This story originally appeared in Florida Trend Magazine.
Brian Murphy knows the steep climb that startups face. He started ReliaQuest in 2007, nine months before the Great Recession, and didn’t see a dime of outside investment for nearly a decade. In those early days, the Tampa-based company did general IT consulting work, mostly for government agencies. Over time, the company narrowed its focus to safeguarding digital client data and thwarting security threats.
It was a good decision. In the years since, the global cybersecurity market has become a $173.5-billion industry and ReliaQuest has become a leader in the sector. The firm’s security operations platform, GreyMatter, has helped attract global customers, catapulting it into $1-billion valuation unicorn status in 2021.
ReliaQuest also is putting its stamp on the Tampa Bay region. In January, it replaced Outback Steakhouse (another homegrown Tampa business) as the title sponsor of the annual New Year’s Day college football bowl game played at Raymond James Stadium. Five miles east of the stadium on Water Street, the tech giant’s new headquarters are a showcase for the city’s new waterfront district and a symbol of Tampa’s ambitions to become a startup hub.
ReliaQuest moved into 1001 Water St. last spring and occupies seven floors of the 20-story building that now bears its name. The move unites the company’s 500 Tampa employees who were previously split between offices on Harbour Island, adjacent to downtown, and in the Westshore business district near Tampa International Airport.
Each week brings in new recruits, clients, prospective clients and entrepreneurs checking out what ReliaQuest does and how Water Street Tampa is developing. Those visitors stay in Water Street hotels, eat in its restaurants and can talk with employees who, with an average starting compensation of $100,000, can afford to live in new apartments surrounding the office.
ReliaQuest’s presence “validates the development,” says David Bevirt, executive vice president for corporate leasing at Strategic Property Partners (SPP), the development company started by Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik and Microsoft founder Bill Gates’ Cascade Investment. (Vinik sold his stake in SPP to Cascade in June). “People see ReliaQuest and say we need to understand what’s going on” on Water Street.
SPP is speaking with representatives from corporations in Boston, New York, Chicago, San Francisco and Los Angeles who are considering if their future might be on Water Street. “Getting them here and having them walk the area is an absolute game changer,” Bevirt says.
Water Street Tampa also includes several new apartment and condominium highrises, a Publix and restaurants, all within a block or two of Amalie Arena, fulfilling the live, work, play vision designers had in mind. Wellness is another focal point: ReliaQuest and other 1001 Water Street tenants breathe air circulated through the same filtration system that hospitals use. In the post-COVID era, it’s the kind of feature that might give apprehensive employees confidence returning to office life.
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ReliaQuest’s space is loaded with workstations and multiple classrooms for client training and meetings. Soundproof cubes, reminiscent of old-school telephone booths, are available for client calls. There is an emphasis on mental health and motivation. ReliaQuest has a “mind gym” — a multimedia library where employees can seek inspiration and focus — and a mental performance coach.
Monitors display inspirational quotes from Roman philosopher Seneca and baseball great Willie Mays.
By all appearances, finances included, the company that got off to a slow start appears to be at the top of its game. ReliaQuest’s revenue is growing more than 30% per year. In addition to the Tampa headquarters, it has 700 more employees in offices in Las Vegas, Salt Lake City, Dublin, London and Pune, India.
It recently launched a new phishing analyzer to identify ransomware threats and spent $160 million last year to acquire San Francisco-based threat intelligence company Digital Shadows, which focuses on the dark web.
The moves bulk up GreyMatter, which “stitches together” multiple data streams to identify possible threats and quickly alert the customer when it needs to act. That process used to take days or weeks. Now, Murphy says, an AI system ReliaQuest developed for Grey- Matter can “take a decade of security investigation, security analysis” and diagnose a threat and respond in less than 10 minutes.
Ransomware and intellectual property theft are common trouble sources. Some are state-sponsored, Murphy says, while other countries allow cyber gangs to operate freely.
“Cybersecurity is about reducing the complexity of things,” he says. “There’s data everywhere and there are events everywhere. It’s just this sea of hay and you have to find that one needle. And we allow them to remove the complexity so their security teams don’t spend all day on menial tasks like chasing data. They’re actually working on real cyber incidents that happen.”
While its systems are proprietary, ReliaQuest makes its people available to the next wave of innovators. Murphy, a Florida native and Florida State finance grad, is chairman of the board for Embarc Collective, which touts itself as Florida’s fastestgrowing startup hub.
“We’ve been able to have some crazy good access to their team and their assets,” says Embarc Collective CEO Lakshmi Shenoy. “Their people are genuinely interested in new innovations and new technologies. So they really get excited when they can interact with startups.”
ReliaQuest sponsors and lends its top staff to Embarc’s annual Glaring Gap Summit, which aims to narrow the Venture Capital gap between men and women. Each year, 50 women from across Florida receive startup investment training at the event. The fourth summit is scheduled for October.
The company also is engaging with the next generation of workers. It hosted 40 Florida State University sales program majors last May. And this summer, 22 students from Academy of Holy Names, a private Catholic school in Tampa, interned in roles throughout the company. Some of them could be future hires, Murphy says, but ReliaQuest employees also benefit from interacting with people at all experience levels to learn about things outside their specific jobs.
It’s a rare day when there aren’t a handful of visitors, customers or prospective clients visiting the Water Street office and seeking facetime with senior ReliaQuest staff. “Our customers are the Global 2000,” Murphy says, “so the largest banks, the largest airlines, the largest health care (companies). So at least once or twice a year they’re flying into Tampa and they’re in our offices” for strategy planning, executive reviews or training.
“We tend to talk about an office as, ‘I go there, I sit at the desk and I don’t leave.’ It’s just not the case, especially not in a high-growth technology company,” he says. “You’ve got to get out, get around. Motion creates emotion. That’s how we solve the problem, with a high amount of communication and collaboration.”
46, CEO & Founder, ReliaQuest
Education: Bachelor’s degree in accounting and finance, Florida State University (2000)
Prior Experience: Management consultant for PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC).
Family: Married to Renee Murphy. They have two teenage children, Devin and Parker.
Hobbies: Boating, golf and thinking about ReliaQuest, “not necessarily in that order.”