara.com.

… and if you’re curious what the name Samsara means, it’s a Sanskrit word for the eternal cycle of life and rebirth. We thought it was fitting, especially as we look forward to our second time through the startup journey.