You could say that Wayne and Matt Huang were on the path to startup entrepreneurship by the time they finished elementary school. Getting online with a then state-of-the-art 300 baud modem, the brothers became acquainted with the internet early on, back when there was little you could actually do with a computer unless you programmed it yourself.
During their elementary school years in the US, the brothers were part of what Wayne calls "the nerdy bunch," typical Asian kids who played instruments, joined the math team, and were interested in programming. Wayne, the elder of the two brothers, became particularly adept at programming, but his talent wasn’t recognized right away: When he built a 3D rendering engine for his middle school science fair project, nobody believed he was capable of accomplishing such a feat on his own. His skills were genuine, however, and before long, Wayne’s interests expanded to viruses, malware, and hacking.
Younger brother Matt was also exposed to computers and programming from a young age, but the educational paths of the two Huangs diverged as they returned to Taiwan for high school. Matt would eventually return to the US and earn an MBA from Stanford University, while Wayne would stay behind to ultimately pursue a PhD and establish himself as an elite programmer in the relatively young specialty of cybersecurity.
Beyond Taiwanese manufacturing
“When I was in graduate school, Google came out. You could see that software was going to make it really big,” he recalls. Because of this, he says, “I just never wanted to develop a career in hardware manufacturing, no matter how big or successful these Taiwanese firms were. I really had nowhere to go.”
In any case, it was time for Huang’s compulsory military service, but thankfully the Taiwanese military does have options for bright young minds. “I said, ok, I’ll do four years in the office rather than two years carrying a gun, so I did that at Academia Sinica,” Huang says, “and I kept learning and doing software-related research.” His work began appearing in top journals and he was invited to speak at conferences around the world.
Starting up on two sides of the Pacific
During this period, though the Huang brothers were an ocean apart, they kept in touch regularly, and discussed the directions in which their lives were headed. The more finance-minded Matt questioned why his older brother wouldn’t want to accept a secure, well-paid position with one of Taiwan’s major companies, considering the mere USD $1000 (roughly NT $33,000) monthly military pay Wayne had been earning. Through these discussions, it became obvious that with Wayne’s extensive cybersecurity research and Matt’s business expertise, it was time for the brothers to go into business together. Thus, Armorize Technologies was born.
The company’s products demonstrated that “Made in Taiwan” could proudly be applied to more than just hardware. Armorize was building internet security technology that nobody else was capable of at the time, in or out of Taiwan, though the Huangs knew that the business had to focus on the US in order to reach its potential. Thus, the brothers had to face the challenge of proving that Taiwan could move beyond OEM and successfully build enterprise software for the US market.
Unfortunately, despite having a product and team they believed in, the Huangs couldn’t convince local investors to get behind their vision, and at one point the company was on the verge of shutting down. The company’s financial crisis was so serious that the founders were unable to pay themselves or their rent, and were days from being unable to pay their employees.
Even US investors were hard to win over, but the Huangs refused to give up the fight, and ultimately they were able to get their first investment in Silicon Valley. (That these first investors to give the young founders a break were Taiwanese Americans was a point that would stick with the brothers long after the company’s fortunes were turned around.) The rest, as they say, is history.
By 2013, the Huang brothers had proven that a Taiwan-based company could indeed serve US enterprise customers, and Armorize was acquired that year by Proofpoint (NASDAQ: PFPT), a US-based cybersecurity firm which had just held it IPO in 2012. Today, Armorize’s cybersecurity products remain a primary driver within Proofpoint, where Wayne and Matt serve as VPs of Engineering and Product Management, respectively. True to the Huangs’ commitment to their home country, the company maintains its IT infrastructure in Taiwan, with its core team located in Taipei’s Nankang Software Park.
Making an impact
These days, besides mentoring startups and being outspoken advocates for Taiwanese innovation, the Huang brothers are taking their commitment to Taiwan’s startup ecosystem to the next level. In our next post, we’ll explore how Wayne and Matt Huang are joining forces with Taiwanese American partners to invest in young Taiwan-based startups, as well as Wayne’s contributions to Mosa, a brand new international startup conference taking place for the first time October 7-8. Stay tuned!