Avast Emerged from Communism To Shine in Security

Totalitarianism often leads to capitalism. Consider the ominous-sounding Research Institute for Mathematical Machines where, in 1988, researchers Eduard Kucera and Pavel Baudis toiled while Czechoslovakia was a satellite of the Soviet Union.

Kucera had no future in physics because he refused to join the Communist Party. Baudis was no better off, examining strange code on a floppy disk that turned out to be the Vienna virus.

"I was prohibited by the Communists from practicing physics, so I did (information technology)" that led to the creation of anti-virus company Avast, Kucera says from a penthouse office overlooking Prague. "It was the reason for our success. With communism, there are no successful companies."

Little did Kucera and Baudis know that a quarter-century later, their modest cooperative would blossom into Avast Software, a full-fledged international phenomenon. With nearly 200 million customers in 43 languages, it is used by more people than rivals AVG Technologies, Symantec and McAfee combined.

The 300-person company boasts high growth in Brazil (26 million customers), France (15 million) and the U.S. and Russia (12 million each). Avast, Dutch for "stop," protects nearly one-fourth of all protected devices, according to market researcher Opswat.

The secret to its success is the freemium model it adopted out of desperation in 2001, after the threat of bankruptcy and withering competition from Symantec and McAfee put Avast on death's doorstep.

It's one of the many twists and turns in a 25-year history punctuated by the release last week of a new security product and the addition of 20 million to 40 million users a year. "We didn't expect it (to survive)," says Baudis who, like Kucera, now has an advisory role at the company. "Circumstances forced us to go freemium."

"It's a 25-year-old start-up," says Avast CEO Vince Steckler, a former Symantec executive.

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