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Not many people would look at getting laid off as a positive career milestone, but Aidan Williams, CEO of AV networking leader Audinate, would beg to differ.
While working commercial RND for Motorola Labs in Sydney, Australia, a sudden layoff left Williams, and 50 other Ph.D. and master’s level experts, out of work and uncertain of what to do next. Before the layoff, Williams had been toying around with the initial concept that would one day become Dante, the leading AV-over-IP solution that effortlessly shares audio and video over a standard Ethernet network. Williams’ previous background in IT and electrical engineering, including managing campus-level networking for the University of NSW, led him to realize there was a need for networking technology within AV systems.
“Motorola really did me, in a way, a favor. Sometimes from some adversity, good things come,” he said.
With the new abundance of free time, Williams assembled a team of former Motorola employees he enjoyed working with, pitched his idea to Australia’s Information and Communications Technology Research Centre of Excellence (NICTA), and began a partnership to further develop their ideas and technology. Several years later, the group spun out from the program and launched the startup that would quickly become Audinate.
“Sometimes you need a little disruptive push to do things. Without that, I may have never been in the AV industry,” Williams said. “I may have just sailed off and kept doing networking stuff. Who knows?”
From the beginning, Audinate viewed itself as a networking company first, which is not common within the AV industry. “Our team really knows networking,” Williams explained. “I think everyone thinks that networking is easy. I think it’s one of those things where it’s easy to do something kind of average or sort of OK. But to do it really well requires a certain level of skill. And to make it simple to use and perform well, you really need to know what you’re doing.”
Over its 14-year history, Audinate has experienced enormous levels of growth, with at least 20 percent growth annually over the past six years. Having been originally designed for audio, Dante recently added video capabilities through its Dante AV Module.
Williams lamented that the addition of video products reminded him of the early days of the company. “We’re back to the beginning with our video products,” he said. “Back to talking to people, demoing, and convincing people. Similar to when we were a small company. It’s hard work when you’re a small company.”
Williams said each product launch is kind of like when Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone. When you’re selling someone a product that no one else has, like the first telephone, it can be hard for them to realize why they need it. Eventually, enough people have telephones to make them useful.
It’s not easy getting a networking company off the ground, and one of the first company milestones Williams can remember was the first time he walked a trade show floor and saw the Dante logo in places he didn’t expect. “That was a huge milestone,” he recalled. “We finally got through that really dry period to that period where we could feel a little bit of momentum.”
Williams hit a personal milestone when he became CEO of Audinate in September 2019, after former CEO Lee Ellison retired. “I’m not your classic captain of industry,” he laughed. “I didn’t really have that mental picture of becoming the monopoly man or something like that. It required a lot of navel gazing and thinking about if this is what I really want to do. I ultimately decided to do it and it has been a good transition. Nothing like COVID and supply chain dramas to teach you about managing people and running companies.”
Williams is proud that the organization has created a structure that is able to function at a high level without him and other senior leaders having to be, as he put it, the “maniac down in the pit” working on the engine. “I really want Audinate, as it grows, to have the right structure in place to run by itself and for people in the organization to manage and be captains of their own part of the world.”