by John Ackerly, Founder & CEO, and Will Ackerly, Founder & CTO
Five years ago, when Edward Snowden was still a Booz Allen contractor, before “Sony” became synonymous with email catastrophe, and before Russia and the DNC became forever linked, we left our jobs to create a data privacy company called Virtru. We started Virtru to give people – from consumers to small business owners to the largest global enterprises – an easy-to-use way to protect data from end-to-end, wherever it’s shared.
Our careers in government gave us insight into the foundational failure of the early internet: that you must trust third parties to “do the right thing” with your data, and that these entities were, at best, cavalier with this responsibility. Many years ago, we realized that the utopian dream of infinite information libraries and networks of global connectivity carried with it a real threat to privacy.
Based on traditional venture capital metrics, the Virtru journey has been a successful one – though the HBO sitcom Silicon Valley does strike a little close to home at times. Having started the business with two other engineers, literally in a garage, “hacking” Gmail so that Google couldn’t serve up ads based on content of your messages, we are excited and humbled by the fact that millions of individuals and thousands of companies across the world are using our software to take back control of their data.
Yet, if we stopped today, we would consider Virtru a failure. While the company has enjoyed commercial success, the state of data privacy is worse now than ever before. Our society is in crisis – a crisis of trust – and the lack of data privacy is at the center of the problem.
The ICONIQ – Virtru Partnership
As we’ve said before, our work is just beginning – and we must all work together to restore trust.
Today marked an important moment in Virtru’s efforts to help restore trust on the internet. We announced the close of a $37.5MM Series B financing, led by ICONIQ Capital and joined by all of our major Series A investors including Bessemer Venture Partners, New Enterprise Associates, Samsung NEXT, Soros Capital, Blue Delta, and Thyra Global.
When we were introduced to the ICONIQ team, we were struck by their focus on creating positive societal change by leveraging truly unique technologies as well as a track record of nurturing long-term relationships with entrepreneurs. This focus is part of the ICONIQ DNA, an organization backed by entrepreneurs who shaped our current internet era.
We Should Not Have to Trade Privacy for Convenience
Thanks to the work of these entrepreneurs, we enjoy a level of convenience today that no other generation has experienced. We can connect and engage with professionals around the globe. We can conduct the majority of our work from our sofas, from a coffee shop, or from a plane seven miles above the earth. We can create, store, share, and access data from anywhere in the world. We can collaborate with anyone to deliver results faster and with less friction than ever before.
However, we’ve learned that this convenience has come at a high cost — the privacy and security of our most sensitive information. Our mission at Virtru is to remove that tradeoff, so businesses and individuals can enjoy the benefits of a highly networked, cloud-enabled world without giving up control of their information. Virtru is dedicated to empowering the individual and the enterprise to exercise ultimate control over their digital property. We do that using state of the art cryptography, but that’s the “how” — the “why” is the reason we come to work energized every day.
We Started With Email
Most of our customers have seen Virtru as a means of protecting their email. We started with email for obvious reasons — it’s ubiquitous, it’s not going away, and it remains the biggest source of data leaks. We started with email because it was, and remains, the most important way that people share sensitive data. We knew that to be successful, we had to integrate directly into the tools that people use every day (hard work, as we learned). We knew that the biggest barrier to adoption of tools to secure email – and data generally – was ease-of-use, which is where we have been innovating from the beginning.
Virtru has never lost an enterprise customer, and that’s because we solve the hard problem of protecting information without eroding the user experience. Our user experience is a primary driver and why we’ve grown to more than 8,000 customers in the past three years. We’re proud of how we’re helping them transform the way they protect their most sensitive information across industries and around the globe.
– Three of the five largest media organizations in the US use Virtru to protect sensitive information shared by journalists.
– We’re helping HBO protect the sensitive intellectual property they exchange with their partners around the world.
– More than 3,000 healthcare organizations use Virtru to protect patient information and comply with HIPAA.
– Global banks and financial institutions have adopted our technologies as part of their move to the cloud.
– Five of the six states that have moved to the Google Cloud use Virtru to protect constituent information and comply with regulations.
– At the US Department of Veterans Affairs, Virtru is improving patient outcomes by enabling medical staff to share veteran health information securely with healthcare providers around the country.
– Hundreds of organizations in the US and around the world are turning to Virtru to protect consumer information and comply with GDPR, the EU’s new data privacy regulation.
In helping these organizations, and many more, we’re doing our part to return control to data owners.
And we’re always looking for the next big privacy problem to solve through technical innovation, building on our unique approach that combines open standards for transparency and interoperability (more on this later) with proprietary technology for ease-of-use and control. Innovation never comes easy, and our engineers have delivered creative solutions to some very difficult problems on the way to achieving our mission. For example:
– Our integrations with platforms from Microsoft, Google, and others bring powerful, cross platform, and easy-to-use data protection to the world’s most popular business email platform.
– Federated Virtru Customer Key Servers give organizations exclusive control of the encryption keys that protect their information versus having to trust platform providers with both the key and content. Through our work with Intel, we’re extending this capability to the hardware layer, providing even greater security and confidentiality.
– Our patented Encrypted Search technology addresses the incredibly thorny problem of enabling people to search encrypted data without exposing it to third parties.
However, email always was just the beginning.
What you can expect next from Virtru
In the coming months, you can expect us to double down on our data privacy mission, making true end-to-end data protection accessible to everyone. In particular, we will invest in four areas: (1) product innovation; (2) technical and strategic partnerships; (3) geographic and market expansion; and, (4) the promotion of open standards for data protection – specifically focusing on the Trusted Data Format (TDF) – as the open standard for data-centric security.
(1) Product Innovation
We will expand beyond email to protect information wherever it’s created, stored, or shared. For example, we will be supporting cloud file storage and sharing applications such as Google Drive and Dropbox, chat applications such as Slack, as well as other commonly used SaaS business applications. You can also expect to see much more in the way of audit and control of enterprise information, even after it’s been downloaded, forwarded or re-shared – solving the vexing “last mile” problem of data protection.
(2) Technical and Strategic Partnerships
No single company can solve the crisis of trust alone. It will require a diverse coalition of motivated parties. Today, we work side-by-side with our technology and platform partners such as Google, Microsoft and Amazon to help some of the world’s largest enterprises move to the cloud while retaining full control of their data.
To realize our vision, strategic partnerships will take an even more prominent role at center stage. We’re already working with software vendors, enterprise IT leaders and technologists, and industry consortia who share our data privacy vision. For example, our partnerships with Intel, McAfee, PWC, and others have helped us to expand the reach of our data protection solutions and to integrate with complementary technologies such as data discovery and migration.
Our customers tell us that they want to leverage Virtru as an integrated part of their overall data protection and cloud migration strategy. To meet this need, look for new integrations with both platform providers and complementary data protection technologies. Several of these will be announced in Q3 of this year.
(3) Geographic and Market Expansion
Working with our go-to-market partners such as Softbank, we’re already serving customers around the world and are excited to more fully serve these markets with dedicated personnel and support for local languages. Accordingly, we are now standing up teams and partnerships in the EU and Asia Pacific.
Closer to home, we are building on our successes with state and federal governments with a dedicated public sector initiative to help more federal and state government agencies transform the way they share sensitive data. We will work with our customers and partners in the healthcare and financial services industries to develop solutions to meet their particular data protection needs.
(4) Open Standards – Unifying on a common standard for data centric security
From the start we have been committed to openness as a key tenet to solving the data privacy challenge at scale.
At the core of our technology is the Trusted Data Format (TDF), an open standard for data-centric security. The TDF ensures interoperability across systems and ensures our users are not locked in to a proprietary standard. We believe open standards are the only way to ensure that data can be securely and seamlessly shared across applications, platforms, and clouds. Over the coming months, we will invest heavily in the TDF ecosystem, making it easier for software developers to leverage this open standard via SDKs and APIs.
In short, expect us to serve many more customers around the world with new, innovative products and partnerships. No single company or entity can tackle this enormous task alone. The ICONIQ investment and continued support from our existing investors is transformative for Virtru and our mission to restore trust and control to the world’s data owners. We are more excited than ever to tackle the many challenges and opportunities that lie ahead.