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In 2004, Ashar took up residence at Sequoia while he pursued his provocative vision for the future of cyber-security. He turned out to be right — but years passed before the market caught up to the FireEye vision, and it took passion and perseverance to stay the course.

Ashar begins by describing the problem he set out to solve.

Ashar Aziz
Founder, FireEye

Most people didn’t know that there was this gigantic problem.

Bill Coughran
Sequoia

Ashar foresaw an environment where computer attacks would become more sophisticated, and you couldn't catch them with conventional software.

Ashar Aziz

I knew that in the face of the new attacks, all the existing defenses were simply going to collapse. That was the genesis for the FireEye technology, and that technology did not exist in the industry, nor in academia either.

Bill Coughran

He had an innovative way for detecting what are called advanced persistent threats, or APTs. We provided him with seed funding and invited him to work out of our office in Menlo Park, and he stayed for nine months developing the business.

Ashar Aziz

But we were probably five years ahead of market awareness. Back then, you weren’t seeing the headlines you see today about massive corporate breaches, and even by 2007 the market hadn’t woken up to the problem.

Bill Coughran

The landscape was different when FireEye got started. The big threat was “worms” that replicated themselves automatically, stealing bandwidth and deleting files, and standard anti-virus software did a pretty good job in those cases.

Ashar Aziz

But there was this big, under-the-radar problem on the internet. l knew it, and our technology had started finding it, but the market recognition took a lot longer.

Ashar Aziz

And it would have been easy for an investor to lose heart in the middle of that process and say, "Listen, this is taking too long" — especially when the market collapsed in 2008-2009.

Bill Coughran

The recession hit and the company hadn’t established itself yet. FireEye struggled to raise money, and a lot of the outside world saw it as a dead business.

Ashar Aziz

This was the famous Sequoia “RIP Good Times” timeframe, where it was very difficult to find funding. And truth be told, I did not have a great track record in terms of revenue. I'd run out of cash, and Sequoia came in and reinvested when no one else would.

Bill Coughran

A lot of security companies would have tried to sell themselves — and many did — but Ashar had total conviction that FireEye’s approach was right, and that it was just a matter of time until everyone else realized it. And so Gaurav Garg, who was then at Sequoia and is now an alumnus, led an inside round to help keep the company going.

Ashar Aziz

And honestly, if that hadn't happened, we'd probably not have survived 2009. Pretty much all of the investment community shunned FireEye at that point. But Sequoia didn't listen to the prevailing trend, at a time when it was easy to have herd mentality. I think it took incredible courage, to be honest.

Bill Coughran

It was in 2010 that the market started to come in their direction.

Ashar Aziz

That year the enterprise market began to wake up. There’d been a series of large attacks and the number just kept rising and rising, and people started to realize there was this massive problem in cyber-security.

Bill Coughran

The company started gaining traction as APTs became more common, and very quickly the revenue started to ramp up. The time came where we knew we had to scale even faster in anticipation of becoming a public company.

Ashar Aziz

We went from a very small amount of bookings in 2009 to doing three or four times more, year over year, from that time onward. And we owe a lot to those two critical points with Sequoia, from first investing in us so far ahead of any market validation, to then coming in again and saying, "Yes, it's still a few years down the road, and we’re struggling to get this working, but we believe in you.”

Bill Coughran

Dave DeWalt entered the picture and added tremendous value. He joined FireEye as board chairman, and later took the role of CEO to complement Ashar's vision. He scaled the company and drove it toward its eventual IPO in September, 2013.

Today, FireEye protects thousands of customers worldwide, including over half of the Fortune 500, from the next-generation threats it first foresaw in 2004. The company went public in September 2013.

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FireEye
Cyber-crime security and malware protection services.
Milestones
  • Founded 2004
  • Partnered 2004
Team
  • David G. DeWalt
  • Ashar Aziz
Partner