As a young boy growing up in the Turkish city of Antioch, Melih Abdulhayoglu – Melih to all who know him – was highly driven by two characteristics. One, he was very protective—of his friends and family, of his possessions, of everything he valued. And two, he felt a need to “build stuff.” He was always tinkering, and he built his first electronic circuit when he was just nine years old.
Melih considers these characteristics to be part of his DNA, and they are contributing factors in what makes him successful as the founder, CEO and chief security architect of the Internet security company Comodo.
Melih finished high school in Turkey and headed to the University of Bradford in England for his college degree in Electrical Engineering. “I thought going to university meant doing innovative projects. I thought everyone did that,” says Melih. “I kept building stuff, electronic circuits and all that. During my studies in university, the British government paid me £5000 for one of my inventions. I liked what I was doing and I realized I could make money at it.”
“There is a science park right next to the University of Bradford,” Melih explains. “I remember sitting down in this office at the science park to buy my very first Intel 386 computer. After I became successful, I went and got that office, so now it is a Comodo office.”
A vision for Internet security
“Once I finished my schooling, I had to build stuff. I didn’t understand the concept of working for someone else. I had a vision and I had to execute that vision, and working for someone else was not executing that vision,” Melih says. “I don’t mind working for people. In fact, I do everything my wife tells me to do. But I had to execute my vision. In the early 1990s, this thing called the Internet was happening and I saw my opportunity there.”
Melih likens the emergence of the Internet to the invention of the Gutenberg press, which enabled and empowered people to retain and share information. “Before the printing press, we could not retain or share information because the speed at which we did that was so very slow. It did not allow the accumulation of innovation technology or information sharing. With the Gutenberg press, the industrial revolution happened,” he says.
Melih asked himself, what is the Internet if not the printing press on steroids? He surmised that this new ability to publish and share information globally would create another sort of revolution. He was, in fact, foreseeing the knowledge revolution the Internet has since enabled.
“It was at that time that I decided I was going to protect the Internet because I could see that the Internet was going to cause some sort of a revolution for the human race. It’s no different than the printing press. Someone must protect it because if it’s not protected, it will end up in the hands of baddies and we don’t want that. As it happens, that role fit my innate desire to help protect people quite well,” according to Melih.
“Having realized that the Internet is going to be the next printing press in terms of its impact on the human race, I said I must protect it. I could pursue a PhD and write a thesis about protecting the Internet but that really wouldn’t get anything done. Then I met a chap who gave me a small amount of angel financing and I took that money and turned it into an operational business quickly. I have been building the company ever since then,” says Melih.
The start of Comodo Group
He started Comodo in 1998 and the company was profitable by the end of 2000. “For the first seven or eight years of running the company, I was playing the role of CEO rather than the role of an innovator who is going to change the world,” according to Melih. “I had to build a business that generated enough of a cash flow and profit to fund my vision. So instead of building the vision, I was building the ATM to fund the vision. It was only in about 2009 or 2010 that the business came to a good place where it was generating a sizable amount of profit, and of course it has grown even more since then. At last, things started to become fun for me again because now I am able to really execute my vision of building solutions that will protect the Internet and its users.”
Protecting the Internet is a big order, however, and Melih knows he can’t do it alone. In 2005, he formed the Certification Authority Browser Forum (CA/B Forum) to change the way that consumers see trust online. “The CA/B Forum is now a global organization that sets the standards on how trust is viewed and how encryption should happen,” says Melih. “All the standards and guidelines that come out of that organization are implemented in browsers and they are visible to consumers. So, behind the scenes, I have already started affecting people. It took about 18 months, from 2005 to 2007, to get Microsoft to launch with the very first browser that had that capability built-in.” The effort has paid off. The forum now includes more than forty certificate authority members and six major Internet browser software vendors.
A serial problem-solver
The next problem Melih tackled was malware. Comodo was on the forefront of using containment technology to allow any unknown application run inside a contained space on the computer without causing any damage.
“Once we believe we have solved one problem, we turn to the next problem,” says Melih. “I have been building technologies one by one to help secure the Internet. That’s my vision. There isn’t a single product that you can buy that will make you secure. There isn’t 100% security either. It requires continuous R&D and innovation. What I want to be, and what I have done to date is, be an innovation engine. I want to continually innovate to solve today’s problems.”
Melih has a number of technology patents in his name—some that he has been sitting on for a decade or more. “People aren’t ready yet for what I have in mind with some of my patents,” he says. “People don’t yet understand the problem that the patented technology is designed to solve.”
CISOs should be innovators, too
If he has one bit of advice for CISOs, it is to be proactive by seeking out the latest technologies and becoming early adopters. “You really have to become an innovator as a CISO. You are innovating in your industry the use of brand-new technologies because that is what is going to give your company the edge,” says Melih. “Doing what everyone else does, in terms of using technology, doesn’t give you a competitive advantage. Innovation has to drive you being a CISO—innovating how you use the latest technologies. You have to arm your enterprise with the best and latest technologies.”
Melih stresses that every organization should have an innovation lab to try new technologies and new solutions. He also advises companies to invest in innovative start-ups that can help them achieve their own goals. “Investment provides stability to the start-up, and access to early innovation for the investor,” he says.
In 2008, Melih’s efforts to promote Internet security earned him the Ernst & Young’s Entrepreneur of the Year award in Information Technology Software for New Jersey. He is a frequent speaker on Internet security issues and has appeared as an expert on various media outlets, including Fox TV and USA Today.
In October 2017, Comodo sold a majority stake in Comodo CA to private equity firm Francisco Partners, enabling the product company to focus on establishing a security operations center and further developing its platform.