The Czech Cyber Billionaire Who Built A Fortune On Free Software
On the rooftop terrace of the five-star Hotel U Prince, Pavel Baudis surveys the town he’s lived in for a maximum of his 59 years. Over his shoulder is Prague’s visitor-heavy city square and the grand gothic spires of the Church of Our Lady earlier than Týn; in the front of him stand serried ranks of ochre rooftops.
The metropolis has come to be considerably more colorful in his lifetime. Baudis lived via the darkish days after Warsaw Pact troops beat the Prague Spring, entrenching communism so stringent in its ideals it would prevent his father from practicing psychiatry and limited his own schooling. Then came liberalization after the Velvet Revolution in 1989, developing opportunities for might be inventors like Baudis.
Through all of it, he’s endured with a groovy, thrifty mindset. It’s an attitude that has enabled him to convert a little cybersecurity company he co-based in the course of the waning days of the communist regime into an enterprise leader that is taking up, and in some approaches outdoing, aggressive American competitors like McAfee and Symantec. It has also made him one in every of a handful of Czech billionaires.
Baudis’ child is Avast, the anti-virus software that sits on greater than 400 million computers and smartphones round the world. Like the same products McAfee and Norton additionally developed inside the past due 1980s, it’s designed to save you cybercriminals and spies from installing statistics-pilfering tools on computers. The fundamental distinction is that Avast is free and handiest to be had online, no longer in retail stores. That “freemium” model has lifted Baudis’ corporation to giddy heights, culminating in its 2018 London Stock Exchange IPO, which set it on a path to come to be a $four billion commercial enterprise and has taken Baudis’ internet worth to $1.4 billion as of June 2019.
While Baudis’ swelling fortune has made him a member of the billionaire’s club, he epitomizes self-effacement. Wearing a plain military waistcoat and a black fanny %, his bristly white hair encircling a balding pate, Baudis shows no signs of his wealth. He’s taciturn all through a -hour verbal exchange on the motel’s cold terrace, deciding on his phrases carefully as he methodically sips from a hot chocolate and an unmarried Staropramen beer. He professes to have “no expensive interests”; his most outré pastime is geocaching, a game wherein members hunt for treasures using GPS coordinates. His investments are small and practical, the maximum latest a diaper manufacturer and a nearby inn with a view of his metropolis’s maximum imposing landmark, Prague Castle. “I’m now not superb in hotel management. It’s great training,” Baudis says of his trendy aspect hustle.
Among Baudis’ greater profitable decisions were recruiting a headstrong American to turn Avast right into a large-killer. That man, sitting throughout from Baudis, speak over the cackles of vacationers and the cooing of relationship couples, is Vince Steckler, Avast’s CEO for the beyond a decade. It’s the first time the 2 had been interviewed collectively by way of an English-language ebook because of the IPO. The former Symantec govt, who’s louder and brasher than the Czech and along with his bodily heft and the bald head looks like a retired military preferred, is happy to brag approximately the agency’s success wherein Baudis demurs. “I turned into just searching at Aston Martin earlier these days. We had been the second one largest IPO [on the LSE] of the 12 months. Aston turned into the largest. We’re now greater precious than Aston Martin,” Steckler says. He’s no longer incorrect. Bond’s favored automobile maker has seen its stock plummet and its valuation stoop to simply over $3 billion.
Steckler became now not an apparent desire. In 2005, while he becomes a government at Logicon, Inc., the SEC handed him a $35,000 civil monetary penalty, pronouncing Steckler had helped the Silicon Valley software corporation Legato inflate its revenue records by signing a $7 million settlement with a cancellation clause. According to the SEC, Steckler knew that the cancellation allowance has to have avoided Legato from counting the order as a sale and had advised Legato executives on a way to disguise the clause from their finance department. One former Avast worker said that personnel used to a funny story about the “ex-con upstairs.”
Steckler’s record came beneath intense scrutiny from the British press across the time of the IPO. Usually loquacious on any difficulty, Steckler declined to offer an announcement at the episode on the over and over these days when Forbes requested for comment. He wasn’t on the pinnacle of Baudis and cofounder Eduard Kucera’s list when they have been looking for a CEO in 2009. The founders initially desired Steckler’s vintage boss, ex-Symantec VP Dieter Giesbrecht. “They found someone they absolutely preferred who wasn’t me,” Steckler jokes. Giesbrecht declined the offer however introduced Baudis and Kucera to Steckler, who jumped at the risk to transport to Prague from Singapore and take the helm from the cofounders, who’re now guiding the enterprise as board directors.