The First Line of Defense

Marty Roesch
Martin Roesch '92, Vice President and Chief Architect, Cisco Security Business Group, and CTO and Founder of Sourcefire, Inc.

In 1998, six years after graduating from Clarkson with a degree in electrical and computer engineering, Marty Roesch was spending his working week pouring over contracts for the Department of Defense. At night and on weekends he was creating a downloadable intruder detection program (IDP) on Linux. “I was interested in cybersecurity, and the open-source model was a new concept at the time,” he says.

He called the program that he developed “Snort.”

Two years after releasing Snort, it was the most downloaded IDP program on the market, with more than four million users worldwide.

In 2001, Roesch decided the time was right to take another gamble; he left his position at a start-up company, attracted four employees and launched Sourcefire. His goal was to scale up Snort and develop commercial products for larger companies.

That gamble paid off. By 2009, Sourcefire 3D System was utilized by 80 percent of Fortune 100 companies and 42 percent of the Global 500.

In 2013, Sourcefire — and the no-cost software Roesch developed back in 2008 — was sold for $2.7 billion to Cisco Systems, Inc.

Pick Your Moments.

Snort was successful because it was the right technology at the right time. It took advantage of a new platform — open source technology — and addressed a serious problem — cyber security.

You must have a clear sense of where you are and where you need to go, and risk taking is always involved. I am probably one of the least risk adverse people on the planet and that has served me well. Great entrepreneurs have an overdeveloped sense of optimism and an underdeveloped sense of fear.

In 2013, Sourcefire — and the no-cost software Martin Roesch developed back in 2008 — was sold for $2.7 billion to Cisco Systems, Inc.

As an Entrepreneur You Need an Unfair Advantage

Because I used Linux, I built Snort in front of the user community. I was getting real-time feedback and interacting with my customers from day one. That gave me an advantage. I could fine-tune the software, and the users were spreading the word about the program. 

Two years after I wrote my first line of code, Snort had four million users worldwide. When I went to tech conferences people knew who I was. And, in the high-tech world, your track record is everything. So, when I decided to start a company, I already had a reputation and a following. 

That gave me another advantage that I really needed because now I had to convince people to pay for something that they had been getting for free!

Know What You Know and Know What You Don’t Know 

It’s just as important to know your weaknesses as your strengths. Too many entrepreneurs have trouble letting go. They want to control every aspect of their company. But no one is great at everything. You may have vastly superior technology, but that won’t matter if you don’t know how to sell it.

Start-ups often fail because people let their egos get in the way.

I am always willing to admit when I don’t know something. Investors like that about me. My skills are product development and innovation. I am not really a business person. So one of the first things I did when I started Sourcefire was to hire a CEO.

Assemble a Team You Can Work With 

Don’t just hire great people. Hire great people you can work with. There is a difference.