Spring has begun in Minnesota, and Minneapolis software firm Code42 has caught the first big fish.
Jason Bristow, vice president and treasurer of Amazon.com Inc., will become the new chief financial officer of Code42, which makes backup and file-synchronizing software.
In other words, Bristow has chosen to leave his spot as the No. 2 financial guy at Amazon, the company known as the “Everything Store” with 117,300 employees that’s a household name, to become the No. 1 financial guy at Code42, a 400-employee firm that is not a household word, even in the Twin Cities.
The question is why.
Bristow, a 1991 graduate of Eden Prairie High School, says it’s about opportunity, a good fit between him and the company and a chance to move back home. And he can be more influential at a smaller, rapidly growing company.
“Amazon still has tremendous growth prospects, so it’s not like I’m leaving a stagnant old company to join a young start-up,” said Bristow, 40. “Code42 is at a different point in its life cycle, and, in some respects, there’s a chance to build something here. At Amazon, there’s less opportunity to drive change from the grass roots.”
Bristow has been at Amazon since 2003 and, in his first few years, oversaw its balance sheet transformation from debt-laden to cash-rich.
Matthew Dornquast, the CEO and co-founder of 13-year-old Code42, said Bristow is the right CFO for a private company the size of Code42, which he said had $40 million in revenue last year. The previous CFO, Susan Dub, has left the company after doing “a fantastic job to get us to the stage we’re at now.”
Is Bristow’s arrival a prelude to Code42 going public?
“That’s certainly a natural evolutionary step for companies like ours,” Dornquast said. “But it’s not in the immediate future.”
The secret to the company’s growth has been its focus on balancing the needs of corporate information technology departments with the needs of the nontechnical employees who use the software, Dornquast said.
“Everyone has a view of where to turn the usage dial: Ease of use for employees or ease of use for corporate governance and security,” Dornquast said. “Generally, the two are incompatible. But we’ve chosen a middle ground of giving people enough information and tools to do their jobs, while providing the secure file-sharing and data protection that help IT professionals govern the network and provide security.”
The business version of its CrashPlan backup software costs $5 to $15 per employee per month. The consumer version is free for those who back up data to an external hard drive, or $6 a month if Code42 keeps the backups in one of its seven cloud computer centers.
Some small companies rent cloud computer center facilities from Amazon, the world’s largest provider of cloud services. But Code42 prefers to run its own data centers, Dornquast said. “If you know how to do it, it’s more cost-effective to do it yourself,” he said.
There’s also a privacy issue involved.
“If we used another cloud service provider, the government could demand access to our data and we wouldn’t know about it,” Dornquast said. “When we run our own data centers, the government has to come to us. We might still have to give up the data, but we could fight it. And at least we would know that it had happened.”
Code42 employs 380 in the Twin Cities and has sales and support offices in Sydney, Australia, and London. It has about 30,000 business customers, including Target, Supervalu, Procter & Gamble, Hershey’s, Kraft Foods and Harvard University. The company doesn’t disclose the size of its consumer base.
The privately owned firm also doesn’t disclose earnings numbers, but Dornquast said Code42 “was profitable for the first decade. I can’t make that claim in the last year.”
The significance of the company’s name lies within the novel “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,” by Douglas Adams. In the book, the number 42 is “the answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe and everything,” and supposedly was the result of supercomputer calculations over a period of 7.5 million years.
“Douglas Adams died the year the company was founded. It’s an Easter egg,” Dornquast added, using a slang term for a hidden feature in software, “for those in the know.”