John Ozbay is a designer, coder & composer, founder & CEO of Cryptee.
He is an award winning engineer/creative, who attended the Oscars in 2016 with his works; and musician / sound engineer with works that aired in festivals globally. He excels in designing unique experiences and artifacts; using design, code, music, electronics and robotics as a medium of art and expression.
Where did the idea for Cryptee come from?
I have a mixed background of Computer Science, Electronics and Music. I started making music, tinkering with electronics, writing small bits of code as a kid, and haven’t stopped ever since. Prior to creating Cryptee, I’ve worked on lots of strange projects. Ranging from interactive installations to experiential brand presences in NYC Pride Parade, to interactive parks in Las Vegas; to a robotic installation for the Oscars in 2016, thanks to which I got to walk the red carpet and met some of my childhood heroes in person. Meanwhile I kept composing classical piano music, released a bunch of albums, grew an audience in time, and got to meet some of my musical heroes. I’ve been incredibly lucky, met lots of amazing people, and eventually in 2017, I started noticing one common pattern in all my interactions.
Every month or so, there was yet another data privacy scandal, and pretty much everyone I talked to were asking me about what they can do to stay safe online. The common underlying theme causing the fear was “companies hold way too much information about us”. Be it personal documents or private photos storage, there was no simple and easy solution to store any of this data privately. So I thought perhaps I should do something about this.
At the time I was living in NY, and I knew that I would have to move to another country with stronger privacy laws if I want to do this properly. So in 30 days, I packed my life, moved to Estonia and started Cryptee with my own savings. After a year of coding, in June 2018, I made a post about Cryptee on Reddit, and got 20,000 users overnight. It was quite a humbling experience to say the very least.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
My days usually consist of research, design, coding and customer support, then finally some time spent in front of my piano. To break it down a little bit, I like to spend a little bit of time every day reading, researching and looking for inspirational concepts or design ideas that I can incorporate into Cryptee. Ranging from things like digging up 1930s magazines with amazing typography to reading our customers’ thoughts on the internet about how they’d like Cryptee to work, or what features they’d like to see. Then I spend some time thinking specifically how I can incorporate these ideas into Cryptee. I’m trying to challenge myself to come up with a new UI / UX layout every few days to see if I can break the mould a little bit so to speak. After I feel like I’m done moving pixels around, I take a coffee break and dive into coding. It’s usually split evenly between bugfixes, building some automated tests to catch potential future bugs, and coding in the new features. Usually towards the end of my coding sessions I start craving for a creative project again, so I sit in front of my piano for a while to scratch the itch. I find that this technical / creative / technical / creative cadance tends to keep me very productive, and I almost never feel tired. It’s also what gets me out of bed every morning excitedly.
How do you bring ideas to life?
A strange side-effect of working in the privacy and security industry is that, every day, you have to think about worst-case scenarios, and think about how someone could attack you, or how something could go wrong. I dare say it’s a very pessimistic industry. So quite often the ideas we work on revolve around privacy enhancements and features to improve our security posture. I’m trying to keep a healthy balance between ideas about new features, and ideas to further fortify our services.
My process is usually a mixture of reading published papers about security, privacy and even legal policies, then spending some time thinking about how we could add some of these to our services. I then look into whether if this new addition would require a new design solution (i.e. a setting panel, or a new checkbox somewhere etc), or whether if we can somehow add it and improve our users’ security and privacy automagically, without any further input from them. Then I spend a week or two chatting with users on social media about our ideas, send over design sketches, or invite them to a beta-testing-version of our software, and see what they think. After all this, I sit down and build it out.
What’s one trend that excites you?
I’m incredibly excited and happy to see that there are more and more privacy-respecting services, tools and preferences popping up everywhere. Be it a new privacy-setting in our phone, or a new privacy-conscious email service, I’m really happy that people are starting to see how much data we’re sharing without realizing, and how little we really need to share to use the services we do daily. Unlike some of my peers, I’m actually quite hopeful for the future of our data-privacy. I think there are amazing people around the world, working tirelessly on tackling some of the hardest privacy problems nowadays.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
I’d say that changing my technical / creative hats every day; coding for a bit, then switching to making some music, then working on a new feature design etc helps me stay incredibly productive. I find that this daily routine and work cadance not only calms me down, but also provides some breathing & thinking room in between big tasks. Also I have daily 30-minute coffee ritual. I turn all the screens and notifications off, and take a short break from the digital world with a cup of coffee and chocolate or pastry. I feel like there should be a mandatory mid-day coffee / tea break in every company.
What advice would you give your younger self?
I tend to fall into the trap of perfectionism quite often, judge my work (tech and music) and tend not to share it with others until I feel it’s ready and perfect. If I could travel back in time and talk to my younger self without causing some sort of strange time paradox, I’d tell myself to record or write down more of that angsty music I composed. I’d say “it’s okay to make cheesy music, don’t be afraid of sharing it with others. Just share it, and let others be the judge whether if it’s good or bad”.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
Reading books can be a waste of time. I used to be a big fan of books and started realizing how so many authors started conveying their ideas in intentionally longer and complex sentences and paragraphs to fill out more pages. – Same goes for academic papers lately by the way. – It’s a strange widespread phenomenon. It’s almost as if the quality of a book or academic paper is measured by its weight nowadays.\
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Grab a cup of coffee or tea, take a little break and listen to classical music. Now I’m not saying other genres of music are bad, but classical music is special. You’ll find that a daily coffee & classical music ritual will work wonders to calm you down, much more effectively than any other genre of music that has lyrics.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
One of our most effective growth strategy so far has been our amazing customer support / helpdesk service. We’re trying to be educative, open and transparent with our customer support communications, and not be a faceless entity with bots responding to questions. I think it’s incredibly important for privacy-first companies like us to provide simple, informative, easy to understand responses to everyone, even to not-so-technically-savvy folks like my parents. And that takes a lot of time. More time and resources than I initially estimated. It has also been one of our biggest resource bottlenecks so far. But it’s so incredibly worth it.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
The biggest failure I had / mistake I made – and likely many other entrepreneurs made – is that, I thought that if I built something, people would come. Sadly that’s not the reality. If you build a stadium in the middle of nowhere, no matter how great it is, if people don’t know it’s there, and if they can’t easily get there, nobody would come. It doesn’t matter how important the stadium was for you, or how much time or money you spent building it.
Second biggest mistake I made was to put too much emphasis on the tech itself, and too little emphasis on customer support and marketing. This sort of ties back to the first point, but it’s incredibly important to know that good tech itself won’t mean much, if you can’t market it. Or when you do manage to market it and get tons of customers, good tech alone won’t mean much, if you can’t support your customers.
It took me a while to come to terms with this reality, take corrective action by putting more resources into outreach, marketing, education and make the platform more accessible.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
Create tools that respect and preserve your users’ privacy. Pretty much anything and everything, app or web service, or product you see out there, could be built in a more privacy respecting way. Make a privacy-respecting mood tracker that uses encryption, so you can’t read your users’ moods. Or make a privacy-respecting bus ticket app, one that doesn’t track where you travel with a GPS. Or make a private fitness tracker that doesn’t need to sync with smart-refrigerators. I promise there’s lots of money in this business, and your users will thank you for it every week!
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
I bought a very large box of different types of coffee to sample, and it made my day, every day for weeks during the lockdown / quarantine. Coffee is one of those things we usually tend to just buy and keep drinking the same flavor every day. Having a different blend, roast, strength, temperature, flavor and smell every day made my coffee break rituals so much more exciting, and added yet another thing to look forward to every day!
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?
It’s quite meta, but we actually use Cryptee daily to work on Cryptee. Perks of making a productivity tool is that we are its biggest users. Aside from that, we heavily rely on Sentry (https://sentry.io). All apps come with bugs, and Cryptee is no exception. Sentry helps us identify, track & hunt them down. Just like Cryptee, Sentry is entirely open source, and they’re also incredibly kind folks who sponsor Cryptee.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
I strongly recommend all entrepreneurs to read The Art of Thinking Clearly by Rolf Dobelli. It’s a book which describes in short chapters, 99 of the most common thinking errors – simple errors all of us make in our everyday thinking – ranging from cognitive biases to envy and social distortions. Helps you become a rational thinker. The chapters are short, easy to read, and easy to take action on. You can easily read a chapter in 15 minutes while on the subway, and learn something great and immediately actionable.
What is your favorite quote?
One of my favorite quotes is “Everything owes its existence, solely and completely to sound. Sound is the factor of which holds it together” by Dr Hans Jenny.
I believe he first coined the term Cymatics in the 60s, ‘kyma’ (meaing wave in Greek), and ‘-matic’ (meaning ‘willing’) – so the willingness of objects to have waves (or more simply, vibrate). To put it more elegantly, it is the recognition that everything has a resonant frequency and therefore, everything is inherently linked with sound. And since sound is basically a vibration that propagates as an acoustic wave, through a transmission medium such as a gas, liquid or solid, i.e. air molecules; this quote always reminds me that music has the potential to affect matter, quite literally at a molecular level.
- Respect people’s privacy, and they’ll respect you and your business.
- Just because you built something doesn’t mean people will come and use it.
- Good tech in and of itself doesn’t mean much if you can’t market it.
- Find a good daily routine / work cadance and stick with it. Don’t forget to have a coffee break.
- Listen to classical music