We recently interviewed Raj Shanmugaraj, CEO of Acacia Communications, to hear his thoughts on everything from his leadership approach to the changing Massachusetts tech landscape.
Q: What does Acacia do, and how is it different from its competitors?
Acacia Communications is an optical networking technology company that empowers cloud and service providers to meet the fast growing consumer demands for data. We develop innovative silicon-based high speed optical components that deliver cost effective, high bandwidth, high performance solutions to optical networking applications such as Submarine, Long-haul and Metro, including Data Center Interconnect.
Our optical interconnect solutions include sophisticated modules that perform a majority of the Digital Signal Processing (DSP) and optical functions required to process network traffic at transmission speeds of 100 Gbps and above. For example, for streaming media, 400 Gbps means being able to enjoy 80,000 episodes of a program simultaneously, in HD.
These solutions used to be the size of a pizza box — now they are the size of a quarter, requiring a smaller footprint and significantly less power than traditional systems.
Our primary customers are cloud infrastructure operators and content and communication service providers.
Q: Why did you decide to IPO last year? There were very few IPOs in Massachusetts in 2016, and only two in tech. How would you evaluate the impact of the IPO?
It was the next logical step for the company – the funds we raised give Acacia tremendous financial flexibility to invest in new technology and address emerging market opportunities.
I’m honored and humbled to have recently received an Ernst and Young “Entrepreneur of the Year” award along with the Acacia founders – an honor that truly reflects the entrepreneurial spirit of our entire company.
Q: Tell us something about what makes you different from other CEOs? What’s unique about you?
My goal is to build the company that transforms how fiber optic communication is done and enable it for the masses. I’m very persistent, pragmatic, and data-driven, as well as a good listener. I believe it is important to not only listen to what is being said, but also to what is not being said. Finally, it is my top priority to build a team of experts that together contribute in a meaningful way. What we do is extremely complex – and it takes a fully empowered team effort to do it right.
Q: Why is Acacia headquartered in MA? What does the region offer startups and growth companies? What does it not do well?
Massachusetts offers us both an experienced workforce skilled in creating highly technical networking hardware as well as universities developing some of the greatest young minds in engineering. It’s an exciting kind of innovation built on experience and the ability to embrace new ideas.
It’s been interesting to watch the spread of innovation — 25 years ago, it was out along 128 and 495, then in the last decade it moved into Cambridge and the Seaport. I think we’re seeing the re-emergence of innovation outside of Boston and Cambridge, with exciting startups, emerging-growth companies and recognized leaders alike calling places like Needham, Burlington and Maynard home. There’s no single concentration of innovation — it’s throughout the eastern part of the Commonwealth.
Q: Is Acacia hiring? For what roles? What qualities do you look for in new hires? Are you able to hire enough talent in MA?
Acacia is hiring across a variety of departments and roles; I’d invite you to look at our careers page to learn more. While we operate in a highly-competitive market for employees in Massachusetts, we are fortunate to have access to the region’s deep pool of talent and qualified graduates.
Q: How would you describe the Acacia culture?
We are a global team of passionate problem solvers who are changing the world through optical networking technology. I would describe our culture as collaborative, challenging and fun.
We embrace technological disruption, but with a highly deliberate approach. Our customers are large organizations — major carriers and cloud service providers — that are already utilizing our solutions across a broad range of applications; they are looking to invest in the best technology, but simultaneously need to manage their risks, because their networks are the lifeblood of their business models.
Q: Is Acacia involved in supporting the local community? Are there particular causes/issues that the company or its employees support?
Acacia Communications is active in supporting the local community in Maynard, as it is at all of our locations.
We recently unveiled a Community Charter for the Acacia Foundation — which encompasses our company’s commitment to STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math)-related public educational efforts as well as our employees’ commitment to causes about which they are passionate. Acacia currently supports STEM programs in Maynard public schools and scholarship programs at Maynard High School.
In addition to the company’s work with these groups, we have made regular donations to local police and fire departments.
We also encourage our employees’ charitable endeavors. We match 50 percent of our employees’ donations to 501(c)(3) nonprofits, up to $250 per employee each year. We also believe in the value of service, and encourage our team members to do so, by providing up to one paid day each year for them to donate their time to qualifying 501(c)(3) organization.