Published September 16, 2003
Volume 11, Number 9

Jasbir Singh Combines Foresight with Experience to Achieve Success  

By George Walsh
Network Editor

Many people have ideas that they think will revolutionize the way we live and work. The trick to turning a concept into a successful business is to truly understand the market for the idea and accurately predict the future needs of its potential users. Jasbir Singh, president and CEO of Pronto Networks at 4637 Chabot Drive, not only has this type of foresight but also has the business experience necessary to put his ideas into action.

Jasbir SinghPronto Networks provides products for what is called “hotspot networking,” which allows service providers to set up public wireless Internet access in cafes, hotels, airports, libraries, businesses, and just about anyplace else where people want to use a wireless-enabled laptop computer, PDA, or cell phone to gain access to the Internet. Using hotspot networking, you could be getting a cup of coffee from Starbucks (many of which are set up for the technology) and at the same time be browsing the Internet or checking your email on your computer.

Pronto’s products help service providers set up, build, and manage hotspots, which are expected to become more and more prevalent as people realize the convenience they offer. In fact, market statistics show that by the end of 2005 there will be as many as 118,000 public hotspots worldwide, the number of mobile Internet subscribers is expected to reach 95 million by 2004, and the percentage of wireless-enabled corporate laptops is expected to grow from 20% in 2001 to over 90% by 2007.

Singh’s career in telecommunications started with his education in India. “The quality engineering institutions in India are called Indian Institutes of Technology (IIT),” Singh says. “Their equivalent in the U.S. would be schools like Stanford or MIT. My core education was electrical engineering and my specialization was in programming computers. At the time that I went to school, computer science was not a separate discipline. It all used to fall under the heading of “electrical engineering.”

Singh received his BS in electrical engineering from IIT, then worked for a number of software and hardware companies in the initial seven or eight years of his career. In all of those companies, he was responsible for building telecommunications switch technology, which is used to route voice and data communications over telephone lines. Part of Singh’s early career included a job as an engineering manager at a company called C-DoT, where he helped design and develop subsystems for India's first digital telecommunications switching system. The system now serves close to 40% of all telecom capacity in that country.

In 1994, Singh moved to the U.S., where he worked briefly for high tech luminaries Sybase and Silicon Graphics. In 1996, he founded a software services company called Launchpad Software. Launchpad was a company involved in the business of software development and services, as well as information technology staffing services and web project consulting. “A lot of people are familiar with Launchpad because we were offering software development services to a number of technology companies in the Bay Area,” Singh says.

Singh was also co-founder and chief technical officer of Yack Inc, and was responsible for the development of its Internet Program Guide and content management software. Yack was involved in creating what could be considered a "TV guide" of the Internet, providing online listings ranging from chat events to streaming movies and television programming.

With his combination of experience with the Internet and telephone systems, the next logical step would be to combine these areas of expertise into a product that had a lot of growth potential. That goal was realized with Singh’s founding of Pronto Networks in 2001. “I had worked in the telecom environment building large scalable systems that could sustain the loads of millions and millions of phone calls or data calls on the network,” Singh says. “I was used to that environment. I then recognized the possibility that wireless would become ubiquitous and you would need a scalable system to support it. I thought about those products and the rest is history. We developed and started selling those systems to commercial service providers who wanted to offer wireless connectivity.”

With his well-rounded experience in high tech, Singh has valuable ideas on how to locate the road to success. “Having a solid educational background and having good work experience in development are critical to the success of any new product or startup,” he says. “Anything that you provide, whether it’s a product or a service, should solve a problem. You cannot just imagine a product and build it and think that the market will appear for it. In reality, you need to identify or pinpoint a problem for somebody and do a good job of solving the problem. Everything else follows from there.”

Solid business experience is also an advantage. “Since 1996, I had been running other companies. I was the CEO of a company where we had a large number of developers without any formal structure. You need to learn from those management experiences and apply your knowledge to later business endeavors and products.” Realizing that he can’t oversee every individual employee in the company has been another valuable lesson. “You have to trust co-workers, your employees, your associates, build a strong team, and try delegate as much as possible, but trust them to do what’s best for the company at the same time,” he says.

It seems that Singh was right on the mark in predicting the need for wireless systems. Pronto Networks now has 35 employees in Pleasanton, with another 45 based in its facility in India. Singh now directly manages five vice presidents that oversee administration, finance, business development, sales, and offshoot operations. However, all of Pronto’s customers have a line of communication directly to Singh. “We do a lot to satisfy every customer. Our customers always have my cell phone number in case they feel the need to call me. Clearly, they don’t often have to call me because they are well served by their account representatives or our vice presidents, but they can always pick up a phone and call me any time.”

At the present time, Singh is satisfied with both his life and his business and his future goals are focused singularly on Pronto Networks. “We need to remain right-sized. We don’t want to become too big a company just because this space is so hot. At the same time, we would like to remain the leader in the public wireless networking area. We sell most of the equipment and software and services. We’d like to keep it that way.”

He’s also satisfied that wireless networking will soon be as common as cell phone service. “This is a huge market. Five years down the line, you’ll have access to wireless networking no more than five minutes walking distance from wherever you are. You’ll use it in your home, in your office, and in public places like a hotels, coffee shops, and civic centers. It’ll be everywhere.” With confidence like that, it’s no wonder Jasbir Singh is at the top of his game.

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