Matthew: We know founders face unique challenges when they decide to build a company. What was the hardest part about launching StopTheHacker, and how did you overcome this obstacle?
Anirban: The hardest part about launching StopTheHacker was that my dad has been a businessman for his whole life, and if there’s one thing he told me it’s that, “Don’t get into business”. [laughs] So, it was like shunning the family vow or something like that and going for the opposite direction.
From a technical point of view, the hardest part for me was figuring out, because I’m not a U.S. citizen, so I need to figure out the visa issue that has to be there, the work permits and it’s beyond, I mean you would not believe how complicated things can get. And so, that was definitely one of the biggest challenges that I had to overcome in trying to work here.
But from a personal point of view, there was definitely a lot of hesitation and thinking, “Am I doing . . .” because I had offers from, I won’t name the companies, but pretty large companies to work for them but it was a tough choice for me, but I thought, “I have to do this. I really want to do this thing” Money can come later or not, that’s not the important thing for me. It’s so exciting, every time you help a person on these groups and you show them, “This is where the problem is on your website, this is what you should do about it,” it’s so visceral.
The thanks that you get, the guy even puts a smiley face and says, “Thank you very much. You just saved me seven hours of mucking through all my website,” that’s awesome for me. I just had to do this thing. I couldn’t do a job.
Matthew: Since you’ve been in operation, what have you learned about your business and your users that you didn’t realize before you launched?
Anirban: Lots of things [laughs]. From a business perspective, this was my first time doing a startup, so I have kind of green thumbs when it comes to doing business and that when I started but I’ve learned a lot in the sense of what are the right questions to ask a customer before you launch a product. For example, my thinking before I started the company was, “Build it and they will come.” That doesn’t happen [laughs]. You cannot raise money with a PowerPoint and a napkin. That may have been true in 2000, but it’s no longer true. So, some basic things you go through and then you hit the walls, like, “Oh, um, hmm. Maybe I should have thought about this better.”
So, these are some of the things that you learn. About customers, you learn that they expect simplicity. Things have to look good. Your dashboard, you cannot throw in a bunch of stuff over there and you might think it’s cool because you’re technical and you’re thinking, “Oh well, I’ll also put this in and the customer will appreciate it.” You need to do some testing. Ask the customer, “Is this useful to you? Would you like this to be there or not” before you go and build out a new feature and throw it in their face and expect that, “Oh, you’ll thank me later. Trust me.” That doesn’t work. So that’s definitely something that I have learned.
Matthew: Lots of people admire entrepreneurs because they appear to make starting companies look easy. We know it can be very difficult. So, my question for you is: what talents or skills come easily or intuitively for you? What has been difficult, and how do you manage that?
Anirban: Very tough question. What comes easily to me is I kind of have a little bit of a carefree attitude when it comes to, like, “Hey, we’re short on money? Let’s cut my salary in half.” I eat Top Ramen anyway, so how much does it cost? [laughs]
The thing that’s been challenging for me is to have this realization that sometimes, like when I started off with the company, when I’m explaining the problem to somebody, what does my company do, it has to be simple enough to explain in one sentence. I cannot go rambling on for, like, five minutes. The realization that, yes, you need to make it simple was very hard for me. I was thinking, “Why don’t they get it? Why should I be saying this and not this?” But as you hit these barriers one by one of people telling you, “No, no, no. It has to be simple.” If you cannot say what your company does in one line you probably should go and rethink what you’re doing or how you’re doing it. That was something difficult for me to accept, but it is the truth.
Matthew: What’s the most important lesson you learned since launching StopTheHacker?
Anirban: Execution, execution, execution.
Matthew: What bit of advice do you wish you would have known prior to launching your startup?
Anirban: The 13th commandment which is, “It shall take more money than you think, and it shall take longer than you think.”
Matthew: What mentor has played a significant impact in your development?
Anirban: I would definitely say one of my mentors has been my erstwhile PhD advisor and now my co-founder, Dr. Faloutsos, UC at Riverside. He has this infectious positive attitude towards everything. He gets excited about things and he’s like a, “Let’s do this” kind of a person and I think it’s…I’ve learned a lot from him and he’s also a perfectionist that, “We have to do this thing the right way.” I think he’s definitely been a very, very important influence on me while doing Stop the Hacker.
Matthew: What advice would you like to share with our audience about launching a startup? If you have to distill it, what are the key elements?
Anirban: I would say please take a few long hours to sit down and think about it and really try and understand if it’s your passion. Ask yourself, “Can I go without getting paid for four months? Will I still be doing this? Can I work for 18 hour days for 20 days straight? And I’ll still not be bitching about what I’m doing.” Think about it. It’s not that you will be doing 18 hour days for 20 days straight, but you need to ask yourself that thing.
For me, you just have to prepare yourself mentally, before you take the plunge, that it’s going to be really hard and it’s going to be a roller coaster. On one day you’re going to get your first customer, that will be one of the biggest highs, that you get, that, “Yes, we got our first $20 from somebody”, and then on one day it will be bad, that your first customer leaves, you have zero customers. So, get ready for it. You have to prepare yourself mentally. so please sit down and think long and hard about what you are going to. That would be my only point.
Matthew: Before we close, I would love for you to give our audience your vision for StopTheHacker and how you hope it will change the world.
Anirban: Our goal is to make website security ubiquitous. It should not be that somebody has to pay $500 to get website security. You should be able to get good quality website security for any price point. So, $1, $100, it’ll depend on what you get, but you must have access to it. We want to make this ubiquitous for everybody and disrupt the market.
The vision for StopTheHacker in the short term is probably to, realistically, if you look at the security market, to get acquired by a larger security company and in the long run, to offer this service to tons and tons of small businesses. From small business owners to large enterprises, everybody should have a monitoring system to tell them that, “Hey, something just went wrong on your website. This is what you should do to fix it.” That’s the goal.
Matthew: Excellent. Well, it’s been a pleasure having you as a guest on FounderLY. We’re rooting for your continued success at StopTheHacker. For those in our audience who would like to learn more, you can visit their website at www.stopthehacker.com. This is Matthew Wise with FounderLY. Thanks so much, Anirban.
Anirban: Thank you.