MacLane Wilkison talks about his entrepreneurial journey towards co-founding one of the most cutting-edge security companies in big data and the cloud, ZeroDB.
Interview with MacLane Wilkison, co-Founder at ZeroDB.com
How does one go from working at Morgan Stanley to co-founding a data encryption company, and how did your experience in banking prepare you for this position?
The transition from banking to ZeroDB played to my advantage as they go hand-in-hand. Apart from the technical aspects of data encryption, we also specialize in minimizing risk. Banks compete increasingly on technology and their ability to extract differentiated insights from data. Their goal is to deliver the most advanced retail, corporate, and institutional products to gain an edge in the arms race with other banks.
But computation must be done in environments that are highly secure and regulatory-compliant, which often isn’t the case with the existing cloud and big data technologies. Despite this, the computational power and economic savings of the cloud is pushing banks towards adoption, which is where ZeroDB steps in to provide solutions.
Having a background in financial services has proven incredibly helpful in positioning our company and understanding our customers’ needs and pain points at a very deep level.
Organizations are increasingly concerned with the potential risk and cost of seemingly inevitable security breaches. How is ZeroDB able to protect companies from attacks that sets it apart from the competition?
It is in the strength of our algorithms that puts us on a whole other level from the rest. ZeroDB is built on peer-reviewed, proven encryption algorithms, such as AES256-GCM, guaranteeing cutting-edge security and best-in-class data protection. The ultimate protection against attacks is encryption at the data layer. Even if an attacker compromises the machine where the data resides, with encryption they only have access to gibberish.
What specific problem was your company aiming to fix when you began conceptualizing and how how has that played out?
I co-founded ZeroDB along with Michael Egorov to deliver end-to-end security to big data and cloud technologies for financial institutions engaged in an arms race for evermore computational power. The industry, although highly competitive, cannot afford to sacrifice security, and we’ve solved for that with our security and encryption layer that enables access to massive scale-out computing infrastructure in the cloud..
Apart from excellent customer feedback, have you been recognized elsewhere for your prestigious accolades?
ZeroDB was Regional Finalists at the UBS Future of Finance Challenge last year in New York. We made it past 600 other companies vying for exclusive selection based on our innovative solutions.
Our other accolades include:
- Kaspersky Lab Security Startup Challenge winner.
- Standard Bank Pathfinders Challenge winner.
- Accenture’s FinTech Innovation Lab.
What drives you both personally and as a startup founder? What advice would you give to aspiring entrepreneurs?
Above all, curiosity is the most important trait to me. Always wanting to push the boundaries, experimenting, and pursuing knowledge simply for knowledge’s sake is what motivates me. There’s a ton of interesting stuff to learn and do, and for future entrepreneurs and anyone else for that matter, having a love of learning is among the best advice I can give — and to always tinker with everything!
What was your “Aha!” moment that made you realize you had something truly unique to offer the business world as a result of your curiosity and passion for learning?
We started ZeroDB as an open-source project that came out of our interest in blockchains and the nascent idea of decentralized applications, like Ethereum and Storj.io. Our idea was to build something that could securely store data on untrusted servers. That turned out to be an extremely popular and active open source project and we started attracting attention from developers and cryptography researchers. That was when the idea cycle really started accelerating, and we figured out a couple small tweaks and extensions could enable us to secure Hadoop and the big data ecosystem.
What sacrifices did you have to make on the road to becoming an entrepreneur?
Interesting metaphor, because I literally took my journey on the road and drove from Manhattan to Silicon Valley and San Francisco. Sacrificing the comfort and security of a monthly paycheck and great job in finance, really focuses you and teaches you humility. Not knowing whether success lay in the first or the tenth attempt gave me the motivation to work even harder, and it brought me to where I am today as the co-founder and CEO of ZeroDB.