“You will have to make all the decisions no one else wants to a make.”
CEO Words of Wisdom from Paul Martini of iboss
I had the pleasure of interviewing Paul Martini, CEO of iboss, which offers secure web gateway and cybersecurity solutions.
What is your “backstory?”
I started off at the University of California San Diego where I graduated with a BS in Computer Science. Engineering came naturally to me and as an undergrad, I was twice published in Journals of Computer Science for my work pioneering new methods to search large data sets in fractions of a second.
After college, I was hired by a company to help architect the technology that today runs the backbone of the Internet. Then I became a partner in a company that worked on projects with the U.S. Department of Defense.
During those early roles I identified a few trends; the Internet was becoming available to more people and spreading to more devices, smartphones were becoming commonplace and employees were working from the road more. That’s when I decided to sell my part of that company and form iboss with the goal of creating a cybersecurity solution that would protect any user or device anywhere in the world.
I realized this would require the creation of a cloud architecture that would enable us to deliver cybersecurity differently. From there, we spent five years building the architecture we leverage today.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading iboss?
We had to fly to Taiwan once to work with a vendor who was working on a piece of hardware for our cloud infrastructure. We were working 19 hours a day to get the project done. I noticed the employees in the Taiwanese R&D lab were working the same hours and leaving right after us. After we mentioned how hard the team was working to the R&D manager she told us they were waiting for us to finish before leaving. We were embarrassed and felt terrible that we were keeping these people so late,especially because they weren’t even working on our project. When we did go back to our hotel, the employees would fight over who would drive us back, even at 2 o’clock in the morning. We learned that in their culture you never leave earlier than a customer. It was quite eye opening.
What exactly does your company do?
iboss built a cloud cybersecurity platform that allows organizations to secure any device or user in the cloud. Prior to iboss, organizations would purchase physical appliances for cybersecurity and install them at headquarters. This was fine whencompanies were basically four walls, when employees just came in and sat in front of a desktop.
With the explosion of the Internet of Things and smartphones, basically everything is moving to the cloud. Companies are more distributed than ever before and their employees are working from everywhere. The old approach just doesn’t workanymore. Now, with iboss’ technology, we can ensure everything from the smart phone an employee uses at a coffee shop to the connected MRI machine at a hospital is secure. The result is cybersecurity that follows the users and devices instead of users and devices following security. By bringing security to the user, our customers can drastically improve their defenses against cyberattacks.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
One of the focuses at iboss is to bring the same,enterprise-grade security we offer our commercial customers to public schools. This is vital as schools are becoming more digital. Today, lessons are taught on iPads instead of chalkboards, state testing is all online, and our schools store more personal information than banks do. That’s why securing thedigital identity of students is one of our biggest missions.
As part of this mission, we became a founding sponsor of the K-12 National Advisory Council onCybersecurity, an independent organization that brings together technology leaders from the largest public schools to collaborate on cybersecurity best practices and help smaller schools improve their cybersecurity posture. Lastly, we are actively helping educate students about cybersecurity and creating awareness of the immense career opportunity in the cybersecurity field.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became CEO” and why.
a. Starting a company is easy. Growing a sustainable company is really hard.
Anyone can start a company — all it takes is an idea and a few clicks to set up a corporation. The challenge is taking that idea and building it into something sustainable.
In the early days of iboss, I remember going three weeks straight sleeping on the office floor for less than three hours a night. My sole focus was helpingour team deliver a revolutionary cloud architecture that was built to last.
b. You will have to make all the decisions no one else wants to a make.
As CEO, everyone will look to you to make the hard decisions. For example, early on we had a product that we spent years engineering. It was well-received and profitable, but we understood thelong-term market opportunity was limited. I made the hard decision to stop supporting this product. The decision was hard enough, but then I had to communicate the decision to the team who had spent years designing, marketing, and selling the product. It would certainly have been easier to continue doing what we were doing, but as the CEO, I understood this product was not scalable and not in the long-term greater good of the company.
c. You need to decide if you’re building something great or something just good enough to sell.
As CEO, you need to balance the financial sustainability of the company and the drive for innovation which allows it to go from a good company to a great company.
A good company has an idea and gets it to marketas fast as possible to generate revenue. Thoseproducts aren’t game-changing. They’ll make a little bit of money, but the end goal is generally to be acquired by a larger company.
Building a great company requires steadfast dedication to creating something that will disrupt an industry. That requires more time spent onengineering and product development, leading to a longer time to market.
We spent five years in R&D while building iboss platform. During that process, there were times where it was tempting to just release the product and start creating revenue but that would have limited our ability to accomplish our broader mission. We were focused on disrupting the on-premises appliance market with a new cloud-based delivery model. We knew that cloud-based cybersecurity would be a necessity as the world became more connected, and by focusing on developing solutions early, we were able to offer a visionary product that’s ahead of its time.
d. Talent is everything; setting a high bar and maintaining it will not be easy.
As the company scales, it will be a constant battle trying to hold your existing and incoming talent to a standard of excellence. There are many situations where you simply can’t find the right people fast enough, so the team starts to settle for good enough.
Many companies solve this by relying on employee referrals to find talent. At iboss, we found that relying solely on referrals limits the diversity of a company and can lower the bar across the organization. Diversity across your employees is key in building a great company.
e. You will have to stay maniacally focused.
I recall many situations where other companies andinvestors were pushing us to change our mission and go to market faster. These offers are always tempting because as CEO, you want to create revenue as soon as possible — but you need to stay focused on the overall mission. I had to explain to the team that we were going to continue buildingand working long hours even though there was an easier way. This wasn’t always taken well, but looking back, had we agreed to go to market faster, our cloud architecture would not be as revolutionary as it is today. This would have resulted in just another cloud platform instead of the only distributed cloud architecture designed to secure distributed enterprises.
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?
a. If I’m allowed to pick someone from the past, I would have loved to have lunch with Henry Ford. He singlehandedly redefined an industry and opened new opportunities for the entire world by making the automobile affordable. I think we’re at similar point in the history of cybersecurity — it’s available, but not readily accessible for the average consumer or small business. We need to find a way to deliver solutions to everybody with an internet connection, and that is going to require a fundamental reevaluation of the way we approach cybersecurity. That’s what we’re trying to do at iboss and I’m sure Henry Ford would have great advice on how to put that design into action.