June 14, 2022

Co-founding Revelstoke through Communication with Bob Kruse

by Hacker Valley Studio

Show Notes

We invite Bob Kruse, Co-Founder and CEO of Revelstoke Security, down to Hacker Valley Studios this week to talk about his journey from investment banking to cybersecurity sales to owning and operating his company with Josh McCarthy. With a focus on communication and peoples skills, Bob discusses how to be a leader in the cybersecurity community, including building strong relationships with staff members, connecting with cyber experts, and developing successful security teams.

Timecoded Guide:

[03:40] Selling software to cybersecurity practitioners and managing the skepticism around marketing to an audience that’s taught to doubt and question

[08:12] Gaining inspiration for Revelstoke Security from the entrepreneurs in his family and his experience starting his cyber business with his partner Josh McCarthy

[12:51] What being an early-stage startup looked like for Revelstoke and lessons learned from their first pitches to cybersecurity investors

[15:01] Comparing and contrasting being someone in cybersecurity sales to being a CEO of his very own company 

[20:58] Looking towards the future of Revelstoke Security as they expand into new markets and continue to build their business around providing solid cybersecurity jobs

Sponsor Links:

Thank you to our sponsors Axonius and Uptycs for bringing this episode to life!

Life is complex. But it’s not about avoiding challenges or fearing failure. Just ask Simone Biles — the greatest gymnast of all time. Want to learn more about how Simone controls complexity? Watch her video at axonius.com/simone.

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Were there any speculations like, "Hey, can this guy really go from sales to being a CEO at a tech company?" 

Bob’s focus throughout his career in cybersecurity has completely revolved around sales. From his first cybersecurity role at Oracle Corporation to his recent position at Demisto, Bob’s prominence and impact on the cyber industry has always had sales at the center. Co-founding Revelstoke, Bob encountered skepticism and wariness from investors, curious if he would be able to transition into a cybersecurity CEO. Thanks to his knack for knowledge and his confident partner Josh, Bob has defied expectations and built up his own confidence in his new role.

“It's about having a co-founder that compliments you, that you can implicitly trust, and implicitly trusts you. You can have the best technology in the world and the best idea in the world, but if you don't have a trusted relationship…it's not going to be successful.” 

Between your previous life in sales, and now, being a founder and CEO, what are some of the parallels? 

With so much experience in sales on his resume, we were curious which parts of Bob’s journey to CEO were similar to previous positions he’s held. It turns out, just like we’ve discussed on Hacker Valley Red, communication has been a key element no matter Bob’s position in cyber. No matter who he’s talking to, or what side of the house he’s marketing towards, people skills continue to be his forte. Being able to have discussions with employees, investors, and potential clients relies heavily on honest authentic communication skills, even though his business knowledge has had to grow immensely since becoming CEO.

“Today, I still lean on my people skills, and over-communicate. I try to have one-on-ones with everybody in the company. I welcome every new hire we have, and it's increasingly important, obviously, as we have a widely distributed team.”

 

Where has your focus on introductions and networking come from? 

We know Bob as an introduction master, and he’s even helped us with meeting some of the biggest guests we’ve invited to Hacker Valley. With so many cyber security experts in his network from all corners of the cybersecurity industry, we had to ask Bob where he learned the value of making those connections. It turns out— it’s always been that way for Bob Kruse, from the days of his early childhood working at his father’s business. Connecting others, communicating with them, and learning how to help has been his passion for his entire life.

“When somebody needs your help, it's a compliment. I've always found it as a compliment in that I have something they don't, and I can impart on them some sort of an introduction, or a reference, or some knowledge.”

 

What impact or impression are you hoping to leave on the world with Revelstoke?

There are a lot of cybersecurity startups that make their way down to Hacker Valley, but Revelstoke Security seems like a different breed, with a strong staff at its core— so strong that they’ve only grown since they began and have yet to lose a single employee. With an impact like that on the cyber job market, we asked Bob what he sees on the horizon for Revelstoke. He made it clear: more jobs. Success, for Bob and Josh at Revelstoke, relies on building strong teams and providing the right jobs for those team members and their families. 

“Success…is starting a company and providing jobs for people, jobs that never existed before you decided to start a company. I want my legacy to be somebody that not only started a successful company financially, but that employed a lot of people and supported a lot of families.”

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Links:

Stay in touch with Bob Kruse on LinkedIn and the Business Journal Leadership Trust website.

Learn more about Revelstoke Security on their website.

Connect with Ron Eddings on LinkedIn and Twitter

Connect with Chris Cochran on LinkedIn and Twitter

Purchase a HVS t-shirt at our shop

Continue the conversation by joining our Discord

Check out Hacker Valley Media and Hacker Valley Studio

 



Transcript

Hacker Valley Studio 00:07
Who says tech can't be human? Welcome to the Hacker Valley Studio podcast.
Axonius Ad 00:36
Hey, everyone, it's me, Simone Biles. You might be wondering why you're hearing my voice on a cybersecurity podcast ad. Well, it's because I'm partnering with Axonius. Whether you're a gymnast,like me, or an IT, or Security Pro, complexity is inevitable. And I've learned that the key to success is focusing on what you can control, go check out my video at Axonius.com/Simone.
Chris 01:16
What's going on everybody? You are in the Hacker Valley Studio, with your hosts Ron and Chris.
Ron 01:21
Yes, sir.
Chris 01:25
Welcome back to the show.
Ron 01:28
Glad to be back again, with a guest, as always. And not just any guest, a guest that I go way back with, a guest that really everybody in cybersecurity goes way back with. Our guest today is Bob Kruse. Bob is the CEO and co-founder of Revelstoke Security. Bob has sold security to pretty much everybody, but now, he is building it. Bob, welcome to the Hacker Valley Podcast.
Bob 01:56
Chris and Ron, thank you very, very much. It's a pleasure and an honor to be here. I appreciate the air time.
Chris 02:01
Absolutely. It's been a long time coming, I'd say in the history of Hacker Valley. This episode has probably been the longest time coming out of everyone. But for the folks that don't know who you are just yet, Bob, tell us a little bit about your background and what you're doing today.
Bob 02:16
Yeah, for sure. Again, it's an honor. Thank you. So, my background is over 20 years in technology, mainly in sales, sales operations, that sort of thing, and go to market, and it's been an interesting ride now, as CEO and co-founder of Revelstoke here. We're really looking forward to telling that story, but yeah, I've sold a lot of technology over the years, and I'd love to impart any valuable knowledge, or insight, I can provide.
Ron 02:41
Perfect. Well, let's go ahead and kick it off, right? You've been everywhere in cyber, at least from my perspective, especially from the sales perspective. You know, how did you get started in selling cybersecurity software? And what has that meant for you just looking back and reflecting on your career?
Bob 02:59
Yeah, great question. So, I started in technology at the Oracle Corporation in 1998, I believe. And I ended up there because, prior to that, I was in investment banking. And I was helping a lot of, and I'm dating myself here, a lot of dot coms go public on the investment banking side. And I just decided I wanted to be on the other side of the screen, and I resigned from investment banking and joined the Oracle Corporation with the sole intent of getting my experience in technology sales, so I could go to a startup and work with a venture-backed company. And that's how I got started. And then, from there, I went to a venture-backed companies through the dot com implosion, and ended up in layer four through seven networking sales at F5 Networks, where I got to experience cybersecurity sales. And I quickly realized that that was very interesting to me, given the human aspect of cybersecurity in terms of white hat, black hat, why they did it, where they got in, how they got in, and what they were after. And so, security just really attracted my attention. Then, from F5 Networks, I went to Blue Coat Systems, and then to FireEye, and from FireEye to Demisto. And here I am today.
Chris 03:40
There you go. I mean, what a journey it's been. When you talk about selling and you talk about selling to people, right? The human side. I think, one of the hardest targets in the world is a cybersecurity practitioner, right? Because they're a little skeptical about what people are selling, right? I get reached out, still to this day, every single day on my LinkedIn. What has been your experience in selling to cybersecurity practitioners?
Bob 04:51
Yeah, well, Chris, I tried to sell to you, I think, too. So, I totally get it. So, credibility and integrity really play a huge part with cybersecurity. And you're right, I mean, the nature of the business is you're hired as a cybersecurity practitioner to be paranoid and not necessarily believe what you're seeing, hearing, or anything, or reading. So, that is a little different of a sale. And typically, what it entails is admitting things you don't know and not trying to oversell yourself, or your product, and not say things like, "You know, there's never any false positives," or things like that. And what's helped me is, I'm somewhat of a closeted geek in that I understand enough of the technology to be dangerous, to where I can establish some credibility in exhibiting my knowledge of how packets flow and, you know, the OSI stack, as well as just kind of throwing out— I'm a really good regurgitator of information, but it doesn't necessarily
mean I know exactly what it does, I have a very high level of gestalt, if you will, understanding of how things work, and that definitely helps me sell cybersecurity. But having been in this business for a while, it's probably the number one reason why I'm able to get to talk to people.
Ron 06:07
I would imagine that, also, part of it is really understanding pain points by the customer. You're selling it, you're building those relationships, but you will be able to have a long career, especially in this industry, with people constantly changing jobs, if you build those relationships and understand the growing pains. Understanding the pain of a practitioner, or a leader when they first start a company, or join a company, all the way to them having a well-established security program and organization, understanding those growing pains. And now, you're building technology, you started your own company, which is an interesting path, going from a sales leader to a CEO for a technology company.
Were there any speculations on like, "Hey, can this guy really go from sales to being a CEO at a tech company?" Or was that transition more seamless, where everybody had the faith in your understanding of the problem and space?
Bob 07:05
Yeah, that's a great question. Very relevant to where I am, and it definitely was the case, where I was put through probably a lot more than a typical founder and CEO, because I came from the sales side. There was definitely some scrutiny in terms of my ability to lead a pre-revenue startup, venture-backed that, you know, I've never done before. So, the beauty of what we're doing, though, is that I do have resident expertise and knowledge in the market that we're selling into and then, of the product we're selling with. And so, that definitely helped me a lot. I think that, if I was inventing a new category of solution, it'd be a different thing, but what we have here is, you know, basically, you know, the idea of that we already know what product market fit is. And so, it was a little easier for me to get past that screen, but certainly, I was definitely put under the microscope as a CEO, co-founder, being that I was
from the go-to-market side. So, that was definitely unique and not very common for a lot of our investors.
Chris 08:12
So, you talk about this desire to be in technology early on in your career, and then, you go out and you start your own company. Was there any inspiration from when you were younger? Is there a moment from your childhood, or maybe early adulthood that said, "Wow, I want to start a technology company," in any facet? Like, is there a story to that?
Bob 08:31
Yeah, great question, Chris. And yeah, the first thing I would say is, be careful what you ask for. A lot of this is self-imposed, but in any case, yeah, I mean, there absolutely is. So, my father had his own business, which he started in our backyard, and it certainly wasn't in high tech, or cybersecurity, it was heavy equipment, but I got to see and I was a definite part of getting that up and going and working at the family business. And there was always a sense of family pride that we had Kruse Tractor and Equipment, and that my father started it from nothing, and we all worked at the business for certain amount of time. So, entrepreneurialism was something that ran in our family. My mom started her own business, doing aerobicize, again, dating myself here. And then, my older sister started her own law practice, which she still has today. And so, entrepreneurialism ran deep in the family DNA. And so, my definition of success was always kind of a foregone, in terms of you need to start your own company,
talking to myself here, in order to be successful. It wasn't about the money. It wasn't about the fame or notoriety, or anything like that. It was just about the idea of having something that is mine, I built it. And that's, you know, that source of pride right there.
Ron 10:03
So, they're probably wondering, "What's taking you so long, Bob? We all started our own businesses and practices." No, I'm just kidding.
Bob 10:15
It's true, they all have advanced degrees and I'm the only one without one. You know, I'm kind of the dunce of the family. But anyway, now we're doing good.
Ron 10:23
Yeah. So let's talk about the assembly of the company and how you formed the company and team. What's the story behind it? Of course, you know, we used to work together at a company called Demisto. We got acquired by Palo Alto Networks, big up, shout out to us. But you decided to do a repeat, which I was a little jealous about, because I wish I did that myself. But what's the story behind you forming this company?
Bob 10:50
Well, I'm jealous of your podcast, you guys are killing it. But again, coming back to the fact that, you know, I'm gonna go-to-market salesperson and dangerously technical, I needed a good co-founder, I needed somebody I could trust, implicitly trust and knew really well that was technical. Otherwise, there's no way I could do this by myself. And so, I partnered with my long-term friend and trusted partner, Josh McCarthy, who I've worked with since 2010 in FireEye. And he kind of selected me as his sales counterpart when I arrived at FireEye, and we were a team ever since. And so, really, it's about people, it's really about having a co-founder that complements you, that you can implicitly trust, and then implicitly trusts you. And that, in and of itself, is unique, because you can have the best technology in the world and the best idea in the world, and all the money in the world, but if you don't have a trusted relationship, or trusted relationships in your company, or with your investors, it's not going to be successful. So, that was the key to us getting this off the ground. And so, I knew he could do it. I understood the problem we wanted to solve. I understood how we wanted to solve it, but he understood the technology that we needed to create in order to do that, whereas I knew who to sell it to and how, and then, recruiting as well. We're both very good and have expansive networks in terms of recruiting. But I can go on forever about that. But in any case, it's really about my co-founder, Josh McCarthy. I could never do this without him.
Chris 12:51
So, every good startup story starts small, right? Tell us one of those early stories like, during stealth, you're working away, you're planning things out. Something that would really highlight what it's like to be part of this process.
Bob 13:14
We started this with a really ugly PowerPoint deck, and it was gross. I have it on my laptop and it hurts my eyes to look at it. But over two years ago, the last RSA before COVID wiped us out, we put together a pitch deck for some proposed investors, seed investors, and it was literally just, you know, three or four slides, and that's how we got this started. And we went out there and demonstrated that we knew the market. And, of course, I'm close to some investors. So, we got some really honest feedback, we got turned down a lot, but then, we found an investor that it really resonated with, that I knew well. And it was literally just Josh and I, as co-founders, with this PowerPoint slide. We got 3 million in seed funding and just started building, you know, a team. One source of pride for the company, we're over 40 people now, we've never used a recruiter. And I think that speaks a lot to the fact that we have great network, sure, but we also have great networks full of great people that we trust. And so far, we have
not lost one person in the company. And, you know, in any case, that's how we started, it was just a three- or four-page ugly PowerPoint, got seed funding in July of 2020 after a lot of diligence. And I tell you, when you do these things, they look into everything about you. You know, what's your favorite color? Where were you born? That sort of thing. So, it was a really interesting time getting it up and going, up until July and then building the team. And then, one of the key tenants— I have a lot of advice for any soon-to-be founder. It's just to over-communicate with everybody, including yourself.
Ron 15:01
So, looking at the parallels between your previous life in sales, and now, being a founder and CEO, what are some of the parallels between the two? What have been a few examples that you've been surprised about when it comes to the difficulty, or even the ease, of running a company now?
Bob 15:19
Yeah, I mean, I would say that it kind of plays to what I consider my strengths, in terms of
communicating and injecting energy and culture into the business. And so, the similarities I would say, are that, at the end of the day, it's all about people. And I consider myself a good communicator, I consider myself somewhat of a natural leader, and also a source of a lot of fun, too. So, I inject a lot of levity into the business. And so, that's something I did as sales leader, as go-to-market leader as well, in terms of just making sure that everybody knows that we're all in it together, there's nothing I would ask anybody to do that I wouldn't do myself, and I make sure that people know that I earned my position by doing all sorts of the jobs that you're probably doing today, you know, to my employees, and so, I kind of engender respect and trust by doing that. And so, those are some of the same things that
transfer over to being CEO today. Today, you know, I still lean on my people skills, and overcommunicate. I try to have one on ones with everybody in the company, I welcome every new hire we have, and it's increasingly important, obviously, we have a widely distributed team, across the nation and even into Europe. Slack has been key for us to communicate, but that's really the key is just communication, letting people know who you are and making sure it's personal. Everybody I talk to in the company, I understand what they do, when they're not working, and what their interests are, whether it be painting or golfing or archery, or whatever. I always want to know where they live and why they live there, and what they do when they're not talking about Revelstoke, and I think that's something that plays really well, from sales into CEO. The things that I would say that are different are that I only had to be good at sales before, now I have to be good at everything and it's annoying, but also, I've learned something new every day. I've never looked at more spreadsheets, and understood excel as well as I do today. And so, that was the biggest difference is that I have to be good at everything, whether it's HR, finance, marketing, channel, metrics, SAAS metrics, customer acquisition costs, all that stuff that I didn't really know much about, I definitely got to know about today.
Chris 17:56
You spoke a little bit about your network, your hiring, no one's left, all through people that you've known. My earliest memory with you is, honestly, all the introductions that you made for Ron and I early on in the podcast days. Like, "Hey, you want to meet people? I'll give you six at a time, just so you don't get lost." And we were like, "Whoa." You were an introduction machine. I mean, that, obviously, I'm sure that that comes from a little bit of your sales side, but that is such a talent to have as a CEO, because I do believe that it's those connections with other people that really make a company successful. Was that something that was intentional? Is that something that you just do yourself? Did you learn that from your father? Where did that come from? And how is it showing up the best for you?
Bob 18:41
You know, quite honestly, it's really organic for me. And thank you, by the way for that. In terms of the introductions, I've always valued those, always wanted to walk into a restaurant, walk into a bar, I always want to meet somebody and understand what they do for a living and why, and what they like about or what they hate about it. I've always been that way and I don't know where that came from, to be honest with you. It's pretty organic. So, I'm always interested in people. I have a profound interest in people and their stories. And what I think the net result of that is that I have 10,000 followers, or connections on LinkedIn. And I've just always helped people, not because I had a motive, or I didn't expect them to help me in return, I just like doing it. When somebody needs your help, it's a compliment. I've always found it as a compliment in that I have something they don't, and I can impart on them some sort of an introduction, or a reference, or some knowledge. That's very fulfilling for me. And again, it's not because there's strings attached or any money behind it, it's just always been really
fulfilling for me to help other people. And I think that that is what helped me create a network of people and goodwill throughout that network, which translates to the fact again, that I haven't used a recruiter to bring anybody on board here today. I'm sure we will, at some point, but to me, that's a testament of generating that network and that goodwill and just that core value of just wanting to help. At one point in my life, I almost became a fireman for that same reason, but then I started having kids and I needed a lot more money
Ron 20:34
And no need for that recruiter because everyone listening should hit up Bob right now, he's probably hiring at Revelstoke.
Bob 20:43
Yeah, I appreciate the plug, for sure. I mean, Revelstoke exists because, depending on what report you read, there's 2 to 4 million open cybersecurity jobs today. And we exist to help fill that gap. So, yeah, it's a people thing.
Ron 20:58
So, now that we've made it to this point, you've started your company, you built relationships, what are you hoping to do with all of it? You have the investment from VCs, the investment from your team, and yourself, what do you want to ultimately see, at the end of this?
Bob 21:15
I can't say that I ever want it to end, for sure, but I can tell you what I really look forward to in the future here, is, again, people are my passion. And I love building out teams of people. And so, we're well on our way here in North America. So, I want to continue that path, and building out teams and see them be successful. Because again, the whole reason I did this, and the reason I love doing this is because I like creating something out of nothing. And so, I look forward to building out teams in Europe and Asia, etc, and being successful in these markets where some people can't even get off the ground. And I just love doing that, and it helps that I love to travel. Well, I guess that's one thing I want to see, is I want to see more people at this company, I want to see more teams at this company, and I want to see everybody be successful, and that's really, at the end of the day, what's going to be fulfilling to me. And
whatever happens down the road with the company, whether we go public or get acquired, I'm not really worried about that right now. I'm just really worried about— I wouldn't say worry is the right word, but I'm just focused on everybody's success in the company and making sure it's a good place to work because life is too short. I have had a near death experience and that kind of led me to essentially doing what I do today. And that's that. If I were to— Not to sound too macabre or dark, but if I were to be on my deathbed, I would regret never having started my own company and that's why I did this.
Chris 22:56
You know, when you talk about mortality, you talk about life being short, it makes me think of legacy, and makes you think about: What is it that you're going to leave behind? And you said that before it's all said and done, you wanted to start a company. What does that say about you and your legacy with this company? What impact or impression are you hoping to leave on this world?
Bob 23:21
No, that's a great question and I guess it somewhat appeals to my ego, but again, it comes down to the definition of success. How I was brought up in terms of the definition of success, it isn't driving the nicest car so much as starting a company and providing jobs for people, jobs that never existed before or until you decided to start a company, and that's what I love doing about my one-on-ones. And so, I want my legacy to be somebody that not only started a successful company financially, but that employed a lot of people and supported a lot of families. To me, that's a source of pride. Sounds kind of really basic, but obviously, I want to create a product that adds value and makes my customers look like heroes, which we are doing today, which I love doing as well. I'm very customer focused, but I want the legacy to be that I created a company, or I helped create a company and I created jobs and taxpayers that never existed, would have never existed, had I'd never decided to do this. And to me, that's really what success is.
Chris 24:33
Outstanding. Bob, there's someone that's listening right now and they've been on the grind, whether it's in technology, or cybersecurity, or just their field in general. And they said, "You know what? I want to be like Bob, and I want to leave a legacy. I want to leave an impact on this world. I need to start an organization." Where would you recommend for people to start? Maybe they don't have that idea yet, but they know they want to build something. What piece of advice would you have for those folks?
Bob 25:02
Find a good co-founder, find good mentors. It's all about standing on the shoulders of people that have been through this before. So, that is really what's been key to me. And, you know, how do we get our investors for the company. That's based on my prior relationships, and making sure that they're highly
trusted, high-integrity relationships. It's something that you can see with my most recent board member, Brian Nesmith, the founder of Arctic Wolf. Brian was my CEO, where I was a lowly sales rep at Blue Coat Systems. But somehow, for some reason, Brian and I have stayed close over all of these years, to the point where he's now a board member of my company, and that's 17 years ago that I worked for. And so, he and others like him in the company I have today are just incredibly helpful and support me. And I guess part of that is also, I guess, without saying, is that you have to be willing to be wrong and ask for help. And so, I love helping people when they ask for help, again, because it's a compliment. And I love being associated people that feel that same way when I asked them for help. And so, that's what I would recommend is— You know, it sounds really easy. Surround yourself with good people. I
mean, that sounds pretty cool. How do you do that? But in a weird way, with Brian as the example on my board, I've been working towards this my entire career without really knowing it, but it's all about having those people that transcend business, and that are trusted friendships, and people that you can tolerate and enjoy being around and they can they do the same with you.
Chris 26:54
Outstanding. Bob, as always, it's an honor to chop it up with you. For the folks out there to want to stay up to date with you, your startup, and all the incredible things that you're doing out there in this world: What are the best ways for people to do that?
Bob 27:08
You know, I'm on LinkedIn all day, every day, almost. So, LinkedIn is probably the best way to just kind of check up on me. If you want to reach out to me, my email simply bob@revelstoke.io. And that's revelstoke.io. But yeah, email is a great way to do it, bob@revelstoke.io, and then obviously, LinkedIn.
Ron 27:34
Perfect, we will be sure to include your LinkedIn and also your email, along with your website, your company's website in the show notes for everyone to stay up to date with you. Bob, really appreciate it. Always a pleasure. And with that, we'll see everyone next time.
Bob 27:47
Thank you very much, Chris and Ron, it's been an honor.
Chris 27:52
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