Ann Arbor Startup Was Just Sold For $2B: What It Teaches Us

By John Gallagher
Detroit Free Press

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Columnist John Gallagher takes an interesting look at the changing definition and look of success.

Detroit Free Press

This month’s $2.35-billion purchase of Ann Arbor-based Duo Security will do more than create some instant millionaires. It should also remind us how differently we can view business success in Michigan today than in years past.

In Michigan’s 20th-century industrial heyday, the most admired companies were those that endured decade after decade. They built huge workforces and imposing headquarters, and they ranked near the top of the Fortune 500 — Ford, General Motors, Dow, Kellogg.

Today, though, a firm like Duo Security, founded just eight years ago to provide digital security solutions, can grow like a rocket, acquire thousands of customers around the world with its innovative products, and then get bought out by a much larger firm.

Duo helps customers avoid cybersecurity breaches by verifying the identify of users and the health of their devices before granting them access to applications — a critical need today.

Back when the old American Motors was acquired in the 1970s, getting bought up was often the result of failure, not success. Unable to compete against the much larger automakers Ford and GM, AMC was rescued, lasted awhile under Chrysler’s wing, and closed in 1987.

But Duo Security’s success shows that getting bought can be part of the process of getting great products into the wider market, said Skip Simms, senior vice president of Ann Arbor SPARK, an entrepreneurial and talent portal that helps startups get going.

“It’s not necessarily revenue or profitability” that defines success today, Simms told me. “It’s creating a product that will make a significant improvement to the health and well being of the populace. That’s a success even though the founder and the team may have sold the company long before it had any revenue.”

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