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Q&A: Acuity COO Dave Gilden On Selling Security

Tough beginnings taught Acuity how to persevere for the long haul.

In 2002, Gilden and two partners self-funded Acuity, with a primary focus in information security and high performance networking. The timing was ominous: The economy was still reeling from 9/11 and the high-tech bubble had burst. Still, Gilden believed they had what it took for success.

They were right: This year, Acuity, Tampa, Fla., ranked No. 5 on the CRN Fast Growth 100 list, posting astronomical growth of 368.26 percent, and recording revenue of $26.69 million. Gilden talked with CRN recently about what it takes to sell security solutions in today's market.

How tough was it for you to start the business in 2002?

The three of us had been in the business a long time, and thought if we can make it through the next 12 to 18 months, on the other side [of that period] will be a good environment to grow. ... When you start up during bad times it forces you to establish solid business practices.

So being under pressure actually helped?

Companies with foundations that weren't built correctly don't have a business today. We understand how to go to market, what it takes to sell, what keeps customers happy.

What keeps customers happy?

Solid support and integrity. Not just technical support, but sales and account support. Partnership—we take the term "partnerships" seriously. It's a part of our culture. We are partners in our customers' success. And they are partners in ours.

Are there certain segments that are more recession-proof than others?

You can never really make your business recession-proof entirely. ... Each marketplace segment has different buying cycles. We figured by dividing among three—state/local, federal and commercial—we made the business more recession-resistant.

Is security a tough sell?

We say that we don't sell security, we sell piece of mind. ... Very few companies understand it and truly add value to customers around security. Typically, security is a small business practice; for companies that truly focus and get it, there are a lot of opportunities.

How has the current economy affected your business?

Some segments are weaker, but when you look in total, we're still seeing fairly significant growth. If we didn't diversify, it'd be a different story. We are tracking pretty close to our goal.

Any plans for expansion?

We're looking at expanding geographically through the Southeast. We've added head count and will continue to over the next 12 months. There are some different offerings we'll be focusing on and introducing to our mix to increase profitability.

We're looking for work ethic, integrity, personality, the ability to maintain relationships, an aptitude for retaining information and the ability to see the big picture. I know other businesses have had troubles with hiring, but every year gets easier and easier for us; we have a good reputation and people want to work here. Ninety percent of people we've hired have come to us.

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