Computer Protection Software, made in: the world.

Computer Protection Software, made in: the world.

A look behind the scenes. By Haylee Read.

At Emsisoft, there is no corner office with a view, no central headquarters that I could wander through unseen. Only a blue and grey logo, existing only online, with an untold story behind it. The lack of office makes Christian Mairoll a hard man to interview, yet, here I am with an appointment, winding up a back road through the heights of a valley, near Nelson, New Zealand. Population 5,321. I cannot see any of them, the road is deserted. Locals call this part of the country the Top of the South, I call it the beginning to nowhere. Not even a cafe at sight. The gravel pit road is cradled by mountains and tall pine trees. Christian Mairoll is the face of a company that – apparently – doesn’t have a company face. Given that Emsisoft was founded in Austria in 2003 and is now run from Christian Mairoll’s eco lifestyle block in rural New Zealand, there are many questions to be asked. If only I can find the house in the raising fog.

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When I first spot Christian, he is waving. I am not sure what I expected but I am positively surprised that the CEO of a software enterprise greets me in a t-shirt, jeans and socks. I too leave my shoes at the door, he walks me along the kid’s rooms to the lounge area. There is no office in sight, just a large desk in the lounge housing his computer, couches and a well-used ping pong table.

“It is possible to compete with the big players, with a small team, in a competitive market.”

Like most founders of the early consumer software era, Christian Mairoll didn’t have a direct intention to start a career in information security.

“I didn’t expect this when it all started” smiles Christian, showing me his monitor which has approximately 15 tabs open for all the tasks he’s currently working on.

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“For me it all started with a problem. In 1998 when I was 16, a so called ‘friend’ sent me a file via the back then very famous instant messenger ICQ and told me I should have a look at this ‘program’. At that time, I was just a curious guy who tried everything computer related, so, I executed that file without asking further. A few minutes later my CD-ROM drive opened unexpectedly. And shut. And opened again. And shut. Open. Shut. So, I knew there was something wrong.

The file was actually an early version of Back Orifice” he continues while making a cup of tea for us in his immaculate kitchen. “This introduced me into the terrific world of trojans. Well, terrific back then. Not to be compared with threats nowadays. But I investigated further to understand how that stuff works and how one could prevent new infections easily. What started as a simple script soon became a full program called “Anti-Trojan.”

A few years later the software was able to detect and block several hundreds of famous Trojans. At that time antivirus companies didn’t focus on Trojans so it was a great niche to set up a little business, besides my main job as a developer and later, software product manager. 5 years and several hundred thousand downloads of “Anti-Trojan” later, I founded Emsisoft and made it my main job. Today about 6 million people use our products and every day we add detection signatures for more than 300,000 new threats. But that’s how it started, at least. For me personally it then became about being able to prove that it is possible to compete with the big players in a very competitive market even if you join the industry late and with a small team. I mean, look at this, we’re in the middle of nowhere. I run a virtual company with many more team members.” He stops and wonders, then says: “15 years and 35 employees later, I still haven’t met more than 5 of them. Everyone works as a freelancer, everyone has flexible hours. Works from home. Or the beach. Or wherever they want. We have team members across all time zones worldwide with all sorts of backgrounds and personal stories. This sort of freedom connects us as a company, a team and a brand. It’s what makes us different, unique and” he proudly smiles “good. Maybe that’s what makes the difference. Maybe that’s what makes us successful. Our software actually does what it should. Not more, not less. It simply works. And so do our team, from wherever they are.”

“It’s the free will to join a collaboration that keeps it together.”

I get the impression that even the things Christian attributes to chance are carefully considered and intentional, down to the design of his house.

 

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“I made the decision to build this house on a 33 degree angle to optimize natural light during the sunlight hours,” he explains. There is a mechanical directness in his demeanor but also a gentle joy in what he has accomplished.

“Sustainability is important in business and in the creation of a home,” he explains. “Form should always follow function. We don’t build a home to impose restrictions on our movements. The house should offer us the freedom to enjoy our time here, to move around as we wish. It should serve us. It is the same with business and the global structure we have allows us to do that.

Call it open source employment or digital transformation, it’s an ecosystem based on openness and team effort.

“Initially, I was forced to hire people from lower income countries like Russia because without external funds it was simply impossible for me as a one man show to hire highly skilled developers in my home country – Austria. Later we realized that it is an amazing opportunity for the company, too. With team members from all parts of the world we are able to better understand the different customer’s requirements. Most of our employees are located in Western and Eastern Europe including Russia, others are based in the United States, Asia and the Southern Pacific area.

The virtual company structure allows a maximum in flexibility but it’s not without its challenges. We work hard to stay connected with all employees as the team grows. We reduced internal communication to the most effective channels which are instant messaging, forums and email. Phone- and video-calls, as well as standard meetings turned out to be highly ineffective time eaters.”

“And the company name?” I ask.

“My initials (MC) are pronounced (em-si) in English. Plus, the software. Emsisoft.” He grins. “Back then it was officially named “Emsi Software GmbH” as the Austrian company court required a descriptive name. They argued that “Emsisoft” could also be some kind of toilet paper vendor name too.” he laughs.  “A few years later that law was changed and random names were possible, so I changed it to “Emsisoft GmbH”, as I always intended it to be. However, that didn’t last very long.

In 2014 my family and I decided to move permanently from Austria to New Zealand. We already ‘tested’ living in New Zealand for 12 months in 2012 and when we returned back to Austria we realized that New Zealand was just the better place for us to live and raise children. So, I shut down the company in Austria and re-founded it in New Zealand as “Emsisoft Ltd”.”

“Emsisoft does not gain financial profit from anyone’s personal or business emergency. Ever.”

The online threat landscape is rapidly changing. Covering old threats and catching out new ones before they become a problem is of the highest importance to Emsisoft.

 

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“In response to constant malware threats, we focus on our core competency: Malware detection and removal. We’ve noticed tendencies of antivirus companies to expand their product range in all directions, adding hundreds of new features that just a few people really need. Some of them seem to have lost focus on the core competency and fall significantly back in malware detection tests. Our goal is to permanently optimize our technology to always give our customers the best available protection. Multiple test victories and awards confirm that we are on a good path.

Our flagship product is and always was Emsisoft Anti-Malware. It’s a full antivirus solution featuring the dual-scan-engine, surf protection and behavior blocking. Emsisoft Anti-Malware is strong in detection, light in scanning and everyday CPU use and easy to manage and configure, even for beginners.

“So what makes you special?” I wonder. “With so many team members worldwide, there is always someone available in our customers’ time zones. It’s crucial to act fast in this industry. Not only fast to react to new dangers and malware outbreaks, but in our response time to our customers. If users have an urgent problem with a malware infection, chances are that they’ll be led to Emsisoft when searching for help. We respond quickly and offer all of our customers a malware removal guarantee. We learned that staying in touch closely with the users is very important. We listen to the customers’ carefully to learn what they really want. Quick, professional and straightforward customer support is the best example of something that users will honour in the long run.”

Another significant difference is Emsisoft’s company ethics. We are very eager to be, stay and keep things honest. For example, we offer a range of freeware products for malware removal that we bundle in our Emsisoft Emergency Kit, which includes our dual-engine scanner. The key goal for this product was always that the emergency kit would be free, no questions asked, no strings attached. Emsisoft does not make money out of emergencies, we just help where help is needed and trust the customer will appreciate this gesture. The same goes for our growing number of ransomware decrypters that we provide for free to victims.”

Form follows function.

An almost black sheep walks by the fence outside the large window. We look out over the valley hills. Christian and his family re-evaluated their approach to life during a trip to New Zealand. They found a life unlike the one they had in Europe.

In January 2014, ten months before arriving in New Zealand, the Mairoll family found an interesting piece of land that was for sale online. “In Austria it’s almost impossible to buy such a large section of 1.4 ha for a reasonable price, but we found this place just a few km away from the town centre. We didn’t even see the section in real life, but we couldn’t take the risk of being too late, so we bought it online after asking a random traveller to take some shots with his drone for us.”

Now they grow their own veggies, keep only farm animals that either deliver meat or eggs and have books about permaculture and native weeds on their shelves. In his lunch breaks, Christian plants native trees and harvests cherry tomatoes from the garden. The house, recently built based on European standards is not quite the palace one might expect from the CEO of a successful software enterprize. It’s a bungalow with 3 or 4 bedrooms, responsibly built; the kitchen fitted out with quality home appliances to save water, power and energy. The house is ecologically sound and planned thoroughly down to the floorboards and the angle of the sun.

Form follows function.

Emsisoft may have its roots in Austria, but its heart and brain now lives in New Zealand. When Christian and his family moved 18,000km to the other side of the world they did so to live differently. It is not only a process, it is the result of a personal and corporate ethos that also inspired the individual lives of their global team members and, in turn, the customers who trust and rely on Emsisoft products.

  • TheSeeker11

    Great story! Well done Christian for making such a move to improve your quality of life.

  • Purplenights

    Great story, and a great product. Love the Emsisoft product!

  • John

    Always just trying to spew out feelgood stories aren’t you Christian?
    You try and act like such an upstanding member of the community, when I know of at least two people who applied for a job at your company and they didn’t even hear back.
    I’ve worked with both of these guys personally and they are the nicest of guys, but you didn’t even give them a chance. Hell, you’d surely give someone a chance to prove themselves for at least 3 months right? But no….not good old Christian.

    • Christian

      Hi John, thanks for your input. If you could provide me further details on those applications I’ll have a look what went wrong. I apologize if we didn’t meet their expectations. You can reach me at [email protected].

      Our policy is to reply to every single candidate. Typically not immediately, but after a thorough consideration period which may take a couple of weeks, as we’re usually receiving plenty of applications on each open position. As much as I would love to hire even more talented people, please understand that not only our company, but also our applicants are competing on a world-wide market, which sets the bar pretty high on both sides.

      • John

        No, I won’t provide any further details because they never asked me to have any such discussion on their behalf. Neither would ever agree to what I’m doing, but I don’t care because as their long time friend, I just felt I needed to. Do you know one of my friends that applied is a real security person, and he loves testing security software and seeing how they work, and has been our go to guy on any virus related stuff. He would have been a great asset to you, and it’s just frustrating and sad to see how you couldn’t see that from his application. The saddest thing is he is such a bright and honest guy, and yet his luck has been so bad and he has been having a LOT of trouble finding work. He has so much skills he would be an asset anywhere, yet no-one seems to be willing to even give him a try. Its people like you that I blame for this. But every dog has its day, and he will have his day. Also, every other idiot that never gave him and others a chance, they too will have their day. What goes around comes around Christian. :-)

        • Christian

          I’m sure everyone will have their day. I can just encourage them to apply again when we hire again. Our team is growing steadily and if they are as good as you say, it will just be a matter of time to get selected for a closer interview.

          • John

            Well, even if they do, who knows if they will get any closer next time if they didn’t make it this time. What would be different next time Christian?

          • Christian

            Well, the difference could be that there are not unlimited excellent candidates available on Earth. Unfortunately, without any details on who we are talking about, I’m unable to make any useful predictions here. But I can assure you that of all companies on earth, Emsisoft is one of the least who would ever discriminate anyone for any reasons. We clearly have no preferences for gender, ethnicity, color, country or religion.

            We’re evaluating applications based on background/experience in the skills we are looking for. If a profile on the paper matches our needs, we continue with a personal interview and ultimately we may provide the opportunity to do a trial period to see if a candidate can keep up to the promised qualifications.

            John, what you suggested in your earlier replies is that we should basically skip the first and the second step of the hiring process based on the fact that “they are good people and deserve a chance”. Sorry to disappoint you here, but hiring doesn’t work that way.

            If you would like to learn more about it, feel free to write me an email, but I think the blog comments section isn’t the right place for that really.

        • rhondalea

          Neither would agree to what you’re doing, but you did it anyway. If that’s how you treat your friends, you probably don’t have many.

          This was a nice story, and there was no call for you to vent your spleen in the comments. You spewed a no win rant, and when you got a reply, you doubled down on your rudeness.

          In case you wondered, I did indeed downvote both of your comments. Shameful.

          • John

            My message was to Christian directly. I don’t give a rats what you think or your downvotes. Even Christian didn’t bitch as much as you’re doing, and this has got nothing to do with you.

          • cookedjacketpotato

            This is an open discussion, John. Anyone is perfectly free to add comments. You have laid yourself open to them.

          • John

            Fair point I guess.
            Well, she can say what she likes…I’m just not insure enough to care or give a damn.

          • rhondalea

            But are you self-aware enough to comprehend the irony of your reply to me?

    • John, your personal attack on Christian is unreasonable. You won’t share any of your own details – no image, no details of your friend. Sure, your mate has had a hard time, but don’t blame it all on Christian.

      • John

        Look, I’m not blaming it all on Chrisitian. I just got sick and tired of two nice guys that can easily do that job they applied for with their eyes closed, and neither even got a chance to even prove themselves, thats all.

  • Peter Cunningham

    Well, of all things – another Kiwi. And here’s me a long time user of Emsisoft (without complaint) and yet another Kiwi pops up his head on the world stage – as did the son of a friend in Kaikoura who developed some preview software, now in widespread common use. No doubt about it – the Kiwis are an inventive lot. Then again I’m biased as not only am I parried to one, but we are moving to live in Whirinaki just out of Napier. GOOD ON YOU.

  • Peter Cunningham

    Opps – I meant “married” not parried (though that happens sometimes too!)

  • Thanks for sharing your story Christian. Emsisoft is clearly a company operating in a new and evolving paradigm – one that gives it’s team a good deal of freedom and security of income. And it happens to be a great product too! More of these kinds of organisations help make the world a better place.

  • Slow to speak

    Remarkable story! The following quotations emphasize my Emsisoft product choice and satisfying user experience: “It’s a full antivirus solution featuring the dual-scan-engine, surf protection and behavior blocking”, “strong in detection, light in scanning and everyday CPU use and easy to manage and configure”, “It’s crucial to act fast in this industry. Not only fast to react to new dangers and malware outbreaks, but in our response time to our customers”, and “Form follows function”.

    Besides having a satisfying experience with Emsisoft Internet Security, I also try to follow the global computer/internet security field and its digital evolving market as close as possible.

    That field includes afcourse Emsisoft’s competitors too and therefore I point to a ‘Next-Generation Endpoint Protection Software’ from a competitor company called SentinelOne, who’s Co-Founder and CEO Tomer Weingarten made the following claim while being interviewed by Nick Normille, Analyst at JMI Equity, I quote:

    “The only 2 companies that are actually flat out saying they can replace the traditional AV are us and Cylance, and out of these 2, only we have both EDR functionality AND the prevention piece required to replace the AV and all of it is based on our own proprietary execution inspection engine for dynamic behavioral analysis”.

    If they (SentinelOne) are truly a next generation innovative development in this field able to replace traditional AV, while offering better (more advanced) security measures ahead of advanced threats (known and unknown) than traditional AV including its competitors that have traditional AV embedded, than I pose the questions; how does Emsisoft anticipate on this development and how long will their sustainable Internet Security with traditional AV embedded hold its ground?

  • cat1092

    Though I had been an Emsisoft user for years with their freebies, it wasn’t until 3-4 years ago when Newegg offered Emsisoft Anti Malware for $9.99 in a plain white paper sleeve with a license key (no retail box) & the only time I seen it on the site. Purchased two copies, my only regret was that I didn’t get my limit of five.

    Because those two copies of EAM were the best $20 I’ve ever spent on software in my entire life. At first, I used the 30 days free trial to get 13 months, and when I seen how good EAM is, I kept coming back & still run EAM (or EIS on more powerful computers).

    While the free Emsisoft Emergency Kit will clean up a computer & get one off the side of the road, there’s no active protection to keep one on the right path, and that’s where either EAM or EIS comes in. EEK cleans up, sometimes an extra scan or two with EAM will mop up any leftovers, especially on badly infected computers. One scan may not be enough.

    One thing for sure, either choice, be it Emsisoft Anti Malware or Internet Security, will keep the unwanted PUP’s & other dangerous Malware away.

    Don’t boot your computer without one or the other.;-)

    Cat

  • wikilon

    I admire people like you, @emsisoft1:disqus. You inspire me to take actions toward living my dream, which is sustainable eco lifestyle, just like you have now. On the professional level I also love your story. You are humble and hard working guy, and you’re doing a perfect job for your consumers, which in turn are loyal to your service in the long run, and that is the right way to provide services and I love it. Thank you for sharing your life story with us. I wish you success in both your personal and professional life.
    Cheers ;)

  • Del Truax

    Emsisoft is a fine example of a modern company. Great product and real humans are available for service and support. I am through with companies who don’t respect their user base and offer only corporate disinterest and neglect. Best of luck for continued success.

  • Paulinha L Lopes

    Pra mim é o melhor anti vírus que ja ví e tive oportunidade de usar desde de 2009, fico feliz por conhecer um pouco do seu idealizador, parabéns a toda equipe Emsisoft.