Richard Marko has been CEO of cybersecurity provider ESET for a decade now, but it was his time spent as CTO that gave him a perfect understanding of the role technology plays in the company’s success; in particular, the importance of new research and development.
“At the time I became CEO, I considered the focus on our own research and development as a main pillar for the company and didn’t want to change that,” he recalls. “What I wanted to change was our expansion internationally.”
We realised that to be able to attract the best talent and expertise, it would be beneficial to expand internationally.
Richard’s first step as CEO was to begin the transition to a proper international enterprise. “We were already selling to a number of countries, but we were fully dependent on our partners in those countries, especially key markets like the UK, Germany and the US,” he explains. “We thought it would be very helpful to have more direct experience with our clients and customers.
“That expansion from a business perspective was one piece; the other was expansion from a psychological point of view. Our research and development was centred here in Slovakia, where the company was founded, but we realised that to be able to attract the best talent and expertise, it would be beneficial to expand internationally. Now we have up to 13 R&D centres around the world.”
Richard was studying computer science in the 90s when he first realised the potential of cybersecurity, and he believes it has only grown since then. “Cybersecurity is considered to be the number one investment opportunity this decade,” he points out.
With stories in the media of organisations of all kinds, including governments, falling prey to cyber attacks, this growth is not surprising. ESET crossed the US$600 million (€520 million) revenue mark last year, and its next milestone is US$1 billion (€864 million). That revenue will come from both home and business, as the two markets start to merge.
“In the past, you had maybe just a single PC at home, but now you have many devices,” he says. “A home environment is becoming increasingly similar to a business environment, and our knowledge and experience shared across both areas is helping us.”
The enterprise segment is ESET’s next goal, and it is partnering with people who have experience in this area, which is needed to tap into these bigger revenue-generating entities.
ESET’s revenue was largely unaffected by the COVID-19 pandemic, and any hurdles that did arise were dealt with smoothly, according to Richard. As a security company set up for most contingencies, it adapted processes quickly and helped customers to deal with a surge in scams, something that increases with any big news event.
ESET also supported the development and production of an EU-certified COVID-19 diagnostic kit developed by Slovak scientists. Additionally, the company helped its partners during the tumultuous pandemic period with longer payment terms. However, as Richard points out, most of its partners sit at the revenue end of the chain, rather than in the supply of goods to ESET.
“We are really a vendor and at the top of the chain in the cybersecurity space,” he reveals. “Although there are specific pieces of technology that we are being provided with to supplement our own. We have 23 offices around the world and yet are selling to more than 200 countries and territories, including Antarctica.
“The success that we were able to achieve in those regions is thanks to the partners we have there. We have had some of those partners for up to 20 years. It’s a very important part of what we are doing. These long-term relationships are helping us to grow and to expand internationally.”
One high-profile partner is Google, with ESET providing technology to protect Google Chrome against unwanted software and protecting Google Play by vetting apps that go into its store.
What’s next for ESET is to execute the vision it has for future growth. “Somebody said it’s 10 per cent vision and 90 per cent execution. For us, it is definitely more about the execution going forward and how to decide conflicting priorities,” Richard confirms.
“We are trying to make our teams less siloed into individual functions and make them more universal. This should enable us to be even more flexible. Then you can more easily transfer people to other areas where you need to increase your focus and speed up development.”
We have one of the most diversified centres of security defenders in the world.
ESET is in a good position thanks to its more than 30 years of experience and constant investment in new R&D. “We are lucky we can reinvest profits back into the growth of the company,” Richard says. “And perhaps the fact that we are EU-based, which has proven to be a more neutral part of the world, is helping us a lot.”
The company may be located in Europe, but input comes from everywhere, and Richard believes that is also an important component of its success. “We have one of the most diversified centres of security defenders in the world,” he explains. “We have different nationalities and different mentalities; they all bring something unique to the overall picture.
“Our focus is on the long-term. We don’t go through these hypes and cycles. We go step by step, year by year, systematically building a presence and an ability to be better in ensuring the defences of our customers.”
ESET’s future certainly looks secure.