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VPN VIP Launches Startup

Tom Pincince tried retirement once -- didn't like it.

"There was no one to play with," said Pincince, founder of New Oak Communications, a maker of virtual private network switches that was bought by Bay Networks (now Nortel) for $106 million in 1998. "When you're 35 years old, everyone else is working during the day. Besides, there's a lot of excitement in building small companies."

Now, Pincince is doing just that. Today, after a year in stealth mode, he launches Brix Networks. The Billerica company offers telecommunications carriers, application service providers, Internet service providers and network service providers, hardware to monitor their fiber-optic networks.

Its boxes sit internally as well as at the edge of the customer network to manage services such as voice over Internet protocol, virtual private networks and data backup.

Pincince, a former analyst at Forrester Research , believes he's found another niche. Carriers pay financial penalties if they don't meet up-time requirements laid out in service level contracts. So averting problems can go a long way, both toward the carrier's bottom line and customer satisfaction.

"You have to love a marketplace where people keep buying equipment but still aren't satisfied," Pincince said. "Still, there is a big difference between first-mover and first-solver. The challenge is to prove that we have the right architecture."

Brix Networks talked to nearly 100 potential customers and has used their input to build powerful yet flexible products. Its first two products -- Brix 100 and Brix 1000 -- will be shown for the first time at the NetWorld+Interop 2000 Atlanta trade later this month. The gear sells for $2,000 and $7,500 respectively and other pricing programs, including verification service packages, are available for large installations.

Given Brix Networks' market focus and management experience (Pincince's team hails from come from Cayman Systems, Newbridge, Nortel, RSA Security and UUNET), it's unsurprising that the company hasn't had difficulty raising money. So far, it's banked $25 million in two rounds from Charles River Ventures and ComVentures and is looking to close a large, pre-IPO round before Thanksgiving.

The company currently has 75 employees and expects to be at 100 by year's end.

Pincince kept a new profile for the last year because he wanted to enter the market with products and prospects, rather than a hazy announcement followed by another six months of research and development.

"You're only new once, (the media) can only do that story once," Pincince said. "The next thing you want to hear is contact wins."