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Darktrace CEO Poppy Gustafsson on how to raise $104.5m and employing curious minds

Female CEO
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At Tech City News, we’re always keen to shine a light on members of the UK’s growing technology community.

This week, we spoke to Poppy Gustafsson, CEO EMEA at Darktrace, a Cambridge-based cybersecurity startup.

She spoke about the company’s philosophy, how Darktrace managed to raise VC funding and the firm’s plans for future growth.

Cybersecurity firm Darktrace gets $65m in funding

Tech vertical: Cybersecurity
Funding: $104.5m
Staff count: 350
Location: Cambridge
Founded: 2013

Q: Can you tell us a little about Darktrace? What makes the company so unique?

Darktrace has a fundamentally different philosophy from first generation security players. We assume that you are already infiltrated.

Half the industry relies on signatures to defend itself but, given the swathes of high-profile attacks we see, it is clear these legacy tools are inadequate. Instead, Darktrace uses advanced machine learning and mathematics to detect cyber-threats without the need for previous knowledge of threats. Like an immune system – Darktrace’s self-learning technology establishes what ‘normal’ looks like on the network and identifies anomalous behaviours allowing organisations to respond to early-stage threats before damage is done.Poppy Gustafsson

Q: Where did the idea come from?

Expert mathematicians and machine learning specialists from the University of Cambridge came together to create new technology. Previously applied to genetics and other fields, these experts believed the same mathematics could be used to transform the way we defend against cyber threats.

Darktrace was thus founded in 2013 with these individuals and those from intelligence agencies, MI5 and GCHQ.

Q: What’s your background? 

Appropriately for a maths company, I have a maths degree from Sheffield University and am a qualified chartered accountant. Working in technology for a number of years, I became corporate controller at Cambridge-based software company Autonomy before co-founding Darktrace in 2013.

Q: Tell us an interesting fact about yourself.

I recently attended a trade mission to India with the Prime Minister, Theresa May.

Q: How is Darktrace going? Can you share stats on number of users/revenue?

Darktrace has been growing at a phenomenal rate across all industries and geographies. Revenue continues to increase by 600% year-on-year and the company is now valued at $500m.

We currently employ over 350 people across 23 locations, with headquarters in Cambridge, UK, and San Francisco, US. The Enterprise Immune System has been deployed over 1,500 times and has detected over 18,000 serious cyber incidents.

Q: Tell us about your fundraising journey. What is needed to raise $104.5m and what’s the most challenging part about raising external VC funding?

You need a truly innovative product that can be shown to work.

The most challenging part in raising external VC funding is that it can be time-consuming. Challenges vary according to the stage you are at. Early on, you have to justify your technology and persuade investors that you have the ability to grab marketshare from incumbents. Further down the line, you have to defend a valuation and persuade investors that you can scale the business.

Q: What has been the most challenging part about running the company?

Today, everyone is a target for cyber-attackers. Keeping up with the demand for immune system technology on a global scale is no small task.

We need to hire sales people, cyber technologists, analysts, developers etc. at pace. We now we have more than 350 people and I can no longer maintain a personal connection with every employee. Fortunately, we have a fantastic management team that I trust to motivate and inspire our newest recruits.

Q: What has been the most enjoyable part about running the company?

When you are running a business, it is easy to spend all of your time looking forward to the next step and forget how far you have come. To step back and reflect on all the talented employees we now have working at the company – wherever they are in the world – is very rewarding.

Q: What have been your biggest company milestones?

From a technology perspective, Darktrace launched a new product earlier this year which allows customers to automatically respond to threats once identified by the Enterprise Immune System. Darktrace is the only company out there that does this.

In July, we raised a further $65 m in funding from investors; KKR, Softbank and TenEleven ventures to accelerate our global roll-out and bring significant strategic value and knowledge to our team.

In August, we partnered with Samsung SDS lending huge validation to our technology and propelling our growth in Asia. We are looking forward to collaborating with them to develop cyber security solutions for Internet of Things technologies.

Q: Have you had a mentor? If so, who and what did they do for you?

Yes, I have always had a mentor throughout my professional career, and they have been an invaluable part of my personal development. Sometimes you just need someone there that you can trust to give you an honest answer to the question ‘Do you think I made the right decision in that instance?’

Q: What are your plans for the next 12 months?

Grow, grow, grow! Our main challenge is meeting the huge demand for better cyber defence across all countries and sectors.

Q: What five pieces of advice would you give to those starting their own tech company?

• Know what differentiates you – technology is an extremely overcrowded space so clearly communicating your USP will be crucial to cut through the noise.
• Recruit talent – employ curious and bright minds, tech can be taught.
• Remember the layperson – you won’t just be selling to IT specialists.

Q: Do you have any regrets?

I regret that I didn’t dedicate more time to practicing the piano when I was younger. I did enough to get by and always thought I would put in a lot of effort one day and get good… I now realise that as you get older, and have a family, you never have more free time, and as a consequence I am still rubbish at the piano and unlikely to get better any time soon!

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