In an interview with CIO LOOK, Kiran Bhagotra—Founder, President and CEO of ProtectBox Ltd, emphasizes her unique approach towards cybersecurity, her impeccable vision and passion for change that has made her start-up standout amongst the rest.
Below are the highlights of the interview:
Kindly take us through your journey on becoming a leader.
“Changing hearts and minds” describes my leadership journey well. As one of a handful of ethnic minority (Indian) girls in my school (every year) I never entertained the notion of being picked as Head Girl. Little things like my mother’s samosas (& my father’s jungle juice) being the best seller at the Summer Gala & my holding assemblies sharing the stories behind my family’s & others ethnic religious days, made that happen and laid the foundations for my leadership style. Later careers in PR, international metals mining, raising private equity/venture capital funds, governments/international relations plus stints as a scuba diver and selling lingerie in Selfridges, show how this “core” grew from strength to strength. In many of them, I either achieved something not done before or was often the first woman or ethnic minority or both to have held the roles I held. Thanks to the innate confidence from school that I could do it.
In the medical school step, I converted my failure into a First-class degree & the prestigious Jelf medal in my subsequent Maths & Management degree. I can name many more “failures” in my life that others now talk about as successes. I’d even go as far as saying that ProtectBox is the latest of that series in the boxset What do I mean by that? Despite being criticized, in the past, for having a busy CV, I couldn’t have got ProtectBox as far as I have done today, 25+ Awards’ finalist & media, by myself if it wasn’t for that busy CV.
I am no one special, I was lucky enough to find my way early on, lost it & re-found it many times. So, there is no right or wrong path, there’s just a path that’s right for you & it doesn’t matter how or when you find it. Hence, I often answer these sorts of questions by saying, “Life is hard. I’ve got through it by looking forward, accepting my fears, surrounding myself with people who help me do that. Growing by giving back, sharing, listening, and smiling or making someone else smile everyday as it’ll make you smile back!”
How do you describe your company’s purpose and entice your target audience to gain benefits from your organization’s offerings?
Right now, when we – small & medium businesses (SMBs) – buy cyber security we either spend thousands of pounds and waste weeks paying a consultant. Or, if we decide to do it ourselves, we have the headache of swathes of jargon & solutions.
How much easier would it be to go online & in one hour, fill out a simple questionnaire with customer services on hand, get 6 comparisons of technology, training & processes that can be personalized using filters & sliders before buying with a single click? Well now you can with cybersecurity comparison website & marketplace ProtectBox.
As well as making cybersecurity buying quickly, we are also making it simple and affordable too! Simple, with features such as info icons on each question to explain the jargon and letting you delegate questions to your team, inside or outside the company, all of which can be managed through your account. Or letting you pull answers from partners such as Sage & Xero. Affordable; with lots of ways to pay, including spreading the cost over a year, or with grants/subsidies from governments. But what we care about the most is “changing hearts and minds” about selling cybersecurity to SMBs. I regularly hear horror stories from our customers about how they’ve been messed about by consultants & there’s not much they can do. We champion SMBs within the cybersecurity market, getting the market to be more user-friendly for us.
What are the crucial traits which every CEO must possess?
My answer of Courage, Communication & Clan is well documented.
Courage to accept your fears/weaknesses and seek the right helps to overcome them. I explored the world alone for a year & took up scuba diving across Asia Pacific & South America during a difficult time in my life & was helped by the kindness of strangers. My journey setting up ProtectBox has been strewn with problems but I refuse to let them stop me.
Communicating clearly, concisely & consistently which I’m still mastering the art of. For anyone that knows me I could compete for Britain on talking! Being lucky enough to meet Archbishop Desmond Tutu whilst I worked for the South African miner Lonmin, showed me the huge power of not just words but actions, like smiles or empathy or forgiveness, in empowering others.
Clan, and by that, I don’t necessarily mean your family, I mean surrounding yourself with the right ‘people’ & I would include in that customers, investors and stakeholders. Experiences like representing the UK government, promoting the UK’s cyber-security strategy, on visits to South Korea, or hosting Japanese PM Abe in the UK, or supporting the Indian government with the raising of their first Indian Infrastructure Fund, all reinforced the impact of collaboration in making the impossible possible!
A Revolutionary CEO is one that lives and breathes the adage “the customer is always right”. We’re already seeing customers wanting new technologies to go beyond being Simple, Quick & Affordable—ProtectBox’s value proposition to choice—rich customers wanting to buy from those who know them, care about them and will go that extra mile.
Investors argue about the value of this latter experien cecentric approach versus their preferred profit-centric models. But we at cybersecurity comparison marketplace ProtectBox are keen advocates of the experience-centric approach, so much so that we only work with partners, government or corporate, and suppliers that embody the values of our customers. Just like our small & medium business customers, we don’t see bootstrapped, lean, outsourced, diversely skilled teams as “un-investible”. We see them as the blueprint of the tech unicorns of the future.
As per your opinion, what roadblocks or challenges are faced by CEOs whilst emerging as a leader? And what is your advice to overcome them?
Having the capacity to deal with all sorts of problems, for example I switch between CEO, CTO, and whatever else, regularly. This happens for a whole host of reasons including at one end some tech people not delivering on promises just because you’re an SMB (& so not important to them) and at the other end the challenges of being a female or ethnic (or just underrepresented, for a whole host of other varied reasons) in your industry. This is compounded by Cash, which even though “is King”, isn’t always in abundance for emerging (or underrepresented) leaders. Control is another challenge emerging leader’s face, with competing opinions & agendas to manage amongst stakeholders. Strategies, I find useful in tackling these are focusing on your confidence & emotional intelligence to navigate these challenges, as I said before it’s finding the right path for you. As well as finding the right collaborative support to help you do that.
How do you cope with never-ending technological disruption to boost your personal growth?
My many careers show I embrace and thrive on change so, I don’t see technological disruptions as a challenge but an advantage. Add to that my curious mind and it doesn’t take long for me to have found a way to introduce the technological disruption into my daily routine. In the same way technological disruptions are always a part of ProtectBox’s future development and scaling. For example, ProtectBox is already looking at how it will do business in the Quantum era, which I see as the future of not just cybersecurity but society too. I recently predicted in an article in Wired that we will start to see material impacts commercially in the coming year and are already seeing those. So, I believe Quantum Computing’s impact needs to be taken seriously now and I am lending my voice to promote that message (eg https://www.wired.co.uk/article/blockchain-quantumsecurity & https://panelpicker.sxsw.com/vote/104534.) Just as the internet, grew in dog years, compared to human years so too will Quantum’s growth.
What will be your future endeavors and/or where do you see yourself in the near future?
We will be launching ProtectBox as an internationally successful product that helps businesses throughout the world, in the next month. In the same way that banks sell insurance as an add-on, we can be sold/joint-marketed as an all-in-one cyber add-on by accountants, telecoms, banks, lawyers, consultants or any data-related service provider to SMBs, even governments, whose marketplace capabilities can be extended by plugging us in. Plus ProtectBox’s all-in-one bundles can be subsidized by government grant schemes. We’ve signed 4 (corporate, distributor & government) partners, with another 10 across the world in the pipeline. But always open to more!
As a leading cyber-security company, what is your contribution in enhancing cyber security systems in small and medium sized businesses?
ProtectBox is all about empowering SMBs. As an online cyber security comparison website it allows busy SMEs to make the right choice quickly, simply and affordably. But we’re as much about “changing hearts and minds” as about making the process easier. We champion SMBs within the cybersecurity market, getting the market to be more user friendly for us. We also challenge norms of who can work in cybersecurity to make it more inclusive.