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Building a Unicorn from Prague: Avast CEO Vince Steckler (Part 6)

Posted on Wednesday, Aug 12th 2015

Sramana Mitra: You were able to cater to all that from Prague?

Vince Steckler: Both from Prague and the community. Prague is very cosmopolitan. We can do a lot of support and customization but what’s most important is the community. Most users don’t realize where the company is from. Brazilians tend to think the company is American. Mexicans, who know it’s so popular in Brazil, thinks it’s Brazilian. Very few realize that it’s Czech. When they do, they don’t necessarily know what Czech is.

Sramana Mitra: What is the customer acquisition strategy?

Vince Steckler: The customer acquisition strategy is pretty straightforward. It’s to build a damn good product. It’s almost like Kevin Costner’s Field of Dreams. Build it, and they will come.

Sramana Mitra: Is it an organic search engine optimization?

Vince Steckler: It’s all organic. We live in personal recommendations. On organic search, in pretty much every country, we’re number one or two.

Sramana Mitra: For consumer antivirus?

Vince Steckler: Consumer antivirus, security, whatever you want to call it. People search for different terms. Still personal recommendations account for 65% of our new users.

Sramana Mitra: That’s terrific.

Vince Steckler: There’s a fair amount of attention you got to pay in some markets to press. Germanic markets are very much into reviews and statistics.

Sramana Mitra: You don’t do any paid search advertisement?

Vince Steckler: We do enough paid search to keep our name from being too expensive for scammers. Google, unfortunately, years ago started a very aggressive practice of letting trademarks be purchased for search. When Google started, you couldn’t purchase someone else’s trademark. Then, you could purchase in the US and not elsewhere. Then, you could purchase it everywhere but you couldn’t use the trademark name in your ad. Now, it’s like all gloves are off. Google lets them do basically whatever generates money for them. You get a lot of scams out there.

For example, if you search for Avast tech support or Norton tech support, you will get a massive number of scams that use the word Avast. People think that if Avast is in the domain name that it is the right one, but they don’t realize before the first dot is meaningless. They’re just pure scams. We get burned by those things all the time. There’s nothing you can really do other than tell users that this is a Google practice and have to complain to them and get them to change their business model.

Sramana Mitra: What else is interesting in terms of your strategy? What are the things that you’ve done to get from $18 million in revenue to $300 million?

Vince Steckler: A few things. We had to mature the company a lot. It was obviously a very small company. Everyone knew each other. There weren’t any practices. There wasn’t any structure. Product releases came when they came. When I came on board, they were working on what was called Version 5 for three years.

Sramana Mitra: You put in an executive management?

Vince Steckler: I didn’t recruit a whole lot. There was a terrific CTO who had a great business sense. He and I are a team. He’s our COO now.

Sramana Mitra: He’s based in France.

Vince Steckler: Yes, but he speaks perfectly fluent English. In fact, for written communication, he’s the best English writer in the company, even though he’s Czech. He just went to the Stanford Executive MBA program this summer. We did a few things. First, we brought in an investor— not to put money into the company but for two things. Number one was to de-risk the founder’s portfolio because all their net worth was tied up in the company.

Sramana Mitra: That was a venture fund?

Vince Steckler: That was Summit Partners. That was also used as a forcing function to help professionalize the company. A VC wants a more professional management team. We started bringing in a few key people.

Sramana Mitra: You put those positions in Prague?

Vince Steckler: Yes, for the most part. Some of those hired were locals. Some were transplanted.

This segment is part 6 in the series : Building a Unicorn from Prague: Avast CEO Vince Steckler
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