How empathy carried Duo Security to a $1 billion valuation

Asked what recently propelled Duo Security to a valuation over $1 billion, chief technology officer Jon Oberheide mentions a concept that isn't often associated with high-tech businesses: empathy.

 

He notes that when a large company has a prominently reported security breach, other cybersecurity companies engage in the software industry's version of "ambulance-chasing," calling or emailing the company's security team to try to sell their product immediately.

 

In contrast, Duo's sales team sends pizzas and energy drinks to the company's security team with a note expressing empathy for their pain and inviting the company to call Duo when they come up for air.

 

The Ann Arbor-based cybersecurity company's approach certainly seems to be paying off. Duo raised $70 million in a recent round of financing, placing the company among the small handful of venture-backed private companies worth $1 billion or more. The company also recently celebrated another milestone, exceeding 10,000 customers worldwide.

 

Oberheide and his co-founder Dug Song began the company in 2009 with the intention of staying in the Midwest.

 

"We knew we wanted to start a company together and stay in the Midwest, and specifically in Ann Arbor, given the talent pool available in our backyard," Oberheide says. "We set out to solve the biggest problem in the world at that time, cybersecurity."

 

The company currently has more than 500 employees, with about 350 in Ann Arbor and the rest in San Mateo, Calif.; Austin, Texas; and London.

 

Oberheide says the company's good reputation and credibility make it stand out to investors. At this point, Duo doesn't need to seek out investors because investors are seeking them out instead. It's the company's empathy with both tech staff and end users that makes Duo's product so user-friendly as well, Oberheide says.

 

"It's a back-to-basics story for us," Oberheide says. "Other companies build security for networks of systems. We build security for people. Security is the fundamental problem that organizations of all shapes and sizes face, and we focus on doing that very well in a highly useable way."

 

Oberheide says this latest round of funding will allow the company to develop new products and expand into other industries and geographic regions. The team will also expand as the company gains new clients.

 

"We're always expanding the team," Oberheide says. "For the past eight years, we've doubled in size every year, so it's a brand new company every year, a new set of teammates. But that means we grow faster and learn faster, and I expect that to continue in the future."

This piece is part of a series highlighting local business growth in the Ann Arbor area. It is supported by Ann Arbor SPARK.

 

Sarah Rigg is a freelance writer and editor in Ypsilanti Township. You may reach her at sarahrigg1@gmail.com.

 

Photos courtesy of Duo Security.

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