[This is the first episode of Kafkadesk’s series on Central European countries’ industrial flagships and business success-stories]
Although very few people know that Avast, a global leader in cybersecurity, was founded in Czechoslovakia, chances are your computers, laptops or mobile devices are protected thanks to their state-of-the-art next-generation antimalware software.
In 1988, Pavel Baudiš and Eduard Kucera, two friends studying at the Research Institute for Mathematical Sciences in Prague, accidentally stumbled upon the Vienna virus and created a program to counter it.
Avast was born. Well, almost.
From Czechoslovak Cooperative to Multinational Tech-Giant
Initially founded as Alwil, a cooperative in communist Czechoslovakia, the two computer prodigies’ tech-venture became a company in the early 1990’s, shortly after the Velvet revolution, and changed its name to Avast – which had been, until then, the name of their software – in 2010.
Avast is now a multinational leading cybersecurity firm, protecting servers, desktops and mobiles devices from ransomware, data breaches or viruses for 435 million users worldwide. Headquartered in Prague, it has over a dozen foreign offices all around the world and, despite functioning on a mainly freemium basis, reported revenues of over $700 million last year. Although its main markets are the United States, Canada, Brazil, France, Russia and Germany, Avast is also expanding its reach in emerging markets like South-East Asia, where the use of electronic devices is growing fast – as are the cyber-threats associated with it. Avast now claims to counter no less than 2 billion malware attacks every month.
The acquisition of local competitor AVG Technologies for over $1 billion in 2016 and UK-based Piriform the following year has consolidated its position on the market. The merger has also proven to be a highly-strategic move: when the WannaCry ransomware hit around 200.000 users in over 140 countries last year, Avast already had an up-and-running counter-application, developed from an AVG product.
In yet-another sign of the group’s global ambitions, Avast has just filed an initial public offering on the London Stock Exchange in what is poised to be one of the U.K.’s biggest technology listings.
Staying Faithful to its Roots
Despite its global reach, the company regularly highlights its enduring attachment to its Czech roots, reminding that over 1.000 of its 1.600 employees are located in the country and that, countrary to many other companies operating in the Czech Republic but headquartered in European tax havens, they chose to keep their base of operations here.
From its foundation as a cooperative in communist Czechoslovakia to its IPO on the London Stock Exchange, Avast is one of the most emblematic business success stories of former Czechoslovakia.
Czechoslovakia: a Geek Paradise?
But it’s just the tip of the iceberg. Learning about Avast’s roots shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone familiar with the country’s bustling tech-culture. Czechoslovakia’s prestigious technical institutions have, for several decades, been instrumental in the emergence of a highly-skilled computer-savvy population. As Miroslav Trnka, co-founder of Bratislava-based ESET said, the lack of jobs in this sector under communist rule forced many students to start “hunting down viruses almost as a hobby”.
Today, jobs are plentiful in that industry and hobbies can grow into commercial ventures… and global behemoths, like Avast.