If there are two issues plaguing banks’ technology teams, it’s surely Big Data and IT security, so it’s no surprise that Digital Shadow – a cyber-security firm specialising in uncovering trails of information about firms on the internet – has based itself in Canary Wharf. Its CEO Alastair Paterson, 31, explains why the firm is expanding.
Can you tell us a little about what your company does? Pitch it in three sentences.
Our cyber monitoring service secures our clients' digital footprints - the ever-expanding trail of information they expose online. Our managed service uses advanced analytics and big-data technology to detect and address incidents as they occur, keeping our clients' security and reputation intact.
Why is there a demand for your product from financial services firms?
We used to live in a world where companies kept all of their sensitive material in the centre of a network and built the walls higher and higher around the edge. But as the banks, their employees and partners move to adopt the latest technology like social media, cloud services and mobile devices, suddenly that boundary is disappearing and more business-critical information is appearing on the Internet. We manage everything outside the castle walls, allowing companies to engage with the latest technologies and to do so safely and securely.
How did you get to where you are today?
Like many of our team, I have a background in developing large-scale risk and intelligence systems for public sector and defence clients. I founded Digital Shadows in May 2011 with our CTO, James Chappell, based on our assessment of where the security world was going, and we've never looked back. Our first office was above a meat market in East London but via innovation awards from Cisco, SWIFT and the Technology Strategy Board we now find ourselves working with many of the world's largest banks from our office at One Canada Square, Canary Wharf.
Taking the entrepreneurial route is a brave move; why did you decide to do it?
We knew that we had identified a unique opportunity that we were exceptionally well-placed to address with our skills and long experience in big data analytics and security. I knew I would always regret not taking this opportunity more than going for it. I don't think it's as big a risk as people perceive; if you're talented and motivated enough to form a start-up you can always get another top job.
If someone's considering going it alone, what advice would you give them?
Go for it! Even if it doesn't work out you will have learned a huge amount more than spending your whole career in a big corporate. The connections you will make and lessons you will learn will stand you in good stead for the future. All of that said, make sure you realise what a commitment you are making. It's a life-changing job so plan for things to be harder and to take longer than you expect.
How many people do you employ currently? Are there any plans to expand?
There are currently nine of us but we expect to double the team this year to meet the demand we are seeing from the market.
How can I persuade you to hire me?
Have a proven track record in solving complex problems. Be enthusiastic and convince me that you want the job and that you can deal with a frenetic start-up environment. Do your research: of course we have our own 'digital shadow' and I would expect you to be familiar with our website and blog at the very least. Ask sensible questions and demonstrate initiative and self-reliance. Understand where you would fit in to our organisation. Be friendly, open, genuine and someone that will blend into the team.
What sort of personality does it take to work for a start-up? Can you give us three character traits?
Determination: You have to really want to succeed to get past all the obstacles in your way.
Great people skills: In the end, business is about people. Selling to people, getting investment from people, motivating and inspiring employees, managing deliveries to clients – it is all hugely dependent on your ability to get alongside, persuade and enthuse the people you meet on your journey.
Initiative: everyone ends up doing everything in a start-up and there is room for a lot of creativity and invention along the way.
How would you describe the culture of your firm?
Professional and hard-working because we are all committed to delivering business-critical information to our clients when they need it. We’re elite but highly supportive – it's a carefully selected team but we all help each other, trust each other, respect each other and believe in each other's abilities. Self-starting because everyone pitches in when required and takes the initiative.
Sell your company to technologists working in the financial sector – why should they want to work for you?
What we do is new, exciting and at the cutting edge of the latest big data and natural language processing technologies and it's a friendly, fun atmosphere to boot.