Amit Yoran | Survival Guide: Perspectives from the field
Amit Yoran, CEO, NetWitness
- By Ethan Butterfield
- Nov 27, 2006
Amit Yoran has a good track record with startup companies. He helped found IT security company RipTech Inc. in 1998, building it up and selling it in 2002 to Symantec Corp. for $145 million.
Amit Yoran, the Homeland Security Department's director of national cybersecurity in 2003 and 2004, is jumping back into the startup world as the CEO of NetWitness Corp.
Yoran, the Homeland Security Department's director of national cybersecurity in 2003 and 2004, is jumping back into the startup world; he was named CEO of NetWitness Corp. of Herndon, Va., Nov. 14. NetWitness is a spinoff of ManTech International Corp., which developed the underlying network forensics analysis technology in 1998. The company's technology is used for incident response and policy and regulatory compliance.
Fairfax, Va.-based ManTech completed the spinoff Oct. 31 and retains a small ownership stake in the company, which has about 20 employees and less than $10 million in revenue.
For Yoran, who in 2006 was CEO of In-Q-Tel, the Central Intelligence Agency's venture capital group, NetWitness is a chance to use what he learned at DHS to market a new product and to develop a risk-taking business culture.
Yoran spoke recently with staff writer Ethan Butterfield about the challenges and opportunities of leading a startup.WT:
What is it about a startup that you find attractive?Yoran:
You have the ability to have a dramatic impact. Ultimately, while many factors are beyond your control, your success or failure, and the startup's success or failure, translates into your ability to execute or not. Oftentimes in large organizations, they're en route, they're in motion, and their ability to implement dramatic change is limited. And they're also more conservative and have a more difficult time seizing an opportunity.WT:
What are the biggest challenges for a startup?Yoran:
You're dealing with a certain amount of technology risk, either unproven technologies or technologies that have not scaled yet. There's an execution risk: Is the management team strong enough? Do they have the experience, the drive and the competency to execute, to seize the opportunity?
With startups, you get different levels of experience and different levels of competency.
And then there is a business risk, everything from financing to other business dynamics. Are customers and the market suited toward working with start-ups on the type of solution that you're offering?WT:
Why is this a good time to launch NetWitness?Yoran:
NetWitness is operating in a very interesting intersection, and that is in looking at the security of organizations and the security of information, not only from a hacking perspective but also from an insider threat perspective. What are folks doing? And how does that violate corporate policy or regulatory compliance requirements?WT:
How will the company approach the market?Yoran:
We're very much inclined to work through value-added partners, whether they are other security companies or systems integrators. We feel our [company] is a piece of an overall infrastructure.WT:
What do you see as the benefit to ManTech of spinning off NetWitness?Yoran:
While [ManTech] is great at delivering high quality services, and in some instances at developing technology, it doesn't have a tremendous amount of experience in bringing new technologies to market, packaging them and understanding where the market is going. Nor does it have experience on how to bring this new technology to address the market need, the market demand. That's where opportunity exists for NetWitness.WT:
A year from now, what will be the signs that the company is a success?Yoran:
That we've significantly expanded the customer base, that we've dramatically increased revenue, and that we have elevated to a position of prominence in the field from a brand perspective.WT:
What insights into the government market did you learn at DHS?Yoran:
Homeland Security has a specific function: helping coordinate cyberincident response among different federal departments and agencies. They have a very regular ? and in some cases, a very deep ? interaction with many of those agencies. It was a great vantage point for understanding where people are headed, where they saw challenges and what types of problems we might be able to help them solve.WT:
What do you see as the department's biggest challenges?Yoran:
Bureaucracy. The size of the organization, the way it was created, the bureaucratic challenge is not trivial. The second is in mission specificity and targeting. By some definitions, Homeland Security's mission is so broad, so all-encompassing, even with however many tens of thousands of employees it has, they would be grossly under-resourced to accomplish the mission.