Building a successful cybersecurity business, one client at a time
Rahul Sasi is the founder and CEO of CloudSEK, which leverages artificial intelligence and machine learning to combat cyber threats. The Singapore-headquartered company was founded in 2015, and raised a $7 million in Series A investment led by MassMutual Ventures in 2021.
In this Help Net Security interview, Sasi talks about the challenges of building CloudSEK, his journey in the cybersecurity industry, and discusses lessons learned along the way.
What unexpected obstacles did you encounter while building CloudSEK?
Before I started CloudSEK I was a good individual contributor. Some of the research I did got international attention. I was also listed as a top performer by my then employer Citrix. So, I knew that hard work was the basis of all achievements. However, building a company is not just about your skills and tenacity. There is a lot more to it.
Transitioning from an individual contributor to a leader took some time. Finding great people, convincing them to join you, and keeping them focused require completely different skills. The same applies to building revenue, creating great products, and finding the right market for the products. These are some of the challenges I encountered and had to gradually develop the skills to overcome them.
You have experience across a variety of cybersecurity roles. What motivated your decision to start your own company?
Back when I was an employee, I dedicated my after-office hours to researching and learning about new cybersecurity topics. This research led to whitepapers that I published and presented at conferences across the world.
For instance, in 2014 I published a paper on personal drones and their attack surfaces. I was interested in the rise of personalized hobby drones and how they would revolutionize the photography industry. My research started with buying as many toy drones as possible. Some drones cost almost $2,000, and I spent most of my salary on them. But the end-to-end process of understanding how drones work and how they can be potentially exploited was a challenging and fulfilling process.
In a similar manner I started choosing research topics that would take 6 months. This led to my interest in researching and solving long-term cybersecurity problems. This led me to wonder: Why not spend a few years delving into a specific area of cybersecurity? Why not build a team of researchers and engineers to solve it at scale? This gave me the idea to start a company. “If you want to go fast, go alone, if you want to go far, go together.” I ideated on a few topics and landed on setting up a company with a core focus on predicting cyber threats.
Today, we can accurately predict rain. When it will rain, how much, and where. We do this by passing historical data via a mathematical model or machine learning model. Why can’t we do the same with cyber threats? And this is exactly what we do at CloudSEK. We build cyber security datasets and machine learning models to help predict cyber attacks.
One of our datasets is Bevigil, which we have made public. BeVigil is a security search engine which analyzes and scores millions of mobile apps. CloudSEK, as of today, has hundreds of such unique data sets. Using this we train our models to predict cyber threats with increasing accuracy.
When you look back at the last few years, what business lessons stand out?
Be consistent and keep innovating. The world of business is in a continuous state of flux and your best laid plans can be disrupted any minute. However, if you have a culture of innovation, you stand a chance. Also, keep experimenting because there is always scope to do things better and in a more efficient manner. And only experimentation allows us to identify new approaches.
It is also important to nurture and cultivate a culture that fosters consistency, innovation, and experimentation. This is a real challenge. But you just need to keep at it. It is a continuous and iterative process.
What initiatives are you taking to grow your company? How do you plan to keep the momentum going?
At each stage of our business, we set new and audacious goals and ensure that we have the right people to execute them. A company grows and progresses at the same rate as the people behind it. So, as long as we ensure that all CloudSters are growing and experimenting, at a good pace, CloudSEK will continue to grow. As they grow, the company grows, and vice versa.
What advice would you give those who dream of starting their own company?
Always have a purpose beyond money or profitability. Startup life is difficult, having a purpose larger than you will keep you motivated and on the right track.