PCR talks to AVG's UK MD Mike Foreman

Feeling secure

When, where and by whom was AVG set up?

The company was formed in 1991 and has more than 80 million users across 167 countries who use its security software. In terms of its presence in the UK, AVG has its headquarters in Newark. I ran a business with my father back in the 1990s, F1 Computer Services, when we started marketing AVG’s software. We found that there was very little out there in terms of internet protection at the time and the business grew as a result.

AVG subsequently bought out F1 Computer Services and currently we have 60 people working out of the 18,000 sq ft offices in Newark, which includes a UK customer support contact centre, a warehouse and a training centre for UK PC resellers and partners.

How has the company changed in that time?

AVG has experienced significant growth in the last few years, becoming the world’s fourth largest vendor of anti-virus software, but also the most popular. Over 80 million people use AVG’s internet protection software.

The company has expanded globally and, with a new CEO and an expansion of the senior management team, we have a lot of experienced people on board. We are continuing to focus on resellers, as we have always done. However, we have also expanded our network and increased our resources with support from channel marketing.

What most separates you from other security software vendors?

AVG’s security packages protect over 80 million business and home computers from viruses, worms, pyware, spam and identity theft, allowing safe web-surfing, music downloads, video sharing and email. The software is free and we have found that many of our users virally share it, which explains its popularity.

Our software provides real-time defences against real-time threats. So, rather than checking links on an existing database, your PC is scanned in real-time, meaning that you are protected from newly-infected web pages. Essentially, real-time protection is the only way consumers can stay protected against transient threats. In fact, 60 per cent of these threats last less than a day before moving on to another site, so an existing database is often out of date very quickly.

You are one of the few firms to offer free anti-virus software. What’s the key to striking the balance between offering a free service and making money from paid-for packages?

AVG’s free, downloadable software allows users to have basic anti-virus protection. They can then easily upgrade to greater levels of safety and defence when they are ready. Once upgraded, consumers can enjoy extra with the paid-for version –in particular, identity theft protection,which prevents new and unknown threats from stealing personal information like bank and credit card details.

How has the last year been for AVG commercially?

The last year has been a busy one for us. We opened the Newark office and saw a recruitment drive for channel partners. We have opened up new markets globally, including an acquisition with Sana and the launch of AVG 8.5 with IDP –identity theft protection – only three months after the acquisition, which was a huge success for the business.

We launched LinkScannerback in April, which is a free standalone product to protect users against random, invisible online threats. It works in real-time, protecting users from any malicious links they come across. With the rise in social networking tools, the need for this is paramount.

We are also seeing a push into the retail market and, with the recruitment of Adam Gay as retail sales manager, we see this moving along at a fast pace.

What’s been the biggest challenge over the past few years?

The biggest challenge we face is educating users that internet security is needed now more than ever. With the rise in social networking there is a greater risk of being targeted on Twitter, Facebook and MySpace, etc. We really need to educate people that prolific use of these social networking sites can open us up to hackers and phishing scams. The need to ensure our PCs and laptops are protected is of utmost importance.

What plans do you have for the next year?

As previously mentioned, we plan to expand into retail and establish the availability of AVG’s products on the High Street and in supermarkets. We aim to build new relationships with key retailers, while continuing to foster existing relationships with our distribution partners.

What impact do you think the launch of Windows 7 will have on the security market?

Windows 7 will definitely create a buzz, both in the channel and with consumers. Raised awareness of a new OS and improved security features can only be a good thing for protecting people and the internet. Unlike AVG’s software, Windows 7 will not have the advanced features that AVG LinkScanner technology has for pre-checking websites in real-time, nor does it have advanced identity protection.

Where do you see AVG in five years time?

We are continually investing in R&D to ensure that AVG will always be at the forefront of protecting users. Our CEO recently talked about the iPhone and the threats we could face on mobile internet, so it would be a natural progression to look at mobile and the rise in mobile access to the web and how to protect consumers in this field.

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