Rahul Sasi is the founder and CEO of CloudSEK, a company that uses artificial intelligence and machine learning to combat cyber threats. Headquartered in Singapore company was founded in 2015 and raised $7 million in Series A funding in 2021 led by MassMutual Ventures.
In this interview with Help Net Security, Sassi talks about the challenges of building CloudSEK, his journey in the cybersecurity industry, and the lessons he’s learned along the way.
What unexpected obstacles did you face while building CloudSEK?
Before I started CloudSEK, I was a good individual contributor. Some of the research I have done has attracted international attention. My employer at the time, Citrix, also listed me as a top performer. So, I knew that at the root of all achievements is hard work. However, starting a company depends not only on your skills and tenacity. There is much more.
The transition from individual contributor to leader took some time. Finding great people, convincing them to join you, and keeping them focused requires a completely different skill set. The same applies to increasing revenue, creating great products, and finding the right market for those products. Here are some of the challenges I faced and had to gradually develop the skills to overcome them.
You have experience working in a variety of roles in the cyber security industry. What motivated your decision to start your own company?
During my time as an employee, I devoted my time after work to researching and learning about new cybersecurity topics. this research have led to papers that I have published and presented at conferences around the world.
For example, in 2014 I published an article about personal drones and their attack surfaces. I was intrigued by the rise of personalized hobbyist drones and how they would revolutionize the photography industry. My research started with buying as many toy drones as possible. Some drones cost almost $2000 and I used to spend most of my salary on them. But the end-to-end process of understanding how drones work and how they can potentially be used has been a complex and fraught process.
Similarly, I started to choose research topics that would take 6 months. This led to my interest in researching and solving long-term cybersecurity challenges. This got me thinking, why not spend a few years studying a specific area of cyber security? Why not build a team of researchers and engineers to solve this 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 came up with a few topics and started a company with a major focus on cyber threat prediction.
Rain can be accurately predicted today. If it rains, how much and where. We do this by passing historical data through a mathematical model or machine learning model. Why can’t we do the same with cyber threats? And that’s exactly what we do at CloudSEK. We build cybersecurity datasets and machine learning models to help predict cyber attacks.
One of our datasets Bevigil, which we published. BeVigil is a security search engine that analyzes and ranks millions of mobile apps. To date, CloudSEK has hundreds of such unique datasets. Using this, we train our models to predict cyber threats with increasing accuracy.
When you look back over the past few years, what business lessons stand out?
Be consistent and keep innovating. The business world is in a constant state of flux, and your best laid plans can be disrupted at any moment. However, if you have a culture of innovation, you have a chance. Also, keep experimenting because there’s always room to do things better and more efficiently. And only the experiment allows to discover new approaches.
It is also important to nurture and cultivate a culture that promotes consistency, innovation and experimentation. This is a real challenge. But you just have 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 every stage of our business, we set new and bold goals and ensure we have the right people to meet them. The 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 to those who dream of starting their own company?
Always have a goal beyond money and profit. Startup life is challenging because having a purpose beyond your own will motivate you and keep you on track.