Marc Van Zadelhoff: Welcome to “Cyber CEOs Decoded,” where we speak with CEOs from established security giants to up and coming disruptors, getting the inside track on what makes a cybersecurity company tick. I’m your host, Marc van Zadelhoff, the CEO of Devo. And today, I am super stoked that my guest is Christopher Ahlberg, well-known entrepreneur in the cybersecurity community and co-founder and CEO of Recorded Future. Christopher, welcome to the show.
Christopher Ahlberg: Thank you so much for having me. I’m thrilled. So this is going to be fun, I think.
Marc Van Zadelhoff: I think so, too. We already had some chat before we hit the record button, and we may get back to some of those interesting nuggets we started there. First of all, Christopher, you’re from Sweden. And I was thinking – you know, I’m from the Netherlands. I’m a little bit more Americanized than you are, but I really can’t think of a good rivalry between our two birth countries of note. I have a Swedish neighbor here who once played ABBA music in my living room until, like, 3 in the morning. But besides that, I had no grievances between our countries. Can you think of any?
Christopher Ahlberg: I grew up in this city called Gothenburg or Goteborg. And it was a bunch of Dutch guys who showed up there and helped build the town, from what I understand. And, you know…
Marc Van Zadelhoff: Oh, wow.
Christopher Ahlberg: So, you know, we put you to work, and I think it made it work in a really good – not just in work but actually engineering the town, drawing the town. So I grew up surrounded by Dutch engineering, I think.
Marc Van Zadelhoff: Wow, you made it put us to work, but if we were anything like normal Dutch people, we probably charged you for it, as well.
Christopher Ahlberg: I’m sure you did.
Marc Van Zadelhoff: Tell me a little bit about growing up and your family, your life there in Sweden. I mean, we all have images of Sweden as this just beautiful country. I’ve been to Stockholm myself. But what was your actual life like there? Was it just – was it a normal growing up? And what is that?
Christopher Ahlberg: I don’t know. I grew up in a tiny, little town literally called Outer Village, that small.
Marc Van Zadelhoff: Is that older village? Does that mean older village?
Christopher Ahlberg: Outer – Outer Village. That’s, like, in the boonies village, basically.
Marc Van Zadelhoff: Oh, I see. Outer. Yeah, I got you.
Christopher Ahlberg: In a tiny village or town, you know, whatever you want to call it. Went to high school there, ended up being in the military for a bit, went very far north. That was a good experience. That’s maybe where Sweden would look like what everybody perceives it look like, you know, with like tons of snow and midnight sun and then a whole long time of darkness. Then ended up going to engineering school, studied computer science, started loving that, stumbled into this area of data visualization and data analysis and then been stuck in that rut for the quarter century after that. So…
Marc Van Zadelhoff: Yeah, no, you really are in a rut. I think that’s a very humble way of saying it – a Ph.D. in computer science, even.
Christopher Ahlberg: Sure. Yeah, yeah, it’s true. That’s good.
Marc Van Zadelhoff: That’s amazing.
Christopher Ahlberg: Good stuff, yeah.
Marc Van Zadelhoff: And what was the first time anybody ever paid you to do something? What was the kind of meaningful first paid job growing up?
Christopher Ahlberg: You know, it’s funny because most entrepreneurs obviously have sort of great – they started with a paper route when they were 7 or so. I never really had a job of any sort. Me and a buddy in high school – we built a drawing program, some sort of low-end CAD thing that we sold in basically classified ads in the newspaper. It was not a very profitable enterprise. You know, the R&D costs vastly overrated – overshadowed any revenue line. But, you know, that was a good experience. I didn’t really have a job, I think, until in college, when I programmed for a living a little bit. I did this and that but nothing to write home about for sure.
Marc Van Zadelhoff: Well, we were joking earlier that when it comes to your career, you have just a surprisingly few number of jobs to talk through. But maybe let’s start with those jobs and why so few.
Christopher Ahlberg: First of all, I am sort of known for preferring nonjob-hoppers that I work with, you know, so – but so then maybe I’ve taken that to an extreme. After having done my Ph.D., I started this one company, Spotfire, that never really, you know – that stumbled into that and ended up being the CEO. And we built that to a decent size and then we sold out to this company on the West Coast called TIBCO and stuck around there for a year and a half and then started Recorded Future. So I guess – I like to say that I’m on job 1.5, so not really 2 yet but 1.5.
Marc Van Zadelhoff: And you like that. You like being there at these jobs for a while. What do you like about that?
Christopher Ahlberg: I don’t think about it as a job. It’s like – it’s what I do. I think of it as a huge privilege that I get to walk into the building here and chase bad guys for a living. We get to build sort of a private intelligence agency at a scale that’s getting to be pretty decent. And we get paid to do it, even. I probably would do it for free – is the worst part. I don’t even think about it as a job and – which probably is not a healthy thing and is probably a bad thing. And, you know, you could imagine all these Swedes who – in Sweden, you’re supposed to hate your job. That’s sort of deep in the soul of the country. Everybody’s supposed to hate their job.
Marc Van Zadelhoff: Really?
Christopher Ahlberg: And – no, I’m exaggerating a little bit, but…
Marc Van Zadelhoff: Yeah, I know. Yeah.
Christopher Ahlberg: The – no, I just love it.
Marc Van Zadelhoff: Yeah, that’s awesome. Tell us about Recorded Future because I’ve known you for quite a while, and I’ve seen you build just a remarkable company that really plays an amazingly important role in the cybersecurity space. But I’d like you to bring us back to, how did you get the idea to found the company? Was there already a threat intel space when you started the company or not?
Christopher Ahlberg: No, I don’t think so. It came sort of out of this background having worked with data analysis a lot. My prior company would work with analyzing companies’ data. So if you think about when you’re at IBM, Cognos – IBM bought Cognos – these sort of things, tools that – BusinessOptix. We built this company called Spotfire, and now you hear about Palantir and Tableau. And so we worked with analyzing other people’s data. That was great. But then it struck me in – as we were selling Spotfire that the internet is quickly becoming this – in a weird way, the largest data set in the world in itself. And so it struck me that – and there were tidbits in that that was extra interesting. The thing that – the reason we were called Recorded Future was this idea that, actually, if you start looking at everything that gets written on the internet, there are a lot of tidbits about the future there. What about if you could organize all those tidbits about the future? So that was sort of the idea, and that struck me – that idea – in 2007. I wrote down that patent and got that file, sort of put that away and didn’t do anything with it for two years. And it’s sort of dawning on us, me and my co-founders, who had also co-founded the last company. So not only…
Marc Van Zadelhoff: Yeah.
Christopher Ahlberg: …Have I done it for a long time. I’ve done it with the same people for said long time. So it struck us that we could actually use this to build a great dataset and then build great analytical tools on top of it – so basically live bolt analytics straight to the internet, so more with the idea of doing intelligence but not what we think about as cyber threat intel or threat intel. But then over time here, I remember actually being in a weird facility in Columbia, Md., with this guy who’s a longtime friend. And he says, look. There are all these people who sort of want to enrich SIGINT. That was the way he called it. But essentially, it was basically add context to cyber data – could be more. But enriched SIGINT became this sort of enriched open-source intel – enriched data from cyber.
Christopher Ahlberg: And then we didn’t really listen to him for three years or something. But then 2012 or something – sort of started running into people from JP Morgan. And remember; it was a bunch of these early guys that we started working with, and it turned out that we were on to something. And you’re right. There was a tiny bit of a market, but that was OK. And we got in there and started building into that segment. And it was great.
Marc Van Zadelhoff: Yeah – amazing. And so what did you have people do to gather intel, if you can comment, right? Like, how did you gather this intel? Was it bots? Was it people? Was it…
Christopher Ahlberg: So that was the breakthrough. That was the breakthrough. The beauty of intel is, of course, that you and I could either sit down and we could start a company tomorrow and start writing reports and start selling them by Monday. We could be on the street and start selling reports on Monday. Now, if it’s you and me – not to diminish ourselves – probably not many people would line up.
Marc Van Zadelhoff: Not a big market for that.
Christopher Ahlberg: Yeah. But we could go back to the bus stop in Columbia, Md., and put up some ads for, you know, some people, and we probably by two weeks, we could start selling some reports. And that’s obviously how the threat intel industry largely have happened – that you hire a bunch of people. You have them start writing reports, and – you know, and that becomes your product. Or you collect these sort of very basic IoC feeds of a firewall or sort of whatever you get it from.
Christopher Ahlberg: But we realized that we actually wanted to build a collection machinery that could take originally what was written on the internet, and then we can expand more on it but drilling every year further and further and further into the core of the internet and turning that via analytics – these days, saying machine learning and AI, but essentially analytics – and turn that into threat data that could be used around cybersecurity, around – for warfare and around disinformation. And in this sort of convergence between cyber and warfare and disinformation, we’ve been able to build something that is largely automated. And then we have a layer of people on top of that. But it’s in that automation that we’ve been able to build a very good business model out of this that has very strong gross margins and just scales in a whole different thing from anything else that anybody has done.
Marc Van Zadelhoff: I mean, you guys have built a substantial company. I don’t know if you can comment on number of employees that you have or anything else.
Christopher Ahlberg: It’s OK. We tried – we are less secret. We used to be stupid secret before, and now we’re, like, north of 900 people and just about a quarter of a billion in ARR. And call it – yeah, we’ll just call it cash flow positive, a little bit more than cash flow positive. We’ll generate, you know, some decent amount of cash and 90% – coming towards 90% gross margins. So it’s good business.
Marc Van Zadelhoff: I’ll just admit, I got to know you when I was at IBM. And I remember just assessing in my own little mind – and, you know, to my credit, we were doing a lot of assessing of companies and buying of companies. But I just never would have thought that a company in your space would be able to get so big. I’m really amazed. But also I’m happy that you, you know, took off.
Christopher Ahlberg: No, no, no, thank you. I’m very pleased that to this day, people keep saying that threat intel is a feature.
Marc Van Zadelhoff: Right.
Christopher Ahlberg: Every time, I look at them and say, please, God, keep that belief, sir. Please. That’s my mindset around it.
Marc Van Zadelhoff: I had an amazing chat with a customer the other day. And I want to run a metaphor by you, and I don’t know if the metaphor works for you or for me, if it makes either of us look good. But I had a customer who was giving me a hard time on acquiring Devo because she said, you know, we were hoping you guys had more of your own threat intel. And I said, well, what do you mean? I said, we integrate with, for example, Recorded Future, and they’re amazing at that. I said, asking your SIM to do all your threat intel would be like asking Comcast to produce blockbuster movies for you. Right? Comcast is good – in this metaphor, unfortunately, I’m becoming the cable guy. I don’t know why I did that to myself. But why would, you know, the cable guy make great movies? In fact, Comcast acquired Time Warner, and I believe that didn’t really work out so well, right?
Marc Van Zadelhoff: So I said, we integrate with Recorded Future, and we do what we do amazingly. But we do have a threat research team, a small one that does some specific things that I think only we can do with our data. But we integrate with Recorded Future, for example, and that pairing is what you should think of. Do you think that that’s the right way to think about it?
Christopher Ahlberg: I totally think that’s the right way to think about it. Now, I also think that we will see a period now where a series of companies, sort of whether it’s CrowdStrike or Palo Alto or Rapid7 and, you know, to some degree, Google and Microsoft, are going to make an argument for integrated security stocks, and they’ll make intel be part of that. I would surmise – and I’m not the first one to sort of make this point here – that over time, it’s turned out that in security, there is too much change, too much, you know, things that – whether it’s the bad guys cooking up sort of the new stuff or the sort of the IT world cooking up new stuff, that you actually need best of breed rather than these integrated stocks. But, you know, we’ve always prided ourselves, whether it’s at this company or the prior over the last quarter of a century here, to sort of be very good at one thing and then…
Marc Van Zadelhoff: Yeah.
Christopher Ahlberg: …Just sell it that. And, you know, look. There’s other people who are going to say, no, that’s not the right way. Let’s be a little bit good at a million different things and hope for the best as we bundle it together. And I don’t know, you know?
Marc Van Zadelhoff: Yeah.
Christopher Ahlberg: Like, I only know how to do the former, and that’s what I try to do, and that’s what we try to do. And I think it’s pretty good.
Marc Van Zadelhoff: I think software engineering and threat intel excellence spin – they’re like records that spin at different speeds, like an LP and an EP. And I think it’s hard to be – you know, be a disc jockey on those two records at the same time.
Christopher Ahlberg: No, and be very disciplined about it. Like, I always talk – babble sort of talk about Bloomberg. And, you know, you’re in the financial world, and Bloomberg has built an exceptional business of providing the best intelligence to financial professionals. They do not do the trade for you. They do not tell you to buy stock X or Y. They do not execute the trade. They do not provide the wiring. They do not – there is like bazillions of things they don’t do. They just very, very well provide you with the best intelligence. And over time, you have these big insecure spaces, big insecure markets, whatever you want to call them. There will be great information companies. And it sounds – well, it’s sad to be an information company, but it’s actually – it’s a great business. And it’s great. And I think, likewise in your space, it’s sort of the same. Be very, very good at what you do. That will always pay dividends.
Marc Van Zadelhoff: Yeah. Yeah, yeah. 2019, you sold the company to Insight Partners, and I would love just to get an understanding. I mean, that was right when you were getting into that scale that I hadn’t expected. And by then, I had moved on to other adventures myself, but I was watching you guys grow, grow, grow. With Insight coming in, tell me about that path versus maybe continuing to an IPO or a different path – lots of paths out there.
Christopher Ahlberg: So it was not a path that sort of happened randomly. I’ve known Insight for a long time, Thomas Krane and Mike Triplett, the guys who were involved here. I found an email from, I think, it’s from 2013 or something like that. So nine years ago, when he’d pinged me the first time, I brought that to the closing dinner, that email. And so – and they stayed in touch in a fantastic way, the sort of way – I’m a big sort of long-time relationship guy. Just, you know, like eventually, yeah, you know – like, it’s – you know, eventually good things will happen. And so he stayed in touch. And then in 2017, we were thinking about raising some money. We had, at that point, raised 25 million only, actually.
Marc Van Zadelhoff: Only? You know, it’s 25…
Christopher Ahlberg: Yeah, yeah. And we were – we could have gotten away without raising more. We had – I remember we had, like, 7 in the bank, and we needed to raise a little bit more. And – but then I spoke to my friend Martin, who started Spotify. He’s a very clever guy, and I always listen to when Martin says something. So he was like, it’s time to go raise some money. OK. OK, Martin, I will listen to you. So I called up Thomas and Mike at Insight and said, look; I’m happy to come to New York and talk – and I said the usual. I said, I’m not raising money, but I’m trying to think about it – blah, blah, blah, all this usual blah-blah that CEOs do. And so you sit down with them, and they’re like, let’s do it, and we’re not going to let you out of the building before you’ve signed this term sheet. And I’m like, you know, it starts getting – neither – other party here. This is not good. So, you know, like, basically, weasel my way out of the office. Get another thing going. And end up with a pretty decent sort of back-and-forth between the two. And we end up in a good spot, get very good terms. And they come in, and they own some small percentage. And then they bought out some other shares – and da, da, da.
Christopher Ahlberg: So then in 2019, there was a lot of activity around the company. You know how it’s like. Sometimes it feels like every party on the planet knocks on the door. Sometimes it feels like nobody wants to talk to you on the planet. Both situations make sense. This was the former. And we ended up having multiple sort of offers – if you want to do this and do that and da, da, da. And then amidst of all of that, Insight just said, look; what about if we just partner up for another time period together, and we’ll own the majority of the company? And through this and that, we landed there. And I’m sort of, you know, very much of the belief that you know which – the people you know, versus somebody who’s off the street. And so we ended up doing that. And sort of re-signed up, re-upped, whatever you want to call it, for another X time period. And we’re 3 1/2 years into that now, and it’s been terrific. We were, at that point, probably at, I don’t know, 65, 70 million of ARR. Now we have 250. So it’s been a crazy journey since then. And I don’t know the headcount growth, but I always focus on ARR. And we built out the product. We built up the set of customers and the stuff that we do. So it’s been a great journey together. And love those guys, been fantastic partners.
Marc Van Zadelhoff: This could be a promotional video for Insight Partners.
Christopher Ahlberg: Yeah. No, it’s worked. It’s worked.
Marc Van Zadelhoff: I should do the disclaimer that Insight is also our largest investor, and they’re a super investor. So they can capture that little snippet and maybe use it for…
Christopher Ahlberg: Sure.
Marc Van Zadelhoff: …Their purposes.
Christopher Ahlberg: Happy to.
Marc Van Zadelhoff: And you guys also went on an acquisition tear. You guys have an investment fund. I mean, you’ve really scaled the business. As I said, you guys have become a major player in the space and a big influencer.
Christopher Ahlberg: Yeah. No, no, it’s been good. And, you know, I, for the longest time, was like – I like the very old Larry Ellison quote, before he started buying companies. He had this quote where he said, I don’t write checks; I write code. I’m a computer scientist by background, so I like – I always write code. But then we got a couple of opportunities and was able to sort of get one company that helped us in the fraud space, another company in the attack surface area and this malware engine – or malware reversing detection engine. And it’s been a sandbox. And it’s been terrific. So, you know, I think we’re going to calm down for a bit here and make sure that we do everything great and those sort of things. But I think we’ve – what do they say, trained that muscle and – yeah.
Marc Van Zadelhoff: That’s good. We just did our second acquisition at Devo, and I also promised my team we would calm down. I think they, in fact, demand it. It’s a lot of work, and it’s a lot of digestion, but it’s also fantastic to do. So – but I’m going to take us to something more serious. I was super impressed by your courage and voice around the war in Ukraine, so I want to take us to that topic. You immediately stood up and – in a meaningful way, on LinkedIn and in the press, saying that you and Recorded Future are behind Ukraine and would do as much as you could help. I don’t know if you can comment at all. I wanted to maybe explore two sides. Can you comment at all on what have you guys been able to do that you can discuss? And then I thought maybe it’d be good just to talk about, you know, how much of a cyberwar has that war been versus a conventional one? I thought I’d go down those two paths with you.
Christopher Ahlberg: Yeah. And we start first – so we had the good luck to work with a little bit of the Ukrainian government before. I won’t comment too specifically. But we worked with one natural party for us to work with in the Ukrainian government – great guys – for some time. And so that was good. And then when the war came – you’re right – that morning, the 24th, I guess, in the morning, it just – I was like, this is wrong. These guys cannot do this. It’s just not right. And as you know, as a CEO, it’s very tricky these days. You know, where do you lean in? What causes do you stand up for, you know? And frankly, people want you to stand up for everything. And I’m not the biggest believer of – I sort of think individuals should do politics, not companies, frankly. That’s…
Marc Van Zadelhoff: I’m with you. I’m with you.
Christopher Ahlberg: …My general view as such. But in this case, doing intelligence and every – obviously, it’s become clear here is intelligence sharing has been paramount to the ability for Ukraine to not just fight back but to win. And we have an intelligence capability that can be helpful not just in cyber but also in – call it more kinetic situations, war situations, as well as in disinformation. So it was pretty apparent that we could help and be meaningful in that, not just to sort of, like, make our virtue signaling and say that we’re good because who, frankly, cares about whether Recorded Future claims that they’re good or not? Like, I sort of – that’s what I probably don’t love so much. This is not virtue signaling. We could help.
Christopher Ahlberg: So it came – so to me, we wanted to then, you know, lean in. We also have employees in Ukraine and more than a few. And we actually, as you might have seen, announced recently that we’re going to look for – to hire a whole bunch more. So we’re leaning in on that side as well. And so, yeah, if you read the official Ukrainian – you can dig around a bit. You’ll find the official Ukrainian communications on this. We are deployed in a series of places across the Ukrainian government in very pointed places, and we’re trying to help out as much as we can with intelligence. They have access to our platform. They can use it in various sort of ways. And I’d like to think that we’ve made a bit of a difference Now, you know, this is not a one-man war. There are a billion things involved here. And it’s been fantastic to see the public-private – everybody sort of for the 30 years talked about public-private collaboration, and much of it has been sort of lawyers wringing their hands, sort of thing. But in this case, I think actually real work has been done, which has incurred – talk about deterring the enemy. We’ve been deterring the enemy here, so…
Marc Van Zadelhoff: Yeah. No, there have been amazing efforts. I mean, on a personal level, my wife’s cousin’s in the Netherlands, bought an ambulance, filled it with medical supplies and drove back and forth to the border of Poland, right? You see those kinds of efforts combined with the type of things you’re doing, combined obviously with the much more structural governmental assistance. So – and what about the actual nature of the cyberwarfare? I mean, clearly the world – I don’t know if you agree with that, with what you know, that the Russian capability on the conventional side was much less strong than we had all expected. Do you see it on the cyber side? What have you seen there? Are they – first of all, do you agree with that on the conventional side? Or maybe you don’t know, that’s not your expertise? And then second, on the cyber side, do you see Russia strong, punching, or not so much?
Christopher Ahlberg: So a couple of different comments. I want to make sure I get them out in the right order. So first, when it comes to conventional warfare, clearly Russia has had a large military apparatus, and then they’ve, over the last – call it a decade – have gone through what they’ve perceived to be a large modernization program. And – but it has become apparent that a lot of the – first of all, the machinery that they acquired, whatever weaponry that they’ve acquired and tried to modernize, was not up to snuff. And Russia knows how to build weapons. There’s no question. But it just didn’t manage to do it at the scale. And then No. 2, they’ve been doing a lot in terms of sort of trainings and – what do you call them – sort of alarm maneuvers where you sort of call up 100,000 soldiers in the Leningrad military district and these sort of – but it turns out that it’s largely been for show.
Christopher Ahlberg: So, you know, when this – and I think one of the interesting observations of all of this is that, A, the U.S. and the U.K. made the right call versus a bunch of other European countries who said that, no, Russia wouldn’t invade, whereas U.S. and U.K. said they will invade. And they did. That was a sort of – put that on the intel win side. But on the intel law side is actually – I think most Western countries would have said if they do invade, they will take Kyiv. They will be successful. And that was an intel fail. You know, you saw the head of French military intelligence. He got booted over this, you know, like, some real consequence or – real consequence – at least a consequence happened. So there’s that. And now we’re seeing this being dragged into probably a very long-time, very nasty, slow conflict. Then on the cyber side, you know, largely cyber is sort of – when you have these sort of conflicts, is still mostly interesting in a lead-up to a conflict, especially in maybe a little bit more low-tech conflict there – as we’re seeing between Russia and Ukraine. There was some pretty impressive stuff by the Russians just in the beginning. They’ve been performing an onslaught on Ukraine of these Destroyer malware-type things to their critical infrastructure. And we certainly perceive that they’re going to keep doing this. You know, that’s not going to go – stop here.
Christopher Ahlberg: Now, here is where the Ukrainians have been impressive. They’ve been – worked with great partners. They’ve been – whether, you know, they were trained by the Americans and others before. They’ve great access to technology. But maybe more importantly, just had this – sort of building this constant incident response loop that has been able for them to sort of stop this stuff. So in this conflict now going forward, it’s not going to be a win – won in cyber. This is a conflict that’s going to be won on the battlefield for sure. Cyber could still have an impact on it. But this is, you know, this is First World War battle in the trenches rather than anything else, I believe. And intelligence will be very important for sure. But I don’t think it’s a cyber conflict per se. There are other things you’re going to unpack in all of this. Why didn’t Russia take out more communications network?
Christopher Ahlberg: Now you have this sort of win-loss sort of thing where you try to say, if I take out the communications networks of Ukraine, you know, maybe I actually – my Russian soldiers need and want to use the same communication networks because I have bad battlefield radios. So that might be a reason they didn’t do that. Maybe I perceive, again, being Russia, that actually it’s better for me to let the communication systems, the email systems of Ukraine, let them be because then I can listen in on them, you know. So there is this destroy versus let something continue to exist for other reasons. So the equations here are not as trivial as people may think.
Marc Van Zadelhoff: It’s sad. It still, for me, feels like you’re watching a bully in the playground, you know, beat somebody up. And you just want to make it stop, and it’s – you can’t.
Christopher Ahlberg: No, but yeah, but I think we can do something…
Marc Van Zadelhoff: Yeah, yeah.
Christopher Ahlberg: …To help here. And this is why we’re sort of all-in on this, that whatever – now, you know, this is largely – 99.9% of it is in the hands of the Ukrainians. But let’s help them with whatever that portion is. And as taxpayers, as whatever it is we are as part of a democracy, we can be helpful. And let’s be helpful.
Marc Van Zadelhoff: Amazing. Cool. Well, I could keep going down this track because I love the geopolitics, but I wanted to maybe end on a final topic. You’ve started two amazing companies, had – at one of them – exit – I suppose this one sort of had an exit in its own way, but you’re still going here – advice for entrepreneurs. You know, I actually know a couple of entrepreneurs that you’ve been instrumental in helping in the threat intel space, of investment fund. And you’ve – you’re really gracious with your time I know from them. But what advice do you give entrepreneurs? And how do you look at that now?
Christopher Ahlberg: Yeah, I know. It’s very tricky. You know, like, you have to be I think the first of all is to be careful about dishing out advice that you think is too clever because, you know, there are no silver bullets in this. I end up sort of usually – if it’s something B2B-ish, being like, look, solve a very specific problem. That’s what we – and we stumbled on that in my first company very successfully. It sort of was close to easy because we very – but Recorded Future took a while before we found this threat intel thing. There was a little bit of wandering. You know, I always say Geoffrey Moore’s “Crossing the Chasm” book, the first three chapters, just read it again. Read it again. From 1995, and it’s still 100% true. So this – but the basic story is just pick a very narrow problem, find a set of people who have that problem, and then if there are any buddies, any partners you can find along the way who can help you solve that problem, just solve that. And you’d rather have 20 extremely happy customers who are all thinking alike than a little bit of happiness over here or a little goodness over here. Just be very focused.
Christopher Ahlberg: So focus, focus, focus. That’s probably what I’d like to – if there’s any sort of advice, I’ll give that advice. Don’t care too much about what investors say. Don’t care too much about – don’t listen – like – listen to customers, and focus on building a great product. And if you do the – like, and it sounds trivial. It sounds stupid. But it’s just – don’t care about any startup scene. Don’t care about, like, being – looking good in the eyes of your neighbor. Don’t care about PR. Don’t care about all this stuff around you. Care about, like, getting those customers happy and get some money coming back from them. And good things will happen. Now, you know, if you do B2C, it can be – a lot of different things, could be very different. So you have to be a little bit careful to extrapolate. But in what I know, that sort of seems to be a formula that has at least been true for a quarter of a century. And I believe it’s probably true for the next 25 years, too.
Marc Van Zadelhoff: Amazing. I agree. And actually, funny enough, I even think back to building up the business at IBM, obviously at Devo. But I think that whole notion of, if you know your customers uniquely well and can solve something unique, and if you actually understand the product and technology in a deep way, bringing those together is what builds a division or a company, actually. So…
Christopher Ahlberg: It is. And it’s sort of like, people are like, are there any shortcuts? No, there are no shortcuts. But to what you just said, though, to know the customer well, because if you find some odd segment – and that can be segmented in many different ways, as you know, by geography, by industry, some weird persona through all of this stuff, but unique set of people that you just find is tight enough, eventually there will be a small enough sort of – I don’t know what you call it – segment. That sounds a little bit Procter & Gamble-ish. But it’s sort of like small enough, whatever set of people, customers, companies, and you just serve them well in a consistent way, goodness will happen – come.
Marc Van Zadelhoff: Final question. In five years – where is Christopher Ahlberg in five years?
Christopher Ahlberg: I don’t know. Hopefully on a surf wave somewhere. But I don’t know. I really – I think I’ll still be doing some version of what I’m doing here. You know, then I’ll be an old man. So maybe it’s somebody else. Maybe I’m the chairman and somebody else is running the ship. But the – I’ll be involved in Recorded Future. I think it’s extremely far-fetched I would go start something else. I just – I’m too old for that. I also think that I’m probably not very employable. So it probably means that I’m sort of stuck here one way or the other. But it’s good. It’s good.
Marc Van Zadelhoff: All right. Well, you and I have partnered across my last two companies. I hope five years from now, we continue to partner on whatever we’re doing.
Christopher Ahlberg: Exactly.
Marc Van Zadelhoff: Christopher, I think it’s a good note for us to close out on. Thank you so much for joining me on “Cyber CEOs Decoded.”
Christopher Ahlberg: Thank you so much for having me.
Marc Van Zadelhoff: All right. And thanks to our audience for listening today. And be sure to join us for the next episode of “Cyber CEOs Decoded.”