How One Cybersecurity Expert is Completely Redefining Security with Hardware.
The headlines about cybersecurity attacks are with us daily. It seems like no matter what we do, there are always new threats. There are new trends in overcoming the vulnerabilities that continually torment us though. I had the opportunity to speak with Jothy Rosenberg, the CEO and Founder of Dover Microsystems and Founder of the Who Says I Can’t Foundation. Dover Microsystems has created a game-changing approach to thwarting cyber attacks. They are taking the fight against hackers up a level by finding a way to stop the interlopers at the microprocessor level, and thereby completely eliminating the greatest source of problems – the software. And, the Who Says I Can’t Foundation is focused on helping people with physical disabilities rebuild their lost self-esteem by getting involved in sports.
He shared with me lessons he has learned throughout his serial-entrepreneur career that have helped launch his current company, Dover Microsystems, a cybersecurity startup using a concept that originated from a DARPA project over 9 years ago. Here are the business growth lessons he shared with me.
Lesson 1 – There are Always Opportunities
In 2008, we had just entered a terrible recession. It seemed like business opportunities completely dried up overnight. Having started several companies, Rosenberg was on the verge of starting a new cloud solution startup when things took a turn for the worse. It became clear that he would need to identify opportunities in new places since nothing new was getting funded by the VC community.
“Every VC was simply hunkering down and waiting for the recession to end. I decided to do something completely different and get my security clearance and work on a government contract,” shares Jothy Rosenberg, CEO and Founder, Dover Microsystems. “I got involved in a DARPA CRASH (Clean-slate Design of Resilient, Adaptive, Secure Hosts) Project. We had a team of about 40 people working on new solutions for cybersecurity. The most valuable lessons I learned while working on the project are two-fold. First, there are always opportunities, you just need to know where to look. Second, working in flexible teams taking different approaches to the same problem simultaneously, instead of investigating options sequentially, helps identify solutions faster,” continues Rosenberg.
A cybersecurity solution
Rosenberg and team finally found a viable approach after over four years of testing various approaches in co-design groups.
“It was like fixing a bike while you are riding it. In 2014, the Heartbleed bug turned up and provided the perfect test case for our solution. It was the widest spread virus ever – infecting over two-thirds of all servers on the internet. Once implemented, it could access all the data on the infected server without being detected,” says Rosenberg. “We were able to mathematically prove that what we built stopped all buffer overflow issues, including Heartbleed. It was exciting to see the years of work of so many smart people be proven out with a real-world cybersecurity attack. While the economy continued to falter, we had found an opportunity,” shares Rosenberg.
Lesson 2 – Look for Solutions in New Places
Cybersecurity has always been done in the software and network layers. Unfortunately, that has only provided a limited and ever-fleeting level of protection. Every time the hackers created a new virus, security software required updates to remain effective. What is crazy is that, according to Rosenberg, the processors we use today use an architecture that goes back to 1945. Rosenberg and team knew they needed to take a completely different approach. So, they decided to look for solutions in new places. They knew that on average there are 15 bugs for every 1,000 lines of code and 2% of those bugs can be exploited across the network. When you consider that an Android phone has 15 million lines of code, Microsoft Office has 40 million lines of code and a FORD F150 has 150 million lines of code, the potential vulnerabilities are staggering.
“We decided to look at the hardware instead. No one had taken this approach before,” explains Rosenberg. “Our thinking was that if we could stop the attack before it gets to the network and software layers, we could foil the attack before it had even begun. By creating a co-processor that is connected to the device’s main processor, we are able to make the processor immune to network-based cyberattacks. This stops a huge class of cyberattacks. In fact, it stops 94.5% of all attacks.
Completely protected from the outside world
The exciting outcome is creating a reality where software is completely protected from the outside world. It’s completely protected because the barrier to attack is on the hardware. The Dover Microsystems solution, called CoreGuard®, prevents the exploitation of software vulnerabilities. Looking for cybersecurity solutions in new places has clearly paid off. Rosenberg does note that it is important to protect your intellectual property as well. In fact, Dover Microsystems has 35 patents on its cybersecurity technology.
Lesson 3 – Get the Culture Right First
While there’s a lot of talk about customer experience, a new area of focus is on employee experience. It continues to become increasingly challenging to bring on the best talent. Culture matters. Rosenberg believes culture cannot be an after-thought.
“You need to be purposeful and you need to get it right from the beginning,” insists Rosenberg. “Watch out for small teams. One person in a small 20-person company can completely screw up the culture,” warns Rosenberg. “We are still in the early development of Dover Microsystems. I’ve decided to ‘hire no strangers’ and bring in only people I know very well and trust. As a result, everyone wants to make a difference. Everyone on the team works hard. Hiring is one of those things that you won’t always get right. Having a history with people and knowing how they work and fit into the rest of the team helps avoid some of the unknowns,” explains Rosenberg.
Positivity and Truthfulness
Rosenberg also shares that he focuses on two main values – truthfulness and positivity. He believes with these two values in place, a lot of hardship can be overcome together. His entire team meets one time each week to maintain open communication and build team cohesion. Rosenberg emphasizes how crucial being human is. He suggests that when someone is struggling, it is best to presume the best in that situation and connect with them directly in conversation instead of giving up on them. There’s usually a rational explanation and this approach builds even stronger bonds.
Lesson 4 – Have a “Who Says I Can’t” Attitude
Rosenberg has been through more than his share of challenges in his life, but he has never allowed those challenges to hold him back. When Rosenberg was 16, he had bone cancer and lost one of his legs as a result. Three years later that same cancer spread to his lung which left him with one lung. He has also had career and business challenges along the way. In fact, at one point he had to mortgage his home to make payroll. Yet through all this, he has not only overcome the setbacks, but excelled through them, or perhaps because of them.
Insecurity, exceptionalism and discipline
“I’m driven, as are many other people that have physical disabilities, by three things: insecurity, exceptionalism and discipline,” shares Rosenberg. “The insecurity is created by the doubts of others that get inside our heads and tell us we can’t do things. The exceptionalism is the understanding that I’m on my own to make things happen. The discipline is driven by other people thinking I can’t do something that I know I’m capable of, and I have the discipline to prove it. The phrase, “Who says I can’t” isn’t a question. It is a statement of fact,” emphasizes Rosenberg.
Make helping people a priority
Rosenberg started a non-profit organization called, The Who Says I Can’t Foundation. It is dedicated to providing support to people with disabilities so they can get involved in sports. The organization has done extraordinary things from helping people gain access to specialized sporting gear and trainers to supporting them in reaching their goals.
Lesson 5 – Watch Your Valuation
When it comes to funding a startup, Rosenberg offers some practical advice. When you are first starting out, there’s pressure to show a path to $1 billion and demonstrate increasing valuations over time. He suggests a careful, measured approach when it comes to valuations.
“Don’t ratchet up your valuation too quickly,” warns Rosenberg. “If you do, you run the risk of having a down round later. You may not recover from it. Remember, everyone with stock before the down round gets screwed. The smart approach is to be moderate on your valuation. Don’t get ahead of yourself,” says Rosenberg.
Rosenberg suggests that angel investors still have PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) from the recession and the 2000 dot com bubble.
“Today, angel groups don’t invest in pre-revenue companies. Everyone is moving up a stage. With a VC firm that has had success, they will have a bigger fund. They can put more money toward more opportunities.”
Rosenberg leaves us with a final thought.
There are good mistakes
“There are good mistakes. Good mistakes are the ones you learn from. I learned the hard way that you need to understand your prospective investors, their motivations and preconceived notions. I almost lost my company because I was focusing on the wrong investor pool. Now I know how important this is and I won’t waste time making this mistake again,” says Rosenberg.
Let’s review the cybersecurity startup growth lessons Jothy Rosenberg shared with us:
- There are always opportunities
- Look for solutions in new places
- Get the culture right first
- Have a “Who says I can’t” attitude
- Watch your valuation
The thing that stands out to me the most in Jothy’s lessons is how consistently positive and empowering they all are. He epitomizes the theory that we are all ultimately in control of our destiny.
When recounting his recent participation in the annual Alcatraz Sharkfest Swim, he jokes, “I loved hopping out of the water seeing all the two-leggers jaws drop when they realized I had beat them to shore.”
“It’s not just survivorship, it’s thrivership.”Jothy Rosenberg, CEO and Founder, Dover Microsystems and the Who Says I Can’t Foundation
I get the impression that there’s nothing in the world that could stop Jothy Rosenberg. He invites us all to say, “Who says I can’t.” Notice, this isn’t a question. As the foundation’s site announces, “It’s not just survivorship, it’s thrivership.”
To learn more about Dover Microsystems visit https://www.dovermicrosystems.com or the Who Says I Can’t Foundation visit https://whosaysicant.org/. Also, be sure to check out Jothy’s TEDxIHEParis talk at https://youtu.be/PNtOawXAx5A and get inspired.
Be sure to check out the next startup story What You Need to Know to Create A Sustainable Startup That Catches on Like Wildfire for more valuable business growth lessons.
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