15 years ago, in 2003, I managed to get an interview for a job as an account manager at a small startup in Antwerp. I remember walking past the building three times before I finally noticed a small A4 paper that got a clearly self-made logo with the name ‘SecureLink’ taped to the window.
I parked my car at the supermarket nearby and went into the building. When I got to the first floor, through the kitchen, I arrived at the ‘SecureLink Offices’. There were three guys in front of me. Those who know SecureLink well, can have a guess
- One guy was definitely looking for a social match. He was the ‘fun and friendly one’.
- The second one was the rational, technical business guy and
- The third one was searching for an eager, ambitious sales talent who would pick up the phone to get in touch with the Belgian enterprise landscape to explain them that a new Telindus had arrived to provide tailormade network and security solutions.
They were not looking for technical sales experts with years of experience. They were looking for junior talent with a strong appetite for sales. The first part of my job interview, which I still remember today, proved this:
- “Have you ever heard about Nortel Networks?” “No”
- “Have you ever heard about Netscreen?” “No”
- “Do you know Trend Micro?” “No”
- “Ever heard about Cisco?” “Mm, rings a bell. They make phones, don’t they?”
Well, somehow, they must have spotted some talent in me because a few weeks later, I could start as an account manager for two provinces. This is where SecureLink first leveled up. Hans Van Erum, Bert Van Loco and Frank Staut now had to deal with (and pay) their first employees.
Security is not our concern
We started off with a VPN opportunity based on Netscreen technology as an alternative for the more expensive private dedicated networks. As from the beginning, SecureLink wanted to pitch a pure Security Story. But, unfortunately, this story didn’t resonate at the time. We often got the answer: “Security is not our concern, we’re not a bank.”
Anyways, the VPN story was quite a success, but the real breakthrough came with SSL VPN. The start of a new level for SecureLink: an extremely heavy yellow box in our test rack that made a hell of a noise. The Neoteris SSL appliances (later bought by Netscreen) sold as hot cakes. It gave SecureLink the opportunity to get into the bigger Belgian enterprises and we became a real game changer.
Many of our customers were hospitals as they struggled to get remote workers (mostly doctors) connected to medical results. But, we were helping out many industries. The small company from Antwerp started to get noticed between all those big ones.
During the next couple of years, we continued growing by choosing the right technologies. We added IronPort, Palo Alto Networks, F5 Networks, Juniper Networks and more to our portfolio. People began to know us as an integrator of innovative technology with a customer-centric service approach.
In that time, around 2006, IT managers and CIOs started to become aware of the importance of cybersecurity and began to realize they were facing a challenge. Unfortunately, they often lacked budget and business support because the boardroom was not yet aware of the matter.
SecureLink goes international
In 2008, we took our first international steps. Our three founders knew a brilliant vendor account manager in the Netherlands and asked him to start up SecureLink in the Netherlands. This was a real success. SecureLink grew at the speed of light and made a solid reputation in the Dutch market.
2009, our first +1M project! What an achievement! This was an important milestone in our company’s history. As our projects became bigger, we needed other profiles. That is why we started hiring project managers, architects, presales and others.
Then… a customer request changed our offering. They requested the following: “We would like to have you as our future network and security partner, but, only if you can provide a fully managed service.” Back in those days, we didn’t have such a service. However, we locked up some of the brightest SecureLink’ers in a war room and several customer discussions later, the SecureLink Managed Service ‘NOC’ was born.
The merger of SecureLink and Raido
Before 2010, networking and security were stand-alone topics. After 2010, things changed. Cloud and virtualization became important factors in security and networking discussions. Application delivery and hosting also became influencers in the security processes and solutions. The above-mentioned concept became inextricably linked. At SecureLink, we were very well aware of this. A small virtualization company in Antwerp, named Raido, also knew what was going on. If we did not merge our knowledge, we would not survive. So, great minds of both companies decided to join forces and the merger of SecureLink and Raido became a success story. The current SecureWorkspace is still a result of this cooperation.
My desire for more
2010 was also a game changer on a personal level. There was a desire for ‘more’ but it was unclear what that ‘more’ meant. As we got bigger, SecureLink had the need to control, trail and audit their processes. Somebody had to take charge of these processes and I stepped up. We started our journey towards an ISO9000 certification. Processes where identified, documented and aligned. Everybody was engaged in becoming ISO9000 certified resulting in a first official certification in 2011. My taste for more was satisfied, for now.
Then, on a rainy evening, and I have to admit, alcohol consuming, at a SecureLink incentive in 2010, one of the founders of SecureLink came up to me and said: “Jo, if it is up to me, you are going to be the first SecureLink General manager“. BAM! What an idea he put in my head! But the seed was planted. And it grew, every day a little more. A management training in the following year opened up my mind and showed me a new potential future. Starting as a sales manager in 2013, and growing into general management in 2015, launched a new episode in my professional career.
My most challenging experience in those years? Working with high potential, ambitious and talented people and their needs and desires.
My biggest energy booster in all those years? Working with high potential, ambitious and talented people and their needs and desires. It’s a complex game.
The first business impacting cybersecurity incidents
Around the same time, the first business impacting cybersecurity incidents started getting media attention. Hospitals had to close down operating theatres and emergency rooms; a logistics company in the harbor was hacked to monitor container locations (that probably contained drugs); federal government institutions became the victim of a security malware breach resulting in thousands of employees who were not able to work. 1 by 1, they got media attention. This is where cybersecurity became a hot item on the agenda. But, 1 man made a huge difference putting the cybersecurity challenges in the spotlight: Edward Snowden. In 2013, Edward revealed the capabilities of the NSA which scared the entire world. Suddenly, it was clear how big the dark side of the internet was and how technology could be used against us. Especially the Belgacom hack that was also clarified in the Snowden records brought cybersecurity as the main challenge to our doorstep.
The European dream
During the following years, cybersecurity became a big boardroom concern. As mentioned above, our society changed dramatically because of the opportunities of the internet and mobile computing. With it came threats that still impact our business and our private lives. The need for more expertise and resources grew on a daily basis and companies couldn’t keep up with the demand. That is why we started tackling this issue. A European cybersecurity organization would be better equipped to face the resource challenge. Customers are struggling to find in-depth knowledge. Through managed services, they can focus on their core business while knowing that experts are protecting their data. SecureLink founded an international managed services company in 2015through acquisitions in Scandinavia, the UK and Germany.
What the future holds
We started our European dream three years ago and we still believe in the immense value this European aspect offers us as a managed services provider. In the coming years, we want to continue optimizing our resources and expertise to obtain a higher level of service quality to all countries and industries.
Our customers play a crucial role in this. Our partnership is always based on the win-win principle. We share our insights regarding threats, trends, evolutions, technologies and services. Customers can use that information and expertise to support their business. Our win lies in the feedback and critical mindset of the customer. This helps us to gain insights and to optimize our service so we can better fit your needs.