SunRocket Founders Dial a New Future

Monday, February 12, 2007

SunRocket was the brainchild of three telecommunications veterans looking to create an Internet phone service. Exactly three years later, the Vienna start-up is an orphan.

Co-founders Joyce Dorris and Paul Erickson, who worked together at MCI before starting SunRocket, recently left the company, saying they plan to start a new -- unspecified -- venture together. Robert Mainor, a third co-founder, who came from Bell Atlantic, left last summer.

The departures leave SunRocket largely in the hands of managers with backgrounds in consumer media companies, rather than traditional telecom giants. The three vacant slots will not be replaced immediately, said chief executive Lisa Hook, who came to the company in March after a long stint at AOL.

Dorris, who was chief marketing officer, and Erickson, who was chairman of the company, left to satisfy an entrepreneurial itch, Hook said. "The exciting part of building a company is really in the early days. . . . When you move into the next phase of the daily grind, there's not as much of an adrenaline rush."

The reorganization does not reflect a change in strategy, she said, adding that Dorris and Erickson helped set the vision for the company and stayed until a strong management team was in place. "Now it's just a question of scaling the company and executing our plan."

Several of the new top managers also hail from AOL, including Denise Simpson, who directs marketing, Alex Tulchinsky, who manages network operations, and Robert Kramer, the new chief information officer. Other recent hires have wireless expertise, coming from the likes of Qualcomm and Sprint Nextel.

"It's a new technology, a new category," Hook said. "This is an [Internet] network, not a telephone network."

Now that the "pipelines" are in place, the company is focusing on online viral marketing and is beginning to look at ways to access the SunRocket network with wireless devices.

SunRocket has received $80 million in venture capital since it was founded in 2004. Jonathan Ebinger of Menlo Park, Calif.-based BlueRun Ventures, one of the company's first backers, said very little will change at the company, which is "now mature and in the expansion stage."

"Their vision is very clear," he said.

Mainor is now chief executive of GlobalPhone, a Falls Church-based phone company that also offers internet phone service. Dorris and Erickson have not disclosed their plans, even to their former colleagues. However, they hinted that their new joint venture will have nothing to do with telecommunications.

"I'm dying to know what it is," Hook said.

-- Kim Hart

© 2007 The Washington Post Company