First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Changming Liu: We are doing fine.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded Stellar Cyber
Changming Liu: I have a wealth of leadership, entrepreneurship, management skills, and technical expertise in networking, security, big data, and machine learning. Before co-founding Stellar Cyber, I was a co-founder, CTO, and Board Member at Aerohive Networks, a cloud networking provider that successfully completed an IPO in 2014. Prior to founding Aerohive in 2006, I was a Distinguished Engineer at Juniper Networks, following the great acquisition of Netscreen Technologies after its successful IPO in 4 years. At Netscreen, I was a Senior Technical Manager and key architect in networking and security. I am an author of close to 20 patents and hold a B.Sc. in Computer Science from Tsinghua University in Beijing and an M.S. in Computer and Electrical Engineering from Queen’s University, Ontario, Canada.
His story is one of transitioning from a technologist to a technical manager to a business leader.
Like many leaders, I started out as an inventor, and as I learned, I saw that even the best ‘mouse trap’ is not the trigger to mass adoption. There are equally key concerns and questions, such as “What is the customer pain?” or “How do buyers see the value of the new invention and thus adopt it?” Seeing Netscreen grow rapidly and be successfully acquired opened his mind.
I started Aerohive by inventing a new WLAN solution and acted as the founding CEO but stepped aside as I could see, I needed more rounding on the business side. As the CTO, I helped drive market leadership and success at Aerohive and filled in some of my business skill gaps.
Through these experiences, I learned that a successful company needs great technology, a great user experience, and strong marketing skills. Stellar Cyber has enjoyed tremendous revenue growth and customer adoption since it launched into the market in 2018. And through my experiences coming up in the ranks on the technical side, founding Aerohive, and making a tough career call for the business, I was now ready to take the reins through, which is what I’m doing as founding CEO at Stellar Cyber.
How does Stellar Cyber innovate?
Changming Liu: Most cybersecurity solutions are stuck in the Dark Ages: a dozen or more individual tools, each monitored through its own console by an analyst. The problem with this approach is that most cybersecurity attacks are complex, operating across several vectors in the kill chain, and each individual tool picks up only one part of the attack. Then, it’s left to analysts to correlate their findings to discover the real attack manually. This can take weeks or even months, as many large cyberattacks have shown.
Stellar Cyber is an integrated platform incorporating 20+ tools that deliver results through a single console with a single software license. We monitor the entire attack surface – from endpoints to servers to the network and into the cloud and SaaS applications – and correlate the data to reveal even the most complex attacks in minutes.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Changming Liu: We help customers work through new attack vectors due to their having more remote workers. Many of our customers are using a hybrid worker model – it’s dynamic as to whether the worker is at home or the office. Often, home workers don’t have the same security protections they have at work, and hackers are noticing this.
Issues like this have put additional strain on a security workforce that is also going through the same challenges at home. In addition, companies are relying more on public cloud and software-as-a-service (SaaS) models to accommodate their dynamic workers, and they are questioning whether their current security operations centers (SOCs) are equipped to see into these virtual environments.
Stellar Cyber has been fortunate in that customers continue to prioritize SOC spending, and that is the budget we pull from. Our investors are taking the long view and are extremely supportive.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Changming Liu: Our biggest challenge remains showing we can grow regardless of the macro market, which means people need our product. Many companies are being more cautious about spending, but our sales have not been affected so far. We are laser-focused on customer pain and how we can solve it cost-effectively.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety, how do you project yourself and Stellar Cyber in the future?
Changming Liu: I like to hike every weekend to get away from the office. It clears my mind so I can focus on key challenges and think through potential solutions.
We see ourselves as part of a new wave of security architecture where multiple tools that were formerly separate are consolidated into one solution. Other companies are pursuing this approach by acquiring other firms and grafting their products onto its main product (such as a firewall or security information and event manager (SIEM)). We see ourselves becoming the leader in consolidated security solutions because our product was built from the ground up to be that way. Therefore, our tools are much more tightly integrated and easier to use, and it is easier to analyze and correlate data from multiple tools to reveal complex attacks.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Changming Liu: Our main competitors are Palo Alto Networks and Trend Micro.
We are part of an emerging new category called XDR – eXtended (X) detection (D) and response (R), which reflects the idea that an enterprise attack surface is no longer a single point. It means detecting threats anywhere, from within, from outside, or from host-to-host attacks. Palo Alto Networks is building its platform, Cortex, through acquisitions (LightCyber is one example). As a startup, Stellar Cyber had the XDR vision from day one and built an Open-XDR platform as we intend to attract a thriving ecosystem. Many customers do not want a rip-and-replace story; they want to augment what they have and make it better. Industry analyst firms Enterprise Strategy Group (ESG), Gartner, Forrester, and Omdia track the new XDR category.
Your final thoughts
Changming Liu: We are doubling our sales year over year because customers realize that we bring higher efficiency and superior threat-hunting results to them at a lower overall cost. We have a strong lead over our competitors, and we believe we can maintain it.