Update: Read Part 2 Here.
When I publicly announced the creation of Cylance in July of 2012, my friends and family asked me, "why start another company?"
They like to remind me: "you already created and sold Foundstone in 2004, you had a high level position that paid well with the #1 dedicated security company in the world. What more could you want?"
I would give the familiar and comfortable sound bite that gave quick satisfaction: "Being an entrepreneur is in my blood. My passion is creating something from nothing." But every time I gave this rather superficial answer, I felt fraudulent not able to adequately describe the source of my passion and motivation to keep up the fight. I knew in those moments that one day I would need to describe my drive and now is the time.
As any self-reflecting person would, I wonder what motivates me, what drives me and what gets me to push myself and those around me far beyond our known limits, when there is seemingly nothing left to give. I truly do believe it is one event that changed me forever; and launched me in the direction I've spent the last 20+ years pursuing: Computer Security.
The Day Everything Changed
In the pitch black of the early morning of Feb. 24, 1989, a 20-year-old college student sat on a 747-122 plane, United flight 811, expecting a quiet holiday trip to Australia but instead received the greatest gift any soul could be given: Passion. I settled into my aisle seat in row 41 and took my shoes off, anticipating sleeping most of the long flight to New Zealand (the stopover on our way to Sydney). As the plane lifted off and made its climb out of Honolulu I tried to doze off. In the seats on my left were my mother and younger brother. They too were settling in, taking their shoes off, finding their blankets and pillows. As my eyes closed...
WHOOOOSHH BOOOOOM BOOOOOM BOOOOOM
I opened my eyes and thought I was just having a really bad dream. But this was no dream, it was a horribly real event and I had to go through it. No matter what that meant. The entire plane erupted in complete and utter chaos, screaming, yelling and praying were seemingly everywhere. A large plume of smoke billowed through the cabin as the plane's fuselage crumbled before my eyes from the shockwave, exposing the metal frame and outside skin. When I looked out the window on the right, the #3 engine was on fire, spewing forth huge flames that went back to the tail of the plane. As I looked out the window I saw two children traveling alone completely confused and scared beyond words. My helplessness made it more painful, I could not offer them any solace or hope. Just then the #4 engine began spewing flames equal to its neighboring engine. What the hell just happened?
The plane started to pitch down in dramatic fashion. What was once a quiet flight in the dark of night, was now a living hell that made us all breathless. I looked to the passenger across the aisle from me, a man I had never met and sitting next to the children traveling alone, as he extended his hand to shake mine and said "It's been nice knowing you." After reluctantly shaking his hand my brain was instantly flooded with the concept everyone else was already thinking...I am going to die, aren't I?
So This Is How It All Ends
As the plane continued to pitch nose down, I had to quickly come to grips with the fact that there probably wasn't going to be a happy ending to this flight. I wish I could say that my life flashed before me but it didn't. Sure I regretted many things I did or did not do but it wasn't a flash, it was a revelation - of all the missed opportunities, the squandered challenges, and the missed loves.
As the flight crew struggled to get control of the plane and prepare for some kind of a landing, we all kept thinking "When do we hit the water? When do we die? Is it now? Is it now? Is it now?" All the way down for some 10 more minutes with the plane violently dropping and jumping side to side and up and down. I came to the conclusion that I am sure the rest of the passengers did, "So this is how it all ends..."
There were many stories of heroism and heroine-ism that I will share with you another time but when we landed safely with a 20 by 40 foot section of fuselage missing, heavily overweight with fuel and two engines out on the right side, no one knew how we landed safely not even the pilot. In the months following the flight, I was given the rare opportunity to talk to the Captain of our flight, Captain David Cronin, who was just 2 flights from mandatory retirement with United. As he spoke to me over the phone from his home in Lake Tahoe I had but one question I had to ask him "How did you get us back safely?"
Captain Cronin very quietly and humbly said "I don't know, Stuart. When we landed, the engineers on the ground took the flight data and punched it into our computer model simulations exactly as it was during that flight and with well over 200 simulations modeled, they all crashed in the water or on land. So no, I truly don't know how we all made it back. I simply cannot explain it." Nine people died that day but 328 passengers and 18 flight crew survived somehow.
In the end, the cause of the accident ended up being a flaw in the design the Boeing 747's cargo door latching mechanism. The airline industry knew about the door latching problem on these planes from numerous prior flight problems but chose not to fix it.
Tragedy = Passion
I was given a present beyond words that day: a life's passion. To find and fix the problems introduced by technology to prevent bad stuff from happening to innocent people. That is my passion. That is our mission. That is what we will achieve.
Thanks for reading our story. Read Part 2 Here.
CEO/President and Founder