By nature, lawyers avoid risk. Tech gurus in
Silicon Valley, however, thrive on it. As the general counsel of Avira, a German cybersecurity and
antivirus software company, Claus Kaufmann
had to learn how to delicately balance preventing
risk while simultaneously embracing it.
Avira is one of the world’s first antivirus software
companies with more than 100 million customers
worldwide. Its security solutions protect computers, servers, and smart phones. Through an
in-house lens, however, pioneering cybersecurity
initiatives that promise millions of customers’ security and protection of privacy — but also could
possibly fail — seems like a recipe for disaster.
That’s why since joining Avira in 2008,
Kaufmann has taken every precaution to ensure
his company complies with the law and protects
their customers’ privacy. It was during his stint at
their Silicon Valley office that he internalized the
tech hub’s “fail fast, learn fast” mantra.
Unlike most ambitious overachievers, Silicon
Valley higher-ups don’t think failure is a catastrophe or career-ending gaffe. Instead, they see
it as a way to improve their company or pivot to
something more in-tune with their customers’
needs. The key is to learn your lesson and move
on — fast. If not, another company will find a
quicker and better way to deliver their product to
the masses and put you out of business.
Adapting to Silicon Valley’s bold risk-taking
method took some rewiring on Kaufmann’s part,
especially as a general counsel in the cybersecurity industry. “A typical legal approach is to try
to eliminate each and every risk,” he explains.
“When you do that, you try to avoid failure. You
don’t allow yourself to fail because you’re taking a
very conservative approach.” Within time, however, Kaufmann would become comfortable with
the idea of risk and failure.
Kaufmann’s passion for technology and comput-
ers began at a young age, thanks in part to his
mother. As a science and mathematics teacher,
she had a very early version of the IBM compat-
ible PC at home. This PC, however, could not
play games like Atari STs or Commodores’ C64,
which were popular among his friends.
Rather than let his PC collect dust, he spent
his time at the computer learning programming
languages, such as Turbo Pascal and Microsoft
BASIC. Another hobby was using a Lego-like
construction toy system, which allowed him
to build automated toys via a PC interface and
Soon, he and his friends were building robots
rather than playing games on trendier computers.
Most of the robots they built mimicked assembly
line robots, but one called Turtle captivated him
the most. “It had wheels and sensors so that it
could drive around and explore its environment,”
he beams. “This is when I realized there’s so much
more you can do with computers besides gaming.”
From coding to legalese
Kaufmann earned his legal degree from
University of Konstanz in Baden-Württemberg,
Germany. There he used his computer skills at
a side job designing websites. It was a good opportunity to earn money and gain experience in
an interesting field.
But Kaufmann knew designing websites
wasn’t the ultimate profession for him. He
wanted a job where he could interact with
clients and delve into business economics.
He considered pursuing a master’s degree in
business, but even business school couldn’t
provide the career path he had in mind.
“I wanted to keep my options open as much
as possible, and law seemed like a good oppor-
tunity for that,” he reflects. “As a lawyer, you can
work at a company, but you can also be self-
employed or go to a law firm. However, if you
take a classic business class, you have somewhat
That propelled him to earn his master’s degree
in information technology and telecommunica-
tions law at University of Strathclyde in Glasgow,
Fail Fast, Learn Fast:
How In-house Counsel Can
Adapt to the Tech World
TIPS & INSIGHTS
GENERAL COUNSEL, AVIRA