In his first meeting last year with Cisco CEO Chuck Robbins, venture capitalist Jon Sakoda had something important to admit right away — he'd never invested in a networking company.
As it turns out, that worked in his favor.
Robbins was interviewing Sakoda, then a partner at venture firm New Enterprise Associates, for a job that was brand new to Cisco: investing in early-stage start-ups, including those far away from networking.
"I have a team who can do that already," Robbins told CNBC in an interview about the new Cisco-backed fund, Decibel, which launches on Tuesday. "I didn't want him to start there. I wanted him to start in other places looking for opportunities of the future that if you look through a networking lens you may not see."
Cisco, the world's largest maker of switches and routers, is trying to avoid the fate of many legacy technology companies, which tend to lose relevance as modern platforms gain popularity, take market share and zoom past their older rivals.
To grow in new markets, Robbins has orchestrated multiple billion-dollar-plus acquisitions, snapping up emerging companies like software performance management vendor AppDynamics on the eve of its initial public offering in 2017, and identity management company Duo Security last year.
Cisco shareholders have been rewarded for the company's expansion efforts, even with annual sales growth stuck in the mid-single digits, well below Amazon, Alphabet, Salesforce and Microsoft. The stock price is up 24 percent in the past year, and last week climbed to its highest since the dot-com bubble in 2000.