“From the Courtroom to the Conference Room” An interview with Mike Burshteyn, CEO, CryptoMove

As CryptoMove's Founder & CEO, Mike Burshteyn drives all company business strategy and execution. Before starting CryptoMove with his father, Boris, Mike was a cybercrime and data protection attorney. At Perkins Coie he worked with leading technology companies like Google, Uber, Amazon, and Microsoft, as well as startups in hypergrowth, on data privacy, security, intellectual property, and computer crimes. Mike was the #1 ranked college debater in America at UC Berkeley.

What does CryptoMove bring to the marketplace?

CryptoMove protects data with continuous fragmentation and moving target defense. Current data protection methods leave sensitive data, keys, and secrets as an easy stationary target at rest. CryptoMove’s key vault product is all about protecting authentication tokens, API keys, application secrets, SSH keys for cloud services, and secrets for containers and Kubernetes. Developers who do cloud native development or use cloud services, today, find it difficult to manage keys and secrets at scale. CryptoMove has this revolutionary technology that can help to solve those challenges.

If you're working with cloud services, if you're working with containers, an effective secrets management tool like CryptoMove can increase your speed of development, make life easier for developers, and also provide additional security.

What was your motivation while building up CryptoMove? What was your drive pushing you forward?

It all started with my co-founder and our CTO, Boris. He invented this technology. For decades during his career he was building distributed systems and he was always thinking about how to do that more efficiently and more effectively. Thinking about the question of “what happens if encryption fails” led Boris to developing CryptoMove. When he needed a business partner, that's when I ended up quitting my job and joining in. By the way, we are a family business — my co-founder is actually my dad. TL;DR: my dad invented this technology and needed help with the business so I jumped in.

What do you think is the most challenging thing you're facing at CryptoMove?

That's a great question. There are so many challenges with a startup all the time. I think that right now the biggest challenge that we are facing is this idea of how do you scale the organization. We've been experiencing a lot of growth: new customers, new users, new team members. Every time that you experience significant growth in the company it seems like everything has to get rebuilt in terms of the processes, whatever everyone is working on and whatever everyone is focused on. Being able to do that rapidly and in a way that maintains a really high standard for execution is a big challenge.

Can you tell me a little more about your background before starting CryptoMove?

I grew up in the Bay Area and my parents are both software engineers. They used to work at all kinds of startups and tech companies. When the dot-com bubble burst, I remember asking my parents “where did the traffic go?” because all the roads cleared up. So, I kind of grew up around tech. I ended up in college at Cal - most of my time was spent on the debate team,  where we were ranked number one in America. We would research all sorts of different topics and actually one of the things that I researched quite heavily was cybersecurity and data protection. After college, I ended up working at a startup. It was a great opportunity to learn a little bit about all the different ups and downs and parts of the startup, and I ended up starting my own ecommerce business focused on debate research for students, which was fun.

Soon after college, I ended up going to law school and became an attorney. As a lawyer, I ended up in this practice group at Perkins Coie doing data security, cyber crime, intellectual property, litigation, and privacy. We were working for technology companies, startups, big ones, small ones. I had a lot of exposure to cleaning up messes, such as API keys improperly checked into GitHub. Now, coincidentally, CryptoMove’s product is meant to avoid that. Meanwhile, my dad was working on CryptoMove in stealth, prototyping it. We were helping with the patents and standard legal work. What he really needed, though, was a business partner. So I went to my bosses at the law firm and they encouraged me to take the leap. That was about 3 years ago.

Out of all of your experience, what do you think best prepared you for your current role?

I don't necessarily think any one thing prepared me. Frankly, every day and every challenge we encounter is something new and unique. It’s all about being flexible. My approach is generally to try to learn as much as possible from people around me. There seem to be a lot of startups where founders knew they wanted to start a company and they took a very deliberate path towards doing that. In the case of CryptoMove, it kind of just happened and wasn’t necessarily our plan. We're just trying to do the best we can, taking advantage of opportunities.

Going back to the first day of working on your startup, what advice would you give yourself?

Apply to the Alchemist Accelerator, which we actually did. Not on the first day, but a couple weeks afterward. I would definitely do that again. I would just try to iterate as rapidly as possible. I think that's something that I would say could benefit any startup. Create a hypothesis, test it quickly, and iterate and move on. CryptoMove today, our product, our go to market strategy, everything about the company, could not have been predicted 3 years ago. It took a process of rapid iteration. That’s been really important.

What was the most valuable thing you learned from Alchemist?

Alchemist was huge for CryptoMove and for a lot of companies in our class. We were first time founders and even though we had a lot of startup experience, we had never raised VC funding. Alchemist set us up for our first investor, Tim Draper and Draper Associates. We met at an Alchemist Investor Feedback Summit. Alchemist set us up with our first customer, which was the Department of Homeland Security via a scouting program they had, that led them to look at Alchemist start ups. Just working with Danielle, Ravi, Ash, and everyone helped give us the building blocks of the common pitfalls that you face in a startup. Even now, Danielle is an observer on our board. We have continued to work closely with Alchemist. Across the board it was really valuable to us.

If you could do Alchemist again what would you do differently?

I think that there are things that we did while we were in Alchemist that in retrospect we shouldn’t have done. For instance, we spent a lot of time going to a bunch of pitch events with corporations. In some cases they were helpful but there is a lot of corporate innovation tourism that is easy to get sucked into. When we were working on our product and asking users for feedback, that was the most valuable thing. In many cases, corporate innovation teams are just cycling through Silicon Valley almost like they are at a zoo. It’s a common pitfall for a startup, especially at that early stage. When you meet with big companies you think you can get a big contract with them, but in reality they’re just enjoying the scenery and taking some notes on startups. Alchemist calls this “corporate tourism.” Just to take note of what really qualifies a lead and whether there is corporate innovation tourism going on can save a lot of wasted cycles.

What entrepreneurial lesson took you the longest to learn or are still learning?

I think that there are different lessons for different people. For me one of the biggest adjustments I’ve had to make is that in a startup there are ups and downs every single day. Especially as the company gets bigger, you could have massive wins in one area and fires in another area happening simultaneously. You can’t ride that emotional rollercoaster. Also, since I was a lawyer and I was a litigator, I was doing a very specific type of work that required being extremely aggressive, either defending client interests or going after cyber criminals. There’s a shift in style. There definitely was an adjustment period. I can’t write long emails anymore and definitely don’t check all my punctuation. Obviously, you can’t negotiate a business deal the same way you negotiate a settlement in a lawsuit.

What constitutes success for you, personally?

For me, for my co-founder, and I think, for everyone at work, success at CryptoMove means different things for different people. But, we all are excited about what we’re doing, about building a new product from scratch. Take CryptoMove’s technology, this idea of moving target defense and moving target data protection, which no one has ever heard of before. People think it's crazy when they first hear about it. We’ve got this really innovative technology, patented globally, that is really changing how organizations such as our government and military protects its data. That is exciting. In some ways success is being able to do it for another day, because it means we’re growing. Startups are always on a fixed timeline. There's a runway. You're always trying to get to that next level. As long as we can wake up and keep doing it, we know that we're succeeding.

Do you have any insights that you want to share to the next generation of Alchemist Accelerator founders?

It is really great to take advantage of the Alchemist network. There are people with expertise in different areas and you can fast forward a bunch of learning by engaging with the right people. At the same time, you have to really be careful about applying advice to the specific context of your business. I think that there's so many resources, especially in the Alchemist network that can be leveraged.

Do you have any insights for the next generation of entrepreneurs who are specifically manipulating and working with data?

When it comes to data, in the security space and for security startups, it's such a crowded (and overfunded) market that it can difficult to stand out. We've done certain things, like making our product SaaS first. We really focus on our users, which are developers, devops people, security engineers, rather than just trying to sell to IT managers. It’s a very different approach than what you'll see with most security startups. In today and tomorrow’s worlds, data may very well become the most important resource—as impactful and as distributed as oil. Given this, CryptoMove’s data protection innovation via fragmentation and continuous movement and mutation is vital.

About the Alchemist Accelerator

Alchemist is a venture-backed initiative focused on accelerating the development of seed-stage ventures that monetize from enterprises (not consumers). The accelerator’s primary screening criteria is on teams, with primacy placed on having distinctive technical co-founders. We give companies around $36K, and run them through a structured 6-month program heavily focused on sales, customer development, and fundraising. Our backers include many of the top corporate and VC funds in the Valley — including Khosla Ventures, DFJ, Cisco, and Salesforce, among others. CB Insights has rated Alchemist the top program based on median funding rates of its grads (YC was #2), and Alchemist is perennially in the top of various Accelerator rankings. The accelerator seeds around 75 enterprise-monetizing ventures / year. Learn more about applying today.

Not BI, AI

A product business can double its revenue and quadruple its margins by moving to a service business. What is service? It's information, personal and relevant to you.  

Amazon delivers information that is personal and relevant to you, for example, with its recommendations: customers like you bought this book, or customers like you like this music. Now think about your favorite banking site and log in. I will contend that there’s very little personal and relevant information. The only reason you’re being asked to log in is for security reasons. After that you are really looking at a big shopping cart to move money from savings to checking, buy stocks, sell a bond, etc. 

Could the bank deliver information that’s personal or relevant to you? Could they say that people like you bought this stock, or people like you re-financed their mortgage? Yes, they could, so why don’t they? Well, you probably never thought about this, but the consumer Internet that Google and Bing let you see through search is believed to only be about 100 or 200 terabytes. That’s it. Now, I’ll guarantee your current IT systems have 10, 100, or 1,000 times that amount of information; so why can’t they deliver information that is personal and relevant to you? Well, I say they are held hostage by the SQL monster. So let’s just have a little fun here.

It’s the late ‘90s and I have several SQL engineers in the room. I come in with a brilliant business idea. My idea is that we are going to index the consumer Internet and we’re going to monetize it with ads. We’re going to be billionaires! Just guess what the SQL engineers would do?

The first thing they’re going to do is design a master, global-data schema to index all information on the planet. The second thing they’re going to do is write ETL and data cleansing tools to import all that information into this master, global-data schema. And the last thing they are going to do is write reports, for instance, the best place to camp in France or great places to eat in San Francisco.

Any of you who are technical are probably laughing right now thinking, “Well that’s a completely stupid thing to do.” But if you try and attack the problem using SQL and BI tools, you’re also going to fail.  

Furthermore, as you connect your machines, you have the opportunity to bring in large amounts of time-series data. Modern wind turbines have 500 sensors and the ability to transmit those sensor readings once a second. Most analytic techniques depend on the idea that the data scientist can try and visualize the data, but how is that possible if I have a 1,000 wind turbines and data for 12, 24 or 36 months?  How can we learn from that?

Artificial Intelligence (AI) has been increasingly in the news. Google’s DeepMind made headlines when the machine, AlphaGo, programmed to play Go, defeated Lee Sedol, one of the best players in the world, by 4 - 1. Amazon’s Echo and voice assistant Alexa is being widely praised for its voice recognition capabilities, and many people remember how Watson handily beat the best Jeopardy players in the world.

Things have been changing quickly and here is a great example. ImageNet is a database of millions of images. Beginning in 2010 the ImageNet Challenge was established to see how well a machine would do at object recognition. As a point of reference an average person will be able to achieve 95% accuracy. In 2010, the winning machine could correctly label an image 72% of the time. By 2012, accuracy had improved to 85%, and in 2015 the machine achieved 96% accuracy.

So why have things been changing so quickly?

First, we’re continuing to get more computing and more storage for lower and lower prices. Next generation compute and storage cloud services can provide thousands of computers for an hour or a day. AI and machine learning software require lots of computing during the learning phase. The second reason is the emergence of neural network algorithms. Third, it’s not possible to apply these advanced AI technologies without data, and lots of it. Consumer Internet companies like Facebook are able to use billions of photos to train facial recognition systems. AlphaGo learned from millions of games of Go and Alexa learned from millions of voice patterns.

While we’ll continue to see progress in replicating what humans do, we have the opportunity to apply these AI technologies to even more important challenges. Today, many of the machines that generate electricity, transport goods, farm food, or sequence genes have large amounts of data. If we were able to connect these machines and collect the sensor data from them, we would have the opportunity to use AI and machine learning technologies to operate a more precise planet. Imagine a future farm that can use fewer pesticides, which not only reduces the cost of the food, but also makes it healthier. A future power utility could be based on a vast array of solar panels, wind turbines, small hydro generators and batteries to generate more power, much more efficiently. A pediatric hospital could share the results of millions of MRI scans and diagnose patients far faster.

Next-generation machine companies could not only double their revenues and quadruple their margins, but build a better planet in the process.

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Timothy Chou, Ph.D.

Timothy Chou has lectured at Stanford University for over twenty-five years and is the Alchemist Accelerator IoT Chair.  Not only does he have academic credentials, but also he's served as President of Oracle's cloud business and today is a board member at both Blackbaud and Teradata. He began his career at one of the first Kleiner Perkins startups, Tandem Computers, and today is working with several Silicon Valley startups including as the Executive Chairman of Lecida, which is building precision assistants for the IoT using AI technologies. Timothy has published a few landmark books including, The End of Software, and Precision: Principals, Practices and Solutions for the Internet of Things, which was recently named one of the top ten books for CIOs.  He's lectured at over twenty universities and delivered keynotes on all six continents.