Wednesday, May 31, 2006
Interview with Simplicita
Our interview this morning is with Frank Bergen and Rob Fleishman of Simplicita (www.simplicita.com), a Denver-based startup that just introduced software that helps ISPs get a handle on problems with zombies and botnet on subscriber PCs. Frank is the CEO of Simplicita, and Rob is the co-founder and CTO of the firm. We spoke with Frank and Rob to hear about the company and its recent venture capital funding.
Techrockies: Describe what Simplicita does, and what your products are all about?
Frank Bergen: At a high level, Simplicita has deviced a piece of server-side software that solves the zombie and botnet problem for ISPs. It identifies, quarantines, and gives the end user a means to remediate when their machine is infected. It's different from traditional approaches in that detection is based on a service provider's policy. Service providers typically have a view of the world that says who is violating what is classically defined as acceptable use. To date, that database has been available inside of logs of various systems like firewalls, message transfer agents, and network security devices, but there has been no way to correlate that information in near real time and make a policy decision. There has been now way to determine if that person's machine is infect and violating acceptable use policy, and if they are, switch them in real time into a safe zone to clean up the machine.
Techrockies: So you are looking to sell this to internet service providers?
Frank Bergen: That's exactly right. Our core market is tier 1 internet service providers. they are the ones who have the broadband connections, and who are the best prospects for us. Broadband connections are typically where the worse infections result.
Rob Fleischman: I would also add that providers today do some zombie disinfection, but it's a by-hand process. They look at data from their devices, analyze it, and identify that "these particular guys are the most egregarious", and they might call the customer, or send them an email, or in the worse case pull the connection. They literally have to yank the cable modem out of the wall. With our system, they are instead switching you in real time to a safe zone, where you're still able to get to the internet, still able to download tools, and fix your system. It turns what could be a very negative experience into the positive, giving you the tools to fix your problem.
Techrockies: What's the story behind the firm?
Frank Bergen: The core team had worked together in another Front Range company, bCandid. We developed software that also addresses internet service providers. We grew that company rapidly, and sold it at the peak of the technology boom, in June of 2000, for $70M to Software.com. Rob and I, Bill Waters, and David Rybarczyk were all there. Waters lead engineering and Rybarczyk led sales there. About a year ago, Rob and Bill saw this problem coming. Just as service providers saw spam as someone else's problem a few years ago, but had to start dealing with it, Rob, as chair of the Messaging Anti Abuse Working Group saw this problem coming. The four of us got together and angel financed the technology development, and after a year and half were ready to launch the product--which is why we just raised a round of venture funding.
Rob Fleischman: Post acquisition at bCandid, I was with OpenWave for many years. We saw what was happening with spam, and the transition which started out as a problem that the service providers considered "your problem" to one where carriers said this was actually their problem. The same transition is happening in terms of zombies and botnets.
Techrockies: How far along is the firm, product-wise--it sounds like you are ready to launch?
Frank Bergen: We launched the product about three weeks ago. We have two or three revenue customers. Two that have paid, and another in trial. The sales cycles with large Internet Service Providers, such as Quest or Comcast, are very lengthy. They want to make sure your claims are bullet proof, and that your software can stand up to the scale of millions of users. The sales cycle is 9 to 12 months. That said, we have good traction with smaller providers, who have proven that we have a rock solid product, and we're now actively marketing it to the big guys.
Techrockies: So it sounds like your product is entirely software?
Frank Bergen: Yes, it's pure software. We call it a software appliance because it downloads right off internet. The full software is downloadable from our web site, and runs on a typical Linux or Solaris Unix environment. It's literally something that can be configured within 30 minutes to an hour. It very much lives up to an appliance mentality, is easily installed, and integrates with internal systems where service providers can effectively instantiate their policy.
Rob Fleischman: One of the things our team has done in the past is given a trial version of our software on the on the web. We provide a 30 day trial key, you can download the software anytime you want, no salesperson calls, and you can download the software yourself and give it a try. The initial configuration is pretty simple, and it runs out of the box. We like the comments that we get that "it just works". I don't think there are too many software vendors that allow you to download their software like we do. The reason we do is we want people to know that although we've got a carrier grade package, it doesn't take 20 professional services people six months to install.
Techrockies: Tell us a bit about your recent funding--who funded you?
Frank Bergen: The lead investor is a group out of Texas, FFP Holdings. They invested in our former endeavor at bCandid, and saw more than ten times their investment in liquidity when Software.com acquired our former company. It wasn't hard to get them excited when they heard the team was getting together. We also had a series of angel investors that completed the round.
Techrockies: What's next for the company?
Frank Bergen: We're aggressively growing the sales and engineering team. Now that we're out the gate with the product, we are finding we have 90 percent of what customer base is looking for. They're always looking for incremental features. So, Rob and Bill are growing the engineering team, and David and I are growing the sales and business development team. Fifty percent of the opportunity is international, and we're bringing on some international sales agents and expanding our direct sales force. We're also going to be bringing on a VP of Business Development in July, to leverage the service market. We're excited to get someone we know to lead business development. Typically where we see the leverage point is that what Rob and Bill are building has interface points that can be used for different applications. An example is billing remediation, which is similar to the unwanted condition in zombie networks, where the unwanted condition is someone hasn't paid their bill. You can again switch them into a safe zone when they don't pay their bill. It's the same idea--you have someone not behaving in way that is according to policy acceptable, you put them in a safe zone so they can fix it themselves. That's what the business development team will be selling.
Techrockies: Do you see a lot of competition in this space?
Frank Bergen: Ironically what we've seen is that there's home grown versions of this at the big Internet Service Providers. And we've also seen our first marketing message around this, from a competitor called F-Secure. However, they have not implemented their product as a software appliance, but as a hardware solution, which is not scalable. We're right on the front lines, we see validation in that pieces of this have been implemented by the big guys in a home grown way, and we have gotten lots of welcome feedback that it would be great to implement this with a commercial solution like ours.
We are genuinely excited because the problems you see with these botnets, is the one thing that can really scare off internet users. Users are very worried about getting their credit card data stolen, identity theft, and having their internet experience abused. If you can give service providers the tools to help consumers help themselves, it's a great business opportunity.
Techrockies: Thanks for the interview!