Trust your instinct, but become an expert at listening.
Aanand Krishnan is the CEO and Founder of Tala Security. Prior to Tala, Aanand was most recently a senior director of product management at Symantec where he built Symantec’s first big data security analytics platform and led key strategy projects that helped establish the company’s vision and strategic focus.
Aanand spent several years in investment banking at and mergers and acquisitions at Morgan Stanley and Dolby Labs and acted as an adviser to leading security software, semiconductor and clean tech companies. He started his career building high-speed optical networking products at Agilent Technologies. Aanand holds an MBA from Berkeley where he was a recipient of CJ White Fellowship, a Masters in Photonics and Optoelectronics from UC Santa Barbara where he was a QUEST Fellow and a Bachelors in Electrical Engineering with Honors from BITS, Pilani.
Where did the idea for Tala Security come from?
Tala’s founders, including myself, came out of Symantec. During my time there, we spent a lot of time looking at point-of-sales malware. Target was the victim of one of the largest data breaches of that kind, where over 40 million credit card info stolen from physical point-of-sales terminals in their stores. While all this was happening, it was also clear that commerce itself was shifting from brick-and-mortar to the web. The natural question we asked ourselves was, “how would hackers exploit this shift from brick and mortar to the web?” Then when we started looking at the way in which web was secured, it was clear that there were far too many security holes waiting to be exploited. That’s how we embarked on creating Tala.
The name Tala itself, etymologically speaking, means “lock” in several Indian languages. I saw the lock that shows up on the browser form and wanted to create a much better lock, one that would protect modern web sites and web applications against advanced attacks.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
The market has been changing so fast, and our customer engagements have accelerated so quickly, that every day presents new challenges and opportunities. There’s never a dull moment.
As far as productivity is concerned, I tend to keep it simple. I do three things. One, I prioritize what I need to focus on every day. Second, I use my calendar to make sure I have enough reminders so things don’t fall through the cracks. And third, I spend time with my two kids and read something completely non-technical, non-work oriented. I find that it keeps my mind fresh and minimizes the chances of getting into a mental rut.
How do you bring ideas to life?
If you have a good idea and you can convince a smart team of people that it is the right thing to do, the idea just naturally comes to life. I have the privilege of working with an amazing team of engineers, product stewards, sales and marketing leaders and advisors. I’m amazed how many innovations and hard problems my team has solved.
What’s one trend that excites you?
The news industry has been massively disrupted and I think it presents lots of business opportunities. Studies have shown that millenials are more suspicious of news they read, more likely to share news content with others and don’t have brand loyalty. We also have a massive fake news problem around the world, exacerbated by social media and messaging tools.
How do we build products and services that help our younger generation evolve into informed voters? It’s scary and challenging, but I think it is an exciting space and we are going to see exciting new products and services evolve.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
Ironically, I’d say that it is my overall sense of impatience. If something can be done today, why do it tomorrow? Over time, I’ve learned to channel that impatience to get constructive results as opposed to getting frustrated.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Trust your instinct, but become an expert at listening.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
Randomness is an unprovable myth.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Seek advice. If I don’t know something or am faced with a thorny topic, I immediately seek help from my mentors or advisors. It’s so important to have a group of people who can be a sounding board and with whom you can have open and honest discussions about issues you’re dealing with. As a first-time entrepreneur, this was vital for me and I imagine it is true for almost anyone out there.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
It’s not a strategy per se, but a way of doing business. At Tala, we put our customers ahead of everything else. This means responding to customer requests with alacrity, communicating clearly and effectively, and not slipping on commitments. It’s a behavior that comes naturally to the Tala team. One of our largest customers told us, “Tala is the best security start-up we have ever worked with.” Just today I got an email where another large customer told us how our team has been great to work with with in terms of features, troubleshooting and how our product and tech work are integrated.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
I don’t like the word failure, because every experience ends up teaching something invaluable. I prefer to think of them as mistakes or sub-optimal decisions and there are plenty of those!
As an entrepreneur you have to trust your instincts and your gut, but it’s very important to balance that instinctual approach out with actively soliciting and listening to advice.
Recently I had an idea for a product option that I thought could be a game changer. Some of my team members didn’t agree and initially I thought they were wrong. After sifting through all the details we came to the conclusion that it was the right idea but we weren’t ready for it. If we had gone down the path of building it, it would have had a negative impact on our business.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
I’m going to go back to my earlier comment about the disruptions in the news industry. We have credit scores for humans, we have Rotten Tomatoes for movies. Why not something for news articles such that the reader is aware of whether they are reading paid propaganda, sneaky advertising or just flat out fake news?
Snopes is a start, but it isn’t automated enough and not scalable. We also cannot rely on the media giants to curate the content. I see the need for a third-party service to help consumers and media outlets alike. the easy availability of large data sets and advances in AI make this a tractable problem.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
I signed up for CLEAR and God knows it makes my traveling easier!
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?
I really love Zoom. Rarely do you use a product that is “next gen” and just so much better than what you had before. I remember using Google Maps for the first time and I never used Mapquest after that, not even once. Zoom provided a similar experience that was so much better than WebEx that I switched and never looked back. At Tala, we use Zoom internally for all our team meetings as well as for most of our customer video calls.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
I’d recommend Nir Eyal’s “Hooked” for a number of reasons, especially for product managers who are building enterprise IT products.
I find that most enterprise IT products are poorly conceived and really boring to use. If you’re a security practitioner for example, compare the Facebook or Instagram experience with your experience logging into your endpoint security product console. On the one hand, you have these amazingly rich, captivating experiences on social media apps and then you have dreary, painful experiences with your enterprise products. A lot of companies need to rethink their product strategies and how they engage with their enterprise users. Slack, LinkedIn and Zoom are some examples of enterprise IT companies that have cracked the code better than the rest.
Secondly, I love this book as a consumer because it makes me smarter! A lot of consumer oriented companies, especially in social media, employ this model to get us addicted to their products and the book allows us to become smarter consumers who are less “hooked” in one sense.
What is your favorite quote?
I’m paraphrasing, but I think the quote from Nikos Kazantzakis’ brilliant book “Zorba the Greek” has played a very significant role in shaping me in my personal and professional life: “If you don’t have some madness, you will never dare to cut the ropes that bind you and set yourself free.”
- Being a CEO can be lonely, so build a group of mentors and advisors
- Trust your instinct, but solicit advice and be ready to listen
- Focus on building products that are engaging and fun
- Take calculated risks
Steve (Stefan) Junge hails from Germany and helps with the day-to-day publishing of interviews on IdeaMensch. While he and Mario don’t share a favorite soccer club, their enthusiasm to help entrepreneurs is a shared passion.