A three-year-old Aussie startup is hoping to make international waves in the cyber security industry after raising $2.5 million from some of the country’s top venture capital funds.
Kasada was founded by 22-year-old Sam Crowther in 2015 after his work as a security consultant at Macquarie Group opened his eyes to the common security issues plaguing big and small businesses.
The entrepreneur, just a year out of high school at this stage, recognised how cyber criminals using bots and automation for data-scraping, click fraud, and other disruptive attack methods, was a “rampant” issue for companies. So he left his role to develop a solution.
“I always knew I wanted to build a business — I’d been selling software since year 9 and I built websites all throughout high school to get a bit of ad revenue. I thought this was a chance to properly commercialise something and give it a shot,” Crowther told StartupSmart.
Kasada’s product is called Polyform. It aims to stop cyber criminals and hackers from using automated bots to abuse company websites, something which Crowther says can manifest itself in many different ways, from the simple and straightforward, to the highly complex — but also highly lucrative. The founder explains Polyform as disrupting hackers’ business models.
“We’re making companies uneconomical targets. Cybercriminals don’t do this stuff for free, so if we make it too hard for them to break in, they’ll give up and move on,” he says.
Kasada’s product offering is quite specific, with Polyform the only solution available, but Crowther isn’t concerned about needing to expand; he believes his startup is solving an “enormous” problem better than its competitors, who are scarce.
Clearly this message is ringing true with Kasada’s customers, who consist of a number of ASX100 and Fortune100 companies, although Crowther won’t reveal names. He does say, however, that the product’s future won’t just be rooted in large enterprise players; he’s instead hoping to capture a number of small to medium business customers who might be concerned about the growing risk of cyber attacks.
“What we’ve built has a user-friendly interface and setup, but with top-level capabilities. This puts us in an awesome position to help smaller businesses increase their security posture with minimal effort,” he says.
Age a hurdle for young founder
Capturing a number of high-profile Australian customers just a few years after founding is a significant feat for any startup, let alone a first-time company founded by a 22-year-old entrepreneur. Crowther puts his success down to, of course, the quality of his product, but also the support and openness of many companies willing to give him a shot.
“There seems to be a really awesome undercurrent of support of people supporting Aussie businesses, ones that are willing to give us a seat at the table and let us demonstrate how our tech performs,” he says.
But Crowther says taking that seat wasn’t always an easy task, having switched from building the platform himself to being the face of the company, which he says was a “steep learning curve”. The young entrepreneur has also struggled with something beyond his control: his age.
“My age definitely presents challenges sometimes, and while it can be both good and bad, I’ve found it to be more the latter. Often I can be a bit written off in meetings, or who we’re talking to will just look and speak at the older person,” he says.
“As much as age shouldn’t determine someone’s success, it can help you out a bit.”
Investment opens international doors
Kasada’s $2.5 million funding round was raised from Westpac’s firm Reinventure, and well-known Aussie entrepreneur David Shein’s Our Innovation Fund. It’s not the first time the business has raised money, with Crowther saying he also did the “classic friends and family angel round” earlier on.
The money will be divided evenly between expanding the company’s products into the United States and continuing to grow the local tech team to develop Polyform.
Crowther says he’s particularly happy with the investors he’s now got on board, not only for the access to Westpac and its clients as customers, but for the way they both “clicked” and understood the founder’s vision.
“People say it’s like a marriage and I feel like it definitely would be. You have to want to get a beer with your investors at the end of the day because you like them, not just because you have to,” he says.
In a statement, Shein said Crowther is “exceptional talent” and the fund is pleased to be partnering with the startup.
“We’re excited to be working with Kasada to make enterprises safer, and take this Australian solution to the world,” he said.
In a piece of advice for other founders looking to raise, Crowther recommends finding and securing your product-market fit before seeking funding whenever possible.
“We proved our product-market fit as soon as we could, and though it was time consuming to build, as soon as it was we closed deals with a number of significant organisations before we had any conversations with VC funds,” he says.
“And that changed the nature of our meetings, it erased a lot of speculation, and we could show any of them what we built and who was using it.”