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Why Elon Musk's trusted long-time tech chief grew a beard and waved bye-bye to SpaceX

George Nott | Feb. 15, 2017
Brendan Spikes was Musk’s most trusted IT lieutenant for the next 15 years.

Read more:Why you're not investing enough in IT security

The solution was a simple one, Spikes explains: “So I grew the beard. Which added years to me.”

A boom in the bust

Paypal’s rapid rise came while the rest of Silicon Valley was being devastated by the bursting of the dot com bubble.

“The market was collapsing at that time right. It was kind of remarkable,” remembers Spikes, who still sports his facial hair. “The engineers at the company at that time may have felt lucky to have a job. A lot of my friends were losing their shirts. All this stock they thought had all this value. I had had Alta Vista stock – I literally sold that for a dollar, the whole lot of it.”

Paypal was acquired by Ebay in 2002 for $1.5 billion.

Spikes then joined Musk’s cousins Lyndon and Peter Rive – who founded SolarCity which was acquired by Tesla last year – at remote servicing and desktop management SaaS firm Everdream. He later joined SpaceX as its chief information officer and spent close to a decade with the company.

Then came the Paypal 10 year reunion party.

Hello mafia, goodbye Musk

Paypal’s alumni list – the so-called Paypal Mafia – is impressive. There is Musk, of course, and the likes of venture capitalist Peter Thiel; Steve Chen and Chad Hurley, the founders of Youtube; Yishan Wong, one time CEO of Reddit; Russell Simmons who co-founded Yelp; to name but a few.

“A lot of these guys I sat next to in cubes writing code and building systems, went off to create some of the greatest companies that exist today. And getting back together with all these guys and hearing the stories was just so inspiring,” says Spikes.

“That was the moment that I started thinking about what I might do next.”

So in 2012 Spikes founded Spikes Security and raised around US$15 million from investors. The company merged with Aurionpro's Enterprise Security Division late last year and rebranded as Cyberinc. It’s flagship product is a malware isolation appliance called Isla.

The idea is that a user’s browser session is remotely presented from a browser server running on-premise or delivered as a cloud-based service. Since browsers are a key vector for malware, the technique keeps malware from the endpoint and corporate network, isolating the risk in the server session.

The first challenge, Spikes says, is in explaining what isolation technology is. However, that is about to change. Gartner named it as one of the top ten security technologies last year. A number of Australian customers – in media and publishing, government, financial services and education – are already using the technology, Cyberinc said.


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