Andrew Plato is a 25-year veteran of the information security industry. In 1995 while working at Microsoft supporting one of the first Internet e-commerce sites, Andrew inadvertently hacked the production site using a SQL injection style attack. When the site’s developers dismissed this vulnerability as irrelevant, it perplexed and inspired Andrew to start Anitian.
Since 1995, Andrew and the Anitian team have participated in thousands of security projects, built an innovative cloud security and compliance platform and helped advise hundreds of security leaders. Andrew is committed to building collaborative, high-trust environments that solve tough security problems. Andrew’s forthright and pragmatic views on cloud security, risk and compliance have made him a highly sought speaker, author and advisor.
Where did the idea for Anitian come from?
In 1995 I got told to “shut up and sit down” when I identified and described a serious security problem to some developers. Their dismissive attitude toward security utterly perplexed me. In hindsight, I realized I lacked the context and language to describe what was wrong.
Ultimately, the developers were mad with me because they thought I was saying their technology was broken (and being a lowly technical writer, they did not respect my perception). The tech was not broken, it was misconfigured. They did not perceive this as a serious problem, even as I was retrieving all the credit card numbers from the production website.
This led me to the single unifying concept that drives myself and Anitian – the technology is not the problem. Its how you configure, manage and monitor that technology that defines whether it will be secure. The security industry has some 10,000 vendors (which my fellow board member Richard Stiennon recently documented in his Security Yearbook 2020). Honestly, the differences between the products in each segment are increasingly indistinguishable.
This is how Anitian ultimately arrived at our platform. It automates the configuration, management and monitoring of an environment using well-known security tech. The value of the platform is not the individual components, it’s that the whole platform is pre-engineered to be secure and compliant “out of the box.” This dramatically accelerates the process of building, deploying and running high-performance, high-security workloads in the cloud.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
I spend most of my day engaged with customers, partners, or my team. I love talking to potential customers and learning about their challenges and then helping them find ways to solve those challenges. I love it when a customer suddenly understands the power and potential of our technology. Once they get it, they become hooked.
My productivity is largely due to the endless support I get from my admin, Megan. She keeps me on task.
How do you bring ideas to life?
I write about them. Writing helps me solidify a concept and form an argument around it. Once I have a thesis and an argument about an idea, I can start to push it forward and turn it into something. Our product began as a blog I wrote about an idea, and then was developed over a series of works I did.
The process of explaining a complex idea, design, or solution to a person, and helping them understand it is intoxicating to me. I love it when a person reads what I wrote, or hears me speak, and then has a new perspective on technology or security.
What’s one trend that excites you?
Cloud automation. The cloud has the potential to fundamentally re-write the way we do software. And when you automate things in the cloud, you can profoundly force-multiply a single knowledge worker. We are getting to a point where a single person can do the work that, a few years ago, would have required 10 or 20 people to get done.
Automation is so powerful now, that I also see it as the key to security. Somebody asked the question “will we ever stop the breaches and attacks?” at a leadership dinner about a year ago. While everybody else shook their heads, I was the only one to say “yes, I think we can.” And while the room chuckled and thought I had lost my mind, I explained that automation holds to the potential to make it prohibitively difficult to breach an environment. That could see an end to widespread breaches. The technology is there. The problem is not the tech, it is people trusting the automation to do its job.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
Alone time. I am an introvert. Which means being social is exhausting for me. I need to be alone so I can reflect, ponder and meditate on things. This can infuriate people around me who expect instantaneous decision-making. I need time to contemplate the ramifications of actions.
Also, I find that cleaning things, like dishes or cars, is extremely meditative. I have come to many great revelations while scrubbing scum off the wheels of my car.
What advice would you give your younger self?
You are worthy of love, support and help. All of us are.
This may sound really touchy-feely, but it was a powerful phrase for me. I grew up thinking I had to “do it all myself” and solve all the problems on my own. What I realized is that people want to give me help and support. I always felt like a burden asking people for help, but many of the people around me get genuine joy out of helping. I now know this because I too get genuine joy from helping others as well.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
The technology you own, ends up owning you, to paraphrase Tyler Durden.
I remember years ago, working with a small business. They had challenges keeping their environment secure. The IT manager was always buying yet another cool new technology. In one conversation, the IT manager was telling me how he was considering adding yet another (this would be their third) firewall product. I snarked back, “your team is struggling to manage one type of firewall, why do you think adding another one will make that better?” It was not my most diplomatic moment, but it was true. This person kept adding more technology to his life, without really solving the real problems.
The tech industry has done a fantastic job of making us consume more and more technology. But another piece of technology is not always what we need. What we need is technology that makes us better humans. Right now, a lot of the tech we have is not making us smarter, healthier or more enlightened. It is fueling our worst instincts of greed, hatred and isolation. Social media comes to mind here. It is a good example of a technology that we like to think we have mastered, but it has mastered us.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Surround yourself with counselors and advisors outside the business. Whether they be fellow founders, CEO coaches or actual counselors. Have a network of people who can serve as a sounding board for you. And meet with them regularly. While you may feel like you are burdening them, they likely enjoy helping you succeed.
Being a CEO is an insanely lonely job. Every day is an exhausting assault on your emotions and feelings of self-worth. It is easy to become lost inside these insecurities and self-loathing. People will relentlessly attack, mock and dismiss you.
It took me a long time to realize that when people attack me, its almost always a reflection of their own insecurities and inadequacies and not mine.
Outsiders who care about you can pull you out of that muck and give you clarity. They can help sort out the genuine moments of self-improvement, from the noise and clatter of other people’s insecurities.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
Write it down! Documenting ideas, designs and concepts. When you write down a process or idea, it becomes something that can be shared, debated and ultimately perfected. Talk is cheap. Documentation is valuable.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
I worked for almost a decade to grow the business as a security-centric VAR. However, I could never gain any real traction. I became frustrated. There were too many situations where I felt like the only way to succeed was to sacrifice my integrity.
I overcame it through strategy. A strategy I have used again and again. I wore the problem down, little by little over a long period of time. I needed to exit the VAR business, but could not do it overnight. I would have collapsed and been deep in debt. So, little by little over the years I wore the business down, replacing it with a services-centric business. I had to do this in tiny increments, so as not to tip off the employees and cause a mass mutiny. The trick to this strategy, when you get near the end, speed up and make the final changes in one single move.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
Why is licensing software so insanely complex? Seriously, I want 10 licenses for your product, it should be able to drop it into a cart, check out and have it. I can do that with a video game? I can buy Tide Pods online. Heck, I can buy any oddball thing in the world on eBay.
Why can’t I just get the security software I want? Why must a lawyer get involved Why must I talk to some salesperson? It’s software, there is no “inventory.” Why does your product have 10,000 SKUs?
Somebody fix this.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
I bought an old friend lunch, and just listened to him. It slowed my entire day down, made me reconnect with a person and helped me then connect with my team.
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?
I am an absolute grandmaster user of Microsoft Word and PowerPoint.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
Speed of Trust, Stephen Covey. This book radically changed me as a leader. Trust is the most elemental component of building, leading and running a business. Without trust, success is extremely difficult. With trust, you can do anything.
What is your favorite quote?
Perseverance furthers – I Ching
My father was a scholar of the I Ching, which is an ancient Chinese book of proverbs used to help understand change (it is often called the “Book of Changes). My father consulted it regularly, taught it to me and shared its wisdom with me. Perseverance furthers is a common line from the I Ching. Real change, growth and success come from the steady, persistent movement forward toward a goal.
People who win, are not always the smartest, the best-educated, the most connected or even the nicest people. It’s the people who will not give up.
- You are worthy of love and support. We all are.
- Write it down. Talk is cheap. Documentation is forever.
- Have a network of external advisors who can give you perspective.
- How people react to you is mostly a reflection of themselves, and not you.
- Perseverance furthers, the path to success is slow, steady, and relentless.