Follow Ozan Uçar
I am Ozan Uçar, the founder and CEO of Keepnet Labs. We are a London-based cyber security start-up helping organizations overcome security problems caused by malicious emails and level up cyber security awareness.
What lessons has been an entrepreneur taught you?
That’s a good question. This is my third start-up, and the experience of being an entrepreneur for quite a long time now has provided many lessons. I have developed a more comprehensive perspective and a broad sense of responsibility.
This affects every professional decision and, really, every aspect of my life. The way I view the world has become more expansive yet also more nuanced. I feel greater responsibility for the environment and the kind of future we are creating.
On a smaller scale but with a related theme, is even greater recognition of the value of team building. I have become better at putting the right people in the right positions and managing individuals and teams.
We all know that building a team is important, but I learned how to put together the best team for the job and how to use the right management style for that group. The best team is not necessarily composed of the best individual players. The best teams are individuals who can work together successfully.
An example from football: As a manager, just because I secure the transfer of Messi, Ronaldo, and other top players does not guarantee that my team will be successful.
Building and cultivating a successful team has a lot to do with recognizing individual strengths, encouraging cooperation, and managing egos.
If you could go back in time to when you first started your business, what piece of advice would you give yourself?
I would advise having someone alongside you who will be a true partner. After all, we are human beings and cannot be all things to all people or in all places at once.
We all have strengths and weaknesses. A partner with a complementary skillset ensures that the many fronts that demand attention can be addressed with the appropriate expertise.
Various aspects, such as software development, support, customer success, investor relations, etc., require different knowledge and abilities.
A balanced pairing allows both individuals and the enterprise to flourish.
My second piece of advice would be something I learned as a result of my first two start-ups. I always concentrated on training people who could grow into the job.
This is a legitimate method, and employee development is important, but I would say that if you have a rapidly expanding international business, hire people that are already trained and experienced.
A lot of entrepreneurs find it difficult to balance their work and personal lives. How have you found that?
The start-up and the IT worlds are both quite demanding. I am something of a workaholic because my work is an important part of my life, but I am fortunate that I can work almost anywhere at any time.
I am not bothered by ambient distractions in a public place, for example. I can focus on what I need to do. This allows me to be flexible and use my time as it suits the occasion.
I have the opportunity to travel and develop my hobbies of photography using a drone and playing music while being able to be present as needed for work responsibilities. This balance works very well for me, but this style would not suit everyone.
If I could go back in time, I would also give greater consideration to cultural specifics when defining my intended market. I assumed that if the product was good and well-represented, it would sell. Well, no, that is not necessarily the case.
In some markets, customers place great value on the people behind the goods rather than simply the quality of the product itself. A bilateral relationship can ease the way to creating a sense of trust and familiarity and bridging cultural obstacles.
Give us a bit of an insight into the influences behind the company?
At the time I launched my second start-up, I had been a cyber security consultant to some 300 large entities, including banks and other corporate interests and government agencies. I assisted them from the perspective of a hacker: I was able to identify and resolve numerous vulnerabilities.
Over the course of eight years working with almost 60 teammates, I saw the need and the opportunity for a new solution.
Social engineering attacks were a growing threat. I began to think about the paradox of addressing what remained a primarily human problem in response to technological advancement.
Understanding the risks and how to implement a solution that incorporates the human factor became very important and something I chose to concentrate on.
I knew it was necessary to include human responses in cybersecurity and wanted to help companies foster that culture. That was the birth of the holistic approach we provide with Keepnet tools.
What do you think is your magic sauce? What sets you apart from the competitors?
We make it a priority to reach out across the corporate spectrum. We believe it is important to communicate with everyone.
That means executives and cyber security professionals, and employees who are often on the frontline when it comes to cyber-attacks. We provide information and engaging training to guide behavior that will help them avoid a potentially devastating breach.
Some of our competitors also provide some of these services; however, we distinguish ourselves by providing cyber security managers with technologies that will save them time and allow them to build a culture throughout the organization that includes informed awareness and the tools to address each cycle of email-based attacks.
The cyber security world is quite complex. Fragmented solution products are available, but they are cumbersome and often insufficient. The security team is sometimes expected to be like Rambo and manage several potential hazards and defense measures at the same time.
We offer the means to reduce the burden on staff and provide a comprehensive solution that is easy to manage.
Instead of trying to simultaneously cope with risk awareness and patch email security with a variety of tools, we provide a comprehensive platform of products that provides easy access to everything from a unified perspective. This offers greater security as well as ease of implementation.
This is a unique feature of Keepnet.
We also offer targeted training. Efforts to infiltrate an organization can be quite sophisticated. Employees and management should receive training suited to their expertise and user experience in order to be prepared for the very real risk of cyber attacks.
For example, the attack vectors are very different for an accountant and a delivery driver.
The first will likely not respond to a message about route changes but might click on an email that references payment details. However, the driver might well open a message that was titled “Delivery route changes” and inadvertently create broad exposure for the organization.
It is important to educate the entire staff on the risks of email, as well as other security hazards. Some security problems cannot be solved by technology alone.
We believe it is critical to thoroughly prepare users in order to avoid problems and to give the security team the ability to manage the threat environment comfortably and respond quickly when needed. We provide automated tools that allow them to see the forest for the trees.
How have you found sales so far? Do you have any lessons you could pass on to other founders in the same market as you just starting out?
First of all, you must know that no one can explain your product to the market better than you can. You are and must be the best salesperson. But it is also wise to be willing to re-evaluate your strategy periodically.
Since we had been in the cyber security sector before founding Keepnet, we already knew our first potential buyers: CISOs and cyber security managers and analysts. We approached possible clients using the low-hanging fruit strategy.
You start with the easiest, surest option. It is the same with customers. Start with what is familiar. Approach those close to you and those you have worked with before.
Keepnet has grown organically, without any outside investment. We are very proud of this success.
We had 3,000 clients and 1 million active users in our first 3 years of operation. We were able to establish a reputation. The satisfaction we delivered and the attention we gained allowed us to grow. Others learned of our success and wanted to cooperate with us.
It is important to remember that once you have made a sale, you do not “own” that client forever.
You must continue to satisfy them every day. It was critical to our success that we realized that other carefully selected channels could be valuable, reliable, and profitable. We learned the value of partnerships and other models of doing business.
In the last 2 years, we have developed successful relationships with resellers and MSSPs. We have been able to reach and deliver a quality product to numerous small and medium-sized customers. It was a model for growth that preserved quality.
What is the biggest challenge you have faced so far in your business, and how did you overcome it?
As might be expected, there were technical difficulties as a result of rapid expansion. There were things I could not have predicted. But when it occurred, it kept me awake at night.
On the other hand, a struggle provides an opportunity. When faced with a problem, we look for the chance to demonstrate our agility to the customer.
We have been able to show them that we could resolve the issue right away, not in weeks or months, as it might be with others. We also use this experience to adapt our products to meet the needs of our customers. This responsiveness, backed up by results, actually brought us new customers.
Another challenge is corporate culture and the notion of corporate loyalty. It is a complex issue. This is something all organizations face today. I may invest in training someone, and then they might just leave for another company that offers a small additional benefit.
I have decided to pursue a strategy of having a reliable core team and contractors who know they must deliver on time. It is efficient and honest.
What do you find are the advantages of operating your business in London?
London is one of the world’s business hubs. You can find a link to investors, personnel, and customers. It is fantastic. The opportunity to network and the resources available here are very valuable. We have been able to position ourselves very strategically and demonstrate that our products are top quality.
There are a lot of organizations focused on cyber security in London, which means there is a skilled labor pool as well as knowledgeable potential collaborators.
Investor does not simply mean one who provides funds with the expectation of profit. I have been fortunate enough to receive advice and guidance with respect to several aspects of business from many who did not invest in the traditional sense.
They offered valuable counsel and vision. In terms of international rules and regulations, London is a very entrepreneur-friendly city that is well-suited to research and development efforts. Double taxation on development and sales is prohibited by agreements, which is not the case in many places.
Are there any issues with having a London based business? Have you experienced these?
London is a large metropolis that is home to people from 120 different cultures. While everyone may speak English, cultural barriers can still be a hurdle. Some clients, particularly those with roots outside the UK, may be willing to take what might be seen as a risk on a new product.
They may offer a limited investment or sales price, with the knowledge that it is still in development and so on, hoping to perhaps gain an advantage, while others are not willing to even consider something that is not already mature.
How has the higher than UK average cost of living impacted your ability to work and live in London, and how has this also impacted your ability as an employer?
We have embraced remote working since the day our company was established, which was before the COVID-19 pandemic. We were able to eliminate the need for an office and were not required to rely on local employees.
This reduced our costs substantially. We have teams based in London, the USA, Turkey, the Netherlands, Estonia, and more.
London is known to be one of the most multicultural cities in the world, the true definition of a ‘cosmopolitan city’. Has this had any impact on your business?
The culture and diversity of London is amazing. It has truly been a benefit to us, and because the city is such an international hub, one could even say it is a benefit to the world. The opportunities available are very valuable and allow for growth and development that can be more difficult elsewhere.
If you had to relocate your business to another city in the UK, which one would it be and why?
In the UK, it would be London again. But if you have asked outside the UK it would definitely be the US, especially California.
The most important reason is that I enjoy the weather, sea, and nature. I will never forget the entire region from Los Angeles to San Francisco. It is a huge, rich, culturally intense place where I spend a lot of time.
The second reason is that the local economy is doing quite well there. There is an audience ready to pay, and Silicon Valley has a significant impact on cyber security. The fact that many cyber security businesses are still operating keeps the ecosystem alive.
How has BREXIT impacted your business (if at all)?
To be honest, it had a positive impact. When some difficulties emerged in trade with the EU, Keepnet saw an uptick in interest and sales. Collaborations were easier and more frequent. Investors started to raise their stakes. We are a good investment.
What is your vision for your company in the next 5 years?
Keepnet will continue to grow over time, and that will require adjustments that are hard to predict. Various constraints and inevitable developments in the realm of cyber security are going to create interesting conditions that will require breakthrough solutions.
And finally, if people want to get involved and learn more about your business, how should they do that?
Please do not hesitate to reach out to me via my Linkedin account! Thank you!