Tony Perez interview

My first direct interaction with the Sucuri team was at this year’s WordCamp Paris. I was passing through the sponsors hallway when I saw a familiar face from another life. Val, whom I last saw in Cluj two years ago, was soon updating me on his awesome new job at Sucuri!

For those who don’t know, Sucuri is a security company operating since 2010. Between 60% and 70% of their protected websites run on WordPress. They’re quite active in the community and have sponsored several WordCamps, including last year’s WCUS.

Val was telling me how his repeated conversations with Sucuri customer support got him hired. The guys at Sucuri appreciated the feedback he was sending about their website’s interface, their social media presence, and noticed his passion for security. Tony Perez, co-founder and CEO, heard about my friend, and he immediately wanted him in his team.

Tony Perez interview
This is only one of the many stories about Tony and how he handles things at Sucuri, but I wanted to hear more from the man himself. So, this is where today’s Tony Perez interview comes into play. In it, Tony talks the state of WordPress, Sucuri company culture, and his understanding of success in business.

After you finish reading, you might want to check out Tony’s blog and connect with him on Twitter @perezbox.

Also, you might be interested in some of the previous interviews in the series.

Enjoy the read:

Tony Perez interview – CEO and co-founder of Sucuri

How did WordPress change or influence who you are now?

Tony Perez:
WordPress introduced me to a new world. Prior to 2009, I worked with closed-platforms like Microsoft .NET applications. Open-source wasn’t even in my vernacular yet. I owe that introduction to Dre Armeda. Together we started CubicTwo, a boutique agency, in 2010. We shut it down in 2011 as we immersed ourselves into the world of information security with Sucuri.

Sucuri was a project started by Daniel Cid in 2008, and interestingly enough an idea that was originally built off the idea of open-source as well. In 2010, the Sucuri company was founded, but the idea of open-source has not been lost on us.

With that in mind, I’d say that WordPress influenced the way I look and appreciate the ideas of open-source.

Sucuri is quite present in Drupal and Joomla communities as well. How are they different from WordPress? What can we learn from them?

Tony Perez:
From a platform perspective, the passion and and commitment by the contributors is about the same. They will all fight to the death that their approach is the best, sometimes to a fault.

I do believe that WordPress has a stronger end-user community than any of the others, it’s actually a bit unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. At the same time, Drupal’s audience seems to be more business focused and draws a more technically capable audience. There are politics in all groups, but Joomla definitely takes the lead in that department; something I think stems from the way they’re structured. Both WordPress and Drupal have benevolent leaders in Matt and Dries respectively, Joomla however is managed by a third-party organization.

I think WordPress and Drupal have their audiences figured out, while Joomla finds itself trying to figure out where it belongs. Joomla wants to be as technically sound as Drupal, but wants the adoption of WordPress while continuing to be focused on the developers and integrators.

Interestingly enough, Drupal dominates complex applications and large enterprises, while WordPress dominates the end-users. This makes the recent news of 27% adoption by WordPress to be expected, but it probably doesn’t paint a very realistic picture. If you turn the tables on its head and look at the world from a GDP perspective, I’d argue that Drupal, even with its small market share, generates more than WordPress.

That makes the conversation very interesting. I do think that the platform has a lot to do to reach its 51% goal. To do this, it will need to spend more time looking at how the platforms have dominated their respective domains. I’m thinking of platforms like Drupal for their dominance in complex systems and enterprise environments, as well as Magento for their dominance in big e-commerce applications.

Describe the WordPress community in one word

Tony Perez interview

Passionate.

What’s the main threat to WordPress these days? Other platforms like Ghost, or maybe things like Squarespace?

Tony Perez:
The biggest threat to WordPress is WordPress. This idea that it’s too big to fail is flawed I think.

I think that the online world is changing quickly, as much as we want the world to have our same ideology around the importance of an open web I don’t believe that’s a feeling mutually shared by 99% of the application users. For them, they are looking for tools that enable them to get online. Whether it’s WordPress or some other technology, they are indifferent. That’s where closed platforms like Wix, Squarespace, Weebly come into play. Love them or hate them, it doesn’t matter – they are solving a real problem for the users that use them. It’s why WordPress.com exists in the first place.

I think Matt is on point when he says that there has to be more effort streamlining the configuration phase of a deployment. Just the other day, I was playing on one of my many servers and decided to go through the setup phase of a WordPress installation. True to form, it took me less than 5 minutes to get it installed. I went and purchased a theme and started the configuration, a week later it still doesn’t look the way the demo does. Why is that?

All things being equal, that’s where these closed-platforms are winning. It’s also not only about the Wix, SquareSpace’s of the world. You have to look at the giants like LinkedIn, Facebook, Medium. They too are encroaching on the space, gobbling up content at very fast clip; providing its users a platform from which they can maximize their reach.

Similar to the sentiments of “open”, the idea of “owning your content” is lost on 99% of the online users. For them it’s how do I get online faster, how do I push my product or services more effectively, what gives me the fastest reach? This is a big problem in my eyes, and one that many agencies and organizations will start feeling.

Just look at what organizations like HubSpot are doing, providing a fully encapsulated marketing / sales experience, which by the way includes deploying a site and blog for complete visibility into what’s going on. It’s only a matter of time before more companies follow suit, and this idea of “oh but you’ll be restricted and they own your data” will fall on deaf ears.

So, to your question, I don’t see any single threat, but a combination of all these moving parts that will, with time, continue to be a threat to the platform.

How much of the Sucuri business is coming from WordPress?

Tony Perez:
I’d say that WordPress makes up 60-70% of our customers right now. It fluctuates on a number of factors.

What is the employee retention strategy in a remote operating company like Sucuri?

Tony Perez:
Create an environment in which they can make a difference. The irony of that is that you don’t actually build it. You have to let it grow organically, and you do that both in the way you act and the way you lead and manage your people. Daniel and I like to defer to common sense and respect.

What I really think it all comes down to is having an environment where they just honestly love what they do. I would say that all across the company, whether it’s finance or research, the people we have genuinely enjoy and love what they’re doing. All Daniel and I have done is give them a place to do just that. And in the end, isn’t that what we all want?

A while ago, you said Sucuri is all about “security provided by real humans”. How do you see robotic process automation changing the processes?

Tony Perez:
Automation isn’t new. Security has always been built on three core tenants: People, Process and Technology. You can’t dismiss the value that a real person offers to the entire process, unfortunately many do.

Just look at some of the biggest hacks in the past 5 years. Remember Target? How about Sony? Many of these organizations had “automation” in the tools they leveraged. They failed, often not because they didn’t have the right tools but because a) they were mostly misconfigured and b) they failed to invest in the people aspect of security. Technology by itself won’t, at least not yet, make the decision for you.

Let’s bring that down a few levels and look at website security, specifically WordPress. How is it that WordPress continues to suffer hacks? Is it that the core of the application is insecure? No. Is it that there aren’t enough security tools? No, our security tools have security tools. Is it poor administration by website owners? Yes. Is it misconfiguration of the tools they deploy? Yes.

Does this mean that Automation doesn’t have its place? Nope. In fact, a lot of what we do at Sucuri involves automation. It’s actually the only way we have been able to scale. But we don’t lead with it, because we like the value that comes from what we call “human intelligence”.

 

A lot of what we do at Sucuri involves automation. […] But we don’t lead with it, because we like the value that comes from what we call “human intelligence”.

Tony Perez interview

 

What is your company’s culture? What does Sucuri stand up for?

Tony Perez:
Oh gosh, don’t even know where to start here.

We stand up for security, first and foremost. We like to take a very practical approach to the way we communicate and educate people. We are adamant about being as technically sound in all things we do. We take our role as thought leaders in the space very seriously and we think, and hope, that it comes off in everything we do.

As for our people, I think there is one thing everyone can agree on, that’s that we all love what we do. It’s one of the things we look for in every hire. As a company we focus on value first, in all things we do. Whether that’s something we’re building, or something we’re sharing. What value does it offer? I would also like to think that more than anything else, we’re about doing what’s right. Do we make mistakes? Sure, they happen, but we do our best to correct them. This is especially important in our customer support, and why I’d like to think we have such a strong brand when it comes to the quality of our support, a testament to guys and gals on the team that subscribe to this ideology.

Lastly, I’d argue that there is no one culture within our company. I’d say that within each team there is a sub-culture, and that’s not on us as leaders of the company to define. Instead, they are on the teams themselves to define for themselves. Instead what Daniel and I try to do is embody the things we believe, and act in a way that our company can see and adopt, not because we say we will do something, but because we actually do it. For us, actions speak much louder than any words ever will, and I like to think that our actions provide a framework from which every team then builds on.

I actually wrote an article on some of this here

What’s your technique for staying productive throughout the day?

Tony Perez:
I don’t believe in the idea of work / life balance. It just doesn’t make sense to me. Life is life, what you choose to do with that time is on you.

Balance how you see fit, and I subscribe to that model, and encourage our teams to do the same. I do the things I’m in the mood to do that align with my objectives throughout the day. For instance, I know I can’t hop on the servers in the morning or my entire day will be lost. Emails will go unanswered and my Slack will look like a Christmas tree with pings.

So the morning is to answer questions, provide guidance and check in with the various teams to see how things are going. The afternoons are designed to focus on my projects. One of the things I really do enjoy is trying to get a workout in the morning and evenings. I find it incredibly relaxing and thought provoking.

Most of what I do is managed remotely via email and Slack, all text. Go figure… What I’ve been trying as of late is having a daily theme. Wednesdays and Thursdays might be dedicated to branding and marketing, while Fridays might be focused on sales and finances. I like this model, it helps control the mind a bit, of course I have to be pretty flexible.

How do you define “being successful”?

Tony Perez:
Being successful is qualitative, only you can define what success looks like for you.

For me, I define my success by doing what I love and measure it by the number of lives we affect. Both in the form of our customers and employees. There is no greater feeling for me than when we get to solve a problem for someone. There is also no greater feeling than seeing someone grow and flourish in a position. I love the idea of being able to have such an impact on someone’s life, their family, their future.

I don’t really measure it by how much money we make or have, or the number of customers, in fact in many instances these are numbers that we know but place very little thought towards. Instead, watching how the team operates, how they communicate, how information flows, how we support our customers, and how the various pieces of the company work in harmony with each other, now that’s success. It’s a beautiful thing to watch, especially when you consider that we’re at 97 full time employees spread across 27 countries, everyone working from their homes, yet everyone knows their role and together we continue to push forward. Pretty neat!

That concludes our Tony Perez interview. If you have any questions for Tony, feel free to submit them in the comments.

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