It may be a coincidence that FireHost founder Chris Drake is deaf in right ear, and Jim Lewandowski is deaf in his left ear, but it’s also a perfect metaphor for their complementary relationship.
Drake recently announced that he would be giving up his role as CEO to Lewandowski so that he could focus all his efforts on driving the company’s technology as CTO.
Drake started out as a member of the US Army’s 82nd Airborne Division, and, while injured, built some of the first bulletin board systems for the military before the internet was really the internet as we know it. “I’m an engineer at heart,” says Drake. “So, when the opportunity arose to launch FireHost, I was very application-bent…I was a developer.”
However, as the company started to grow, he started finding that the realities of running a growing business were diverting his attention away from development. “As FireHost continued to grow, I started to become other things, ops and finance and HR and sales and marketing and all the other functions that exist. I enjoyed learning them but it wasn’t my sweet spot. I’ve struggled with balancing my time between growing the business… to doing the things I love the most, which is developing product and innovating.”
Building a Scaffolding for a Growing Company
Over the past year and a half, the FireHost board of directors has been building out a “scaffolding” in the form of new executive hires that would help Drake offload responsibilities and spend more time on product development.
Last year, Lewandowski joined the FireHost board and got increasingly involved in the company before it became clear that he would be a prime candidate to lead the company as CEO. “He knew all the things really well that I’m weakest at,” says Drake.
Lewandowski’s skills lie in the business of managing tech companies, but he also has a strong engineering background that helps him communicate with the team. “Engineers have a way of solving problems creatively,” says Drake. “He kind of has that tech engineer creative learner mode that’s the same way I work.”
Early in his career, Lewandowski worked in the offshore oil industry, designing oil wellheads able to withstand high pressure. It turned out that the sealing mechanisms he developed for high temperature and highly corrosive environments found in deep, off-shore oil wells were deemed a solution to some of the problems that led to the 1986 Challenger space shuttle catastrophe.
Later, Lewandowski joined IBM where he had a variety of sales and sales management roles for more than a decade, having the particular skill of communicating in language that engineers understand. He went on to work at BMC Software, be recruited to Yahoo! by Jerry Yang, and have roles at McAfee and Rackspace.
After all these experiences, Lewandowski says he’s very happy to be at FireHost, a company he considers to be a leader in a growing field. “The market that we are in – security and cloud – is a very large market, and I think it will become even larger over time.” He notes that stories about hacking and other security incidents in the news are helping people understand how security affects their lives.
“FireHost is a rather remarkable company,” he says. “There’s great technology, and maybe even better than the technology is the environment and philosophy Chris has built this company around.”
Taking Security to the Market
Now with the CEO position behind him, Drake has two main goals: evangelizing security, and creating new products for its enterprise customers.
“The gloves are coming off this year from a messaging perspective,” says Drake. He explains that FireHost’s security practices are what responsible organizations should be doing to not just meet regulations but to actually be secure. “Our competition has been very checkbox-focused regarding in the way they think about compliance and security, and not best-practice focussed. So, I’m going to evangelize and educate the market.”
Drake will also be focusing on understanding what large enterprises see as their major security challenges and creating products to meet their needs. This goes hand-in-hand with the fact that FireHost’s customers are increasingly large enterprises, rather than SMBs, causing revenue per customer to triple in the last two years. Instead of waiting for customers to find FireHost, Drake to reach out more to potential customers.
This effort will be complemented by a recently doubled R&D budget over the next 12 months, and Jim’s experience in go-to-market strategies.
Lewandowski says, “Chris and I complement each other – our skills complement each other very nicely. I like to think that I’m good at things he’s not as good at, and he’s way better at technology and the vision and those things than I am.”