Executives reflect on 15 years of Barracuda
2003 marked the beginning for Barracuda Networks. A lot has changed since then, both in terms of the security landscape and the company itself. Barracuda grew from a six-person startup company operating out of an office over a coffeeshop in Los Altos, California, to a global company with offices all over the world and multiple product lines offering solutions across a variety of threat vectors.
As the company celebrates its 15th anniversary, we sat down with a few of the team members who have been here from the beginning (or very close to it) to get their thoughts on how Barracuda has evolved over the years and what core principles have stood the test of time.
Zach Levow, Co-Founder, Executive Vice President & CTO
What are the most important ways Barracuda has evolved over the time you’ve worked for the company?
Barracuda has gone from a startup company to a medium-sized company to a huge company to public company and back to a private company. We always ran so ruthlessly efficiently that we were able to pivot and react quickly, both technically and as a business. That said, it also meant that we had very little buffer if there were problems. We designed the business and the technology to operate in this model. In engineering terms, we called this "graceful failure" — where one or more parts of the system could be impaired, but operations would not be noticeably affected from the perspective of an outside observer.
This model is exceptionally effective for a startup company but doesn't work as well for a mid-to-large business. It can also be very stressful for employees. We are still exceptionally agile for a company of our scale, but we had to evolve our organization to provide the cushion to continue to develop and grow while having the bench strength and structure to support operations.
How has it stayed the same?
I think that most of the agility is still there, minus the ability to make really big mistakes and break things really badly. So, we have the ability to create cool things and add features and create products pretty quickly, more quickly than I think most companies of our size can do. But we try to minimize the amount of damage that can be done by getting a little too ahead of the headlights.
[caption id="attachment_34230" align="alignright" width="300"] Zach Levow and Denis Kieft stand with the first two Barracuda spam firewalls ever shipped.[/caption]
What have you enjoyed most about working for the team?
For as long as I've worked with the team, I've always told people the same thing that I love most about the organization: That everyone is so exceptionally competent that you can assume that, just because something might not be done the same way I would have done it, it's being done well — probably better. Everyone listens to feedback and turns around and creates something better than what could have been created in a vacuum.
Are there milestones or memories that stand out for you?
Besides the IPO itself, which is an amazing memory, starting a company, and having this amazingly hot product unlike anything else that was on the market that people were banging down your door for was nice. Also introducing new products and continuing to innovate. Those days of going from shipping one product a day to five a day to 50 a day were definitely memorable.
What do you see in store for the company in the next 15 years?
I'm more excited than ever for the potential of the company. We have matured as a company in all the right ways while still remaining nimble. We also have a renewed focus and a better ability to execute than ever before. I feel like there is a very aligned focus, and we’ve been very clear about the messaging. It’s great to see our ability to move forward and execute and make decisions for the right reasons.
Scott Sotka, Manager, Business Applications
How did you get started with Barracuda? What have you enjoyed most about working with the team?
I have been working on internal tools for the company since the week I started —15 years ago. We were six people in a thousand-square-foot office over a coffeeshop in Los Altos. When I started, there were only a couple of sales people, and it took them an hour to process every order that they brought in. That limited them to a maximum of eight orders a day, assuming there was no break in between. Founder and CEO at the time, Dean Drako told me we needed something to automate what they were doing, so we started building a tool to automate the orders. We called it the Barracuda Order System, BOS. With BOS, we were able to cut the order time down quite a bit, and over time it went from just processing orders to also processing shipments to being the company’s ERP system for the most part. So, it’s touched every part of the company.
That’s been the most interesting experience. I’ve worked at other companies, and I was usually head down working on one thing, not really worried about the big picture. But, here I got to see everything start to finish. I actually got to watch the company grow, and I knew because of that what my own contribution to the company was the whole time. That’s rare. You hardly ever get to see exactly what effect your work is having firsthand. That’s part of the reason I’ve stayed this long. When you feel like you’ve made a difference, you stick around and try to keep making a difference.
What are the biggest changes you’ve seen at the company?
As we went international, that was really amazing — when you can go into almost any airport in the world and see ads for Barracuda. I have friends who will travel to these far-flung countries and send me a picture back of one of our ads. That was always fun. I remember the first full-page magazine ad that Founder and then CMO, Michael Perone managed to get for the company while we were all just huddled around, six people, and he was showing us this first ad. That was just amazing, seeing how the brand developed over time.
Are there any other milestones that stand out?
Early on, manufacturing was Denis Kieft and one other guy putting machines together in the corner of the office, and then we would box them up and put them on a handcart and walk them over to UPS. Once they got too many for that, we would fill up Denis’ station wagon with them and drive them over. Our first warehouse was Dean Drako’s mother’s garage, and we would have to walk over and be there when the truck came to drop off new cases and equipment. Compare that to what the team has now, with multiple deliveries a day and huge shipments.
How has the spirit and the culture of the company stayed the same?
The spirit and the culture of the company has always been very agile and very much thinking about our customers. Sometimes we get it right, sometimes we get it wrong, but we’re always trying to think about the customer. That’s stayed the same, along with striving to be agile and responsive and to feel like a small company even though we’ve grown.
Fleming Shi, SVP, Technology
How has Barracuda evolved since you first joined the company?
My journey with Barracuda started in 2004. Interestingly, I joined the company by invitation from the founding CEO, Dean Drako, to start our second product family, web security. Back then, the spam product was already taking off, so much of my work required innovation outside of the box for a new box. After 14 years, the need to innovate hasn’t gone away, so here I am, working on cloud-native security solutions and building microservices with my team to serve the larger product teams.
One thing I like to point out is that we are obsessed by customer needs. We don’t innovate unless the needs are there. So, I can claim that Barracuda’s technology is always well timed for the right reason. From my personal experience, I’m humbled and feel lucky to be part of multiple technology transformations at Barracuda, from the days of shipping physical appliances to popping virtual appliances into hypervisors to microservices and SaaS solutions we offer with cloud-native features. We provide security solutions to our customers in many facets of their journey, from email, network to applications; and we protect them wherever they are, from on-premises to cloud.
What have you enjoyed most about working for the team over the years?
I really enjoy the teams I work for and work with and being on the journey of an ever-developing career. Many of my team members started as interns and turned full-time. It’s with a great joy to watch them flourish in technical competency, communication, and thought leadership. Some of them turn into great managers, while others shape up to be software architects. I also enjoy the freedom to innovate at Barracuda. Many of my colleagues and managers past and present have provided me and my team plenty of room and challenges in various transformative projects.
Anything else you want to add?
I can’t see clearly 15 years ahead, but I can see technology is dominating our lives today and that will continue. Given the various ways we interact with the digital world, security needs will be everlasting. What’s fascinating to me is what security solutions will look like, but I’m certain that Barracuda will stay at the forefront to protect us along the journey.
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