First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Ricardo Villadiego: We’re doing well despite the circumstances. Shortly before the lockdown took effect, I was visiting my family in Colombia, where I am originally from, and then ended up being locked down in Colombia until just a couple of months ago when I was able to return home to Miami. My company, Lumu, had only just officially launched at the RSA Conference at the end of February in San Francisco, so there were definitely some challenges in keeping the company’s momentum going with all of our employees working remotely. Fortunately, we live in a time where we are able to stay connected, and I was pleasantly surprised by the fact that our team was able to remain productive during this time of great uncertainty. Of course, it was also very nice to extend my vacation to one of my favorite places and spend some quality time with extended family.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded Lumu.
Ricardo Villadiego: I was born and raised in Cartagena, Colombia, one of the most beautiful places in the world. However, during the time that I was growing up, Colombia was going through tough times due to a variety of economic and political factors. Fortunately, my family was able to ensure that I could pursue my passion for technology and engineering. At the age of 15, I moved to Bogota to study engineering, where I eventually earned an honors degree in Electronic Engineering from the Universidad Distrital Francisco Jose de Caldas, one of the country’s top universities. Upon finishing my degree, I got my first job at Unisys. I developed software for ATMs, where I began to learn about the emerging TCP/IP protocol and realized that its broad adoption would have some rather serious unintended security consequences.
My desire to understand and solve these challenges was ultimately the catalyst for starting my first company, Easy Solutions, which I co-founded with my wife (who is an industrial engineer by training) and my best friend from college. Over the course of the next decade, Easy Solutions grew to become one of the leading fraud prevention platforms. In 2017, Easy Solutions was part of the $2.8 billion acquisition roll-up that is now Cyxterra Technologies. I stayed on with Cyxterra for another two years running their Security & Fraud division, but the entrepreneurial bug bit me once again, and in 2019, I founded Lumu, which represents a return to my engineering and entrepreneurial roots.
How does Lumu innovate?
Ricardo Villadiego: There’s one number that always seems to get the attention of a prospective customer: 208. Two hundred and eight days, or almost seven full months, is, according to the Ponemon Institute, the average length of time that an attacker spends undetected inside the corporate network. And this is ultimately the problem Lumu is working to solve: our platform helps customers illuminate the blindspots in their network and determine whether or not their network infrastructure has already been compromised. And then, we provide a methodology and framework for measuring compromise continuously. This is a radically different approach from how most companies think about protecting their network from threat actors as we are effectively flipping the conventional security script around from ‘how do we keep the bad guys out of our network’ to one that instead says, “assume they’re already inside and prove that they’re not.” This is the innovation that’s central to our company’s ethos, which encourages everyone in our organization to identify and challenge their assumptions about how things work continuously.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Ricardo Villadiego: I started Lumu in June 2019 and spent the next six months recruiting a team of engineers, building a prototype, and recruiting an initial set of customers to test the platform we built. Our plan was to launch our solution at the RSA Conference that took place in San Francisco in the last week of February – just a few weeks before the country began to shut down. The RSA Conference is the world’s largest security tradeshow that usually draws upwards of 60,000 attendees, and we had invested a great deal of resources and money into making sure everything went smoothly. And then, just as we were getting all of those last details finalized, news of the virus began to spread, which consequently led a number of companies deciding to pull out of the event. We, too, struggled with the best course of action, but ultimately we decided to stick with our plan, and we had a very successful launch event that has served as an important foundation for our go-to-market strategy. The pandemic has also presented some new opportunities for our business. Because so many people are now logging in remotely, threat actors have been busy exploiting the fact that they don’t have the same security controls at home as they do at the office, which is driving security leaders to invest in systems that can help them improve their visibility into what’s happening on the network and build greater resilience in general.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Ricardo Villadiego: Being a start-up founder, you have to make difficult choices and trade-offs every day. The pandemic has certainly served as a forcing function in its own right, compelling our small team to carefully but quickly evaluate a number of tough decisions. Our Marketing plan was built with a heavy focus on in-person events, and after everything began shutting down, we had to decide how we should continue to build our sales pipeline without these events. Within a couple of weeks, we decided to try something completely different – we would create a series of virtual events that would feature high-profile athletes (many of whom also suddenly had a lot of free time on their hands). Dubbed the “Illumination Summit,” the idea behind these events was to explore the parallels between the domain of cybersecurity and the real world by showcasing remarkable personalities who could provide insights into how they prepare and respond to adversity. During the course of the pandemic, we’ve produced two Illumination Summits, one featuring the former goalkeeper from the Colombian national soccer team and another with the former number one female tennis player in the world (Victoria Azarenka) – each event greatly surpassed our expectations and will likely become a regular part of our marketing efforts even after the pandemic has subsided. The big lesson that we’ve taken from this is not to make decisions from a place of fear but rather work to harness your team’s collective spirit to identify creative strategies that enable you to meet your goals. We are lucky to be an agile company in which we can make timely decisions.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety? How do you protect yourself and Lumu in the future?
Ricardo Villadiego: Every entrepreneur must deal with a great amount of stress and anxiety, and it never seems to go away, no matter how successful you might be. When starting my first company, Easy Solutions, I was under a great deal of stress with many of the typical things that a first-time entrepreneur experiences — from fundraising to hiring and just keeping our people aligned and inspired. It’s both exhausting and exhilarating. A lot of my friends asked me following the acquisition of Easy Solutions if I was just going to retire and enjoy the fruits of our labor, but I’m still very much energized by the idea of creating and building that it was a pretty easy decision to start Lumu.
As far as dealing with stress and anxiety, I have many of the same outlets as others that help keep me balanced. But I also don’t think anxiety and stress are necessarily things you should avoid. Obviously, too much can be paralyzing and potentially very harmful to your health. However, anxiety has served an important evolutionary function for our species for tens of thousands of years. It keeps us alert and responsive to our environment. The tricky part is learning how to channel that anxiety into something useful and productive.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Ricardo Villadiego: The market that we play in at the cross-section of two very large and mature markets: network management and cybersecurity. While many software vendors provide an array of solutions that span both of these domains, I believe Lumu has carved out a truly distinct product that solves a real problem that has not been adequately addressed by existing tools. It also represents a multi-billion dollar opportunity, and many much larger software vendors will no doubt see this opportunity and become competitors. So long as we can keep our focus squarely centered on meeting our customers’ needs, I’m confident that we will be able to build and sustain a thriving enterprise.
Your final thoughts?
Ricardo Villadiego: I am a big believer in resilience. It’s truly hard to grasp the catastrophic impact this pandemic is having on people around the globe. While it’s easy to become overwhelmed by the uncertainty and helplessness that we all feel, I also believe that we will emerge from this stronger and more resilient than before.
I also believe in people’s ability to adapt to a changing environment. We spend so much of our time planning and preparing for the future, and then something like the pandemic happens, and we have to throw all those previous assumptions out the window. But as we’re seeing, as difficult as this time has been for so many, it’s also revealing a variety of hidden opportunities as the pandemic has forced every business, from the smallest of start-ups to the largest enterprises, to be incredibly agile and figure out how to apply different ways of thinking to solve seemingly intractable problems.