"GOOGLE is the enemy".
These words greet you upon entry to the funky office of Anonyome Labs on the Gold Coast and it embodies the philosophy behind a company that has developed two apps that provide protection from online identity theft.
SudoApp and SudoPay are platforms that allow users to create up to nine avatars, or sudos, each with its own customisable name, email address and phone number which is encrypted to safeguard your data to provide security for your key personal information.
The apps are designed to prevent unauthorised use and abuse of your private information and identity which can be sold to marketers or hacked and sold to the black market.
The Sudo apps are the brainchild of serial entrepreneur and cybersecurity expert Steve Shillingford who teamed up three years ago with a group of Australians to develop the technology behind the encryption programs which run on the platforms.
US-based Shillingford (pictured) spends his time between the company's two offices on the Gold Coast and in Salt Lake City, Utah, and he says Sudo has hit something of a "critical mass" with more than one million downloads.
Business News Australia met up with Steve Shillingford and one of Anonyome's Australian co-founders Paul Jensen, and asked them why Google is 'the enemy', their plans for expansion and why they see the Gold Coast as the place for that to happen.
So, what drove you to jump the fence, so to speak, and work on something that's for consumers rather than corporates and government agencies?
Steve: I was CEO of a cyber security firm (Solera Networks) and we sold surveillance software for Fortune 500 companies and they were all designed to monitor and well ... invade privacy. So, in the past, we used to do that hacking. With the systems we have here, if you do hack us you get nothing.
What we found is that consumers, every day non-techie folks, think to themselves 'I know they're grabbing my data and I know there's all kinds of craziness going on but I don't feel like I can do anything'. There's a sentiment out there that if you can make the problem easy for them to solve, something as simple as not sharing your mobile phone number with someone you're selling to on Gumtree or someone you're just meeting for the first time. Those are just basic steps you can take to ensure your data is safe.
"You can take more control over your privacy and you can slowly inch back what has been taken away over and over again by Google and others."
Paul: You'd be shocked by what someone can find out about you just by having your mobile phone number.
Steve: They can find out where you live, how old you are, do you have a criminal record, where you've lived previously. In the US, I could find your social security number, your spouse, kids, political affiliation. I can find brands you like, thing you've recently purchased. I can find out a lot about you. And it never gets deleted. And this can be on-sold on the black market. Or it can be hacked and sold on the black market. And we wanted to equip consumers with tools to prepare themselves for all of this.
Steve, you've worked as a digital privacy expert for big companies in the private sector and several US Federal agencies, what's it like being a part of a startup?
Steve: When you're startup you've got to become a cult. You're coming up against the big guys. They're better equipped they have more resources.
"As a startup you eat what you kill, and if you don't kill anything that day, you're not gonna eat."
We've all done startups so we know how the startup journey goes, how it looks and how it feels. It's not easy, it's not clear and it's all a little ambiguous sometimes and you've got to be flexible and read the market. But it's exciting and you can move the needle and you can really do great things. After I was acquired (by Anonyome), I was broken for big companies.
So SudoApp and SudoPay have been three years in the works, why is now the right time for you guys ramp things up?
Steve: We're starting to see a lot of traction. These digital identities we've created are called 'sudos', and now there's more than a million out there. We've also picked up a major partner in the space which could potentially get us into the 200 million user environment, where they want to drop this in there. So, we're rapidly trying to support that growth.
From the early days in 2014, we picked up a whole bunch of people who understand identity, security and big cloud and big scale architectures and encryption. We like the lab down here, we like the talent, we like the lifestyle and it's a great complement to what we have in Salt Lake.
Paul: These engineers in here have 80 patent filings among them and all in the security and privacy space. Currently we have three patents filed and 11 pending. This is the basis of everything we build here - those patents.
And you're hiring?
Steve: Yep. We're looking for iOS developers, folks who know how to run cloud ops, back end dev ops, test engineers. What we like about this area too is we have direct access to talent. We have an intern program and we've had probably 20 come through here over the past three years and we've hired a few of those.
Paul: We've been going for three years and we've hired four graduates here on the Gold Coast alone and every summer we've had five interns come through for about a three-month period.
Steve: We find the good ones and offer them a job.
So why the Gold Coast, and why Salt Lake City?
Steve: There's a lot of synergy between Salt Lake and the Gold Coast too. In the US, we're not the Bay (San Francisco area). It's a little bit of a different vibe out there in Salt Lake. But basically, both Salt Lake and the Gold Coast are 'work hard, play hard' cities with great lifestyles.
We have about 20 working here on the Gold Coast and 35 in Salt Lake and another 15 interns across the two sites. We also have some folks in California and a few other remote locations. Half the exec team is here in the Gold Coast. Our CTO is here and arguably he is more important than I am.
"On the Gold Coast you also have a great talent pool, a couple of great universities, you have a good time here."
You go the Bay and it's a grind. The quality of life there, what you're making, how hard you're working, and you're fighting traffic every day, and for that you're living in a box.
Paul: Salt Lake is a place where a lot of people are moving to, and there's a lot of venture capital money going into Salt Lake and there's lots of startups and lots of young people moving there for the lifestyle because you've got the mountains. And the Gold Coast is similar but with the beaches and surf of course. We have a 'three-foot rule'. If the surf is three-foot and above, we go out in it. And in Salt Lake, with the powder, it's the same thing. As long as the work gets done, and everyone here works pretty hard.
Is the time difference between Australia and the US an issue when trying to pull a business like this together?
Paul: This time zone issue, it actually works for us if there's a really hard nut to crack. With our testing, we do a fortnightly update so Salt Lake might pop the build out in the afternoon their time and hand it over to us here on the Gold Coast and we'll have all day to test it. So, you get 24 hours on this and it actually does improve the efficiency. It would great if we were all in the same building but we've worked out how to make it as efficient as possible.
Steve: We get 20 out of 24 hours in a work day between the two sites. The Gold Coast will be slightly ahead of Salt Lake which is waking up as these guys head out and vice versa. it took us a little while to get it right. But we feel like we got a good rhythm now. This is one of the reasons I come down here to the Gold Coast - to spend time with Paul and the team and sometimes it works to be there in person and have a beer or two with them.
Business News Australia
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