This article was published in the Fall 2020 issue
by Darren Lee, Executive Vice President and General Manager of Compliance and Digital Risk, Proofpoint Inc.
If 2020 has taught us anything it’s this: Utah’s Silicon Slopes is a community that rises to the occasion. I’ve spent more than 30 years in and around Salt Lake City and I’ve seen quite a technology transformation. As my career evolved from serial entrepreneur to helping lead one of the top cybersecurity companies in the world, there are a few Silicon Slopes best practices that continue to hold true.
If I could give one piece of advice to my career-minded younger self just starting in the Slopes, I would recommend worrying less about job title and compensation and give more weight to the company itself and the space it occupies. For example, it must have compelling solutions that will stand the test of time and crisis—even during a time like COVID. Complete an assessment to determine: is the organization a leader in the industry? If not, does it have the potential to be? Does it operate with high integrity and emphasize innovation investment? What about the industry itself…will it be relevant in five or 10 years?
In 2011, I took my own advice and joined a market leader in a highly relevant industry. It’s not every day a serial entrepreneur like me takes a break from building and selling startups, and yet such an opportunity presented itself. I enjoyed the small company dynamic, chasing a market problem and solution and the entrepreneurial spirit found in startups. After years sharing the same office space, separated only by a line of tape on the floor, I sold Draper-based NextPage to Proofpoint, a global leader in cybersecurity technology and innovation headquartered in Silicon Valley.
For me, it was the best of both worlds. I got to remain in the Beehive State and enjoy its lower cost of living and high quality of life, but still satisfy that entrepreneurial itch by building out Proofpoint’s Utah operations. With a workforce of 400+ in Draper, we are very committed to tapping the Wasatch Front’s considerable and growing talent pool.
I realized early on that cybersecurity was relatively more immune from market whims impacted by macroeconomic forces. After all, there is no shortage of bad guys wreaking internet havoc…and that risk has only increased as more and more companies have embraced digital transformation to stay competitive. During my tenure Proofpoint has grown from $100 million in annual revenue to over $888 million in 2019. At publication we have a market cap of $6B and just hit a milestone of 68 quarters of consecutive growth.
As for life during COVID, I’m mindful of the enormous destruction and tragedy the pandemic has caused for so many. From a purely business standpoint, Proofpoint has fared better than many. Literally overnight we all went remote and I credit Proofpoint’s size, scale, and tech-savvy employees with keeping business operations largely unaffected during this enormous transition. At the same time, I recognize there are things you can’t replace like seeing people every day, feeding off the energy in the room, and real-time collaboration.
As our tech community continues to offer opportunity throughout a challenging year, below are four things I encourage entrepreneurs, new graduates, and established professionals to keep top-of-mind:
1. Understand your company’s true value. Research how others see you from the outside and avoid the temptation to inhale your own fumes.
2. Understand your customers. If your job doesn’t include you occasionally touching base with your customers to stay on top of their needs, it may be time to rethink your job.
3. Be paranoid. Fear becoming irrelevant and displaced. If your customers feel neglected or misunderstood, you create an opening for a smaller or nimbler company. Stay in touch, invest in technology and stay relevant.
4. Invest in yourself. While it’s important to build out your network in Utah, don’t neglect other regions or company headquarters. You never know when a contact in Silicon Valley or Austin might make the difference in a sale or job.
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