Michael is an experienced cybersecurity professional with over 20 years of industry experience. He is the co-founder and CEO of Kobalt.io, a rapidly growing cloud-focused security services provider. Kobalt.io works with over 200 cloud-focused technology companies to help develop their cyber security programs and ensure the security of their organization.
Where did the idea for Kobalt.io come from?
In 2018, I was semi-retired, and spent two months on a beach in Thailand with my family. When I came back from the trip, I was itching to do a bit more work. A colleague and mentor, Steve Munford, initially tried to convince me to take a job, but then two weeks later, introduced me to my eventual co-founders and investors, Boris Wertz and Pankaj Agarwal, who had been investing in high tech startups. They wanted to work on a cybersecurity startup together and were looking for an experienced leader to build that business. This was how Kobalt.io was born.
I believed the biggest problem in the market was that small and mid-sized businesses were underserved, lacking the resources to have their business secure. This is why Kobalt.io focuses on providing end-to-end cybersecurity solutions to SMBs
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
A good day for me involves lots of conversations – helping to move deals forward, solve security problems for clients, work closely with strategic partners to grow our collaborations, and team members, removing blockers, enabling their success and providing coaching and guidance.
Sometimes those are videos, sometimes on the phone. Our team is entirely remote and distributed across Canada and India, so we combine live conversations with async tools like Slack.
I also try to carve out time every week to do deep work – set out strategy, work on content or proposals, work on the big rocks necessary to move the business forward.
How do you bring ideas to life?
Ultimately it is the team that executes on ideas. My job involves setting out a clear vision, and promoting the ideas from all over the business, clients and other stakeholders that support this vision. Removing roadblocks, providing focus. Celebrating success when an idea is realized, and then encouraging the team to do the hard work of continuous improvement where the idea goes from a rough form to truly shining.
What’s one trend that excites you?
Passwordless is the (near) future. As someone who has extolled the value of password managers and MFA, I think passwordless authentication is likely one of the most impactful things to hit our industry in a decade.
Anyone who knows me (clients, security professionals, uninterested family members) has probably heard me rant on multi-factor authentication. With account compromise being one of the most significant risk factors in a cloudy world, MFA is a low cost, effective risk reduction method.
But passwordless takes this to the next level. Dramatically simplifying the user experience while maintaining a high degree of security, passwordless approaches being rolled out by all the major industry players will have a seismic impact on the authentication space in the upcoming years.
I care about this because I strongly support solutions that significantly increase security while providing favourable user experiences. Organizations that adopt this quickly will experience much lower friction on new user acquisition (great for SaaS companies, B2C firms, eCommerce) and lower IT costs (great for internal IT resources).
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
Staying active and curious. The performance of an entrepreneur depends on your health and your mind, and you need to take care of both. I’ve struggled with this (like many) but I’ve never lost sight of the need to invest in my health and skills to grow as an individual and thus grow my business.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Acquire bitcoin and sell at $40K (no need to be greedy). But seriously, I’m pretty happy about my experiences and the course I’m on. Probably “enjoy the ride and your time with those you care about”.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
In security, it would be “users are your allies, not your enemies.” Not really almost nobody but most people act as if it is the reverse.
In life it would be, unfortunately, “Climate change is an existential threat to human civilization and we need to take massive, dramatic action to reverse it.”
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Never stop trying. At the start I felt like I knew what I was doing but wasn’t seeing traction. 6 months in I thought, “This is hard, I’m probably going to fail.”12 months in I thought, “This is hard, there’s a chance I could succeed.”18 months in I’m thinking, “This is hard, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything. If I fail, I’ll try again.”
I’m sure in another 6 months it’ll still be hard and I’ll still feel like I’m failing but now I see the evidence of the hard work, and am relearning lessons learned over a 20 year career. But one thing I know for sure—being an entrepreneur is hard work and fun.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
I would say having initial trusted relationships really helped. Once you start offering excellent customer service, we get more referrals.
Partnerships helped too. NRC IRAP connected us to a whole bunch of new customers. Some other partnerships helped us grow. We recently announced our partnership with RBC, becoming a trusted partner, offering cybersecurity services to their business clients nationwide.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
Kobalt.io focused heavily on advertising-based marketing in 2021, designed to reach potential clients in key, tech-heavy areas of the United States. Those sites included California and Texas as primary markets, and secondary markets that complemented Kobalt’s west-coast location, especially Seattle and Portland. The ad-based approach had limited success. Kobalt.io did attract some new clients, but not enough to justify the expense. Things turned around when Kobalt.io’s marketing efforts pivoted to more active lead generation and sales, including building a small sales team and reaching out to potential clients with email marketing and cold calls.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
Completely random. Someone should make a chewable credit card shaped aspirin dose for men’s wallets. We don’t leave our wallets behind. Heart attacks kill LOTS of men. Taking an aspirin at the first signs can dramatically reduce the chance of death.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
Ingredients for chocolate chip cookies (cooked by my 12 year old daughter). We moved into a new house recently, and took our new neighbours chocolate chip cookies (part of a bribe to use their lane access to our house). A few days later they brought us a filet of freshly caught salmon. We then brought upick blueberries. On it goes.
Setting off a positive spiral of kindness and appreciation with those around you can cause tremendous joy and wealth.
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?
I use LinkedIn a lot. It is effectively a work social network – regular posts keep me top of mind to my extensive network of contacts and colleagues built over 20 years. They are my champions and cheerleaders, and by being top of mind when they encounter people who need our services we get lots of referrals. My posts are usually either content specific security items or just words of positivity for entrepreneurs and builders.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
The Wealthy Barber: Everyone’s Common‑Sense & The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.
What is your favorite quote?
I have lots, but a recent one is “The true hacker mindset is utterly orthogonal to a traditional education.”
- You know you’re in a good place when you can say “This is hard, I’m probably going to fail, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”
- Like business, security is a journey. One day, one step at a time. Focus on the step in front of you.
- Stay active and curious. The performance of an entrepreneur depends on your health and your mind, and you need to take care of both.
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.