Bomgar CEO talks mobility, cloud risks and old cars

To hear founder and CEO Joel Bomgar tell it, he might never have started his eponymous company if he'd had a cooler car.

"I got sick of driving around the state of Mississippi in the heat in my 1979 Buick LeSabre," he says with a laugh.

Bomgar worked part-time as a tech support pro while attending Belhaven University in Jackson, Miss., more than a decade ago -- a role that entailed long hours on the road.

[ BACKGROUND: It wasn't always Bomgar.

"I was a systems engineer, so I'd get dispatched to solve problems if somebody's x/y/z wasn't working," he says. "In 2003, there really wasn't good technology on the market to do tech support over the Internet."

With graduation on the horizon, Bomgar began to get anxious about his future.

"I'm thinking, 'I'm about to graduate and go full time ... My life is going to be in my 1979 Buick LeSabre. Do I want it to be there?'"

So instead of upgrading his wheels, Bomgar developed a remote desktop access tool that could work through firewalls, VPNs and all the other security systems that foiled the support options of the time.

"The technical challenge of developing a product was more appealing than getting a nicer car," he says.

His system was initially a software platform that brokered connections among clients and support workers, allowing them to simply OK a remote connection over the Internet. Initial development took six months.

While the system was initially designed solely for internal use, Bomgar says he quickly came around to the idea that it could be saleable as well.

"So I thought, 'Hey, that was six months of work, it'd be a shame if I didn't see if there was someone else who cared about this technology like I do,'" he says. "So I put it out there on the Internet and sold 50 licenses in two months and basically built it from there."

Today, Bomgar says his company is the preferred remote support option for enterprises, boasting 7,000 customers and a staff of 210. He's happy to concede the small-business market to rivals like LogMeIn, saying that the hardware-based model is far more attractive for bigger firms.

"If you buy LogMeIn, you're going through their cloud, which has security issues, which has other issues. With our technology ... you put [our devices] in your data center, it's all Web-based, so tech support reps can log in from anywhere in the world," he says. "The box does a couple things -- one, it brokers all those connections to make them possible. Two, it secures all of them, and it logs and records -- everything on it is auditable."

The company has staunchly resisted the trend toward "cloud-ifying" IT products, and Bomgar says such cloud-based systems are far less safe than his firm's on-premises model.

"In a SaaS environment, all of the customers' data is in one place," he says. "So how often does somebody break into a house to steal cash? There's not a whole lot of cash in any given house, but bank robberies are actually pretty common."

Bomgar's latest release, which came out earlier this month, added support for Android devices made by Samsung -- meaning that technicians can now work from (or on) Android-based hardware without compromising on functionality.

The CEO says that the move is an important step toward greater acceptance of Samsung's hardware in the business world -- where Android penetration in general has been limited.

"Opening up remote control is a key piece of that. IT was saying 'we can't have these Android devices in here ... we're not going to go there unless you give us a way of providing support to these things,'" according to Bomgar.

Samsung is the first Android hardware maker to offer full remote access support, though the CEO is bullish on other manufacturers following suit. The company's product can work on iOS, but only on specific applications that have Bomgar connectivity built in.

The company is attempting to stay close to its roots by remaining an on-premises system, while simultaneously expanding into the mobile world.

"In the past, we gave [our customers] a choice -- and they always picked on-premise based, perpetually licensed," Bomgar says.

The company's founder is also sticking to what works -- in automotive terms, at least. Though he's moved on from the '79 LeSabre, his current ride is a '99 Toyota Corolla.

"It's 20 years newer!" he says.

Email Jon Gold at and follow him on Twitter at @NWWJonGold.

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