Having half of your employees in Cupertino, Calif., and the other half in Durham might be a nightmare for some companies, but for StrongKey’s CEO Jake Kiser it’s an opportunity.
“Two offices give us access to Silicon Valley and everything that California brings,” he said. “An office here in North Carolina lets us build out our business and access a really good talent pool, and then have better access to the markets of the whole East Coast and Europe.”
StrongKey has three main tenets of its data security-focused, SaaS (software as a service) business model: strong authentication, encryption and digital signatures. It also sells an appliance that works with a company’s IT infrastructure to provide those data-security services for its customer base of central banks, government contractors, a large telecommunication company, and a prominent payment processor in Southeast Asia.
In 2017, Japanese software company Systena invested $10 million in Series A funding for a minority stake in StrongKey. These funds are being used to build out the team, scaling the business and — most importantly — rebranding and promoting the company.
The company changed its name from StrongAuth to StrongKey and rebranded with a new logo and website as part of a significant marketing push.
“For as good as our client list is,” Kiser said, “it’s shocking how few people have heard of us.”
Since the Durham-based Kiser became CEO 18 months ago, he has also worked relentlessly to refocus the company from an engineering-focused business model to one that is more scalable.
When the company was led by Founder and current CTO, Arshad Noor, Kiser said Noor would often work with a client one-on-one to solve their data security problems and give them a customized solution.
Since he was brought onboard the team, Kiser has focused on finding a way to scale current products across different companies and industries.
Kiser says that this allows Noor to “look three, five, 10 years into the future ahead of where the industry is going, and guide us from a visionary perspective.”
Although adapting an entire marketing strategy and business model may seem like a lot, the opportunity to lead this transition is one of the reasons Kiser accepted the position.
Back to Durham
A graduate of the University of Maryland with an MBA from Duke’s Fuqua School of Business, Kiser has worked with logistics, corporate strategy and finance over his career, including overseas in Mali and South Africa.
Kiser was actually commuting back and forth from Durham to South Africa several times a month until he accepted the position with StrongKey.
The StrongKey team currently has 17 employees split between Cupertino and Durham, with another five to seven employees to be hired soon. The nine employees in California are more focused on engineering and product, while the other eight in North Carolina focus mostly on the business side.
Although the company has a strong presence in Silicon Valley, when he looks out at the city from StrongKey’s new downtown Durham office in WeWork — the company recently moved from American Underground — Kiser said he sees nothing but the potential to grow.
“The business and tech community here, I believe, is truly collaborative and honestly invested in one another,” he said. “The amount of support that I receive — and I hope that I give a little bit too — is really invested in wanting other people around here to succeed. I think that’s because we’ve all invested in seeing Durham turn into what we believe it can be.”