“Building a company is a marathon. You need the right people around you.”
Data that is valuable to companies is also highly valued by cyber criminals, shares Marc Gaffan, CEO of Hysolate
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How do you describe your career? You've worn so many hats.
I started off as a techie. Over the years, I moved into product and business hats. I'm actually a big believer in that journey, especially in the high-tech world. I think that in order to lead you've got to have a sound technical or product appetite. Those are some of the milestones I would build into a master plan.
Tell me about the cyber space in general and what you've observed has changed in Israel.
I've been in the cyber space since 2005 when I joined Cyota. As technology is accelerating, so will the cyber requirements. The threats essentially have become even more severe. In the last 18 or 19 months since COVID broke, the acceleration or the digital transformation that we're going through is going to accelerate the need for additional cyber security measures. There's new threats being introduced. There's new formats of work. There's those who say we’ve leapfrogged 10 years in 18 months in terms of progression. That creates a great foundation for innovation.
What has been your north star in thinking through what are the next big things you should be working on?
I'm very much aligned with what we're doing at Hysolate. The tidal shift from an IT perspective is the fact that so many people are working remotely. Two years ago, most organizations and most enterprises assumed that 80 or 90% of people were going to be within the corporate firewall 80 to 90% of the time. That's how they built the threat models and their security strategy.
All of a sudden, we went to almost a hundred percent of the time outside of the firewall. I think everyone realizes that that's going to stay to some extent. If you're in IT or security, and you're planning your strategy, you really have to address a situation where everyone could be working from home. This whole notion of having to enable work from everywhere is a new theme that we need to take into consideration as we build our IT and security strategy.
Where do you think we’ll see a lot of the cyber shift as we're transitioning to working remotely and we're also accepting that sensitive data is being used by a lot of people on a lot of devices?
I think we all need to recognize that data is the new "non-natural resource" that is super highly priced and highly valued. It's valued by corporations and what we can do with the data, and that's how valued it is by the cyber criminals. They realize that getting their hands on the data has a huge amount of potential. Mostly people want to steal data, extort you, or use data to extort others. There's always a financial incentive behind it. B2B, B2C is where most of us are focused and that's where most of our concerns are specifically around privacy.
It's all about protecting the data and access to data. How do we do this securely? Now there's no perimeter and all of us are outside of the firewall. How do we give people the flexibility to do what they need to do on their laptop but also, how can they touch corporate systems and data, which are most likely sensitive, without jeopardizing corporate security?
What does it mean to be an effective leader in your eyes, specifically in the cyber domain? How are you bringing that into Hysolate?
I don't think the cybersecurity space is different for a leadership role than any other space. That's an area that I can be most effective in because of experience. At the end of the day, it's very much about the people you have on your team. Building a company is a marathon. You need the right people around you. How do you bring them on board? How do you give them the ability to execute and have latitude, but also stay focused and aligned?
Why start another company?
I didn't start Hysolate. I joined Hysolate two years ago as CEO. I decided to join a very early-stage company. It's a part of the journey that I enjoy. It's about figuring out what customers want, what customers need, and trying to find out how we can address this with the building blocks we have.
It was also about meeting the right people. Tal Zamir was the founder of the company and the CEO before me. We saw that we could forge a really good partnership: Tal owns the technical and product side, and I can focus more on the business and growing the company. A big part of the decision is: are you joining a group of people that you want to work with? It's a lot easier to pivot the product, sometimes even to pivot the entire market. But switching out the team and investors and founders is a lot harder.
What did you do as you transitioned into this role that helped or didn't help make this process a smooth one for you and all the different stakeholders?
The most important thing to do is to spend the first few months really learning the company inside out. That means talking to prospects and customers, understanding how we're solving their problems or to what extent we can solve their problems. It’s understanding and talking to all the employees. Then trying to piece things together from an execution perspective to see how we are executing, building KPIs, and understanding what are the most important things to do.
Building companies is an ongoing fixing/optimization process. You're constantly running into things that you're trying to fix or you're saying, "We can do better." That's really what your role is as a CEO, identifying those things and trying to provide directions and guidance. When you need to roll up your sleeves and do some of the work yourself, that's absolutely something you need to do.
COVID hit us as we were formulating our strategy. We anticipated that COVID would change the workforce landscape. We decided to address that with the product building blocks we had. We built a product that's very effective in a remote work scenario. I always say building a startup is like surfing: You get on your board, paddle into the water, and look for a wave. If the wave comes in and you can ride it, great. If the wave passes you, don't try and catch that wave. Look back for other waves. Startups are about riding the wave and disrupting existing waves.
What sparked your curiosity in elementary and middle school?
I spent most of my schooling years on a tennis court. I was infatuated with tennis. I played tournaments. I went abroad. The biggest part of my childhood was on a tennis court.
What inspires you in the day-to-day, either personally or professionally?
The people who give me the most inspiration are people who have set ambitious goals and achieved them. It can really be across multiple fronts. It's so difficult to build a successful business today. When I look at people who are builders, it really gets me excited.
If you had to choose a few words to describe you, what would they be?
Competitive. I don't know if I love to win or hate to lose more. My family is super important to me: my wife, my three kids. I'm super patriotic. We moved to the US for extended periods, and we decided to move back. Israel is a big part of my identity. I'm super patriotic, super keen, and bullish about the tech scene here.
Michael Matias, Forbes 30 Under 30, is the author of Age is Only an Int: Lessons I Learned as a Young Entrepreneur. He studies Artificial Intelligence at Stanford University, is a Venture Partner at J-Ventures and was an engineer at Hippo Insurance. Matias previously served as an officer in the 8200 unit. 20MinuteLeaders is a tech entrepreneurship interview series featuring one-on-one interviews with fascinating founders, innovators and thought leaders sharing their journeys and experiences.
Contributing editors: Michael Matias, Megan Ryan