Malwarebytes CEO Marcin Kleczynski pays it forward, impact doubled by Grainger Match
Malwarebytes CEO and founder Marcin Kleczynski (BS CS ’12) has given a major donation to establish a named endowment supporting the Computer Science Visionary Scholarship Fund as part of the Engineering Visionary Scholarship Initiative. The initiative was started in 2013 to recruit bright, highly motivated students to Illinois with large renewable scholarships. The new Grainger Matching Challenge goes a step further, doubling all Engineering scholarship endowment gifts up to $25 million. Kleczynski’s gift is one of the first major donations to qualify for the match.
Kleczynski, who is 28 and only a few years removed from CS @ ILLINOIS, says he decided to make the donation to help pave a way to the campus for entrepreneurially minded students. He said he was driven in part by thinking about his own experience. Malwarebytes has more than 500 employees and offices in four countries, but Kleczynski came to the University of Illinois from the Chicago suburbs unsure at least initially how he would pay for his education.
“I grew up in Bensenville to a middle-class family that definitely couldn’t afford to pay for my schooling and yet I didn’t qualify for financial aid,” he said. “I got lucky and Malwarebytes started taking off my freshman year of school, but the discomfort was real. If my fortunate turn of events could help others, I’m in!”
Kleczynski’s story is a good one: 14-year-old infects the family computer with a virus while searching online for video games, then, with help, fixes the problem, sparking a hobby that eventually turned into a startup with hundreds of millions of users. His story is so good it’s been told repeatedly in national and industry news outlets.
And the University of Illinois factors into many of those stories.
That’s no doubt due in part to the fact that the details of Malwarebytes’ origin story read like startup folklore. Kleczynski and current Vice President for Research Bruce Harrison founded the company while Kleczynski was still in high school, and he ran it for a time from his dorm room, and later an apartment and even a fraternity house.
And, on campus, the company flew under the radar. At one point, an administrator in who worked in computer security, looking for help with a problem, figured out the connection.
“He emailed my student e-mail address and said, ‘Is this the same Marcin that runs Malwarebytes?’ I said yes and we chatted a bit about how he was familiar, used it at home,” Kleczynski said.
But the university also plays a role in those stories because it’s important to Kleczynski.
“My time on campus was phenomenal, but I was skeptical that the university would understand my position – running a several-hundred-person company out of a dorm room,” he said. “Near my senior year, things started heating up and I needed to move certain exams due to work. The CS Department was extremely flexible and supportive.”
Kleczynski’s donation reflects the culture of generosity he discovered as a teenager as he looked for a way to salvage his family’s computer. People he’d never met but found online were not only willing to help, but eager, and at no charge.
“That blew my mind. There were hundreds of people in this community that were spending their free time helping people like me fix their computer,” Kleczynski said in a TEDxUIUC talk during a visit back to campus in 2016. “To me they were heroes and I wanted to be one of those heroes.”
Now he sees his gift as a similar way to help, and follow the example of other alumni who shape the future of CS @ ILLINOIS.
“I spent a lot of time in the Siebel Center for Computer Science and it really influenced me as a student. The building is an amazing resource for students and I would be happy to influence the computer science program just 10 percent as much as someone like Thomas Siebel has.”