Shirish Sathaye, General Partner, Cervin: Thanks for taking the time to talk with me Abhishek. We are excited to be investors in Bolster. Thanks for allowing us to be part of your journey. First things first, tell us a bit about yourself and Bolster.
Abhishek Dubey, Co-founder & CEO, Bolster: I’m Abhishek Dubey, Co-founder & CEO of Bolster. I’ve been in the cybersecurity space for over 15 years. I started Bolster in 2017 with my Co-founder, Shashi Prakash. Both of us come from Cisco Security, where I built and managed a very large group of security researchers, machine learning scientists and 24/7 support teams for 2 of Cisco’s e-threat intelligence products. While I was at Cisco, I also co-authored a book on Android security attacks and defenses.
At Bolster, we are protecting real people online. Recently, phishing has emerged as a potent attack vector in the cybersecurity world. It takes advantage of people to scam them into clicking on dangerous web links or typing passwords during login on fake websites or apps that almost accurately mimic real ones. We have pioneered an AI-based phishing and scam detection system to fully automate the detection, analysis, and rapid removal of fake sites and content. Our customers range from startups to Fortune 500 companies. We have seen amazing growth over the last year. For example, we increased our customers by 150% despite the market climate.
SS: What inspired you to start your own company? Starting a company is not for the faint of heart and it is not an easy thing to do. So why would you do such a thing?
AD: I think this goes back to my childhood. Growing up in India in the 90’s, there was a revolt by the youth, and there were not many jobs at that time. So as a kid, I was determined to create a company that would employ 10,000 Indians.
Also, in the 5th grade, I had the good fortune to have access to a computer, which was rare in India at the time. By the time I was in 6th grade, I was coding and had fallen in love with computers and knew I wanted to work with them as a career. My parents wanted me to be in the Indian Civil Service, but I didn’t like the bureaucracy that comes with that job. Since I had a strong desire to make a change and have an impact, I thought doing a startup was the right path.
SS: As you were putting your founding team together and hiring some of the early employees - What were you thinking about? How were you thinking about who should be on the team and why?
AD: This has been a learning experience Shirish.
One thing I’ve found useful is that my co-founder and I are in similar life stages. As a result, we seek the same things, and the same things give us the most reward. Having the same core values is of the utmost importance.
Over time I've learned a lot, and my approach to hiring has changed. I initially used to hire for skill set. But the more I look at retention, the best-performing team members are the ones with the best attitude and similar core values. With startups, it's important to have the right frame of mind, so if you have setbacks, you don't quit, you just find a new way to solve the problem.
SS: There are many things about a startup that are hard, in fact everything about a startup is hard, nothing is easy. Out of all those, which is the most difficult in terms of starting and building a company?
AD: Choosing the right people. A good set of people can make every hard thing - fundraising, customer discovery, or product - feel a bit less difficult. If you don’t have the right set of people, nothing is fun, and everything becomes a chore. So, as a founder, I believe you need to have the right team members at every stage of the company.
SS: When people ask me what makes a great entrepreneur, it’s very hard to answer that question. In your opinion, what is the most important trait for entrepreneurs?
AD: If I had to pick just one, I'd pick resilience. I think nothing else matters. Nobody is successful on their first go, but if people keep learning and, instead of thinking of failures as failures and being scared of them, think of them as a milestone to whatever the next goal is, it can be so helpful. That's the way each entrepreneur should look at it.
SS: Bolster is a well funded startup, growing quickly. So I’m sure people who want to start their own company come and ask you for advice. When that happens, what advice do you give them?
AD: There are a few things I tell them. First, having a good social circle is incredibly important because it’s a hard journey.
The second thing I tell them is don’t wait and don’t worry too much about failures. I think that a lot of founders who come from engineering backgrounds are too analytical. They focus on optimizing the next two years rather than looking ahead and figuring out the greatest peak they can reach.
SS: The last recession was in 2008 and you started your company in 2017, so when you started a company everything was up and to the right, the stock market was up, there was plenty of money in the market and that lasted for years. But in 2022, things changed dramatically and will change even further in 2023. How are you thinking about running the company and making it successful given the current market conditions which are likely to persist for 24 to 36 months, if not longer?
AD: When Shashi and I started Bolster, we bootstrapped the company with the help of three strong backers who were not VCs. We took $300K, started the company, and wanted to make money from day one. So for the first two years, we were very focused on selling and saving money. This way of operating is in our DNA.
I feel that Bolster is built for this environment. Of course, as the economy shrinks, more scams happen, which increases the need for a product like Bolster. When you create a product that customers want and quickly delivers value, people will buy it, regardless of economic conditions. With a product like ours, we do deals in less than 24 hours, so with our operating costs, we are very well positioned for this 2023 market and beyond.