20VC Crowdstrike Founder, George Kurtz on Scaling to a $60Bn Market Cap, How to Acquire and Retain the World's Best Talent & The Right Way to View Competition in Today's Market



In this engaging conversation, George Kurtz, co-founder and CEO of CrowdStrike, discusses the company's journey from its inception to its successful IPO in 2019, and beyond. George reflects on his entrepreneurial mindset, emphasizing the importance of conviction, hiring top talent, and long-term investor relationships. He also shares insights into CrowdStrike's innovative cloud-based security platform, which disrupted the traditional cybersecurity model by focusing on breach prevention rather than malware detection. Additionally, George touches on the challenges and strategies of remote team building and maintaining a competitive edge in the fast-paced security industry. Throughout the discussion, George's commitment to operational excellence and customer-centric growth shines through, illustrating the foundational principles that have propelled CrowdStrike's success.

Summary Notes

Introduction to CrowdStrike and George Kurtz

  • George Kurtz is the founder and CEO of CrowdStrike, a leading provider of next-generation endpoint protection, threat intelligence, and services.
  • Prior to CrowdStrike's successful IPO in 2019, funding was raised from prominent firms like Accel, General Atlantic, CapitalG, IVP, and Warburg Pincus.
  • Before CrowdStrike, George was with McAfee for nearly seven years in roles such as CTO, GM, and EVP of Enterprise.
  • George founded Foundstone in 1999 and led it to acquisition by McAfee in 2004.
  • Acknowledgments to Samir at Accel and David George at Andreessen Horowitz for contributing questions.

"And I'm so thrilled today to be joined by George Kurtz, founder and CEO at CrowdStrike, a leading provider of next generation endpoint protection, threat intelligence and services."

The quote introduces George Kurtz and his company, CrowdStrike, highlighting its role in the cybersecurity industry and setting the stage for the conversation about the company's origins, growth, and strategies.

Founding Aha Moment for CrowdStrike

  • George Kurtz's realization of the need for a cloud-based security architecture.
  • The observation that customers were spending heavily on security but still experiencing breaches.
  • The shift in focus from preventing malware to preventing breaches.
  • The intention to build the "Salesforce of security."

"That was sort of the big aha moment where there's going to be an architectural shift to the cloud. Number one, we need to do something. And number two is people were buying security and not buying the outcome they wanted."

The quote captures the foundational insight behind CrowdStrike's creation, emphasizing the need for a new approach to cybersecurity that leverages cloud architecture and focuses on the desired outcome of preventing breaches.

Impact of Past Experiences on CrowdStrike's Strategy

  • George's experience with raising funds during tough economic periods influenced his approach to investor selection for CrowdStrike.
  • Emphasis on long-term investment partners who align with the vision of achieving grand slams, not just quick exits.
  • Samir at Accel was chosen for sharing the big vision and commitment to the long term.

"For me, I think one of the biggest areas was to make sure that I had the right investors who were really focused on the long term."

This quote highlights the strategic importance of choosing investors who are committed to the long-term success of the company, reflecting George's lessons from past ventures.

Benefits and Downsides of Serial Entrepreneurship

  • Serial entrepreneurship provides learning opportunities for company management, hiring, and executing operations.
  • The importance of setting up a company with the right investors and team from the start.
  • Crowdstrike's focus on hiring top talent globally and pioneering remote work.
  • The contrast between Foundstone's equal partnership model and CrowdStrike's more strategic structure.

"A lot of things of what not to do, a lot of things on what I would do differently in terms of fundraising and structuring the company and hiring people."

The quote reveals George's reflective approach to entrepreneurship, using past experiences to inform better practices in structuring and growing CrowdStrike.

Fundraising Approach and Investor Selection

  • The A round for CrowdStrike was non-standard, with Warburg Pincus providing an initial $25 million seed investment.
  • George's prior relationship with Warburg Pincus led to a significant early investment, which was atypical for the firm.
  • The decision to raise a large seed round was to make a statement and attract top talent.

"Got basically Crowdtrek off the ground and wrote 25 slides, got $25 million. So the joke is, I should have wrote 30 slides and a million bucks a slide."

The quote humorously conveys the success of George's fundraising efforts for CrowdStrike, where the amount raised was unusually large for a seed round, reflecting the confidence investors had in his vision.

Recruitment Strategy and the "Spouse Factor"

  • Crowdstrike's recruitment strategy focused on showcasing financial stability to potential hires.
  • The "spouse factor" refers to the discussion potential recruits have with their significant others about the viability of joining a new company.
  • Crowdstrike attracted talent from established companies by demonstrating they had substantial funding and longevity.

"When you're first starting a company because every person you're trying to recruit, they're going to go to their spouse or better half or what have you, whatever it might be, and they're going to say, hey, I got this company crowdstrike. I know you never heard of them. This tiny little company with 25 slides and they want me to leave Microsoft or Apple or Google, which are all people that joined us, right."

The quote highlights the challenge of convincing potential hires to leave secure jobs at well-known companies for a startup. The "spouse factor" is a consideration in this process, emphasizing the need for a startup to appear financially stable and promising to both the recruit and their partner.

Fundraising Strategy and Personal Investment

  • George Kurtz reflects on the importance of having "dry powder" and high conviction when starting a company.
  • He suggests that investing personal funds early on can lead to a greater reward if the entrepreneur has a strong belief in the business.
  • The risk-reward factor is crucial in deciding how much personal money to invest.

"I probably would have took out as many loans as I could have and put as much money of my own money in the deal as early as possible."

This quote conveys George Kurtz's hindsight perspective that he would have invested more of his personal funds into Crowdstrike early on. His confidence in the company's potential justified a higher personal financial risk, suggesting that entrepreneurs with high conviction should consider significant personal investments for greater future rewards.

Relationship to Money

  • George Kurtz views money as a means to enable experiences rather than just a pursuit for its own sake.
  • He emphasizes that building a great company and enjoying the process should be the goal, with financial success being a byproduct.
  • Money is seen as providing freedom and opportunities for experiences rather than material possessions.

"I think you got to look at it as what does it enable you to do and what experiences can you have?"

The quote reflects George Kurtz's philosophy on money, which prioritizes the experiences and opportunities it provides over the accumulation of wealth for its own sake. This mindset has guided his approach to entrepreneurship, focusing on building successful companies and enjoying the journey rather than solely chasing financial gain.

Company Performance and IPO Satisfaction

  • Crowdstrike's IPO performance exceeded expectations, becoming the largest security company to go public at the time.
  • The focus was on both the technology platform and the business model's scalability.
  • A friction-free sales model and a cloud-based, subscription service were key to financial success.

"When you think about Crowdstrike and when we ipoed, we were the largest security company at the time when we ipO'd, I think we were the third fastest growth company to ever IPo behind like Zoom and know some crazy banker stats that are out there."

George Kurtz expresses pride in Crowdstrike's IPO performance, emphasizing the company's rapid growth and scale at the time of going public. The quote highlights the significance of their achievement in the context of the broader market and establishes Crowdstrike's position as a leading company in its sector.

Building a Sales Flywheel

  • The sales flywheel at Crowdstrike was built on a philosophy of no waste, speed, and execution.
  • The platform's design helped reduce friction in the sales process, allowing the product to sell itself.
  • In-app trials and an intuitive platform contributed to customer acquisition and retention.

"I think it stems from a philosophy of no waste speed and execution."

George Kurtz credits the efficient construction of Crowdstrike's sales flywheel to a philosophy that eliminates waste and focuses on rapid execution. This approach facilitated a smooth and effective sales process, contributing to the company's success.

Quality Maintenance and Speed

  • Preparation and proper construction of the platform are essential for maintaining quality while increasing speed.
  • Avoiding shortcuts and ensuring scalability prevents future issues as the customer base grows.
  • Once the platform is built correctly, sales acceleration can occur without compromising quality.

"The car doesn't go fast just on race day. It goes fast two, three weeks, a month earlier when the thing is apart, when you're building it and rebuilding it and making sure that everything is right."

George Kurtz uses a racing analogy to illustrate the importance of preparation and attention to detail in building a quality product. Just as a race car is prepared well in advance of race day, a company's platform must be meticulously constructed to ensure high performance and quality in the long run.

Delegation and Empowerment

  • Clear vision and operational excellence are crucial for empowering employees.
  • Crowdstrike had systems in place early on that allowed for effective delegation and measurement of performance.
  • Delegation is balanced with personal involvement in areas of passion or where assistance is needed.

"Today, as the leader, you've got to empower your people. You got to hire the right people. You got to empower them."

This quote emphasizes the role of a leader in hiring the right people and empowering them to execute the company's vision. George Kurtz points out the importance of setting clear goals and providing the tools for measurement to facilitate effective delegation and maintain oversight of the company's operations.

Handling Underperformance in Delegation

  • Setting quarterly goals allows for regular assessment of employee performance.
  • Direct feedback and problem-solving are essential when goals are not met.
  • The process of addressing underperformance involves understanding the reasons behind it and taking corrective action.

"Well, I think if you basically start with on a quarterly basis, which a lot of companies run, quarterly basis, what are the goals for this quarter? And then we're measuring them 90 days later, either you made the goals or you didn't."

George Kurtz discusses the practical approach to managing underperformance through a system of quarterly goals and subsequent evaluations. This structured process enables clear communication and accountability, allowing for timely interventions when performance issues arise.

Goal Setting and Measurement

  • Establishing clear goals and measurements is crucial for business progress.
  • Regular reviews of goals and progress are necessary, ideally more frequently than every 90 days.
  • Direct and fast communication helps in keeping the business on course.

"So if you can create those goals and those measurements very early, the conversation is forced, at a minimum, every 90 days."

This quote emphasizes the importance of setting goals and measurements early in a business to ensure regular discussions about progress and performance.

Competition and Self-Belief

  • Confidence in one's own abilities and company is key when facing competition.
  • Avoiding shortcuts and focusing on building a robust platform can lead to long-term success.
  • Being aware of the competition but not fixating on them is important for growth.

"I didn't have a doubt because I knew we weren't taking the shortcuts right. We were taking the time to build it."

George Kurtz expresses his confidence and strategic choice to build a solid foundation for his company rather than rushing to outperform competitors in the short term.

Leadership Style and Evolution

  • Leadership style must evolve with the company's growth stages.
  • Initially, leadership is about evangelism and convincing early adopters.
  • As the company scales, leadership becomes about delegation and enabling others.
  • Eventually, leadership must adapt to not hinder the company's operational flywheel.

"Well, there's multiple phases when you start a company and the first phase, it's really evangelical leadership, but you've got to get the followers."

George Kurtz discusses the initial leadership phase, where inspiring and recruiting the first followers is crucial.

Transition to Public Market CEO

  • Transitioning to a public market CEO is a significant step that requires preparation.
  • Enjoying the process and engaging with investors is part of the journey.
  • Simplifying the company's story for investors can be effective.

"I've enjoyed know we built a company to really be a public company."

George Kurtz reflects on his positive experience transitioning to the role of a public market CEO and his intentions for the company to be long-lasting.

Maintaining Drive Post-IPO

  • Post-IPO, it's essential to maintain a competitive drive and avoid complacency.
  • Leadership from the top is vital in instilling a culture of continuous effort and improvement.
  • Engaging with customers and investors post-IPO can keep the momentum going.

"And I think that's part of what I wanted to do after the roadshow. And maybe I'll tell you that 100 by 100 story."

George Kurtz shares his strategy for maintaining drive and momentum after the company's IPO by setting an ambitious goal to meet with many customers in a short period.

IPO as a Milestone, Not an Endpoint

  • George Kurtz views the IPO as a beginning (green flag) rather than a completion (checkered flag) for a company.
  • Post-IPO, the focus is on maintaining momentum and engaging with customers.

"I did that because I thought it was important to set the stage not only for Wall street, but for our company to say, hey, IPO is a green flag, not a checkered flag."

The quote emphasizes that an IPO should be seen as a starting point for further growth and customer engagement rather than the ultimate goal for a company.

Self-Belief in Leadership

  • George Kurtz has experienced self-doubt but prefers to bet on himself over others.
  • He acknowledges the inevitability of mistakes but stresses the importance of direction and team.
  • He never doubted CrowdStrike's success, though its scale surpassed his expectations.

"At some point, you're always like, well, how's that going to work out? Can I do that? But I come to the realization probably many years ago, that I'd rather bet on myself than bet on other companies or maybe even other people..."

The quote reveals a mindset of self-confidence and the decision to rely on one's abilities, especially when leading and growing a business.

Quickfire Round: Personal Insights

Favorite Book

  • "Good to Great" by Jim Collins is George Kurtz's favorite book.
  • The book is appreciated for its focus on the transformation from mediocrity to excellence.

"I would say good to great because it really focuses on how do you become great companies, not just mediocre."

This quote explains the reason behind the book's impact on George Kurtz, highlighting the aspiration to stand out and achieve greatness.

Strengths and Weaknesses

  • George Kurtz's strengths include relentlessness, perseverance, and execution ability.
  • His weakness is sometimes over-focusing on details.

"Biggest strength, relentless and perseverance and ability to execute. Biggest weakness is I can focus on the minute detail and beat it like a dead horse until I figure out what's happening with."

The quote outlines Kurtz's self-perceived strengths and weaknesses, offering insight into his work ethic and potential areas of improvement.

Advice on Personnel Decisions

  • George Kurtz advises not to delay firing someone who isn't working out.
  • He emphasizes the difficulty of following this advice.

"I've never regretted firing someone too early, not in my career. I've always regretted not letting someone go too late."

The quote highlights the importance of timely personnel decisions and the common challenge of hesitating to let people go.

Handling Dismissals

  • George Kurtz stresses the importance of setting clear objectives and providing feedback.
  • Dismissals should not be a surprise and should be handled humanely.

"I think follow the process that I laid out, which is, here are goals, here are strategy, clear objectives. We're measuring at some point. This is not a surprise..."

This quote describes George Kurtz's approach to dismissals, emphasizing the need for clarity and respect in the process.

Building and Managing a Remote Team

Success with Remote Teams

  • George Kurtz pioneered remote work at CrowdStrike.
  • The focus was on hiring the right people, forcing team gatherings, and providing collaboration tools.
  • Community building is challenging but essential in remote settings.

"We did. I think what we focused on is let's get the right people wherever, let's force them to get together..."

The quote details the strategies for making a remote team successful, including hiring, team gatherings, and collaboration tools.

In-Person Training

  • Regardless of location, new hires were sent to California for a week of training.
  • This practice helped instill company culture and values.

"Didn't matter, super expensive, but it worked because we really wanted to indoctrinate people into the culture, the history of crowdstrike, the culture, how we operate."

The quote explains the rationale behind the costly training practice, emphasizing the importance of cultural integration.

Challenges of Remote Work

  • Keeping in touch and ensuring employees feel invested is difficult.
  • Remote workers may lack a sense of purpose or understanding of their impact.

"Just keep in touch with people, keeping in touch with them, and making sure that they're really invested in what they're doing right."

The quote addresses the primary challenge in remote work, which is maintaining connection and engagement among team members.

Future of CrowdStrike

  • George Kurtz compares CrowdStrike's future to Salesforce's growth trajectory.
  • He emphasizes the importance of platform building, revenue scaling, and geographic expansion.
  • Work-life integration and enjoying the journey are key to the company's ethos.

"I think the next five years probably look a lot like Salesforce trajectory, where you continue to build out your platform, you continue to scale your revenue..."

The quote outlines the ambitious growth plans for CrowdStrike, drawing parallels with Salesforce and highlighting the focus on both professional success and personal well-being.

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