How the Malwarebytes company started and grew.
What made Mrs Kleczynski initially more alarmed was that her teenage son had launched the business with a man in his 30s called Bruce Harrison. Marcin and Bruce had been writing software together for more than a year, after they first started talking on anti-virus forums.
“Here’s this 17-year-old kid… he’s this 35-year-old man. Imagine telling your mum?…” says Marcin.
Marcin and Bruce hadn’t actually met in person at the time. Bruce was a computer repairman in Massachusetts, and Marcin was at home in Chicago. They didn’t in fact see each other in the flesh until Malwarebytes was more than 12 months old.
“We didn’t meet until we made our first million about a year after we launched the product,” says Marcin. “Even that was kind of anti-climatic. It was just, ‘Hey, Bruce!’ – We had a handshake and moved on.”
Today Bruce, who is head of research, still lives and works on the US east coast, while Marcin is based in the head office in Silicon Valley. The company now has more than 750 employees, and overseas offices in the Republic of Ireland, Singapore and Estonia. Since 2014 it has secured $80m of investment funding.
Malwarebytes says its software now performs 187 million virus scans every month for individuals and businesses, and is installed more than 247,000 times every day. Like many antivirus companies it operates a “freemium” business model – the basic version is free, but you can then pay for more advanced protection.
While the company has consistently grown strongly, Marcin has learned some hard lessons along the way. The most difficult time was navigating the business through an almost catastrophic period in 2014 where the product glitched on a huge scale.
“We had a false positive which means we detected a piece of malicious software that wasn’t actually malicious at all,” he says.
“Our software ended up mistakenly bringing down hundreds of thousands of computers. We had 911 emergency centres go down, hospitals go down, it was bad. This has happened to every anti-virus company, by the way, but these mistakes can be company killing because you lose trust.
“But we fixed it and got through it. Even today, the system that we created to prevent this from happening again is called ‘The Malwarebytes Extinction Prevention System’ – our engineers have a great sense of humour.”
Carl Gottlieb, a cyber security podcaster, says that despite operating in the “notoriously hostile” antivirus industry “Malwarebytes is thriving”.
“With so many competing vendors, brand awareness is key, and that step which Malwarebytes took to offer a free product years ago is paying dividends, with so many customers knowing the name and already using it in their homes. What Marcin and his team have achieved is impressive to see.”
Still only 29, Marcin says his young age has been an advantage. He encourages other budding teen entrepreneurs to start their own business.
“You’ve heard my story, I started the company when I was living with my parents,” he says. “And then even at college, it was all paid for on a student loan, so I was getting fed. If you’re in college now, instead of going out and getting drunk with your friends, maybe take one night a week just to see if there’s anything you want to work on personally.”
He admits that his university years were harder than his friends’, that he barely passed his degree, and his social life no doubt suffered. However, he’s glad his mum forced him to go. “For one thing, I met my wife there,” he says.