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Fighting smart

Divina Paredes | April 12, 2013
"I felt the learning curve was inverted, it was hanging up," says Laura Mather, on her experiences when setting up Silver Tail, an anti-fraud start-up.

"I felt the learning curve was inverted, it was hanging up," says Laura Mather, on her experiences when setting up Silver Tail, an anti-fraud start-up.

The year was 2008 and she and co-founder Mike Eynon were told the venture capitalists had no money, and the chief information security officers had no budgets.

"No one was going to ever sell enterprise [software] again it was always going to be a Salesforce type [cloud service] of model. You are never going to do million dollar contracts," recalls Mather, on some of the messages they were receiving.

When she and Eynon presented their idea before their first venture capitalist, Leapfrog Ventures, the latter told them about things they should be doing differently. "We went back and thought about it, we changed our pitch within about three hours of meeting with them.

"That is the beauty in being a start-up," she says. "With 10 people, you can change the vision of the company in half an hour."

"We would do two or three builds a day. Customers would try them and say 'it fell over here' and we would fix it, send it back. That responsiveness, that passion about making things as good as they could be is what led to our success."

ING Direct was one of Silver Tail's first customers, as well as some online brokerages. Late last year, EMC bought Silver Tail and integrated it into RSA, its security division. Today, there are over a billion accounts using the company's real-time anti-fraud software, and its customers include banks, e-commerce companies and governments.

"Our whole premise was that most traffic in the website is good," explains Mather. "Most of it is legitimate users and what we did was we modelled [the] good and then we would look for anything that would look different from good and we assume it might be bad."

"It turns out that premise works on banks, on e-commerce, on government websites. An adversarial criminal, a hacktivist, is going to do something different than what normal people would do. And by doing that, you can detect a new attack without even knowing what that attack is going to look like.

"I tell people it is okay to fail. Just be ready to recover, be ready to make it better whatever got broken and that is the way to do a start-up," she says. "Your customers aren't expecting you to be perfect. They are embracing you because you are doing something they need."

Shifting her mindset to one of an entrepreneur and company founder was another thing. "It was a challenge, definitely, going from thinking about technology and attacking criminals" to having to think about picking her employees, and finding office space.

 

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