The Importance of Authentic Leadership: Interview with Chris Marks, founder and managing partner at Blue Note Ventures.
At Automox, we are committed to sharing important news, opinions, and perspectives from our security experts inside Automox to keep you informed from every vantage point. You get product announcements from our Head of Engineering, vision-driven insight from our CEO, case studies from our customers, and best practices from Marketing. We also think first-hand perspectives from our investors and advisors are just as important. Hear directly from industry leaders about what’s ahead for the security industry, why they invested in Automox, and the advice they have for companies challenged with keeping their infrastructures secure in an increasingly vulnerable environment.
Today’s interview is with Chris Marks, founder and managing partner of Blue Note Ventures, a venture capital firm investing in early-stage disruptive tech industries like threat detection, encryption-as-a-service, security intelligence, and automated endpoint protection. Blue Note Ventures led the latest round of Automox funding.
What makes a company stand out to you as a potential investment fit?
We look first and foremost for market fit and the extent to which that solution serves a growing industry demand. Second, we look at the founders and CEO and their approach to leadership. We look at how they interact with employees, customers and investors, and the type of culture they are consciously creating. A key indicator for us about a company’s potential growth is type of employees a leader can attract early on, when stability is low, yet the need for seasoned A players is high. My experience investing in tech companies for the past 15 years has taught me that an Authentic Leadership style is critical to attracting talented people and helping those teams create, grow, and execute rapidly.
What do you mean by Authentic Leadership?
For us, it’s really aspirational. We don’t judge who is an authentic leader or not, we look for those who aspire to be authentic leaders. With Jay Prassl (Automox founder and CEO), we saw him as someone who had a great leadership experience at his previous tech company, SolidFire. Jay was a key executive on the team and helped navigate that company’s rapid growth until it was acquired by NetApp for $870M, five years after they launched. His experience participating in that scale of growth and overcoming the challenges that come with it inspired him to pursue the opportunity to build a company that reflected his values, his culture, and leveraged what he learned. We look for entrepreneurs who are self-aware, transparent, passionate about what they are doing, and who are courageous in the way they pursue it. We saw that authentic leadership in Jay and his desire to build that type of company in the Boulder eco-system was very exciting for our investment team.
What are the key factors that motivated you to invest in Automox?
As a VC firm, we get thousands of pitches and track hundreds of companies to see how they respond, assess, and adapt to market growth and opportunity. There were several things we saw in Automox that made them very different. There are many expensive, enterprise-grade threat detection systems that are great technologies and serve a critical need. But it seemed really crazy to me that despite all that spend, there was still this gap around patching, which is the initial piece of the security puzzle that so many people have been trying to solve. Patching can occur as a small effort, so companies don’t often look at patching as critical path to success. Yet poor patch management is the area where incredibly expensive damage is being done by hackers looking for the easiest way to exploit vulnerabilities. It was an obvious hole in the security ecosystem that no-one else was solving.
There were also a couple of key trends that contributed to our interest. One, a growing segment of the security market includes mid-sized enterprise companies who have multiple operating systems in play, which makes patch management complicated. Two, many solutions can point out a security threat but can’t execute a solution. Three, cloud-based, light-touch subscription services have become the norm rather than the exception. Automox captures all three of those trends while addressing the biggest missing piece to the security puzzle. They are cloud-based, support all operating systems and endpoints (regardless of location), and they do it in a simple, elegant, automated, and cost-effective way.
Another encouraging trend with Automox is the size and caliber of the companies they are attracting as clients. Their enterprise customers include companies like Gaia, Hootsuite, Quicken, Mount Sinai Hospital, NTT Data Services, UNICEF, and others. When we initially sat down and looked at the market, we assumed larger companies would want more of the high-dollar, highly-consultative approach typical of solutions with 5x the cost. We were pleasantly surprised at how quickly Automox became an attractive alternative to traditional enterprise solutions. As an investor and advisor, it’s been exciting to support their mission to deliver a solution so critical in today’s security environment.