“Run to Problems” 5 Leadership Lessons with Andrew Rubin CEO of Illumio

Run to problems. It’s difficult to do, but they never go away on their own and the faster you confront them the easier they are to solve.
I had the pleasure to interview Andrew Rubin, founding CEO of cybersecurity unicorn Illumio. Andrew’s fast and unconventional rise in Silicon Valley from a small business owner in St. Louis with little security background only five years ago to fast-tracking Illumio to “unicorn” status just six months after launching out of stealth in 2014 is exceptional. Of the nine cybersecurity “unicorn” CEOs at companies like Cylance, Crowdstrike and Tanium, Andrew is the only one without a tech pedigree or deep roots in security.

What is your “backstory”?

I grew up in New York and went to Washington University in St. Louis, before moving to California. My backstory starts with having a unique perspective of having lived in three very different parts of the United States and seeing the world through a few different lenses as a result. I try to remember that different is not only interesting, but taking the time to understand different people and views is almost always the best place to start.

Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you started your company?

Almost every story that’s funny, interesting or surprising starts and ends with incredible people. The day we launched Illumio out of stealth, Jared Leto tweeted that Illumio was making cybersecurity sexy again… and I believe it has the largest pick-up of anything that’s been said or written about the company. Three years later we still love that we’re making cybersecurity sexy!

So how exactly does your company help people?

Imagine two submarines, one built with compartments (the way we actually build them) and the other just a hull with no walls to segment the interior. Both submarines have been breached and water is pouring in. When the first submarine starts leaking, we close the compartment with the leak, and although the compartment floods the rest of the ship stays safe and dry. The second submarine starts to leak and with no compartments it quickly floods, and inevitably sinks. Illumio prevents the spread of cyber threats with our micro-segmentation technology, effectively creating ‘water-tight’ compartments across data centers and cloud environments.

As we see in the news all too often hackers are going to find a way in, but we can manage our risks and minimize the impact of the breach by ensuring we can see, understand and control these critical environments.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

How we show up! From the very beginning PJ Kirner (my co-founder) and I set out to build a company with a very high bar for the technology we create, the team that we work with and how that all translates into the way we show up for our customers. From the day we launched in the market and started working with some of the largest organizations in the world, we have been intentional about showing up with excellence, just as our customers do in their own industries. As we come up on turning 5 years old, the results of this approach are measurable; the investors we’ve attracted, the capital we’ve raised, our incredible board (including John Thompson, the Chairman of Microsoft). The thing that I hope we stand out for most, though, is our customers, including references such as JP Morgan, Morgan Stanley, BNP Paribas, Salesforce, Workday and many more.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are?

I’m a very strong believer in the power of your team and mentors — both make you better person and more capable leader. There are many people that are on my list, including my board members who I rely on not only in their capacity as directors, but much more importantly as very close mentors and advisors.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

Since the very beginning, I have never thought of this work as ‘my success’ in that it’s always been a team effort. I think that as a team we are bringing goodness to the world by allowing our customers to operate safely and therefore allowing them to build and maintain trust with their customers. Without trust it’s very difficult to build a durable and sustainable business and Illumio delivers cybersecurity software that ultimately is used to create and preserve trust.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I launched my company” and why.

  1. Run to problems. It’s difficult to do, but they never go away on their own and the faster you confront them the easier they are to solve.
  2. Take a breath. We are all in a rush to get everything done yesterday, but sometimes slowing down for a minute not only increases the odds of success, but actually allows you to go much faster in the long-run.
  3. Team is everything. No matter how much time and effort you think you need to put into building, maintaining and being a productive part of your team… put in more. The return will always outweigh the investment.
  4. Balance. It’s easy to assume that it’s all work all the time (and often it is in the early stages of building a company), but the things you do outside the office actually make you happier and more productive when you’re there. It’s different for everyone and there’s no right or wrong, but find your thing and ensure to preserve some time for it.
  5. Enjoy the journey. It’s said all the time and yet we all forget it. Building a company brings the highest highs and the lowest lows, but it’s all part of an incredible journey and you should ensure to stop every once in a while to remember how lucky you are to be a part of it.

I have been blessed with the opportunity to interview and be in touch with some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this, or I might be able to introduce you.

I know the answer has been given before, but for me it would be Warren Buffett. As we all know, Warren has not been a traditional investor in our space, but I believe he knows more about building durable and sustainable revenue and profits than anyone in business today, and those things ultimate create value over the long-term. We are very committed to building a sustainable company and hearing his views on how that happens would be fascinating.