Amer Deeba is a senior executive with extensive experience in product, marketing and sales go-to-market strategies for enterprise and cloud technologies, as well as driving company growth in fast-moving tech fields. Currently, Amer Deeba is the CEO and Cofounder of Normalyze, a cloud data security company for digital enterprises.
Before founding Normalyze, Amer Deeba was the Chief Operating Officer at Moogsoft, where he led the company’s transition to a SaaS platform with a new sales and marketing strategy, while doubling the company’s ARR and positioning Moogsoft as a leader in the AIOps market. Prior to his time at Moogsoft, Amer Deeba spent 17 years at Qualys, a cloud security company. While at Qualys, he acted as the Vice President of Corporate Development and Strategic Alliances and then the Chief Commercial Officer.
Now based in San Francisco, CA, Amer Deeba grew up in South Lebanon and attended Marjoyoun National College during the Lebanese Civil War. He received a BS degree in electrical engineering from the American University of Beirut in 1988 before coming to the US to pursue a Masters in Computer Science at Santa Clara University.
In addition to his professional pursuits, Amer Deeba is the Middle East liaison for Eduarte Courtot Foundation, and seeks out opportunities to provide monetary aid to schools in the midst of economic crisis.
Where did the idea for your career come from?
I felt like this industry was my calling. Once, when I was in college, back home, we were doing computer programs on punch cards in the early ’80s. I remember I’d go run first thing to the lab to run my punch cards program. I just thought it was fascinating that you can type something, tell the computer to do it, and then just did it for you without any errors. So I knew at that point I was majoring in electrical engineering, and I also knew I was coming to the US, to Silicon Valley. I remember seeing the James Bond movie “A View to a Kill,” which talked about Silicon Valley and the evolution of technology and how amazing it is and all of that. So I thought: okay, that’s what I’m going to do.
So I applied to Stanford University and Santa Clara and San Jose, and I wanted to come to San Francisco because, again of that, I remember that movie so vividly. I had this inner voice in me that sent me here. A friend of my brother was at Stanford University, so he helped me get my act together and fill in all these applications and all of that. I got into Stanford, then I got into Santa Clara, but I got a full teaching assistantship at Santa Clara University, so they paid for everything. I came in just with $800 and a one-way ticket.
My friend picked me up at the airport. I stayed with him for the first week, then I found my apartment, an apartment to share with folks on campus at Santa Clara. I started my teaching assistant job and that was the beginning of my new life. It was my second trip outside of Lebanon. I had been to London before to visit family – I stayed for a month and a half. The trip to the US was just a completely fresh start from the beginning.
Everything was fascinating. I was so homesick at the beginning, but everything was so fascinating from the moment I landed. I remember getting on 101 and seeing all these big green highway signs and everything was so exciting. I mean, after I got over the homesickness in the first six months, I was over it completely, so integrated with school and programs and people and friends and teaching and the research and interviewing for summer jobs, all of that. I just was like, “Okay, this is what I want to do.” And I was supposed to do a PhD, but then I took a summer job and I started coding and programming and I really enjoyed that. So I’m like, “No, I’m not going to go to school. I just want to be in the industry.”
How do you bring ideas to life?
As commercial officer, you’re the customer champion, you’re the product champion, and you’re also leading when it comes to internal strategic decision making. You are the one who is connecting all these pieces together and figuring out how to scale the product, how to take it to market the right way, how to position it to the customer the right way, how to pitch it to a new prospect the right way, and how to make the customer journey very unique and different and memorable.
Prioritizing customers first is at the top of the list, and then everything that we need to support them that needs to get done is next. Agreements, contracts, processes, workflows, review sessions, changes to the product, especially as you’re building a new product in a new market. It’s very important to keep that relationship and perspective and try to understand what the customer is telling you so you can actually build it into a product that scales and not just for one customer, but for tens and hundreds of thousands of customers eventually.
That leads me to the prioritization process and then really defining a plan and putting a plan, not just for me, but for the whole company also to understand in order how we’re going to get to the next level. You have to understand, build a strategy, make people believe in it and then bring it to life. So then it’s not just a vision, it’s not just nice slides. It’s something that people can touch and you can then make it actionable.
With Normalyze the initial challenge arose when Ravi Ithal my co-founder, started speaking with working CISOs and questioned them about their most pressing challenges and what concerns keep them up at night. Three themes continually arose: data governance, data access and authorization, and cloud data security.
Ravi and I joined hands to launch a product because professionally, we are very complementary, as I am an expert in enterprise security products and outbound communication, and Ravi’s focus is product development and inbound communications. Our partnership, and friendship, grew over time and across multiple meetings.
We then continued to meet with customers and refine how to solve the cloud data security challenge. Soon, we decided to combine forces to address this cloud data security challenge and solve it at scale. And we didn’t just want to solve this problem, we wanted to do so in a way that made our ultimate solution as ubiquitously available as possible.
What’s one trend that excites you?
Cyber is just fascinating. Cyber security and data, and maybe actually the connection of both together because, at the end of the day, cyber security is a data problem. The ability to understand it and present it to the customer, present all that data and something that makes sense, that makes it very actionable, that allows them to not just secure their assets and things like that. But to secure identities, to just secure everything, because everything is now happening in the cloud and it’s our experiences. It’s our data, it’s our personal information. It’s our financial information. All of it goes back into somewhere in the cloud and it’s paramount that we have to make that completely secure and untouchable.
I’m super excited about it, and now you have this AI, the ability to use AI the right way on top of this data. Again, AI and data go very well hand-in-hand together. The marriage of these two, if you do it well, AI can make things faster, can make your life as a human being a lot more effective, can make it more interesting, can make it more special, I think.
Normalyze is geared towards solving one of information security’s biggest challenges: cloud data security. I believe that data discovery and data classification have been two of the most pressing issues in the market in the past couple of years, especially with the proliferation of multiple cloud systems and the reliance of data in machine learning and artificial intelligence systems.
It’s vital for security teams to know where their data resides and its value. The very job, “information security,” has information embedded in its title. However, traditionally, the security profession has largely focused on protecting assets and identities, but not data. With Normalyze, we will change that and finally put data security at the center of cloud security where it belongs.
That’s our mission, and why we are announcing Normalyze: to help enterprises protect all the data they run in the cloud.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
Be a good listener first. I think that’s the number one thing. Listen to the market, listen to the customer and try to really understand the problem you’re trying to solve is I think the key, the number one thing.
Then second, making sure you have the right team around you. Once they buy into it, then they can actually deliver it. That’s very important.
And third, another very important thing is really understanding how you package technology to make it accessible and available, not just for one customer, but you make it ubiquitous. You make that from the moment they touch you and they connect into your product until they start using it, it’s a process of joy. That’s what I like to call it because you touched them the right way.
You solve the problem the right way and then they immediately see that different element of making their life easier. These are the things that I use in terms of when you start a new company or a new technology to make it ubiquitous.
Last thing is just be mindful or be in the moment. When you’re doing one thing, just be in it, understand it really well. Have that sensitivity to understand things the right way. And when you make decisions, you use your mind and you are empathetic also. You have the right balance, not just I’m going to be all based on these numbers. Sometimes numbers are important, but you’ve got to take into consideration other things also when you’re making decisions.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Boy, there’s so much advice. I should have gotten married sooner and had a family sooner for sure, on the personal level. I think I really missed a lot of fun by waiting for so long to do that. Basically I should have deprioritized work over personal life, over my personal life. Over the years, I had a lot of confusion about priorities, what’s more important to me between my personal life and my work.
I think I would give a lot of advice to myself on how to prioritize things better, and also I would’ve taught myself to enjoy the moment more. I feel I always have new goals, I’m always seeking new goals instead of taking a step back and enjoying them. I’m teaching myself now how to do that more.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
I truly think, which I doubt a lot of people would agree with me, that by 2025 we are not going to be driving cars. Cars are going to be driving themselves. A lot of people are still not seeing that happening, and I think that’s going to happen way sooner than people are expecting because the technology is becoming so advanced and the ability to connect these cars to the cloud and use AI to make better decisions than a human driving would make is going to come so much faster than people are expecting for self driving cars.
The other thing I think is going to change is us as identities, as human beings. I think we are going to get to the point where when we are born, we will know exactly what kind of person, what kind of life we’re going to have because it’s just all, again, the application of AI to the DNA and understanding how the DNA evolves and becomes a human. I think that there’s just so much more advancement that’s going to happen in the next few years, but a lot of scientists would agree with me on that.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Just don’t be scared of trying. The most important thing. Just put yourself out there, and connect yourself with the right people that can really guide you and help you. And, of course, as long as you have the eagerness to do it, you have to have that innate kind of drive in you, that you’ve got to do this. But just don’t be scared. Just scared. I mean, the worst thing that happens? You fail. You fail, you learn. And you learn, you can become a better human being. So, it’s trying things out.
And always treat people with respect and with dignity, and never ever be condescending to others. Especially if you achieve success. That’s where humility becomes so important. Always do it with humility, no matter what.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
Listening to the customer is my thing, because they usually tell you what you need to do that you’re not doing. Never do marketing like cubicle marketing, where you sit in your cube and you read the internet and you make decisions. I think that’s the worst. I mean, that can be helpful background information, but I think the most important thing is listening to the customer. The actual inception of Normalyze began when we heard what working Chief Information Security Officers had to say about what challenges keep them up at night, with cloud data security being one of the most repeated concerns.
And the second thing: packaging. Packaging is so important, particularly how you package technology. What I mean by packaging is from the price point to how they connect to your product, to how you start a trial with them, to all that experience. Because it’s all product-led marketing. It allows you to create this kind of beautiful experience for the customer where, from the moment you touch them until they engage with you, they are in awe. They just see the beautiful things that they need to see. They understand the flows that they need to understand. And that’s what differentiates good products from great products from amazing products. Because when you build that experience to the customer, you scale, you cross the chasm faster, you just do everything at another level altogether.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
I recently rented a Snoo Smart Bed for my newborn baby, ~ $100 per month, and was so amazed with its beautiful packaging and ability to emulate a mothers womb to help the baby sleep quickly which is so amazing for parents. Speaking of beautiful packaging and use of technology, to build such a device and connect it to the cloud in a seamless manner from a smart device…First night we put the baby in it, he slept a 7 hour stretch. That was so worth it.
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?
Slack is a great piece of software for collaboration and connecting the workforce together more efficiently and in a timely manner. I think it’s a game changer for companies that want to innovate fast and improve internal and external communications with customers and partners. I recently became a power user and soon came to realize what an amazing platform Slack can be to improve not only communications but also build automation between processes to increase productivity between people and businesses.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
It won’t be business books, because I feel like business books are so cliche. They always present somebody’s point of view, like, why that, it’s not that, and I never resonate. I always, like with these business books, I feel, some are, yeah, you learn good ideas. But my favorite book, my favorite piece of literature that I’ve ever read and I loved reading, was The Great Gatsby. I just think that book is so beautifully written, that I can read it again and again, and I always enjoy reading it. And Pride and Prejudice. I just love these two books, because you learn about life and true love.
What is your favorite quote?
My favorite quote is from Kahlil Gibran. It says when you experience true love you feel that God is not in your heart, but you are truly in the heart of God. Which is kind of the ultimate, when you and God belong together. Like you are really, truly, a very special person. And that’s what, when you’re in love, that’s the feeling you should feel. Especially because I read the book in Arabic. And in Arabic, it’s such a beautiful reading.
- To be successful in marketing, you must listen to your customer. Your customers will show you your weak spots and where you need to improve.
- You cannot be afraid of failure. Mistakes are inevitable, and you cannot be successful without making decisions, some of which won’t pan out.
- You grow from your mistakes.
- Practice humility. Humility will not stand in the way of success, and will help you maintain integrity, treat people well, and keep a clear head as you become more successful.
Steve (Stefan) Junge hails from Germany and helps with the day-to-day publishing of interviews on IdeaMensch. While he and Mario don’t share a favorite soccer club, their enthusiasm to help entrepreneurs is a shared passion.