Monday October 13, 2014 0 comments
By Phil Lindeman
DENVER -- Andre Durand doesn't just follow Internet trends. He sparks them.
As co-founder and CEO for Ping Identity, an industry-leading online security and identity firm based in Denver, Durand knows trends are fickle at best and wildly unpredictable the rest of the time.
It's built into the modern tech environment: Revolutionary thinkers like Steve Jobs and Jeff Bezos see the promise of a simple idea -- even if wildly risky -- while the rest scramble to riff off their success. Industries now evolve at breakneck pace and it pays to be a trendsetter.
But very few hopefuls have the heft of an Apple or Amazon. A keen eye for consumer and industry demands can mean life or death for a small startup, and roughly 12 years after Durand dove headfirst into the growing online security world, his knack for predicting - and even pioneering - trends has earned Ping a $35 million payday.
In mid-September, the New York City investment firm KKR pledged its support for Ping, adding to an international investment portfolio that reached $98 billion in June. With serious financial muscle, KKR brings global cache to an investor roster that includes Boston's Volition Capital and Denver's Appian Ventures.
The $35 million is Ping's single-largest investment round to date, and Durand has leveraged his company's rapid growth to build an impressive client list: Comcast, Dell, Cisco, Goldman Sachs, Citi Bank, Boeing - more than half of the Fortune 100, or roughly one billion users across the globe.
"KKR is an awfully big name in the finance world. They own some 100 companies across many industries and have an enormous footprint in the global 1000," says Durand, who oversees Ping from Denver as it expands to offices in San Francisco, Vancouver, London and more. "It shows a great level of confidence in what we're doing now and where we're headed in the future."
A burgeoning identity industry
The KKR announcement is only the latest vote of confidence at a breakthrough time. Ping made the 2013 "America's Most Promising Companies" list by Forbes, and in the past two years alone, Durand says the company has risen close to $80 million in funding, bringing the investment total to $110 million since 2002.
The accolades are a nod to Ping's trendsetting position, not to mention the explosion of the online security realm as a whole. This fervent yet relatively new interest in a 12-year-old company isn't unfounded: Over the past four months, Ping and competitors like Okta and Centrify have raised nearly $200 million in funding. < http://www.forbes.com/sites/benkepes/2014/09/18/ping-identity-scoops-35m-to-authenticate-everywhere/>
At the same time, industry leaders like Oracle and consumer heavyweights like Facebook and Google have introduced single sign-on platforms, ushering in what Ping and Durand call "the post-password era."
The investment boom shows how vital Ping and other third-party providers will be in the immediate future, when dozens of separate passwords and user names are replaced by one simple, easy-to-use platform. As more industries rely on mobile devices and cloud servers for just about everything - email, media storage, remote access, even smartphone-based purchases - identity management has become as invaluable as a DSL connection.
From Jabber to PingOne
The unpredictable new world of online security is Durand's second taste of a tech trend with endless promise. He founded Durand Communications in 1993, a software developer that made photo databases he now dubs "AOL in a box for the pre-Internet days."
By 2000, when AOL Instant Messenger predicted the ubiquity of mobile texting and messaging, Durand formed another startup based on the open-source Jabber platform. Known as Jabber, Inc., his communication infrastructure was adopted by Apple, Yahoo and dozens of tech companies before it was sold to Cisco in 2008.
Although Durand left Jabber, Inc. in 2002, it was an early introduction to the fast-paced world of third-party developing. He quickly learned to court big-name clients and investors - business 101 for any startup CEO - and as usual in the tech realm, one opportunity morphed into another.
"Through that period of time, it occurred to me along the way that we lacked a better understanding of who the user was on the Internet - call it a universal notion of who you are when you're online," Durand says. "That was really the epiphany moment for me."
With identity in mind, Durand tapped two former colleagues from Durand Communications, investor Phil Becker and developer Bryan Field-Elliot. The three founded Ping as an answer to Durand's universal notion question.
But the original vision was much broader. It built off the credit card industry: Durand imagined a virtual world where consumers - not just global companies - had a branded identity, similar to Visa or American Express cards.
Like pulling money from an ATM, users could tap their identity for anything, at any time, from anywhere.
As with any tech company, evolution is the name of the game, and Durand realized corporations were a far better early audience for Ping's one-time-only sign-on platform.
"So many corporations suffer from a fragmentation of identities," Durand says. "Big companies own hundreds of cloud applications and other systems, and each one is disconnected. None of them are tied together from an identity perspective. We can become that one authoritative source of truth."
That hodgepodge of identities is easy to steal and almost easier to lose, so the development team soon honed in on federation technology. It gives one central department - say, the human resources folks in charge of payroll - a simple way to link various "identity silos," as Durand says.
Now, federation technology has expanded further to include remote worksites and mobile applications. And Ping is there to provide: This summer, the company launched PingOne, a cloud-based identity management system for corporations.
The road from a credit card analog to PingOne has been long, but Durand's brainchild at Ping is no longer just a promising trend. It's part and parcel of the digital world.
"My suspicion was we aren't too far off, but it might be a 15 or 16-year round trip," Durand says. "In many ways, the log-in with Facebook or log-in with your Gmail account is on that level. It's analogous to it.
"We haven't quite reached the Internet ecosystem that allows for that, but it's moving in that direction. There's no question about it."