Sramana Mitra: Tell me about the conditions under which you started your first company. What was that company? What was going on around that led you to that and how did you get that going?
Kurt Long: I was very naive about being an entrepreneur. I was a really good software developer and had a lot of energy. I had a lot of ambition and very little knowledge. It was in 1994 when I saw the World Wide Web for the first time. Many took one look at the World Wide Web and said, “This is going to change the world profoundly.” With a great deal of naivete, I left the corporate world and started my own business. I quickly found that everybody wanted websites. I was a software engineer. I wasn’t naturally gifted at being a website developer but because I knew about the Internet and had basic skills, I was able to create a company that was ultimately acquired by, what was then called, US Web. At the same time, I was able to start another company in parallel called Open Network, which did single sign-on software for major corporate enterprises, which is more of my skill set. That became the next vehicle for me for the next 10 years.
Sramana Mitra: How big did the web design company get to?
Kurt Long: We had a few hundred websites. We would win every website in our geography. It was approaching a million dollars in revenue in a very short period of time, but my heart wasn’t in it. I knew that wasn’t what I really did for a living. I knew I was a software person.
Sramana Mitra: What year was that?
Kurt Long: That would have been 1997.
Sramana Mitra: In parallel, you started this other company as well?
Kurt Long: Yes. In that era, I met everyone. It was truly the wild west. I would meet everyone from corporate executives, law firms, people who wanted to do the love connection online, nurses, to retail stores. I serviced all those folks as customers. In parallel, we would have very large corporations coming to us about security and doing very serious projects. I naturally gravitated to that. I gravitated towards the Fortune 500 and their needs around information security.
Sramana Mitra: Was the security company a product company or a services company?
Kurt Long: That’s a great question. Amongst the first lessons learned is that it’s really hard to transition from being a services company while it’s easy to get the company up and running. We were lucky enough to find a customer that allowed us, through services, to effectively build a product. We were able to build the product at a reduced rate. In other words, this company hired us at reduced hourly rates with the understanding that we would take that product and be able to keep it and sell it however we chose. That is the basics on how we transitioned from being a multi-million services company around information security into a product company.