Like many entrepreneurs who began their careers at big firms, Francis Dinha started his first company after he realized that his employer was too large and too slow for his innovative ideas. So in 1996 he left Ericsson, where he was an architect and broadband systems engineer, and founded NewCom, which specialized in the specification, design, implementation, and system integration of IP networking software and hardware products. Ironically, Ericsson was his first customer.
NewCom, says Dinha, “is where I made my initial money. I thought, ‘wow, this is easy.’” His second venture, PacketStream, was not quite as successful. Unlike NewCom, which was bootstrapped, PacketStream was venture-funded, and its value proposition was a technology that Dinha developed called synchronous packet switching. “Unfortunately, PacketStream got caught up in the dot-com crash and we had to close that company,” says Dinha. “But I learned a lot because when you’re successful with one venture, you go to the second one and you’re very naive. You think it’s going to be easy. But we were not as lucky. I guess sometimes timing is everything.”
And then his career took a very different turn. Shortly after the 9-11 attacks and before the May 2003 U.S. Iraq invasion, Dinha, who was born in Iraq, was recruited by the U.S. State Department to be part of an elite team of Iraqi experts from around the world to work on the “Future of Iraq” project. The team’s mission, says Dinha, was to come up with a plan for the reconstruction and development of Iraq post-invasion. “So I spent about six to eight months in Iraq,” he says. He was involved in various joint ventures in the telecom space but soon found that “there was just too much corruption and the security situation was not very good. I thought I’d be better off starting my own venture here in the U.S., and that’s what happened in 2005.”
“It’s not our goal to go out there and promote our product. The goal is just to educate the marketplace about the value of the VPN so that people understand the difference between network security and application security.”
Back in the U.S., he met James Yonan, who had been working on an open-source networking project called OpenVPN. Dinha and Yonan decided to partner in order to take the project to the next level by developing an enterprise edition of the software. Today, OpenVPN’s code is still open-source and the software can be downloaded for free, but companies can also purchase the enterprise edition and use it for a monthly subscription fee. “So the idea is that, especially if you have employees working from home, you can actually virtualize your private network, and you can use our software to allow your employees access to those resources and to the data in a very secure way,” Dinha says. “And it also provides some level of access control. So you can have a sales organization, engineering organization, or other organization, and they have different types of access.”
Dinha says that he and Yonan still own the majority of OpenVPN and that they have accepted only a small amount of angel investment. “Now we have a lot of interest from venture capitalists and private equity coming to us and they want to invest, since they see all our growth and profitability,” he says. “So money is chasing us now, which is a very good position to be in.”
Regarding his membership in Forbes Technology Council, Dinha says, “it’s not our goal to go out there and promote our product. The goal is just to educate the marketplace about the value of the VPN so that people understand the difference between network security and application security. Today the internet doesn’t offer any network security. It was never built to offer network security.” Dinha says that “when people hear I’m part of Forbes Councils and that we have content there, they’re more eager to read it and that adds credibility to the business.”
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