Spotlight on the CyRise teams: Strobes
Get to know Co-founder and CEO, Venu Rao.
It’s not uncommon to liken cybersecurity professionals to superheroes. For the team from Strobes, however, it’s hard to escape the comparison. In Venu Rao, Akhil Reni, and Srini Dhara, you have a quirky trio with differing skill sets, aligned by a mission to contribute to the greater good by fighting off the bad guys. Strobes is how they’re doing it.
Venu started WeSecureApp (Strobes parent company) four years ago with his cousins, Akhil and Srini. With that deep family history, they knew each other’s strengths and working style in such detail, that it was a no-brainer to band together to offer consulting services to enterprise customers. Unlike some cyber founders, Venu is not deeply technical. With an MBA and a keen-eye for business building, his strength is in strategy. In fact it was his business nous that identified the potential for WeSecureApp when he witnessed Akhil earning significant money in applying his hacker skills to bug bounty programs.
“Ultimately I knew I wanted to build a product, but without domain expertise, I felt the best course of action was to start with services and consulting. We offered penetration testing, red teaming and other services that were mandatory for most companies. We could see first-hand what the issues were within organisations. We built an amazing team around Akhil, and knew then we could create a product that solved real problems.”
Under the banner of WeSecureApp, they moved from product ideation phase to the first prototype of Strobes in 2018. “We took small modules and then went back to WeSecureApp customers and got validation there. As we continued to have customer conversations, we could see that no solution was actually solving these problems. So, we continued to put money from WeSecureApp into Strobes.” They’ve continued to operate with a lean team, trying to avoid expensive mistakes by building the product alongside customer validation.
Cyber security is home to some incredibly deep technology. So what promoted Venu to enter into this space without specific domain knowledge? “In 2010/2011 had my first entrepreneurial stint. I was instrumental in building an app called ShastraGPS. It was a tracking product for trucks, using SMS to pinpoint the latitude and longitude of a truck to help determine delivery time. I’ve always been inclined to look to solve a problem. I enjoy building things. Though I am an engineer, I have an MBA and was always drawn towards business.”
Venu enjoys spearheading the problem solving, having honed his approach to judging the market during his MBA. “I heard Akhil was doing so well with bug bounty, and I was starting to see that India was maturing in cyber security. The US market was huge, so realised that yes, this is the market, this space is transforming globally. Looking to the US, we got insights into how this was evolving. So, that’s how it happened. Srini joined us with his incredible product management skills; I took business strategy and Akhil the technical.”
The power of prioritisation
There was something about cyber specifically that resonated with Venu — irrespective of what tech or language you used to build your product, it can be all be hacked. “To break it, it doesn’t matter. That’s what I liked about it. So I saw that and, no, I’m not a techie, but I know that products get hacked. Let’s work on that.” Venu likens the founding team to cyber avengers. “We work together to ensure our customers aren’t compromised. It’s a great feeling”.
The key to successfully fighting the good fight? “Prioritisation. That’s the case in consultancy, and in product. It’s the single best thing to offer. It’s not that you don’t have enough time to fix issues. You do. You just need to prioritise it. So, this is the avenger mindset.”
This works across the whole organisation, too. “We help the devs in prioritising the vulnerabilities, but we also help other business functions by providing visibility. There’s a sense of satisfaction that you get when your product doesn’t just cater to one business function — Strobes helps devs, execs, business. It’s a ripple effect that helps improve security posture, prioritises risks, and uses budget more effectively. It speaks the language of so many teams. It’s a complete product.”
The Avenger mindset
There’s a deep value system that underpins this whole operation. It’s the desire to do good; to fight the invisible enemy. “When we started, we wanted to see ourselves in the shoes of The Avengers. We want to contribute to the cyber security ecosystem in a meaningful way. I remember pitching at a Meetup a couple of years ago. Instead of pitching the product, I spoke about our belief system. Together we are trying to fight an invisible enemy. We don’t know the dark web, we don’t know where the criminals are, where they’re from, what they’re doing. We need security to grow in order to support the economy and the individuals. We are helping our customers build a better product for their customers. And that in turn builds the economy. We’re fighting the invisible enemy”.
A superhero team with global vision
There are marvellous team dynamics at play. Venu with his business mindedness; his insight and oversight; his thoughtful and diligent approach, always pushing, wrangling, making decisions to propel the team forward. Akhil, with his incredible ability to not only build a team, but a world-class product. He operates with high standards, and adopted a completely new way of developing the product. From hacker to developer, now to CTO. Srini is the backbone of WeSecureApp and Strobes. He provides the foundations that both Venu and Akhil need to do their jobs well. He’s an expert in operations, is all across the deliverables, and acts as CFO. “We work peacefully because he’s taken the role of finances!”, jokes Venu.
“We work well collaboratively, and with a lot of fun. Akhil is young and exuberant, I try and pull him down a bit.” Venu laughs. “But it’s lots of fun; the culture is fun. We started as three but then later down the line we thought we definitely needed some help. We were lucky enough to find two like-minded people who are extremely talented and helped us complete the “dream avengers team”. ”
“We’ve got a global vision. It’s been incredible to get access to the market via CyRise. Who I am today as a leader is completely different to who I was four months ago. I want to take those learnings, and use this as a great foundation to take our product to the US. We want to get bigger and better. We’re driven by the belief in our product, and in our mission, vision and values.”