"That's a terrible name!" said Marcin Kleczynski, co-founder and CEO of Malwarebytes, when he was first offered the domain name of the company with which he would become synonymous.
"At the time I really did hate the name, but I ran with it and started building freeware applications using the name Malwarebytes.biz."
Not yet 30, Kleczynski's career has evolved with the cybersecurity industry in which he now works, but it had a somewhat inauspicious beginning when, at 14, he infected his family computer with a virus as he was downloading a pirated video game.
"This was back when malware was lame and it was just a purple gorilla jumping on your screen, trying to sell you something," he explained.
Although the computer had Symantec antivirus software installed, it was not acknowledging that there was any problem with the system. So Kleczynski searched for a remedy online, stumbling across a message board of "superheroes", a group of hobbyist programmers offering their time to help people remove malware from their computers.
Within days of following their advice, the family computer was free of viruses and Kleczynski had accidentally found his career path.
"A few days later I couldn't shake the feeling of ‘why are we paying for antivirus software if it's not going to help'?" he said. "So I entered the message board community to learn more and I learned how to programme from a For Dummies book.'
Though the message board is no longer active, Kleczynski has brought on a number of the forum members to work at Malwarebytes, including the Belgian programmer who helped him fix his computer 15 years ago. She is now director of threat research.
Another person whom the young Kleczynski met on the forum was Bruce Harrison, who helped him to fine-tune his antivirus tools, leading the two to eventually co-found Malwarebytes and launch its first product in 2008.
"Imagine being 16 and telling your mother that you're working with this 30-year-old guy online!" he laughed. Harrison would eventually become vice president of research at Malwarebytes, but the two did not meet in person until a year after launching the company, when it turned its first $1m. The CEO does not regard this as peculiar, rather that it was reflective of their partnership.
"We grew up on these message boards and everything was communicated through text, so we thought it best to continue the relationship in that way," he explained.
Kleczynski followed in the footsteps of fellow tech entrepreneurs Michael Dell and Mark Zuckerberg by working on the company from his dorm room at university. He admitted that he felt conflicted by the choice to run Malwarebytes full-time at the age of 18 or go to university to study computer science.
"It was a hard decision to make," he said. "As the company was taking off, I was hesitating about going to college, but after a five-minute conversation with my mother it was clear I was heading to university."
Reinventing the wheel
As a small startup, the Malwarebytes founders knew they would have to take a different approach to fighting malware than their larger rivals did.
They simplified the process by categorising viruses into families, looking at behaviour and algorithms to detect the malware, and then making tools to recognise and fight different types of malware based on family characteristics. This is what Kleczynski calls "reinventing the solution".
"We have seen a lot of these traditional antivirus companies starting to catch up with some of the threats but I think the problem is still out there," he warned.
"I don't think they have solved the problem and it has opened up the doors to the likes of us and other next-generation competitors."
Malwarebytes has made one acquisition every year since 2015, with the latest being software developer Binisoft in May. This is not a deliberate move, Kleczynski said, adding that his company "can't build everything" by itself and that it would lose focus if it attempted to do so.
"A number of these antivirus companies are failing because they lost focus. They build their end-point product - that's how they were founded - and then revenues start slowing down so they need to invest elsewhere and they lose focus on what really brought them to be a billion-dollar company in the first place," he said.
"They can't defend their turf because their products are not effective. I say that we are in an end-point revolution because we have these big competitors falling over and we are feeding on their carcasses."
When pressed if he is tempted to list the company publicly, Kleczynski said he is adamant that Malwarebytes is not ready for such a move yet. Although he doesn't completely discount such a move in the future, he said that his personal goal is to make the company as big as he can, and if that requires an IPO, so be it.
"To go public, you need to be able to forecast, you need fiscal discipline and good corporate governance and I don't think we are ready yet," he stated. "We're growing like a weed which is hard to forecast and build predictable revenues.
"I want to make this as big as possible, and if that means going public to raise more money to invest in the business then we'll do that. Are we ready for that? Absolutely not."
He is also reticent about the prospect of being acquired by a larger company, saying it was something he would contemplate: "I don't think I want to work for some of these companies out there, but I would definitely consider it."
‘Don't f*ck the customer'
Malwarebytes doesn't shy away from either its own youth or that of its founder and chief executive. Kleczynski values honesty and transparency in the running of the business and has worded this as "don't f*ck the customer" to employees. He claims that setting up his own company so young has given him a "clean slate" to set the tone and culture of the firm.
"I had no perceived notions of what it is like to work somewhere with a bad culture. I just thought ‘How I would like to be treated if I was working for Malwarebytes?' And then I try to espouse those values and hire leaders who share those values," he explained.
Having worked under the Malwarebytes name since he was 15, Kleczynski claimed that his age was never a barrier against him, and that sometimes it was an advantage as customers and partners saw his energy and passion for the company.
Much like his ‘college startup entrepreneur' predecessors Zuckerberg and Dell, Kleczynski has become the face of Malwarebytes, but insisted that if he were to ever leave, the company would survive without him.
"I've learned from the beginning that you need to hire people who are smarter than you are," he stated. "I would rather kick my feet up and delegate than do everything myself because decision-making can be exhausting sometimes.
"That being said, I bleed this company - I've literally been doing it half my life. Can I imagine a world without me at Malwarebytes? That is something to consider but not anytime soon."
Chief exec Jens Montanana claims Logicalis performed well despite 'currency headwinds'
All the photos from last night's event, which saw over 600 people congregate at the Hilton London Bankside
Five year deal with Essex NHS Trust will cover 400 sites, including hospitals, clinics and GP practices
18 individuals and three companies walked away as winners at CRN's inaugural Women in Channel Awards last night