Dug Song knows security – he started as a hacker, built the first commercial network anomaly detection system, was Chief Security Architect at Arbor Networks and, most recently, the co-founder and CEO of Duo.
His mercurial rise from hacker to founder of Duo, which was acquired by Cisco for more than $2 billion last year, was an entrepreneurial journey that was purposefully outside of Silicon Valley, in Michigan. This was intentional, he said at the breakfast keynote at the recent RSA conference.
“Truly you don’t have to have your company in Silicon Valley to be successful in tech, but you do need a little of Silicon Valley in you,” Song said. “Entrepreneurs need to draw upon what makes their location unique and leverage that in their business. Place matters.”
During the beginning of Duo, a potential investor approached offering a seed round, but with the caveat that the company would need to move. The offer was turned down and instead, Song and his co-founder, Jon Oberheide, were able to convince interested Silicon Valley investors to come visit them locally in Michigan, instead. And the rest is history.
Song felt inspired by Michigan’s industries that focused on the fundamentals, such as pizza delivery, autos and West Michigan’s furniture industry, as well as Michigan’s rich technology history and role in establishing the internet. He wanted to build on this heritage with Duo and create intuitive, elegant, and superior security products.
A Time to Earn or a Time to Learn
Song describes a startup career as vacillating between two areas of growth: “either a time to earn or a time to learn, but usually not both at the same time. The time to learn should be a time that will set up the next time to earn.”
After graduating college, Song worked for a security value-added reseller (VAR) consultancy that sold a variety of security products. He quickly realized that it was challenging to scale services and set out to create what was to be the first commercial network anomaly detection system that was later acquired by NFR, which was subsequently acquired by Check Point. While he certainly learned from the experience, more importantly he learned that software could be scalable, which was a turning point in his career.
This experience also gave him a taste of the startup world. He then went on to become co-founder and chief security architect at Arbor Networks, which protected more than 70 percent of the world’s Tier-1 service providers from primarily global DDoS attacks. Arbor was immensely successful, achieving more than $120M in annual revenue before its acquisition by Danaher.
“Arbor was an interesting exercise in creating a new market for security where it didn’t really exist,” Song said. “It took us over seven years to get to get to an exit. And I learned a lot about the right things to do and a lot of the wrong things to do.”
Next, he headed to Zattoo, where he worked as VP of engineering, and then joined Barracuda Networks as the chief architect en route to the company’s IPO, and learned about cybersecurity for smaller companies with an average of about 25 employees. This rounded out his knowledge of cybersecurity for businesses of different sizes, which was exactly what he needed for Duo.
The Idea for Duo
Duo was founded to make security easier, more efficient, more accessible for everyone.
With Duo, Song and Oberheide wanted to solve the larger challenges of cybersecurity by simplifying security for the modern workforce driving BYOD and cloud adoption, which would ultimately save IT administrators time and money. They began focusing on creating an effective product and, almost just as important, investing in superior design centered around ease of use. The company continues to have an employee ratio of one designer for every five developers.
“(This) approach… led to having products that out of the box are designed not just for ease of deployment, ease of implementation, ease of management, and ease of use, but ease of selling.”
Strategy, Team, and Execution
While the success of Duo certainly hinges on its powerful products with superior design, getting to that goal first involved building a world-class company with three important pillars, Song said: a winning strategy, the right team and superior execution. In our next blogs we will go into more detail on how Song established these pillars with Duo.