Spotlight on the CyRise teams: Avertro.

Get to know Co-founder and CEO, Ian Yip.

It’s not uncommon for us to talk about what it takes to jump from your corporate gig to cyber entrepreneurship. It’s a certain kind of person who steps away from a comfortable, well-paying job into a risky startup endeavour. That person is usually driven, tenacious, and deliberately optimistic. Ian Yip is these things.

The entrepreneurial mindset runs deep in the Yip family. Raised by parents who had worked in both the corporate environments and also ran their own business almost all the way through the 90s, Ian got to see both sides. After studying Software Engineering at uni, he graduated straight into an Associate role at IBM. “It was a big blue safe job at a corporate. There was an option for me to carve out a future in the family business, but at that time I felt like I needed to earn my way to my future achievements, rather than be handed them.”

While working in the UK, the entrepreneurial thinking began to bubble up again. “ I was fascinated by Silicon Valley startup culture — I was reading about it, not necessarily doing anything about it, but the curiosity was there.” As he was wrapping up his two years abroad, it felt like the right time to jump. “Back then I was tech enough to write code, so I thought I’d try building something.” Moving back to Australia, with little interest in a corporate job, Ian built something. “The startup ecosystem was different back then. There was no support structure; no one to hold your hand; no one to help you. I actually ended up building a whole product, security related, but there was no product-market fit at the time. It’s funny — I didn’t know the term at the time but now I do! No product-market fit. If I had the “me” now back then, it might have been different. I didn’t understand how to run a business.”

Soon bills needed to be paid and life got in the way, so Ian rejoined IBM for a 7-month stint. From there he moved into roles at netIQ, EY, and McAfee. Ian’s approach to corporate roles is admirable. Yes, as an entrepreneur, a corporate gig often gives you the funds you need to further your startup, but there’s a sharpening of skills that can happen in those roles that help to push you further and make you aim higher. “Every role I’ve ever taken was with the intent to work on a skill I want to make better. I never want to be comfortable. Each one pushed me out of my comfort zone.”

Take the risk

In mid-2019 Ian received a call from early-stage accelerator program, Antler, asking “Have you ever thought about doing your own thing?” “Well, yes.” was Ian’s response. “ The mistake I’d made up until that point was that I’ll wait until I’m ready, but you’re never really ready. You’ve just got to take the risk.”

His knowledge of the cyber security market was an asset. Having witnessed inefficiencies as a result of poor communication, Ian understood the need for a translator between those making the decisions around cyber security at an organisation, and those at the C-Suite or Board level who needed to understand spend from a strategic point-of-view. Avertro was born. “It’s really hard to explain all this cyber stuff to anyone who doesn’t understand security. It never used to be a problem, but now there’s a need to justify decisions and spend and it’s really hard when you don’t speak the same language.”

Driven by values

The biggest mistake you can make is not listen to customers. “I’ve seen people build a product in isolation because they think they’re Steve Jobs. The truth is, very few people in the world can do that. So, I knew I didn’t want to do that. We want to listen more than we speak.”

This is a founder who values communication and transparency. It’s core to how Ian functions. It’s baked into the Avertro product. It’s about leveling the playing field. “I have a fond memory of an old boss calling me a “colleague” in front of a customer. My boss, who we both know is my boss, called me a colleague. I never forgot that, and it’s an approach I take with me in leading and building a team now. Never use ‘resource’, rather than people. It’s always a person; a team member. I never ever call someone who works for me that, but a colleague; we work together. Communication is everything.”

“Board members and execs are smart people for the most part, and tech people can chat to them like kids. What we need is an equal conversation where everyone’s opinion is respected. Attitude can be systemic in security. We’re striving to foster respect and transparency.”

Leveling up

“Everything in the last 20 years has been one long training course to get me here. Everything I’ve done has helped me make decisions. Helped me have the maturity, the awareness and the empathy, to an extent. I have the awareness to know what I’m good at and what I’m not good at.”

“One issue with me 10 years ago is you overcompensate for stage of life by pretending you know everything. You lack vulnerability and lack awareness. Now? I don’t need to fill the big void in my ego than I otherwise would have.”

Being optimistic

Communication and transparency are key, yes, but there’s also something to be said for optimism. “That’s the hardest part of what I have to do for my team and for myself. I say to the team “we will get there, we just need the time.”

With Netflix’s recent release of The Last Dance, Ian reflects on the inspiration that is his childhood hero, Michael Jordan. “He would say that he never lost a game, he just ran out of time. And this resonates with me. It resonates with startup life, especially if you feel like you’re doing the right thing. We’re doing the right thing as long as we give ourselves enough time to do it. But we need the time to do it.”

“You get knocked down a lot, and being a founder and CEO is a lonely job. So I need to remind myself of that quote and that mentality. You’ve got to be tenacious, driven, and level up.”

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