Sunday, March 20, 2005

Rational Technology: Technopreneur

Lawrence E. Hughes, a spry fifty-something gentleman late of Atlanta, Georgia, settled in Cebu City by way of a Filipino wife with whom he had been married for over a decade. His story is not altogether uncommon, repeated as it is among several expatriates for whom the local climate and people are very agreeable and decide to settle in our shores. If it were only that, Hughes' tale would be worth a couple of tellings among the community wags and then quickly and quietly forgotten for juicier news.

Yet the story doesn't quite end there. In fact, it may be worthwhile to delve further into the background. Hughes is a technology geek through and through with several war stories to tell. He built his first computer, an Altair, back in 1975 when very few people had the notion of a personal computer. He's also contemporaries with the modem pioneers and written the first software for them.

The most interesting part of his background is his involvement with cryptography and computer security, something he's been involved in since even before the heyday of the Internet. Over the years, Hughes has worked with the creme de la creme of Internet security companies, perhaps the most well-known of which is Verisign.

Prior to coming to the Philippines, Hughes put together an email proxy appliance called Ironmail. In 2000, he started a company, Ciphertrust, to market the product. The email proxy appliance essentially secures email servers from viruses, spyware, and spam. It is in such high demand that Fortune 500 companies snap them up regardless of their stiff price tag of $90,000 per unit.

Fueled more by the passion of a startup than with its day-to-day operations, Hughes left his company in 2003 in the care of professional managers and settled in Cebu.

One would think that Hughes would kick back, relax, and enjoy the fruits of his labor in quiet retirement. But then his story would be no different from so many others. And, of course, that's not what he did.

Still driven by more good ideas, Hughes decided to put together another Internet appliance, this time to help manage the transition of DNS servers from IPv4 to IPv6 (don't worry if you don't understand this; just trust me when I say that there's a big need). And he decided to do it in Cebu.

Hughes' new startup company, Infoweapons, counts 14 employees counting Hughes himself. The rest of the team are all young Filipinos with various skills essential to the project. The core of the new Internet appliance is FreeBSD, a free open source operating system. The bulk of the current work, though, is in developing the user interface using both PHP and Microsoft Management Console. The product is well on its way to becoming a reality. Following his earlier work, the target market of the product are Fortune 500 companies, and Hughes expects to sell the high-end version at $30,000 each.

Compensation at Infoweapons is, according to Hughes, "competitive with local companies" but the difference is the generous stock option program. Employees are part owners of the company, and, should the company do extremely well, stand to become extremely rich.

Yet the main draw that Hughes brings is not so much the compensation plan or even the technology. It's the technological entrepreneurship with which he has infected his employees as well as other like-minded people that he's come in touch with. Hughes sets a fantastic example by which people with great product ideas can bring these to fruition as marketable -- and profitable -- products.

The fact that he's doing his project in the Philippines is a statement that it can be done here.

Anyone thinking of doing the same thing?

1 comment:

  1. I think what he's doing is really cool, and I'd like to learn as much as I can from him about starting tech companies so that I can develop these opportunities for other geeks as well. Great stuff.