By Karyn Hodgson, SDM Senior Editor
Kastle Systems was founded on core principles of service and innovation, and in 2007 new owners expanded on that. Today, their commitment to constantly improving customers’ experiences and their delivery of exciting new technologies win them SDM’s 2015 Systems Integrator of the Year award.
In the 1989 film “Field of Dreams,” Kevin Costner’s character builds a baseball diamond in a cornfield on the faith that “if you build it, they will come.” Kastle Systems’ founder Gene Samburg pre-dated that film by several years when he built his company based on a belief that security as a service (SaaS as Samburg created and defined it) was the wave of the future. The original mission was to provide a service that enabled Class A multi-tenant office buildings to take advantage of the latest in technology without having to become experts themselves. In 1972 there was no cloud. There were no personal computers. Everything Kastle did had to be designed from scratch — there were no off-the-shelf solutions for a model that didn’t exist yet.
But come they did. And by 2007 the Falls Church, Va.-based company was so well known in its local Washington D.C. market that the majority of office buildings in the city referred to their access control card as their “Kastle card.” By that time Samburg was looking to retire, but despite meeting with several prospects, he hadn’t found the right buyer.
Mark Ein and Piyush Sodha had been partners on several business deals by then. Typically Ein would start the process and Sodha would buy in later, the two building value until someone else wanted to buy it. This opportunity started in the same manner, but Ein knew immediately this wasn’t the typical project.
Like “virtually everyone” who works in D.C. in an office, Ein had been a Kastle customer. “I was introduced to the previous owner by a mutual friend and I jumped at the opportunity. Kastle was an iconic company in our community and known for being very forward-thinking and innovative with a huge following. In our first meeting Gene and I really clicked and I left that meeting thinking, ‘Not only is this just a special company but an incredibly special person who built it. I want to be the caretaker for years to come.’”
Ein was so impressed that when he returned to his office he told his secretary to cancel all his appointments for a month so he could focus on nothing but purchasing this business.
“I have been an investor and business owner my whole life,” Ein, now chairman and majority owner of Kastle, says. “What is so hard to find is a business that has such good fundamentals and such a great culture and brand, customer following and is durable enough that you can own and grow it for decades. I was looking for a company I would call a ‘platform company’ — one that could be a long-term holding but also be a platform for other things, whether that means acquiring other businesses or organically creating new businesses or one ripe for expansion; one with a business model that generates cash flow that lets you generate those investments. What was incredible was Kastle had all of those things. The minute I met the company I dropped everything else in my life.”
True to their pattern as a team, a year later Sodha, Kastle’s CEO and co-chairman, did indeed buy in, recognizing the service aspect as a particularly natural fit for his own background. “One of the foundational things that intrigued me about Kastle is I had spent many years in telecommunications,” he says. “Telecom included a lot of SaaS (software as a service), so when I looked at this company it felt similar and I immediately understood the value proposition. I had an instinctive comfort about what we were going to do.”