Ken Westin – Founder/CEO of ActiveTrak and Security Innovator

Ken is currently the Founder and CEO of ActiveTrak Inc. a leading innovator of mobile endpoint security software for laptops, mobile phones and portable storage devices. Prior to ActiveTrak Ken has 11 years experience in technology and security, designing, building and managing complex systems for corporations and institutions. Ken’s research and development in the area of endpoint security has been included in the Certified Ethical Hacker training materials and numerous publications, books and guides and he is regularly interviewed by the press including the New York Times, Forbes, Boston Globe, Good Morning America and others as a subject matter expert regarding device theft, data security and privacy. Ken holds a B.A. from Lewis & Clark College and a M.S. from the University of Portsmouth.

What are you working on right now?

Our company was recently funded, so I have been focused on executing on the technology roadmap we have been planning at an accelerated pace. We have been aggressively expanding our mobile technologies to multiple platforms and added new features that better secures customer data. We have also been very focused on building our technology solutions for mass deployment across large networks as well as easy deployment to partner’s customers. We have not only executed on our goals, but have been exceeding them and will be bring unparalleled mobile security solutions to our customers in the next year that protects their laptops, mobile phone and portable media devices regardless of platform.

3 Trends that excite you?

1. The progression of the Internet to omnipresence, it is no longer restricted to a big heavy monitor on your desk, on a square screen in a web browser, it is now with us in our pockets and in the future will be inescapable and connecting everything and everyone in real-time, for better or for worse. The risks and potential this poses for society will be interesting to watch unfold.

2. Being part of the the Portland start-up scene as it is grows, being born and raised here  it makes me particularly proud to see what has been accomplished in the past few years. I am not bullshitting when I say Portland is one of the most creative cities in the world and one of the few places you see technology and creativity truly merge.  I have been humbled and privileged to work with some of the most creative minds on some of our projects and accomplished things that you could not do elsewhere. There is a a lot of energy here, you have a lot of smart young college graduates who have moved here from around the country and world to live here, it is not just a lifestyle choice, but a community that supports innovation.

3. The death of television as we know it. Our TV died around the time the switch to digital occurred, we decided to not fix it, or bother switching over. We have been the better for it, we are not saints, we still watch TV, but usually online, picking the shows and movies we want to watch. Overall this has helped my work and productivity as well as our family life as movie time is a family event vs. sitting in front of a TV watching whatever is on and with no commercials.

How do you bring ideas to life?

As the leader of a technology company, it might seem odd that I am more right brained. I see technology as a tool to bring systems to life that would otherwise only live in our imagination. I guess I am more influenced by science fiction than science fact. Solving real world problems with technology to me is a creative exercise vs. a sequence of rigid steps to follow.  I am more interested in strategy than procedure, looking out a few moves ahead of where technology is now to anticipate what challenges we will be able to solve in the future.

What is one mistake that you made, and what did you learn from it?

Not trusting my own abilities. I gave up control up of my company for a brief period believing that others knew more about running my business than I did, it almost ruined the company. It was a tough lesson learned and I had to work twice as hard to fix the damage, but in the process surprised myself, discovered my weaknesses and more importantly my strengths and both the company and I came out stronger with a clearer vision for the future.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

Don’t try to build Rome in a day and don’t wait for funding to come to you. Build a product with the bare minimum features you need to launch that solves a real problem and that a customer will pay for. We bootstrapped the company for two years through a recession, I picked the worst time in history to start a business but we thrived by listening to our customers. The way I saw it at the time  was that our first customers were our first investors, their feedback was just as valuable as their money and has such has played a critical role in the the course and success of the company.

What do you think of the recent spy case involving web cameras at the school in Pennsylvania?

The case you are referring to occurred in the Lower Merion School district in Pennsylvania where it is alleged that staff used anti-theft software from one of our competitors to spy on students via the web camera.   First off, it was actually a competitors product, which lacked the audit logs, authorization mechanisms and terms and conditions our software has, this company has a history of security and privacy issues.

Another thing to remember is that  technology does not spy on people, people spy on people. The problem here has more to do with who had access to the technology and how it was used. Network administrators are bound by a code of ethics, the very position they hold requires them to be responsible and ensure data integrity as they have access to emails, data and even backdoors into computer systems. With administrative access they can turn cameras on, access files, emails, Facebook pages at their leisure, they do not need our software to this, in fact we make it more difficult for them, as we have audit logs in place that trace their actions.

In the case in Pennsylvania, if the allegations are true, someone was given access to systems that should not have. The school had a flawed implementation, we have turned down schools who have asked us to do similar deployments for this very reason. Instead what we recommend is making the families responsible for the laptops if they are lost or stolen and then offering our software to them for free, they then install it and manage the device and where data is sent.

The way the school implemented the software and lack of terms and conditions, audits and authorization mechanisms by the software manufacturer enabled this type of behavior, if the allegations are true this administrator abused her position and misused the technology and should be treated the same way an internal data breach is handled, the administrator accessed data they should not have and should be punished accordingly.

We are a rare bird in our industry are we are quite transparent about how our technology works and one of the few that actually let’s people test the software out to see how it works and the data it collects. You would be shocked to learn what some other companies have access to on your systems. We believe that through transparency and allowing people to understand the technology they are in a better position to decide how and where their data goes.

Any advice for new entrepreneurs?

It is better to ask for forgiveness than permission, if you fail to take risks then you risk failing. Take time to think about what you are building and more importantly why it is important to you, if your only answer is “to make money” then you are not asking yourself the right questions and are setting yourself up for failure, you need to be driven by something else that will allow you to persevere when things do not come easy or you need to change course. Saying you want to be an “entrepreneur” is like saying you want to be an artist, anyone can create art, but very few can create art that people will pay for.