S2E1 Peter Bauer: Mimecast CEO
In this episode, Marc catches up with Mimecast CEO and co-founder Peter Bauer. They cover Peter’s CEO journey, including what it was like growing up in South Africa, why he opted out of attending university, highlights from Mimecast’s 20-year history, and what Peter learned from taking the company public — and then private again.
You’ll also learn:
- When and how to raise capital, and how to manage meeting the board’s expectations.
- How CEOs can overcome self-doubt and continuously reimagine their role to look at challenges with new eyes.
- How to view the company’s history as a story with chapters and eras, and why it’s important to always believe you’re at the beginning of the book.
Marc van Zadelhoff: Welcome to Cyber CEOs Decoded, where we speak to the 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, my guest is Peter Bauer, a well-known entrepreneur in the community and co-founder and CEO of Mimecast. Peter, welcome to the show.
Peter Bauer: Thanks, Marc. Thanks for having me along today.
Marc van Zadelhoff: So Peter, you’re the CEO of Mimecast, which is an amazing company that’s gone through a long, you’ve been doing it for 20 years. Building up the company. Getting it to IPO. And going through private equity. And today, I’m very excited about this conversation because you’re a fascinating person and I knew that, but as we were preparing for this, you only got more interesting. So, I’m going to go back first to where your roots are. How you grew up. And then we’re going to take it all the way through your career and some lessons that building out a company like this and the things you did before you got to Mimecast and teach the rest of us. So, looking forward to this. And I’m going to start out with where are you from, where’d you grow up?
Peter Bauer: Well, you make an assumption that I grew up. But let’s stick with that one for now. Look, I am originally South African. I think as you know. And I was born in a little village in the eastern cape of South Africa. And at the time, the population was about 2,000 people. And my dad was a high school teacher and I was born there. And then we moved to Port Elizabeth. And then I mainly grew up in Cape Town, which is a beautiful city if any of your listeners have not yet been there. Put it on the bucket list.
Marc van Zadelhoff: It’s on my bucket list, I’ve not been there myself. And friends of ours have a place in South Africa near one of the parks. And I have a longstanding invitation to go down so I really want to do it. What was it like growing up? Did you grow up in a regular household? Your dad was a high school teacher, you said?
Peter Bauer: Yeah, my dad, some of these formative things. I mean he’s an educator and an educational psychologist. And so I think that spirit of teaching, that spirit of learning really was quite formative for me. Tragically, my mom was killed in a car accident when I was about 11 years old. Along with her mom. And so that was a pretty seismic event in our lives as a family. And then my dad raised my brother and sister and I as a single parent for the majority of our teenage years and beyond.
Marc van Zadelhoff: It’s incredible. You and I talked about this the other day for the first time, I didn’t know that. I still have had the long weekend or few days to prepare for what to say to that, but I’m still not quite sure what to say about that. But I have to imagine both your parents must have had an amazing impact on your life going forward, both when they were alive and beyond.
Peter Bauer: Yeah, it’s interesting. I had some time to think about it. And there was a point when we’d founded Mimecast that my co-founder also lost his, lost a parent as a teenager. Lost his dad. Our CFO, so our entire senior management team, we’d fondly call members of the dead parents society. My CFO, his mom was killed in a car accident when he was a child. And our head of sales, his mom had died, unfortunately, by suicide. And so we had the four of us leading the company in the very early stage. And we all had this in common. It was quite interesting. Just to see maybe how it affected how we thought about what you take for granted. And what you perceive as being things that can change quite quickly and be seismic in your lives. And what you take for granted and what you don’t. So, I think it affected how we thought about risk and work and each other in quite a profound way.
Marc van Zadelhoff: Amazing, amazing. Okay, well we can spend more time on that, the dead parents society sounds like a very interesting group that no one aspires to join. But from dark things come great light sometimes. How about first paid job growing up. What was your first meaningful paid job?
Peter Bauer: Yeah. So, I mean, I did some of the regular stuff like working in a restaurant as a runner when I was 16 years old. That was a lot of fun. I actually really enjoyed waiting tables. It’s like one of the few jobs where you sort of finish the end of your shift and you can pack it all up, you don’t have to think about it again until you walk back in at the start. So those were good experiences. And I think mostly, you learn something about interacting with people. Because you start off life as a waiter and you’re quite different. And as I developed my confidence, I sort of developed this attitude of this is my table. They’re at my table. It’s not their table, it’s my table, and they’re my guests at this table. And I’m here to make sure they have an absolutely fantastic time. And I think quite a nice power balance which enabled me and empowered me to do a great job. But also kept customers that were perhaps not nice people or bullies or entitled or rude or anything, it also allowed me to keep them in check in a constructive way. So some early lessons waiting tables in the hustle and bustle of.
Marc van Zadelhoff: Yeah. And that idea of overcoming that confidence gap when you start a job, the imposter syndrome or whatever, to like repositioning and reframing your role there and that’s empowering.
Peter Bauer: Yeah, yeah, absolutely. My first tech job was when I wanted to get into IT and I got offered a job as a systems engineer, a support techie basically. For a small system integrator. They posted me at the South African breweries. Which I will tell you, if you ever get offered, it doesn’t matter what job it is. If you get offered a job in a brewery, I would like just take. Grab it with both hands. It’s a fascinating place to work besides the fact that they periodically pay you in beer. The environment I worked at was a combination of a corporate office and a brewery, which was fascinating. And so that was really formative. Because I learned there this real intersection between IT and business and how it came together. Even if I was just changing toner cartridges, I got to be in lots of places that conversations were happening that I was listening out for.
Marc van Zadelhoff: I read a stat recently that one out of two people who start their careers in breweries end their careers at the same brewery. Kidding. That sounds like an awesome place to start. So, did you end up going to university, Peter?
Peter Bauer: I did not. I like learning, but I didn’t like the classroom style of learning. I struggled with that. And so, I made a decision when I was in high school that I wasn’t going to, after 12 years of school, I wasn’t going to go sit in a classroom for another four years. And I really wanted to be in business. And I wanted to learn how to build companies. And I figured probably the best way to learn the craft of building a company is to build a company. So I did sign up for some business classes, like a diploma and some marketing and so on. And really sought opportunity to start creating something. And about six months into the year, I met somebody who had a good idea for a business, or an idea for a business. It was a distribution company supplying schools with all sorts of things. And we set up this little company and I ran it out of his garage and eventually quit my classes at the end of that year. Was sort of half day. I’d go to the classes in the morning and work in the afternoon. I thought let me do this full-time. And so, I skipped that education and built that company and ultimately that set me on an entrepreneurial path that has been I think suited me quite well.
Marc van Zadelhoff: Amazing. And why business? I mean, I always think that I went into business because my father and to a degree my mom was an executive assistant, and my dad was kind of a business guy. So that was my inspiration, I suppose. But your dad was a high school teacher. So why business? Why not go into education or something, follow the family business?
Peter Bauer: Yeah, I mean, the one thing I was fortunate in was I always got to go to great schools. And maybe unfairly so, apartheid in South Africa provided opportunities for the white population to have the lion’s share of opportunity in the country. And so, I went to a really, really good high school. But I was one of the least affluent people there. Because schoolteacher or educational psychologist working for the government salary isn’t rich. I got to spend time with lots of people who had a lot more than us. And I was interested in solving that problem. And I noticed that the kids whose parents owned businesses, like seemed to have more freedom. And like I liked the idea, like it felt like a leadership thing to run a business, own a business. And I got exposed to some entrepreneurship sort of concepts early on. I was like maybe this is a short cut some way. Let’s get into that. So I really was interested in it. And I learned just enough to be dangerous and then ran with it from there.
Marc van Zadelhoff: And you got into tech after founding your first company. That was not on the tech space, it was kind of a school supplies, I think in that area. And then after that, tell us about how you got actually into the tech space.
Peter Bauer: Well my partnership with my school supplies guy sort of broke down a little bit. He was an older guy and I was frankly running the business. He had a few other interests. And we stopped seeing eye to eye at a point. And frankly, you know in retrospect, I think his wife had got laid off and he wanted her to run the company. So, I was sort of edged out. And so I learned, it was pretty bumpy for me at the time. I didn’t quite know what to do. I was kind of shop elbowed out of a business that I’d really built and ran. With his help. But I was, you know, 80% of the time. So I took the small amount of money that he handed me to go away. And I went traveling around the States, the UK and the States. And in my travels, I was picking up, I was trying to think, okay, what’s my next opportunity, what do I do? And I saw this magazine talking about the next big thing – internet. I was going between cities and I’d read all about this internet stuff. And I thought okay, maybe this is. So when I get back to South Africa, I need to learn this, I need to study this. So I came back, I signed up for these Microsoft Certified System Engineer classes. I hadn’t known a great deal about tech. We’d had one of those early BBC micro computers as kids. But this thing kind of captured me. And I was interested in what it could mean for business and that got me into tech. And I figured if I want to start my own business, I need to go work for a tech company to understand how it works. I can’t just head out there and make it up. So that’s I worked for that small system integrator for about 18 months before breaking away and co-founding my own tech company, which is my company prior to Mimecast. I was a sponge in a learning environment, learning everything I could. And then setting up on my own with a friend.
Marc van Zadelhoff: I have to imagine you thought very carefully about who controls shares and decision making after your first experience when you were, as you said, elbowed out.
Peter Bauer: Yeah, absolutely. Yeah, there were some painful lessons learned there. My second tech company, I was going in with a friend. And we didn’t raise any outside capital. So that kept it pretty tightly held amongst us. And then we sold that company to a public company in 1998, end of ’98. So for the duration of 1999, we were in an earn out phase. I mean, obviously an amazing time to sell a tech company because everything was deemed to be worth far more than it actually was. But we worked extremely hard and that provided me with more experience. And also ultimately some more capital. So when I left that firm in 2002, I could use many of those lessons then in the founding of Mimecast. And I think that’s really where some of the structural controlled pieces that I’ve been burnt with in the first business really came into place.
Marc van Zadelhoff: Amazing. So, you’re done with that, you’re done with Idion and your retention period there. And maybe, let’s get into Mimecast. Because that’s the, you end up at Mimecast for the last 20 years. And an amazing run there. But let’s go back to the beginning there. So how, did you take some time off after selling that company, Idion? Or did you go right into your next idea? How did you found Mimecast?
Peter Bauer: I’d experienced this before when I left the school supplies company. Sort of almost stepping into what I call the void. You don’t know what you’re going to do. But you know you’re going to have to reinvent yourself somewhat. Because it’s not, especially as an entrepreneur, it’s not like as saying as saying okay, well I’m an accountant. I need to just go get my next job at a company that’s hiring accountants. So, there’s a lot more unknown. And fortunately, financial flexibility to sort of give it time and space. Honestly, probably spent about a year bumbling around with all sorts of stuff. You know, trying to figure out should I do something in South African wine? Should I do something with African art? Should I do something with software? And you eventually realize like look, I’m a tech guy now so it’s software. And I initially found a couple of South African software products and I thought maybe I can go and set up sales channels and partner relationships in Europe for these companies. And so I struck some relationships. And I used my own capital to go and pursue those things and thought well, naively perhaps, thought I’ll negotiate a stake or the right deal once I’ve proven that I like them and they like me. But I figured out after having moved my family to the UK on this project that this was actually quite a bad business model. And the margins were slim and we were beholden to other people and they didn’t really get Europe. And so, you know, it got a little bit uncomfortable. But the bright side of it is I met my co-founder, Neil Murray, who’s also originally South African. We’d never met in South Africa before. But we met in the UK. Through one of these projects. And Neil and I really hit it off well. And he had a similar experience building and selling a tech company in the 90s in South Africa. Between us, we had experience and financial flexibility. And we put the ideas together for Mimecast. We really, we were both quite close to email, we’d understood that it was growing in its importance, but also growing in its risk profile. And that there was a lot of complexity that organizations were facing in order to have to deliver a business class of email service that was safe, compliant, reliable. We set out to build a suite that could be the ultimate companion to a corporate mail system and deliver all of the ancillary services like spam filtering and encryption, malware. High availability and archiving and back-up. And e-discovery capabilities. So a lot of code, a lot of building. But we had some, I think some pretty good early foundational thoughts around the architecture of this being a multi-tenent cloud based platform. And the business model that we could built on that. So that’s how we started that journey.
Marc van Zadelhoff: Multi-tenent cloud architecture in 2003.
Peter Bauer: Yeah. Well, you know, it seems like it was early. We kind of thought it was late because Salesforce was sort of evangelizing this as if it was the only way to do things. And we bought into that idea. But we didn’t actually realize that it would take a lot longer for a lot of other established companies to ever get there. And some never would.
Marc van Zadelhoff: Yeah. And my impression, having known you a little while, is that it started off more on managing email, but it’s really morphed into security being a much more important part of the value prop. Or is that a, do I have that right in terms of the 20 year arc of the company?
Peter Bauer: Yeah, to some extent. I mean the products that we built on day one are still the products we sell today at the core. But obviously we have added more to it as well. But the core idea of examining and interrogating messages that typically come from the outside but frankly may be heading outside or may be moving around internally, interrogating those messages for risk. And that risk could be phishing emails, it may be social engineering, there may inappropriate content. But interrogating content before it ends up in the mailbox. And then making policy decisions about what should happen to those messages. That was at the core. And then of course, archiving and storing and building a long big database of the corporate memory of a company. As it’s playing out every second of the day through these communication channels. So that, but of course the use case around security, really started a hot, hot up, in probably 2013. That became a big, big draw card. And so we really started to position the company even more around the security use case. And we leaned in and we did some more acquisitions around that and built that into the platform, too.
Marc van Zadelhoff: Yeah, yeah. And today you guys, I want to go back in the timeline, but just, you’re getting to where you’re at today and that emphasis. But you have over 2,000 people on the team. Over 40,000 customers, offices in Boston, and DC, Sweden, London, Singapore. I mean, it’s a large operation that you guys are running. But maybe taking a step back, you guys founded the company. And maybe we can just do a quick timeline of how you got to where you are today. And then I’d love to get into a couple of lessons learned from that journey that you’ve been on. But the timeline, you guys must have at some point accepted some funding maybe. Was that a seminal part after founding it?
Peter Bauer: It was. So, I think we were really, like businesses that are going to take on and try and redefine a space, often are advantaged if they have a decent gestation period. And the one thing that can be the enemy of a gestation period is venture capital. Because it starts a biological clock ticking. And it’s not particularly loud in the early runnings. But the one thing, we’re sort of fortunate, in retrospect, was that we could literally spend the first few years self funded in our own obscurity figuring out what like true north was for the business. Figuring out technology, figuring out a whole bunch of stuff. And bear in mind, we had no credibility. I mean, we were South Africans. We showed up in London. I mean, I don’t think anybody had credibility in the software internet space in 2003, anyway. Following the crash. The bubble bursting. But that was really, really useful. And to have sort of wives that were patient and allowed us to spend all of our families’ money on this venture. But then we started to attract angel investors. So friends and family. And actually, we employed a slightly unusual funding model where we built out a network of about 40 or 50 individual angels. Some high net worth individuals, some were sort of a mate who’d earned a bonus working in the City of London and, you know, put 25 grand into the business. But over a period of several years, we probably raised about 9 or 10 million dollars. Through that. In these kind of just in time funding rounds. And it was quite creative and advantagous. Combined with the fact that our subscription customers paid us annually in advance for the most part. So this allowed us to create cash flows. Because building a subscription business, I mean Gail Goodman does this, sort of the SAS death ramp presentation. The former CEO of Constant Contact. Managing that cashflow and feeding in the funding, it just takes time. It’s just a function of time. There isn’t a, there are ways to speed it up, but not to change the physics of it, yeah. And then eventually we got to 2008. We were hell bent on angel funding. And a lot of this did come down to some of the tough lessons I’d learned early on about how people can get wrong headed. And my co-founder in the very first school supplies company. So we didn’t want to go paint a picture for professional investors and them to have that kind of leverage over us. Frankly we didn’t know what, we felt we needed to control the destiny of this business, to navigate somewhere good. But in about 2008, we were approached by a venture capital firm that was actually just raised their very first funding round. And we were investment number one. And they, they wanted to invest. And we said we’re only doing angel rounds. And we don’t want a VC term sheet. They said well show us the term sheet the angels invest in. We said sure, here it is. And they said okay, we’re going to model something based on this for you. And if you like it, maybe we can get involved. And they did. They adjusted it. They said there will be a couple of things we’ve got to have in there that are provisions for the fact that we’re managing other people’s money. But they came to the party and they offered us 2 million pounds at the time. And we said thank you, we’ll take one. And let’s see how this goes. And that obviously started, because you know, you always think, I always felt like initially, raising money from other people means you somehow failed in the business. And obviously that’s not true. But it was like this old-fashioned orientation. Like because I’d built a professional services company before. We never needed much external capital at all. Sort of self perpetuate. And then in 2009, we had some pretty serious venture capital firms show up with real interest in term sheets. And we ended up doing a 21 million dollar raise with Index Ventures in 2009. Then the story evolves, because they were, hey Peter, maybe you should move to the States.
Marc van Zadelhoff: Oh yeah. Yeah, yeah.
Peter Bauer: And I was like well I don’t know, that wasn’t really my plan. And they were like we think it should be.
Marc van Zadelhoff: Were you seeing revenue here? Was business shifting from a revenue perspective?
Peter Bauer: Yeah, it was starting. I mean look, expanding to the States is a difficult thing for European countries. But the one thing we knew to do was not to try and do continental Europe and the States at the same time. So we said we’re a British company, we’ve got to have a strong base there, we can’t sustain like trying to do two. Let’s go into the US. And we’re glad we did. Because like you remember, ’08, ’09, ’07, ’08, the world turned to a little bit of a nightmare. And Europe was in a bad shape.
Marc van Zadelhoff: Yeah, my company’s founded in Madrid. And I think it’s like 10 times easier for us to go across American States than to France or to Germany. Right? Even though the company is founded in Madrid, it’s still not easy over there. I’ve had a lot of discussions with some of my —
Peter Bauer: Yeah, it’s bizarre. Who knew? Anyway, the US, bigger margin of market. But we came here in 2008. But we were a little company. We were probably 40 people in the UK. And we sent like seven of our experienced people who knew the business. We shipped them over here with, I think relocation allowances ranging from about 2,000 dollars to about 5,000 dollars. If you were a family of five, you’d get 5,000 dollars. So it was pretty Spartan living. And we had this little window less office here in Newton in the Regis Building. And we’d started the journey. And that was tough. But we had great, determined people to try and scrap it out. There was this one scary point where we’d actually spent more on recruitment fees for staff who had failed and left us than we’d generated in early revenue on the side. I remember doing that math, being like how can this be? This wasn’t smart. But we muscled through. So we actually had started to get some good traction. And we knew that we needed to invest more in the US. I was under pressure to move here, we moved, my family moved here. Middle of 2011. And again, obviously, retrospectively, it was a great thing. In 2012, we had a lot of growth equity firms notice us. I don’t think we realized how good a business model we had in terms of like the metrics, the core —
Marc van Zadelhoff: When you’re on the inside, it’s hard. It’s a slog.
Peter Bauer: Yeah. And also, there wasn’t as much like study of SAAS companies and SAAS models that had happened. Then, you know, eventually you’ve got all these SAAS geniuses with their metrics and clever numbers and ways to measure GRR and net revenue retention and like all this stuff. Like we just had stellar metrics. And we didn’t really know how to boast about them. But the smart money found us and they were like okay. Let’s support these guys’ growth even further. So Inside Venture partners came in and was I think a 62 million dollar raise. Some more secondary, which helped because we had a lot of people who’d been working on the smell of an oil rag for many years.
Marc van Zadelhoff: Get people some liquidity for people listening secondaries are a way of getting other shareholders to sell their shares to the new investors and get liquid.
Peter Bauer: Yeah. Which obviously, in retrospect, was an awful idea. It was the most expensive selling of shares I’ve probably ever had done. But that’s a high class problem.
Marc van Zadelhoff: High class problem. No sympathy.
Peter Bauer: Yeah and then we grew the company. We had some tricky stuff to work out as a business. And who are we and what’s our focus? 2014, we had some complex board dynamics to work through the controlling shares. And positions that my co-founder and I had entrenched probably came in handy to help balance the ship and keep us from taking shortcuts that some stakeholders might have pushed for at the time. But we’d gone through all that. We worked together. And we took the company public in 2015.
Marc van Zadelhoff: Amazing. What was that like? What was the IPL like? Was that as great a moment as one thinks when you’re ringing the bell?
Peter Bauer: Yeah. You know, I’d always been like a little puzzled by this American businessmen, business person fascination with taking a company public. Like you always hear like oh, and I was like, that just doesn’t seem like it’s appealing to me at all. And probably why my venture partners got a little bit frustrated with me in 2014, as I wasn’t as driven to realize the liquidity event for them as I ought to have been. But having done it, now I get it. Like it is a euphoric moment. I mean, I’m pretty sure there are companies that do it and are like damn, why did we do this? Maybe some spac artists or something bamboozled somebody into going into the public markets prematurely and they shouldn’t have. But for us, we worked really, really hard. And for all of our staff internationally to see us on that stage. And Nasdaq, it’s a big deal. Like internationally, it’s a big deal in the States. But we have a big staff complement in South Africa, Australia, UK. Other parts of the world. Like for them to see us go through that and to see that recognition, it was amazing. It was far more euphoric than I ever imagined it would be. And then what followed was six and a half years of extremely hard work.
Marc van Zadelhoff: Yeah. The commitment, yeah. How did you manage that in your brain? Did you realize when you went IPO that it’s at least, well, how do you think? At least a three to five year commitment? Is that how you’re thinking about it?
Peter Bauer: I don’t know. I’m a bit of a strange one in that I never timeline things. Like I know there will be milestones, it’s just an ongoing journey. So there’s no finish line. And you want the company to just be able to keep growing and sort of perpetuate itself. And I just knew that it was going to be many more quarters ongoing. And I don’t know, I don’t invent how the whole thing’s going to turn out. So we just kept going. Now obviously, maybe with more experience, now I’m more aware of what the paths can be when we’d maybe start designing certain outcomes. Or, but it was just this belief that my co-founder and I always had from the beginning. Which he’d always say success will bring many options. He had a few sayings that were, and despite his ability to mock fortune cookie advice, he had some good ones of his own. Like success will bring many options. And action kills fear.
Marc van Zadelhoff: I like the second one especially. Yeah, I think that speaks to Monday mornings, just going, right? But in the end, you guys also made the company private, like you said, about six years later, to Premira. And I’m curious, you could talk about going private. But also, do you think in the end that being a public company is a better mechanism for running a company than being private, or did you develop a preference? Because I was briefly, LogMeIn, and then we took it private as well. And I wasn’t the CEO, I was the number two guy there. But it’s pretty draining being a public company. In terms of the obligations, and the pressure put, and it felt sometimes more short sighted, short-term oriented. So definitely I didn’t walk away from that going it’s a slam dunk better place to be. I agree the euphoria must have been incredible. But then you’re on the other side. And what do you think? Is it better to be public or private?
Peter Bauer: Yeah, I think that, and again, I only have experience with one company. And our company just happens to be in quite a stable, steady grower with a pretty pristine business model subscription. It’s not a lot of hair on this thing. We’ve hand crafted it from the beginning. So I don’t know what it would feel like to inherit complexity and I know you guys at LogMeIn did some things where you took the business out of Citrix and then would go to business. And like sometimes those things, you don’t fully understand. So we felt like we really understood our business. And the mechanisms of it. And obviously it’s got to move through time and different competitive dynamics and different kind of customer requirements. But you can keep up with it to some extent. So that definitely helped. It’s different. We obviously got trained. We got used to the rhythm of, you know, the however, like 26, 27 quarters of public company life. It had its awful moments. I mean we went out at 10 bucks and within a few months we were at 6 bucks. And the bankers that took us public, Goldman Sachs, the lead analyst put a sale rating on us. Which was just like awful. And it was like this doesn’t make any sense.
Marc van Zadelhoff: With friends like these, who needs enemies I guess is the expression, right?
Peter Bauer: Yeah, yeah. And not to take anything away from the banking work that Goldman Sachs did, it just didn’t make a lot of sense. And we felt really in a tough spot. And of course, six and a half years later, the company was acquired for 80 dollars a share. So, you know, we just had our work, so the critics and demonstrate that. But the public company setting, I think, you know, it definitely leaves a sovereignty with the management team. Because you have, you know, as long as you do it right, there’s a sovereignty that the management time has to design and develop the strategy and it’s liberating in some senses. You have to keep earning that freedom. But and then obviously when you move into a private setting, and again, disclaimer, I only have one year. In fact, on Friday last year was the one year anniversary of our deal closing. You know, being the CEO of a private equity held company, it’s much more of a team sport. And I don’t mean like —
Marc van Zadelhoff: With the shareholder, with the investor.
Peter Bauer: Correct, yeah. It’s like being the CEO is much more of a team sport. So I had more sovereignty as a CEO of a public company. Because all roads led to me.
Marc van Zadelhoff: You had a million shareholders. So, no one of them could tell you what to do. But now you have a —
Peter Bauer: Exactly, the board led to me, the management team led to me. Now, the office of the CEO is essentially a jointly owned concept. And I’m not uncomfortable with that concept, because as a founder, I’ve been here for a long time. I know where the bodies are buried. I’ve seen a lot of things. But — and I know I don’t have all the answers. But it does mean there’s like, there can be quite a few balls in the air. And you have to be able to bring that together strategically in a way that accommodates a lot more points of view and aligns a lot more things. And your authority, while it’s respected by the private equity firm, all the other players in the system know that it’s shared authority. It’s different. Yeah. And again, I only have one private equity partner here in Premira and no experience with others. But I think it’s actually quite a good model for achieving transformational growth in a business. There’s a lot of decision making that can be done on a short cut basis. There’s — you can be a lot more confident about certain things. Whereas in a public company, you know that whatever you might decide, you’re never going to have a consensus out there, you’re going to have to just show the facets of what you’re doing to a lot of different stakeholders and hope that they hang on.
Marc van Zadelhoff: So Peter, I want to just go to 20 years of running Mimecast through everything you’ve just described to the listeners on the podcast here. Just lessons learned. How did you keep the energy for 20 years? Just curious, your thoughts on kind of that aspect.
Peter Bauer: Yeah, well, I mean if you work in a space as exhilarating as email. It’s — it is like what’s the mindset that gives you stamina through multiple cycles of change? I always come back to this point. It’s perspective and imagination. So I’ve used this example before. It’s like you wake up today and you go I don’t know if I’m at the start, the middle, or the end of this journey. I genuinely don’t know. You could be in year 2 as a company, you could be in year 22 as a company. I mean look at, I don’t know, what’s a very old company? I mean, like, 20 years in, where were they? Start, middle, end of their journey? I mean, you don’t know. But it’s always better to assume you’re at the start.
Marc van Zadelhoff: This really resonates. Because I do think for me in my role, that’s exactly true. I have no idea how long the journey is.
Peter Bauer: Yeah. You don’t know, you can’t control it, so you go okay. Well if I were to pick a point, what’s going to be the most high functioning mindset to show up with for the team, for my stakeholders, for myself? And so you say at the start of the journey, I’m most open to learning. I’m most open to fresh thinking. I’m most energetic. So let’s lock into that start of the journey mindset. And then how do I use my imagination to think about if I was, if I had to think about the future with fresh eyes, what would somebody new, maybe a year 15, I’ve got to think like if I got hit by the bus and someone new came here tomorrow, what would they make sure they fixed? Or what would they prioritize? Or like what would I really wish they would know so they could go and like get after. And then you start to put that together. And then also realizing that, and I hate this, because I wish everyone would stay forever in the company. I’m kind of loyal like that. But sometimes you need fresh legs. And not everybody is a long distance athlete. Some people want to be around for a short period of time. Or their imagination won’t refresh because they won’t be able to go back to be start of journey people again and again. And so knowing that fresh energy in terms of fresh legs coming into the business and the bigger you get, sometimes you have more optionality to attract more talent, diverse talent to come into the company. That gives me a boost, too. It’s fun working with new engaged people that bring experience. And as long as they have the same values and approach to work, that keeps it going.
Marc van Zadelhoff: And you never doubted your leg stamina? You never thought maybe for this next chapter, I should hand off.
Peter Bauer: Well you know, you’re confronted with that idea. Quite often. I mean, even like in the early days before what year we turned down some term sheets from venture capitalists before Dawn Capital came in. Where they’d literally in the terms sheet, they made it very clear that they wanted the ability to bump you to one side because they believe they knew better. And I always felt that didn’t make sense to me. Because like I’ve started this company. I’ve attracted other capital here. I’ve brought people in. Like I would be doing the wrong thing by everybody if I signed an agreement with one new party here which said well, you can write me out of the script at any time. Because like what are they going to do that’s going to meet all these obligations to all these customers and like no. They’re going to look after their business, not our business in particular. So I held onto that as a manner of obligation to stakeholders. But I think it’s important that people know who’s in charge. But it doesn’t mean it didn’t come without self doubt. And that sefl doubt can be encouraged by others who want to take control of the business. It can be encouraged by just being human and realize that you’ve screwed up a few things and you don’t know if you can fix them.
Marc van Zadelhoff: It can also be a great motivator.
Peter Bauer: It can be. Yeah, it absolutely can be. I remember one moment, 2014 was a tough year. It was the year before we went public. And there was plenty of self doubt. And I remember meeting an investment banker who’d had quite a bit of operator experience himself. And I said to him, you know, I really don’t think – his name was Michael – I said to him, I really don’t I don’t know if I’m the person who can take this company public. I don’t know if I’m capable of leading it. And he’d gotten to know me a little bit. And he looked at me and he said no, I’ve met plenty of people who’ve taken companies public. Trust me, like if anyone can do it, you can take your company public. He said the only question is are you willing to make the personal sacrifices that will be necessary? Like do you really want to do it? And if you are, you can do it. And I remember going home and having this conversation with my wife. And she’d known like how tumultuous 2014 had been and I told her that story. And she just burst into tears and hugged me. And it was like this sort of moment in my career. Which was then a turning point. But yeah, I was like damn it, we’ll do this.
Marc van Zadelhoff: You talked to me as well about kind of dividing things up, I know we’re wrapping up, but dividing things up into journeys, and chapters, and eras. How do you do that? Because I think that’s something I also sort of struggle with. You see natural moments where you’re kind of transitioning to the next thing. And how do you get the organization behind that?
Peter Bauer: Yeah, that’s so important. Because like life’s a long story. And like sentences need punctuation, and they need like, people need to have a sense of time and how do you think at time? It’s interesting, we had an exec off site last week. And we were talking about this idea that when we’re having conversations, we need to think about two dimensions. The one is what is the timeframe that we’re thinking about, like where are we? And then also like what altitude are we? Are we having a 10,000 foot conversation about some ideas? Or are we going way down? And just maintaining a sense of what we’re talking about is this quarter, next quarter. The three year concept. And so on. And so, what I’ve tried to do is help the company think about that. More clearly. And kind of break the story. Now a few years back, we wrote this thing called the Mimecast story. And we had these four chapters. And it was like Chapter 1 was going back a little bit. Chapter 2 was the present day. Chapter 3 was where we were headed. And then Chapter 4 was sort of out of the possible 5, 10 year story. And we try and write those stories, like descriptive, like a storybook. Like and you might have ideas in there like here we think our revenues might be 200 million or whatever. And we think the products, and you use techniques like a customer testimonial might reach something like this. Put it in there. So you give people a sense of it. But what I’ve found now is particularly where we are at Mimecast today, it’s actually quite an interesting point. So we’re now going into our third decade. And I used that to give people to give people a sense of what do we need to get right for our third decade? What do we need to bring with us that has been part of our success formula, other than the last two. But also what’s the new thinking? What’s the fresh thinking? And being able to frame it like the start of a new era. It’s that start of new journey mind set. Which I think is empowering for people. And particularly because if there’s new people who joined the company, and for them to feel a sense that they’re coming in at ground level. The start of the third decade. It’s an exciting point and there’s a platform here to work with. But it’s a new day as well.
Marc van Zadelhoff: That’s awesome. Well, Peter, we could keep going for a long time. I think I should wrap it up with the thought of those chapters and I’m sure there’s an amazing third decade of Mimecast that we’re all going to follow. Thanks for making the time to get into all these details, your background, and your growing up in South Africa, and 20 years there and beyond. So appreciate you spending the time with me.
Peter Bauer: Yeah, thank you, Marc.
Marc van Zadelhoff: Alright, and for all of our listeners, keep tuning in for the next episode of Cyber CEOs Decoded, and thanks for listening to Peter and I banter on today.