From recycling bottles and living off their kids piggy banks, Forgerock and Lasse Andresen can now smile and look back at an amazing startup journey
ForgeRock was started February 1, 2010 with the Norwegian Lasse Andresen as the CEO.
On June 18 2014, Forgerock brought in $30 million USD in venture capital funding in the United States. The company with headquarters in San Francisco, has brought in a total of $52 million USD in funding from Silicon Valley investors since the start 4 ½ years ago. ForgeRock will use the capital to continue to build the company, development of innovation and further international expansion.
ForgeRock’s impressive history provides valuable lessons for the next generation of Norwegian entrepreneurs. “ForgeRock and CTO Lasse Andresen’s journey will be an inspiration for the next generation of Norwegian entrepreneurs for decades to come,” says Dilek Ayhan, State Secretary / Deputy Minister at Norwegian Ministry of Trade, Industry and Fisheries.
Who is Lasse Andresen?
A family man and a father of 3, Lasse worked as CTO of Sun Microsystems with responsibility for Central and Northern Europe, when Oracle acquired the company in January 2010. Lasse and some other colleagues from Sun did not want to join the new group. “It took me a millisecond to decide that I would rather create new technology.”
“We were five colleagues who agreed drinking beer at the pub “The Forge” in London. We had 240,000 NOK combined, a clear vision and strong passion. We saw a huge market opportunity related to identity and security solutions based on the development of mobile and cloud services. Based on an open source model and a large portion confidence, we took on the competition with the IT giant Oracle.”
“It was very tough at first. Our money didn’t last long, so we were living on a shoestring budget, our kids piggy banks and recycling bottles. Norwegian investors were not interested.”
“When a colleague’s hot water tank broke down, the family had to live with only cold water throughout the winter. We were over the moon when we finally landed a big contract for one million dollars. However, it turned out that our client had 60 days of payment processing.”
“I went to my Norwegian bank and explained the situation. Several employees had not been paid for several months, so I needed 100,000NOK, money enough to get us through the 60 days. I got a blank refusal with the reasoning that they did not lend money to IT companies. Right there and then the bank lost me as a customer.”
After months of living hand-to-mouth and unable to pay the bills, a breakthrough came with an agreement with Thomson Reuters in London. Today ForgeRock has offices in five countries and software downloads in 135, and customers from large corporations such as Toyota, Yellow Pages Canada, McKesson and GEICO. They also have a strategic partnership with Salesforce.com.
The ForgeRock technology is used by Norway MinID, which is managed by difi, NSB, VPS, Tax, Sparebank1 group, the State Educational Loan Fund, National Pension Fund and many more.
ForgeRock chose an international profile from the very start, and established several companies in parallel in Norway, UK, France and USA where the five colleagues lived. The head office was in Norway, but the working language was English.
“We posted the job openings in Norway in English. We received many applications from fantastic candidates with top education and work experience. We wondered whether there was something wrong since they applied for a job in a small unknown start-up company, and found out the only thing was that they couldn’t speak Norwegian. We didn’t care about that. Thus, we got access to incredibly talented people who had difficulty getting other jobs in Norway.”
“There is a Silicon Valley-expression called “Culture is your co-founder.” All the Forgerock entrepreneurs have a passion for rock music, and several of us have played in bands. This characterizes our work language: Working meetings are called “Jamming”, new employees are greeted with “Welcome to the band” and described as “Rock Stars”.
“Since we started working virtually from home offices in different countries, we have developed a tradition of once a year to gather everyone for a week. We cook, eat, drink, talk and agree on the path forward. The first year we went to a cabin outside Stavanger. Last year we were more than 100 employees staying together in a hotel in Santorini, Greece. In 2012, we rented an entire hotel in Portugal. We sent the hotel staff home, cooked, served and cleaned together. That is great team building!”
“The customers are at the center of the ForgeRock culture. All the developers have to spend one day a week doing customer service, so they get a sense of where the pain points are. Instead of outsourcing customer service to a call center in a low-cost country, we put some of our most experienced people in first line. That way most problems are solved quickly.”
The company’s Norwegian roots are alive in its corporate culture and ForgeRock is proud of its “Norwegian soul”. “Rock” in the company name and the logo is inspired by Kjeragbolten in Lysefjord (1110 m.), a famous destination for base jumpers from around the world. Although company headquarter is in San Francisco, many of the activities in Europe and Asia are run out of the office at Lysaker, outside of Oslo.
“You must never be afraid to challenge the giants. Although they are bigger than you, does not mean they are better. You must dare to go straight on. Aim high, run really fast and have fun along the way,” says Lasse. “But most importantly is to get really good people.”