There are many customs and traditions that define ringing in the new year. New Year’s Eve parties, watching the ball drop over Times Square in New York, toasting with champagne at the stroke of midnight, singing Auld Lang Syne…and college football. It’s Bowl Season, baby!
One of the bowls has a new sponsor. The bowl game played at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa Bay was known as the Hall of Fame Bowl from 1986 to 1995. It has been sponsored by Outback Steakhouse and dubbed the Outback Bowl from 1996 to 2022. When the game is played on Monday, January 2, 2023, it will be the newly renamed ReliaQuest Bowl.
I am generally opposed to company sponsorships of things like race cars, or cycling teams, or whatever. Personally, I feel like the sports generally have a very limited audience and the sponsor branding is so fleeting that it is virtually impossible to get the exposure or return on investment to make it worthwhile. It is more of an ego thing, or just a personal hobby or interest of the CEO, but not necessarily a valuable marketing investment.
This is different to me. The sponsorship will bring attention to cybersecurity and elevate brand recognition for ReliaQuest in ways that other sponsorships simply can’t match. College football has a huge audience in general, but the holiday bowl season typically draws an even larger viewing audience. The ReliaQuest name has been displayed and spoken for weeks leading up to the bowl games, and it will be center stage on Monday as the Mississippi State Bulldogs take on the Illinois Fighting Illini. ReliaQuest also produced a commercial that will air multiple times during the ReliaQuest Bowl and will also be aired during some of the other college bowl games.
Investing in Tampa Bay
There are lots of college bowl games with lots of different sponsors, but this one has a unique Tampa Bay connection. The game is played in Tampa Bay. Outback Steakhouse, the former sponsor, is headquartered in Tampa Bay. When Outback pulled out and they needed a new sponsor, they found a new sponsor also based in Tampa Bay.
I spoke to Brian Murphy, founder and CEO of ReliaQuest, about how the sponsorship deal came together. He told me that he was in San Francisco at the time—finalizing a deal to acquire Digital Shadows—when he got the call.
They explained that they had a lot of interest from other brands, but that ReliaQuest does a lot with them in the community already. Murphy relayed a paraphrased version of the conversation: “You partner a lot. You’re headquartered here. We like the way the brands align, and we think this could be pretty interesting. What do you think?”
Even though he was in the middle of closing an acquisition deal, he committed to the sponsorship in less than 12 hours—and the ReliaQuest Bowl was born.
Wave of Momentum
Coupled with the Digital Shadows acquisition, nabbing the sponsorship for the ReliaQuest Bowl is icing on the cake of a phenomenal year for ReliaQuest. The company is thriving, and riding a wave of momentum into 2023.
The prevailing storyline for 2022 has been that the economy is weak, and the tech and cybersecurity markets are suffering. Household names like Amazon, Facebook, and Twitter, as well as major cybersecurity vendors with hundreds of millions of dollars of investor funding, dominated headlines with news of cutbacks and tens of thousands of workers being laid off. The “sky is falling” narrative drives clicks, but the reality is that most tech and cybersecurity companies are doing fine—and some are simply crushing it.
ReliaQuest is one of those companies. One of the key differences that separates ReliaQuest and other successful companies from the cybersecurity vendors and tech companies that are struggling is the underlying culture and the focus of the company.
Startups that strive to IPO and companies that focus on pleasing investors or shareholders can often achieve significant short-term success. However, long term value and the resilience to weather unfavorable market conditions comes from a relentless focus on solving problems for customers.
Murphy and I talked about this quote from Steve Jobs, which references a quote attributed to Henry Ford although it is unlikely Ford actually said it):
“Some people say give the customers what they want, but that’s not my approach. Our job is to figure out what they’re going to want before they do. I think Henry Ford once said, ‘If I’d ask customers what they wanted, they would’ve told me a faster horse.’ People don’t know what they want until you show it to them. That’s why I never rely on market research. Our task is to read things that are not yet on the page.”
Murphy stressed, “It’s how you ask the question. We’re not asking customers what they want. We’re asking, ‘What problems are you solving for?’”
He explained, “Nobody asks for a security operations platform. What they will describe is, ‘I need visibility into my cloud environments, and I have more than one. I need to be able to see my cloud environments next to my endpoints.’
According to Murphy, that is the secret behind the success of ReliaQuest, and it is the thing that will continue to accelerate momentum for the company. They listen to customers and learn about the problems they need to solve and let that guide and influence where they invest and what they work on next. The bottom line is that it is about meeting the needs of the customer, rather than trying to convince customers they need the thing you built.
Cybersecurity and college football don’t typically go together. We don’t generally equate Tampa Bay, Florida as a base for tech or cybersecurity companies. But, ReliaQuest is changing that and the ReliaQuest Bowl will expose the brand to a massive national audience.
Tune in Monday, January 2, to watch the ReliaQuest Bowl. Watch the game because college bowl games are a fun part of the New Year festivities—but also check it out to support a Tampa Bay-based cybersecurity vendor that is thriving because it is focused on building a company the right way and delivering what customers need.