duo security

The Duo Blueprint: How Ann Arbor’s Duo Security is Changing the Midwest Startup Scene

“Our small city of freaks and geeks, fast learners, and team players has been a crucible for startups,” Dug Song, co-founder and general manager of Duo Security at Cisco, said.

Ann Arbor has been a launchpad for cybersecurity startups, the most notable being Duo.

In 2018, Duo, one of the fastest-growing cybersecurity providers in the world, was acquired by Cisco for $2.34 billion. Since then, Duo alumni who grew within the company and contributed to its success have gone on to found or spearhead their own cybersecurity startups—CensysBlumiraAaDya Security, to name a few.

We’re diving into this cybersecurity ripple effect and why all roads seem to lead back to Duo.

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Experience and empowerment

Let’s look at Censys: David Adrian, the co-founder at Censys, worked at Duo, and you can find Duo alums across departments there—from engineers and researchers to sales, account executives to HR. Not only that, but Song himself is a member of Censys’s board.

At Blumira, you find similar connections. Blumira’s vice president of operations, and its head of content and product marketing, both formerly worked at Duo, and helped grow the company. Duo’s creative director is also an advisor at Blumira.

AaDya Security, though in Detroit, is another security startup with Duo ties. Raffaele Mautone, the CEO and founder at AaDya, worked as the CIO and VP of Business Operations at Duo for years, and other AaDya leaders have ties that lead back to Duo.

Duo’s leadership team often says that they not only want Duo to be a great place to work, but also a great place to be from. The company has strived to make itself a platform for the careers of many, either by growing within Duo or the Cisco organization, or moving on to lead their own startups. The fact that so many people have put in many years at the company and then progressed in their careers speaks volumes about a culture centered on learning and empowerment that Duo Security fosters for its employees.

“I want to build a platform of opportunity for every person that joins us,” Song said to Infosecurity Magazine. “When I manage, it’s important to me that we understand what people are trying to accomplish in their careers. I think of everyone who comes to Duo as a volunteer—no one has to be here! So the most important thing is to let them innovate and grow.”

And innovate and grow they did.

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Good goes around

Song recognizes the important role the community plays in all this.

“There’s tremendous depth to the community that exists in Ann Arbor,” Song said in a recent interview with the University of Michigan’s LSA Magazine. “There’s a heritage of ideas and organizations here, and Duo is part of that long lineage of people, programs, groups, ideas, and companies.”

He notes organizations like the super-early stage startup community: the Ann Arbor New Tech Meetup. For eight years now, about 6,000 members have been meeting every month, where members of all kinds of tech companies in Ann Arbor come together and talk shop. It’s a nurturing environment.

“Michigan is a really interesting proving ground for innovations that improve people’s daily lives,” Song told Xconomy following Cisco’s acquisition of Duo. “The culture of Michigan is exported in such a big way around the world.”

But there’s no denying the role Duo has played in leading by example when it comes to culture, people and growth. The fact that Duo has created an environment that allows employees to thrive is not only good for Duo and its employees, but it’s also good for the region.

When companies encourage a healthy culture, better business gets done. This helps employees rest, recharge, stay creative and energized to keep producing innovative work.

“No one is in our office after 5 p.m. because they have a life,” Song told a crowd at the 2019 Intermitten Conference. “It’s important to have a life and to have ground rules.”

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Not only that, but when companies build a culture that is open, accepting and allows its employees to be authentic and thrive, it also helps attract more top-tier talent.

Take it from Kendra Mitchell, chief of staff at Duo. At the Diversity and Inclusion Panel, she said, “The reason why I came to Duo was its commitment to people and its commitment to diversity and inclusion and the way that’s centered in its practices.”

And when companies can attract top-tier talent, business grows—and so does the region. More startups like Blumira, AaDya and Censys pop up, creating more jobs and attracting even more talent. Cities grow, more companies open offices here, more talent comes in. It’s a ripple effect.

This is how tech hubs form. It starts with companies and their strong, human-centered foundations.

“It’s exciting to see this next batch of security companies starting up and saying, ‘We want to follow Duo’s blueprint. Not just in terms of the success and growth of the company, but in terms of how we operate,’” Jon Oberheide, co-founder and CTO at Duo Security, recently told U of M’s Engineering Magazine. “That’s what we set out to do: To change the security industry.”

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