Dug Song of Duo Security: How To Make Tech Success A Success For The Entire Community
By Laura Cowan
Laura K. Cowan is a tech editor and journalist whose work has focused on promoting sustainability initiatives for automotive, green tech, and conscious living media outlets.
Dug Song, founder of Ann Arbor unicorn Duo Security, talks at Intermitten Conference 2019 at The Ark in Ann Arbor about how tech companies can lay the groundwork early on to make sure that success in the company becomes success for the entire community.
He's known as one of the nicest people in Ann Arbor tech, a thoughtful person who built a quality product the right way and is deeply concerned with community. He is also the most successful. Duo Security founder Dug Song spoke recently at Ann Arbor's tech week conference Intermitten 2019 about what tech companies can do to transfer financial equity into social equity. He met with us backstage for an interview after the fact to go a little more in depth. What's next for Duo and his team? "Our culture will continue to evolve [after our acquisition]," Song tells us in a dressing room at The Ark on Main Street in Ann Arbor where Intermitten was held. "But our values have not."
"If we're going to succeed, the communities we're a part of also need to succeed."
Dug Song, Founder Duo Security
"If we're going to succeed, the communities we're a part of also need to succeed," he told the crowd at Intermitten. "There are 3 things needed to make communities successful: development, affordability, and public transit. Where these don't work together, they tear us apart." He gives as example how tech town Austin, Texas, did not invest in public transit when it would have cost them $100 million. Now a great deal of development later, they can't afford the $1 billion costs, and, Song says, "there are three bridges from the south side of town connecting the city, and no one can get over them." He says he was dismayed when the millage failed to pass to coordinate light rail in southeast Michigan, because public transit is one of the missing pieces from Michigan's attempts to coordinate better business corridors and less segregated communities, a long-standing problem.
"There are 3 things needed to make communities successful: development, affordability, and public transit. Where these don't work together, they tear us apart."
"So you've had other offers before Cisco to acquire Duo. Can we talk about that?" Intermitten founder and president Heidi Craun asked. "Maybe," Song laughed. "Let's see where this goes."
"Tech is driving massive inequities. It's a goddamned shame what's happening in San Francisco," he said, speaking of the challenges facing Silicon Valley regarding cost of living, with tech workers living in vans outside Google headquarters and people being pushed out of the city who aren't in high-paying tech jobs. Song, whose Ann Arbor-based security company was famously acquired recently for nearly two and a half billion dollars by Cisco in the Valley, has some opinions about how important it is to lay the groundwork so that when tech companies succeed, the entire community succeeds with them. "Detroit has the opportunity to get that right right now," he said.
More than anything, Song said spreading success begins by laying ground rules early on to encourage healthy culture at your tech company. "No one is in our office after 5 pm," he said, "because they have a life. It's important to have a life, to have ground rules." Sometimes, Song says he has to force people to take vacation time. "You take that vacation or you won't get your full bonus," he laughs. "Management is a real job. Your job is to take care of your people so they can take care of your company."
"Management is a real job. Your job is to take care of your people so they can take care of your company."
Dug Song poses with a colleague over h'ordeuvres at the Intermitten VIP event at Ann Arbor Distillery. We promise we didn't interrupt him mid-bite.
Song is also doing something about the problem beyond offering stock options to his employees to spread the wealth, to make sure Ann Arbor as a whole doesn't continue along a similar path to Silicon Valley's problems of inequity. Song is founding the Entrepreneurs Foundation of Ann Arbor (at AAACF.org) to "leverage what's happening with the tech community for the benefit of the community." It's a similar program to the one Salesforce has introduced where employees donate 1% of their income, time, or other resources to give back. "Volunteering develops leadership, and it's also an opportunity to meet a lot of people, people you might found a company with someday," Song said.
One of the cool things about being acquired by Cisco is that Duo can expand its work to spread success on an even broader scale. "Trey Boynton, who organizes work culture meetings for us, now can do that for 75,000 employees for Cisco," Song says.
Backstage, Song told us that one of the cool things about being acquired by Cisco, which he said is one of the most ethical companies out there, is that now Duo can expand its work to spread success on an even broader scale. "Trey Boynton, who organizes work culture meetings for us, now can do that for 75,000 employees for Cisco," he says.
The goal with AAACF is that there not be another exit that goes unnoticed because the benefits don't reach the broader community, Song said. "If you can't [give back] with cash, you might be able to do it with time," he suggested.
More and more tech companies are recognizing the importance of spreading success with financial equity to create social equity, largely the topic of Song's talk at Intermitten. He told us that the culture you create early on is what spreads once that groundwork is laid. "We're succeeding because our sales [culture] is also different, our marketing is different," he said. You can check out Song's new organization at
to see if there's an opportunity there for you to give back to Ann Arbor as a whole or pattern a similar organization for your community. We will be running a series in the future on thought leadership on how to future proof companies against the issues currently facing Silicon Valley. Let us know if you have specific ideas or topics you'd like covered in comments or on Twitter or you can email the editor if you would like to be involved.