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Building a Unicorn from Prague: Avast CEO Vince Steckler (Part 2)

Posted on Saturday, Aug 8th 2015

Vince Steckler: We transformed Asia from Symantec’s worst performing region to the best performing region. I drove that for three years. Then I got posted back to the States to be the number two in the consumer business. I ran the worldwide sales and all the e-commerce and online marketing for Norton. But I was still living in Singapore. My wife and I had a new baby. She didn’t really like living in the US – no family, no friends, and I was on the road all the time. I was actually commuting from Singapore to Cupertino twice a month. I don’t have any sympathy who complain about the one-hour commute. Mine was a 24-hour commute. It’s a long haul.

I calculated the number of days in the US. For two years running, it was 18%. Strangely enough, it was also 18% for Singapore. 18% of my time was in the home office. 18% of my time at home, and 64% of the time on the road.

Sramana Mitra: Killing life.

Vince Steckler: Yes. We decided that that was not going to work. I was leaving Symantec and was going to start up my own business in Singapore. I had known Avast because it was one of the competitors of Symantec that we were concerned with. We didn’t know much about them but they seemed to be getting popular.

About the same time I was leaving Symantec, Avast was probably the world’s oldest security company that’s still a standalone entity. It was started in 1988 by two Czech founders who started it as a cooperative in the last years of communism when cooperatives were allowed.

Sramana Mitra: They started it in Czechoslovakia?

Vince Steckler: They started it in Prague. My office is in Prague. One was a chemist. The other had a doctorate in Physics but since he wouldn’t join the communist party, he couldn’t get a job in Physics. He went into the computer lab at a university and one day, they got hit by a virus. The chemist decided to write a little utility to clean it. They said, “Wouldn’t it be neat if we can actually distribute this to other companies?”

They started a cooperative and had a nice lifestyle business for many years. In the mid-90s, McAfee was actually Avast. McAfee licensed Avast before they had their own product. For the most part, the company was just based in the old Czechoslovakia. Czechoslovakia split into two countries – Czech Republic and Slovakia. In European language, Czechoslovakia means Czech and Slovakia.

Czech Republic joined the EU but had a lot of competition in the domestic market. They were faced with either quickly getting out of the Czech Republic or going bankrupt. They decided to go for massive online distribution. It started slowly. It ended up being okay. Then in about 2008, they decided that they needed to grow faster.

This segment is part 2 in the series : Building a Unicorn from Prague: Avast CEO Vince Steckler
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