An exclusive Tech Tribune Q&A with Ryan Trost (co-founder and CTO) and Wayne Chiang (co-founder and Chief Architect) of ThreatQuotient, which was honored in our:
- 2020 Best Tech Startups in Reston
- 2020 Best Tech Startups in Virginia
- 2019 Best Tech Startups in Virginia
- 2018 Best Tech Startups in Virginia
Tell us the origin story of ThreatQuotient – what problem were you trying to solve and why?
Ryan: Wayne and I were working in the General Dynamics SOC and indicators were gaining significant momentum in the industry as a primary defensive effort. As security teams started to rely heavily on ‘crowd-sourcing’ indicators, blacklist feeds, and commercial feeds and shy away from vendor provided signatures and rules, it was inevitable teams would need a storage mechanism. At the time, security appliances didn’t have flexible or well-documented APIs and analysts were forced to copy and paste indicators from websites, blogs, email exchanges, etc. into spreadsheets for storing. Having each analyst storing indicators in an individual spreadsheet was horribly inefficient as it greatly hindered collaboration and the ability to automatically ingest, enrich, prioritize (across the organization), or deploy the indicators into their security stack. It was also evident that existing technologies (i.e. SIEM, ticketing systems, etc.) didn’t provide the necessary functionality to manage the collection of intelligence. So we gathered the management specs from executives and technical specs from analysts and Wayne started to build.
Wayne: My co-founder Ryan and I had worked together for a number of years within the cybersecurity industry. We were helping a large enterprise to leverage threat intelligence to defend themselves from advanced cyber threats. Many times, enterprise defenders have a lot of counter-intelligence about who their attackers are and how they conduct cyber-attacks. However, at that time, there were very few solutions for defenders to aggregate, organize, and maintain their cyber threat intelligence. That’s when we realized that if we were experiencing this problem, other defenders were most likely also share the same challenge. That’s when we set out to create a solution for a broader market.
What was the biggest hurdle you encountered in your journey?
Ryan: Wayne and I had never been on the vendor side…ever. I was a “SOC dweller”, having spent a majority of my career in a SOC environment as an analyst, team lead, or manager. Building the product itself was a significant hurdle, but as Wayne had a development/programming background, we knew what to expect. But sales, marketing, contracts, fundraising, hiring, health insurance, GAAP accounting…basically everything outside coding was a whole new scary ballgame. This was quickly amplified as Wayne and I didn’t take a salary for nearly 15 months. We owe a lot to our first handful of employees for their hard work and dedication – Alejandro, James, Nick, Joseph, Bob, Will, Matt, Kristin, Peter, Neal, Bryan, Gene, Kevin, and Alec. I will never forget the 2 AM team huddles and the antics at the first All Hands meeting in Stowe.
Wayne: First-time founders often have to quickly and proficiently learn a broad range of skills outside of their primary expertise. For us, we came from technical backgrounds and had to learn how to navigate through the enterprise sales process and balance the numbers to keep the company afloat in the early stages. This phase of constant grinding definitely challenged us even further as we headed into the world of fundraising. When it comes to business advice, there is a vast sea of information available out there. But one of the hardest challenges that founders have is sifting through the noise to find mentorship that is actually relevant and valuable. We definitely would not be where we are today without the mentorship and expertise that others shared with us along the way.
What does the future hold for ThreatQuotient?
Ryan: That’s a great question and truly hard to answer! We’ve already surpassed my wildest dreams (thanks to our CEO John Czupak and team) so, sky’s the limit.
Wayne: As the cybersecurity industry continues to rapidly evolve, cybersecurity product companies also need to continue to follow this quick pace and deliver solutions that are relevant to the needs of our clientele. This is especially tricky given the economic market conditions in a post-COVID-19 world. Cybersecurity will become increasingly more relevant in our society as we rely on new technologies to connect the world. ThreatQuotient is well-positioned for continued growth and we are optimistic about building great products for our clients.
What are your thoughts on the local tech startup scene in Reston?
Wayne and Ryan: With the advent of the golden age of startups, many cities are quick to rush in and regale the value of creating a startup within a certain region. However, we feel truly blessed to be part of the rich tech community within the DC area. Our proximity to this ecosystem has played a critical part in our success because of our easy access to investors, customers, mentors, the Federal government, and hiring great talent. In our opinion, the Northern Virginia Tech Corridor is a startup ecosystem that few can rival. As big tech companies continue to further their investments into the area, the DC region will solidify as a national leader for tech startups.
What’s your best advice for aspiring entrepreneurs?
Ryan: Building a startup company was quite a memorable experience filled with highs, lows, adrenaline, anxiety, frustration, and friendships. Here are three pieces of advice I’d give aspiring entrepreneurs:
- Strategize and stretch every penny. We couldn’t afford office space, so we spent a majority of our early days working out of various coffeehouses until we were accepted into an incubator program at AOL’s campus. We also leased all our servers and laptops and spread our recruiter payments over 4 months to keep as much cash as possible on hand.
- Add at least 30% across all time-based estimates. Everything takes significantly longer than you originally expect – finding the right candidate to hire, locking in those first customers (…and surviving their procurement hurdles), paying yourself, and all aspects of fundraising.
- When it comes to product features and employment hires, “fail fast and fail hard”. It is essential to take risks (probably more than you feel comfortable doing) – it’s part of the game. The key is to make quick decisions and pivots when necessary. If a feature isn’t making the impact you anticipated, or a new hire isn’t meeting their goals, you have to make tough decisions. It’s really, really hard sometimes, but in early stage startups, it’s not just your family relying on that next paycheck but the entire company’s families. Fail fast and fail hard – learn from your mistakes, make the necessary adjustments, and keep pushing forward.
Wayne: The emotional journey of building something great is fraught with inevitable despair and soul-crushing challenges. I believe that the hallmark of a great entrepreneur is a delicate balance of passion, persistence, and the stubborn belief in a crazy idea. Some days will be great and other days will be emotionally destroying, but keeping a tight grasp on the passion is what carries us through difficult periods. Entrepreneurs should keep the passion close to their hearts and never let it go.