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WTN Exclusive Interview with Josh Heling

WTN Exclusive Interview with Josh Heling, co-founder, SecurePipe, Inc. SecurePipe provides security solutions to customers in a wide variety of industries including manufacturing, healthcare, banking, environmental response, consumer products and technology. Heling discusses innovation in viruses, social engineering, raising money, and ecruiting a CEO.

WTN: Please start by telling us a little about SecurePipe.

Josh Heling (JH): In 1996, I was doing back-end Unix support with Lawrence Levine, a friend from college. The common thread throughout much of our work was secure network gateways. After an installation, we’d check in remotely on client systems every week or so to make sure things were updated and running smoothly. We started thinking about packaging this as a standardized service. Since then, our business has grown to the point we’re offering 24x7 comprehensive managed network security, fully managed firewalls, intrusion detection systems (IDS), VPNs and email virus scanning and spam identification.

WTN: What surprises you most about your industry?

JH: I’m consistently surprised by the continued evolution and successfulness of automated network attacks – worms, viruses, etc. It pays neve r to underestimate this threat. The ‘SQLSlammer’ worm took down a 10,000+ node network in mere minutes.
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WTN: And on the other hand, what disappoints you most?

JH: The success of many viruses is due simply to social engineering – using gullibility and curiosity to get people to do things they shouldn’t do. The ‘AnnaKournikova’ virus (named for the Russian tennis star) and the ‘NakedWife’ virus both take advantage of our natural curiosity to see things we shouldn’t see. The ‘Iloveyou’ virus and ‘friendlygreeting’ were both successful because the sender of the virus was often a friend or a co-worker. Keeping virus definitions up to date is always recommended but the reality is that most people don’t take the time to protect themselves properly. ‘ SQLSlammer’ is probably the best example. The virus exploited a vulnerability that had been fixed six months previously. All these things disappoint me.

WTN: Have you found your sweet spot?

JH: I think we’re close. As we grow the business, we looked at our customer base to find a pattern or a trend that we could hang on to. One of our integrators was working with small banks because they are less likely to have an IT staff and the IT staff they do have is probably one overworked and under-funded person. Add Graham Leach Bliley, stiff regulatory pressure, Homeland Security and other pressures and it became apparent that we could add tremendous value. Our focus right now is helping small banks understand and comply with all the network security issues they face.

WTN: What is your long-term plan for SecurePipe?

JH: It’s funny. My original plan was to try this for a year then go back to grad school. That was seven years ago. There are a number of educational opportunities that still interest me, but in the meantime I’ve been bitten by the entrepreneurial bug – I definitely want to work with more start-ups in the future.

WTN: Why didn’t you go after VC money in 1998?

JH: The timing wasn’t right for us in 1998. You can always “what if” everything you’ve done. We did a good job of bootstrapping for a few years and we brought on some good customers and we’ve never lost a customer. We finally got to a point where we needed to raise some money. We raised our first round in the summer of 2001 and just recently raised another. Having a great CEO onboard really helped.

WTN: What were some of the challenges of recruiting a CEO?

JH: Neither Lawrence nor I wanted to be CEO. We didn’t have the classic founder problem of wanting to be in charge. We knew we had to find someone who could take the reins and help us grow faster. Our board made some introductions and we started interviewing people. We wanted to see how they saw the market. We wanted to hear about their past successes and failures. We wanted someone who would roll up his sleeves and grow the business. We brought on a CEO, Art Roldan, in June 2002.

WTN:What advice would you give someone starting a business today?

JH: There is always a struggle to find the right balance between a 'push' approach, i.e. operationally growing your business just ahead of the market, and a 'pull' approach where you wait for operational expansion to be unavoidable before you incur the cost. I think the investment and general economic environment we see today favors a more conservative approach on the 'pull' side of that balance. More generally, one of the key factors in start-up success in my experience is the quality of your first set of employees. A small team just doesn't have time or room for members who can't pull their weight, so getting the right people onboard from the start is critical.

SecurePipe, founded in 1996, provides security solutions to customers in a wide variety of industries including manufacturing, healthcare, banking, environmental response, consumer products and technology offering a
three-tiered solution that combines managing, monitoring and maintaining network security. With a serious commitment to the individual customer relationship, we specialize in configuring and monitoring each system to meet the specific security needs of each customer.

Ben Bradley is the founder of GrowingCo.comand Benbradley.net. If you have questions or comments, he can be reached at ben@wistechnology.com.

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