Mike Hess is a serial entrepreneur, having started multiple companies since the late 1970s. He has also held senior leadership positions at Raychem and Raynet. He has a BS in mathematics and later studied design engineering at Stanford and network engineering at UC Santa Cruz. He is the CEO and a co-founder of Mariah Power, which started in 2005.
SM: Mike, take us back to where your personal story begins.
MH: I grew up in Silicon Valley, Santa Clara to be specific. I went to about four different schools and finally ended up with a BS in math. In my 40s I went back to school and did some design engineering at Stanford and network engineering at UC Santa Cruz. I got into engineering late in my life as a function of the companies I worked for.
I started work with Commodore doing the PET computer in the early 1970s. I was a manufacturing person. I opened their manufacturing in Canada and England. After Commodore I went to Spectra Physics, which was doing lasers and liquid chromatography. I then went to Measurex, where I did process control.
Over time I became a system and finance guy. I ended up doing my first startup in 1978. It was called Metasystems, and we made one of the first digital pagers in the world. It was before cellular was really big. You used to pay $5,000 to enter the drawing to see if you could get an FCC license for the cellular sites of a city. I ended up selling that company. The investors got their money back and I went to work for Raychem. I was a controller at Raychem. When I got there they were at $200 million and when I left they were at $1.2 billion.
SM: When did you arrive at Raychem, and how long did you stay?
MH: I got there in 1980 and I left in 1990. While I was there I helped to spin off a company called Raynet, which we eventually sold to Ericsson. It did some of the first passive optimal network technology in the world. That is when I went back to school.
SM: Raynet was a disaster.
MH: It cost a lot of money, and Raychem was not in the systems business. It should never have tried to build a system. It kept bringing in very senior people from systems companies like IBM and Northern Telecom when it should have stayed a very small startup for a very long time.
SM: What were you doing at Raynet?
MH: I was doing international product marketing. On the international side we delivered the first voice, video, and data over fiber in Cologne, Germany, in 1988. It was very expensive, but it did work.
SM: Where did you go after Raynet?
MH: I went to Compression Labs. I was the VP of Engineering for the satellite division. We delivered the encoding system which was the first MPEG 2 encoding system for DIRECTV.
I then started another company called Lightweight Microsystems with five other guys. We did the first integrated passive components for telecom. It received a $3 billion offer from Corning and the VCs turned it down. After the dot-com bust it was sold for pennies on the dollar, and it is now part of NeoPhotonics.
I then co-founded another company called etNetworks. I helped to build one of the largest education and training networks for IBM over satellite. I helped Cisco TV do the same thing to help them do satellite at their remote sites. That brings us up to Mariah.