Optiv's Dan Burns: From Bootstrapped Startup To Two Billion And Beyond

How do you take a bootstrapped company from just a few employees, to a two billion dollar cybersecurity powerhouse backed by private equity? Dan Burns, the CEO and co-founder of Denver's Optiv ( sat down with us to talk about the company, its growth, and how he's working on taking the company to six billion.

For those not familiar with Optiv, what is the company all about?

Dan Burns: We're building what we believe will become the largest cybersecurity solution provider in the world. We're obviously pretty excited about that. We're coming off the heels of combining the two larger, and really, the largest cybersecurity providers out there, Fishnet and Accuvant, to create Optiv. We immediately became ten times larger than our next largest competitor. We're now looking to expand globally, and really create something very special. We'd like to become the first, global cybersecurity solutions provider in the world. That's the next venture. The first venture was to create the largest in North America, and we're now looking globally, and am pretty excited about that. We believe we're the only company that truly bring people, process, and technology together to solve the cybersecurity problem in its entirety. There is a lot of technology out there, and certainly there are people adding to the consulting side of the equation, but we bring everything together to solve the entire people, process, and technology, helping our clients plan, build, and in some cases, run, their entire cybersecurity program. It's just a massive, global opportunity out there. There's a global opportunity of around $90 billion plus, and we are currently a two billion dollar, top-line revenue company. There is a lot of work to be done, and I'm pretty excited about that opportunity.

How did this new private equity investment come about?

Dan Burns: We boot strapped the company back in 2002, when we started. There was no outside investment, and it was all bootstrapped by the co-founders. We did our first private equity deal in 2008, with a small PE firm called Sperica. Then, we did our second PE deal with Blackstone in 2014, and they really provided the firepower and rocket fuel that allowed us to combine Accuvant and Fishnet, to create Optiv. We then had to create a liquidity event for our investors, so we considered an IPO first. We filed an S-1, and focused on preparing to be a public company pretty much all of last year. Unfortunately, the markets in 2016 were uncertain, and after SecureWorks, the only security company to actually IPO in 2016, they made us re-evaluate the situation. As we got towards the end of 2016, we decided to run a dual-track process, considering not only the IPO, but also an acquisition by another PE firm. We ran that dual track process flawlessly, and I was pretty proud of how that was run, and we finally made the decision that led us to selling to another PE firm, KKR. I believe we got a full and fair value for the organization, and am pretty proud of how things transpired.

You've been at the company since you started--has it been difficult scaling from just a small startup to the huge company you are today?

Dan Burns: It's been a fun experience. As a co-founder when we started in 2002, I've had to grow and change personally as the organization has grown and change. I've been able to watch it go through many different iterations. It certainly has been a lot of fun being part of a massively growing company. We've grown this company well over 20 percent, year over year. Every year is different, and every year has been exciting. I couldn't imagine being part of anything different. When I took over the CEO role about four years ago, having been a part of the process and the journey over the last fifteen years, the last four have been particularly exciting. One of the things that KKR really enjoyed about the company, is that it's led by one of the original founders. That's been a really good thing, because nobody cares as much as I do about its success, and couldn't be more pleased about the spread and success of the company, and all the great people that have joined forces with me and us to make this one of the most important companies in cybersecurity.

What was the key to growing the company to such a large size?

Dan Burns: I think there have been a couple of lessons. Sales is critical. We've always been very aggressive from the sales perspective. It's a sales driven organization. We spent a lot of time building an excellent, and I think the best cybersecurity sales force in the industry. We have always been proud of that. We're a sales-driven organization, that's not to minimize all the other really important things we do, but if you're not selling, you're not going to be successful. I have always put sales at the forefront of what we do. I think that's very critical. Number two, is building the right values for the organization. We are a purpose driven organization, and Susan and her team helped us create a key purpose statement for the people and employees in this company to follow. The values and the purpose that we've built around this organization, really lets people rally around that, and was really critical in the success of this company. Obviously, also providing the ultimate experience for our clients, is right up there. I wouldn't rank these 1,2,3 and put client third. Clients are number one, and the client experience we provide is the best in the industry. We're able to create a white glove experience for our clients, drive value for them, and help the Chief Information Security Officer, who in my mind, has the toughest job out there, help them create success and be successful in their roles. We're always focused on the success of our clients. I think that's the critical areas we will continue to focus on.

As such a large company, you've managed to stay headquartered in Colorado even as you've grown. How have you managed that?

Dan Burns: I've been in Colorado for about 25 years now, and I fell in love with this state the minute I moved here. I was dead set on building a family and a career, and ultimate, a company here in Denver. I think it's the ultimate place to build a company and headquarter a company. You've got a very unique situation, and a state that has so much to offer, in terms of the people, the attitude, and the talent. The state is almost next to none. It's incredible. Our ability to recruit people into this state is so easy. You bring someone in from wherever, the Bay Area, or the East Coast, where housing prices are 3x or 4x to Colorado, and they see the beauty and the opportunity here, and they want to be part of it. They want to live in this state. It's easy to recruit people, and once they are here, they want to stay here. The cost of living is still reasonable, though as we know the housing prices are going up. Where else can you build a career, and take advantage of the beauty that is out there in the state--the skiing, the fly fishng, the hiking, the biking, all of the activities you can do here. It's a rare place, and a very special place. We never had a reason to move out of this state, although we've certainly been asked that question. People say, should you be in the Bay Area or in Boston? My answer is always, no, this state has so much to offer, and I couldn't imagine a better place for a company.

Finally, what's next on your plate?

Dan Burns: We want to be a six billion cybersecurity provider I the next four to five years, and to do that, you are going to see us go global. We are hoping to be in four or five continents by the end of four or five years. We're expanding in Western Europe first, and we are looking at Asia Pacific from there, and eventually, other continents and parts of the world.