Founder stories from CyRise: Mike Monnik from DroneSec
For DroneSec CEO Mike Monnik, his startup is the culmination of a life-long interest.
“Cybersecurity has been my passion since I was 13 or 14 years old. I’ve always had a curiosity-driven approach to the world, and I enjoy working on things that make life safer and have a real-world impact.”
It’s no surprise, then, that Mike’s interest in drone security was piqued when, while working at an aerospace company, he heard about a research program focused on commercial drone hacking.
Drones are cool — but can be hacked
“At that time, people were hacking into commercial drones from their laptops,” Mike explains. “They could fly the drone from their keyboard, and see on their screen exactly what the drone could see. It shocked me that no one was focusing on protecting drones from being hacked.”
“I remember at that time, there were drones landing on the White House, and drones spying on companies through their office windows, and even hovering just one metre in front of Angela Merkel,” he reveals.
DroneSec initially began as a website where Mike shared guides for protecting drones, as well as notifications of drone incidents. It “allowed shipping ports to see drone incidents around the world on other ports, and apply that knowledge to their port. Previously, we had disparate sensors and drone detection hardware spread across the country showing operators their small radius,” Mike explains. “We combined them into a common operating picture that shows the full view of incidents in a country, so operators can learn from that intelligence.”
DroneSec grew its reputation, and over time, organisations like Interpol and NATO reached out to Mike, wanting his expertise. He started a drone security consultancy in 2016, and moonlighted outside of hours. Eventually, though, the need grew as the drone ecosystem grew. “There are more commercial operations using drones,” Mike says, “which translates into greater company risk and a growing need to protect business-critical infrastructure.”
In 2019, Mike began working on DroneSec full-time and hired staff — he has a team of six today, including three other co-founders Romain Rallu, Prashant Haldankar and Karan Khosla.
“When I first started the business, it was to provide threat intelligence and security consulting for drones,” he says. “Now we’re a technology company. We build cybersecurity solutions that let companies innovate with the amazing features of drones, and protect against the risk at the same time.”
The ultimate objective of DroneSec’s software is to help businesses protect their drones from sensitive data leaks and hijacking for criminal gain, and to show that they are compliant in reducing security risks around their drone operations. Their main customer segments include critical infrastructure utilities, law enforcement and government.
Building the market, at speed
Singapore is a key target market for DroneSec, as the country has a strategy to become the smart city model for the rest of the world, using drones routinely for delivery and transport. Mike was there in February 2020 for the Air Show, when the pandemic was just beginning to make headlines.
“A bunch of companies didn’t show up. Then, as borders were closing and Singapore started contact tracing, that was when I came back to Australia.”
Not being physically present in Singapore could have been a show-stopper. But it wasn’t.
“When Covid struck, we put all our training online, through a self-service model that clients could access in their own time,” Mike reveals.“That service has netted us more than 60 customers from some of the world’s most unique companies. Retention and completion rates are great. So while it’s not our core business, it has been a great revenue buffer.”
On top of that, Mike has found the training helps educate customers before they buy DroneSec products, and breaks the ice before the sales team meets with customers remotely for a discovery meeting.
Motivated by a great team and their talents
While Mike didn’t set out to lead a company, he admits that, “Even in university, I enjoyed seeing a gap and being able to fill it by bringing people together and creating a crowd who could do lots for everyone.”
That sentiment continues now, with DroneSec.
“It’s great to be able to bring together amazing people. We have a military drone pilot, a fighter jet pilot, penetration testers … we’re creating a team of people that have such unique capabilities.”
“The real negative of the pandemic is not seeing our team members face-to-face,” Mike says. “That’s been painful.”
“I wake up in the morning and want to add more people just like this to the team — people who are mission-oriented, and who love to work together to deliver solutions to problems that the rest of the world is experiencing.”
Curiosity, ambition and a genuine mission to deliver real-world impact. That’s Mike and DroneSec.