ReliaQuest CEO Brian Murphy Finds Success Through Hard Work And Tailwinds

Brian Murphy, founder and CEO of cybersecurity firm ReliaQuest, listened to his clients and led the company through a shift to a SaaS based model. ReliaQuest recently announced a new round of funding led by global investment firm KKR, with a pre-money valuation of more than $1 billion.

We spoke about what it took for the business to survive in its early years, the shift to SaaS, and their support of the 2021 Super Bowl.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Karen Walker: You’ve had a slow and steady build to $100m in ARR.

Brian Murphy: There seldom are overnight successes. People often don’t see the work that was done in the evenings and behind the scenes – the run-up to the success. I founded ReliaQuest in late 2007, and the years 2008-2010 were just about surviving. We did a lot of network engineering and IT work just to get through. We also did subcontract work with the defense department in information assurance – what we called cyber before it was called cyber. We were doing AI work globally and the business shifted to all commercial in 2012. In 2014, we patented our first technology.

We’ve grown from zero to $100m in ARR from 2015 to now. We survived, we listened and paid attention; then we went after a market.

Walker: What was the shift to a SaaS based business like for you?

Murphy: Luck is undefeated. The timing of the technologies changing around us was great. The beauty of what happened during our recent growth was the adoption of cloud technology and the shift to third-party and hybrid clouds. That created the tailwind that allowed us to shift.

Our focus has always been, “Do the things that other people aren’t willing to do. We’re here to make security possible.” That’s our why. If we weren’t willing to pivot and build the GreyMatter technology platform that is a force multiplier for security operations, then we’d be going against the whole reason we existed.

Walker: Fast forward a bit. In 2020 you secured $300 million in funding led by KKR, and you’ve just announced another round valuing the business at over $1 billion. What was the investor selection process like?

Murphy: I bootstrapped the business for the first nine years. We had no outside capital until 2016. We have 52 patents that make up the GreyMatter platform, we’re growing at 80% year over year. We had planned to raise capital in 2020 – then COVID happened. 

We evaluated 14 growth partners, focused less on the money and more on finding the right fit. We wanted help three areas: rising above the noise in cybersecurity, continuing to innovate through IP and continuing to remove the high time/ low brain activity – the mundane – from cybersecurity.

If you look at challenges in talent and workforce management, they have little to do with the number of people wanting to be in cybersecurity. The problem is we drop people into the middle of all the data and ask them to do work that is mundane or we ask them to do too many things. We have to use technology to narrow those lanes a bit.

We needed a partner to help us be a truly global organization. In the end, we chose KKR and they been every bit exactly what we were looking for. They are also very quiet and unassuming. They have tools and access – everything we could need – and they are truly focused on our success.

Walker: You’ve grown your team almost 50% over the last year. Are you focusing on a particular area?

Murphy: We are a “promote and grow from within” culture. We spend two to three percent of our revenues on ReliaQuest university and that allows us to train, develop and promote from within. But we also hire from outside. The fastest areas of growth in the organization are the go-to-market team, the security operations team, the product team and the software engineering team.

We don’t have a culture at ReliaQuest, we have a mindset. I believe that how you think impacts how you feel and how you feel impacts how you perform. We are a value-based decision making organization and everything revolves around these four values: accountability, being helpful, being focused and being adaptable. So how we plan, how we strategize, how we communicate and how we get to an outcome, all revolve around those four things.

We hire for attitude, energy, and effort. The equation of attitude plus effort creates energy, which is momentum. It directs everything that we do as a company, so we train to it. I have a full-time sports psychologist who directly reports to me. My job as CEO is the mindset of the business and his job is clarity and consistency.

Walker: You supported the 2021 Super Bowl in Tampa.

Murphy: We were the official cyber partner of the host committee, but we are also the cyber partner/provider for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (also the Lightning and the Celtics). It was different experience in 2021 with a smaller restricted crowd but they still had the NFL experience, and it took a lot of skill to communicate across many different groups. Of course, we didn’t know until just before the event that the Buccaneers would be playing.

It was a fun project and gave our team something fascinating to work on in the thick of the pandemic. We partner with some of the most respected logos in the world, but this was the Super Bowl!

Walker:. When did you realize you wanted to be an entrepreneur?

Murphy: I knew as a kid. I’ve always loved business books and movies – like Silicon Cowboys, the Compaq documentary. My mom worked at a grocery store for 40 years and my dad retired as a diesel mechanic. I didn’t really know what entrepreneurship was until I watched enough TV. I just knew that I loved briefcases and tall buildings and the idea of business.

Walker: The tagline for my business is up and to the right, because we always want to be in that upper right-hand quadrant on the two by two matrix. Was there a moment in your career when you knew that you as a leader were moving in that direction?

Murphy: In our leadership academy, we actually ask this question. We have people read “Shoe Dog,” the story of Nike. I only need to ask one question about it,  “When do you think Nike realized they were Nike?”

For us, it was probably when we started to move the business in 2012. I had to shut down a $15-20 million revenue stream at that point and go completely into the commercial cyber security market. Then I did it again to build a SaaS platform.

That second time the economy started to boom, cybersecurity became a conversation piece and we realized the size of the opportunity. When I knew that we were in the middle of one of the greatest technical challenges of our generation in cybersecurity, that’s when I knew we were moving up and to the right.

We were being dragged behind that speed boat. We weren’t skiing eloquently behind it –  we were bouncing on the water as that boat was flying across it.

Article originally published in Forbes.

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