Staying one step ahead of the internet of things

Do you know your toaster might be talking to your webcam? Do you have any idea what they’re saying? The power plant you’re running your house off of could be hijacked by a cyber blackmailer, and maybe one day the lights will go out. Ajit Thyagarajan, founder of Atomic Mole, spends most of his time worried about these issues, and has launched a business to protect the “internet of things”: the connection, through the web, of everyday appliances and devices that create a bridge between the real world and the internet.

ABERMAN: This whole thing about connecting everything to the internet, it seems pretty risky. What are you up to, and how are you rising above the noise to make sure people know about what Atomic Mole’s doing?

THYAGARAJAN: It is a tough challenge to rise above the noise at this particular particular point, in particular because there are so many cybersecurity companies out there. The way we differentiate ourselves is with the internet of things. Obviously, there are a plethora of these devices, in different flavors, that are available on the market today, and there are multiple solutions, as well, for securing these devices. We have a unique approach where we don’t require access to the device itself. We just look for how the device communicates, build what is called a device profile, and then use that device profile to figure out if that devices is doing something that it should not be doing.

ABERMAN: So, in effect, rather than having to deploy something around the literally billions of devices that are floating around the world, with all these different ROMs built into them, and so forth, if you just say, forget about that, we’re just going to monitor how things change from the steady state of how they’re supposed to be.

THYAGARAJAN: That’s right.

ABERMAN: I would like that, as a CISO, a lot. So, you’ve got a start up. You’re emblematic, I think, of the challenge. You have a technology which makes a lot of sense, to me, listening to it. How do you get in front of a big company where, and I know you’ve been part of big companies, selling to big companies—how does a small company get in front of a big business, and get them to overcome the prejudices against doing business with a smaller one?

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THYAGARAJAN: I mean, obviously, having referrals into larger companies is critical for us. We’re looking into creating channel partnerships, where we partner with larger companies that don’t have a similar solution, that we can then tag on to their product line, and also just being able to go and present at various conferences about what we’re trying to do. And that gives us that extra visibility that we hope, then, larger companies will take notice of our innovative technology, and they will then come knocking at our door, and asking for our solution.

ABERMAN: So I guess, the good news and bad news here, it sounds like there’s no magic bullet other than, you have to have something that works, and then you’re just going to have to really grind it out to make people want to buy it.

THYAGARAJAN: Absolutely. And in particular, there’s a lot of pressure from the larger companies, because they will claim that they do everything, and they don’t need some other small startup coming in and trying to disrupt their position already in the organization. We’ve seen that with many of our customers, where there is significant pushback because some large company is already in their network, and they do not want somebody else coming in.

ABERMAN: Looking at your your experience being part of prominent, larger companies, what made you want to leave the comfort of solving hard problems where you had a brand name, and a bunch of people to throw something, to go off and raise your hand as a startup and say, hey, try me instead? It seems like it takes a lot of guts to do that, to me.

THYAGARAJAN: It does, and I think it’s built in my DNA. Ever since I got out of school, I have been working at multiple startups, literally staying in a large company after an acquisition for a short time, and then moving on to the next startup opportunity. I somehow seem to relish the risk-reward ratio, in some sense, and it’s tremendously challenging to work in a small team, where you have incredibly hard stretch goals, and trying to aim for the moon.

ABERMAN: Is it more satisfying, do you think?

THYAGARAJAN: There are days when it’s satisfying, there are days when you would just be beating yourself against the wall, saying, why did I do this? And yes, you have a combination of both those days, but I can tell you this: when you have those satisfying days of a few successes, however minute they may be, that there’s no substitute for that.

ABERMAN: So, share with all of us: give us an example of a moment where you had that success, what was it, and how did it feel?

THYAGARAJAN: I have to say, our biggest successful moment was, after nearly four months of trying to raise our initial seed round of money, we finally got in front of Tedco, and then made a really excellent pitch to them. And they really liked our story, and decided to fund us almost immediately. And that was, I have to say, a huge, huge win for us.

ABERMAN: How did you celebrate?

THYAGARAJAN: So, the three of us who were Atomic Mole at that time immediately went out, and there was a small restaurant, we had not eaten the whole morning. So, we had a grand lunch, I would say.

ABERMAN: So now you know: if you’re thinking about being an entrepreneur, it’s not glamorous, but it’s fun.

THYAGARAJAN: Absolutely.

ABERMAN: Well, Ajit, I wish you absolutely the best with Atomic Mole. I think that the problem that you’re trying to solve is one the nation desperately needs, and I hope that we’ve helped to raise awareness for your technology.

THYAGARAJAN: Thank you, very much, for having me here.