Duo CEO Says New Detroit Office is Chance to Learn, Grow & Engage

Duo Security, the cybersecurity startup valued at just over $1 billion, has offices in Michigan, Texas, California, and the United Kingdom. It could have chosen anywhere on Earth to locate its newest outpost, announced last month, but the company chose Detroit. In a city hungry for opportunities with loads of innovation in its DNA, it was a most welcomed development.

We caught up with CEO Dug Song this week, who was speaking from his company’s headquarters in Ann Arbor, MI, to ask him more about Duo’s decision-making process and what it hopes to accomplish in the Motor City.

Duo, which specializes in security software rooted in two-factor authentication, plans to immediately relocate 30 employees from its engineering, information services, and product teams to work at Bamboo Detroit, a local co-working space. Eventually, the company plans to expand to fill the entire 9,000-square-foot space on Bamboo’s sixth floor.

So, why Detroit, and why now?

“It was the right time and the right stage of growth,” Song explains. “Detroit makes a lot of sense to us.” Song said it was also fortuitous that the city is finally positioned to exit from years of state oversight just when Duo is making its move. “It’s a great time to be here,” he adds.

Song has long looked for ways to strengthen his personal and company ties to Detroit, and has participated in a wide variety of startup events, hackathons, and meet-ups. He also points out that Duo has been involved in Detroit for some time; this is simply its first physical office in the city.

“The largest concentration of engineers outside of the Bay Area is in southeast Michigan,” he says. “Detroit proper is restrained in its head count, but big in impact.” The state’s talent pool has so far provided some of the company’s best hires, but Duo is also excited about the opportunity to further develop the city’s tech workforce. “There’s something strategic involved in every place we [open an office]. In Detroit, the ecosystem includes everything, all kinds of talent. We don’t have a specific recruitment plan, but it’s a great pond to fish from.”

Facilitating cross-pollination with that pond is a major reason Duo decided to locate in Bamboo instead of WeWork or one of the upscale downtown office buildings owned by Bedrock Detroit, the real estate company owned by Quicken Loans chairman Dan Gilbert.

“Bamboo is the crossroads of the community, attracting people from a variety of backgrounds and experience,” Song says. “I find that really exciting. We want to be in the mix and grow and support the community. There’s no specific growth plan in Detroit—like all of our locations, we tend to figure it out as we go along.”

Song says Duo’s long-term goal is to learn about Detroit, what it takes to be successful here, how to have a larger role on the city’s tech ecosystem, and understanding what that larger role would look like.

“One thing we see in the future is a more formal engagement with the community,” he says. “We hired a director of inclusivity, and she’s amazing. We want to leverage the success we’ve had to engage the broader community, and find other ways to learn and share what we do in Detroit. It’s part of the history and journey many companies are on in this region—[a journey] we think will become a common story.”

But aside from Duo’s plans, Song has another blue-sky goal he’d like to achieve in Detroit, and it has nothing to do with cybersecurity.

“Personally, I’m most excited about skateboarding in town,” he says.

Skating legend Tony Hawk bought a house in the Woodbridge neighborhood two years ago and has been involved in building the Ride It Sculpture Park near the Davison freeway. Song says more skateparks are coming, and he wants to play an active role in growing the local skating scene.

“I can’t wait to see more skateboarding in Detroit,” he says. He also sees a connection between the DIY ethos of the tech world and skate culture, which could provide an entrance into STEM careers for kids that have not had much previous exposure. “It’s a natural evolution—kids have the technology to build the lots themselves, whether it’s on a reservation or in an inner city.”

Sarah Schmid Stevenson is the editor of Xconomy Detroit/Ann Arbor. You can reach her at 313-570-9823 or sschmid@xconomy.com. Follow @XconomyDET_AA

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