Wendell Brown is currently CEO and chairman of the mobile cybersecurity firm Averon. Throughout his career in technology, he has created global solutions in telecommunications, VoIP, and online security. He is also active in a variety of charitable organizations, including educational foundations serving underprivileged communities.
Last month, Averon announced the close of an $8.3 million funding round led by Avalon Ventures, to continue developing its Direct Autonomous Authentication (DAA) platform, a frictionless mobile identity verification technology.
What is Averon’s unique solution to improving cybersecurity, and why is authentication such an important thing right now?
I think everyone knows cybersecurity is a challenge today; you read about breaches all the time. Averon’s solution is important because it provides a much easier way for mobile users to authenticate, to really communicate and prove to the service who they are, and it does so in a much easier way.
In fact, the user does nothing. Unlike existing solutions like SMS 2FA (two-factor authentication), Averon allows you to authenticate with no effort. It leverages the inherent power in the mobile network, and that’s really quite unique. Making it easy is important, because if it’s not easy for users, they’ll usually turn off security.
Is there anyone working in your space at all: any direct competition whatsoever?
There are a lot of companies that provide second factors, but there’s no one else providing cybersecurity the way we are, where it’s easy, and it’s leveraging the power of the mobile carriers. We’re embedded inside the carriers, so it’s a unique approach,totally different from SMS.
With SMS 2FA, of course, the user has to do something, has to type in the characters. It’s not just the time and inconvenience—SMS is not as secure as people may imagine. There have been multiple breaches where SMS codes were lifted off an SMS stream. There’s a group in the US government called NIST (National Institute for Standards and Technology) that came out about six months ago with a recommendation to the banking community and other sectors to no longer use SMS 2FA because of these breaches. Soon it seems regulations will mandate moving away from SMS-based 2FA.
Are there any other ways cybersecurity companies are not delivering the user what he or she needs?
An important message for companies to understand is when they beef up security, a lot of companies just make it harder and harder for the user. Requiring multiple steps tests the user’s patience, and sometimes when it gets too difficult users just turn off security altogether.
So there’s a point of diminishing returns if you improve security by making it more complicated. That’s one of the things that really sets us apart: We add security, but we do it in a way that makes it easier for the user. That is important, because if it gets too complicated users either turn security off—which, of course, defeats the whole point—or if there’s a poor security implementation, sometimes customers will go somewhere else. if it’s too much of a hassle, they vote with their feet: They either turn it off or go somewhere else.
So you think there’s a UX deficit on that side of things – where companies are keen to make all other operations as seamless and user-friendly as possible, but when it comes to security they’re not really thinking about the user?
I think the priority is correct in that they need to make security stronger, but it’s important to pay attention to the UX. We’ve all experienced login problems or forgotten a password—it’s all becoming increasingly complicated in general—so we are unique in that we can add security and extra strength but without impacting the UX in general.
What are the biggest challenges Averon faces today?
We’re live on all the US carriers, are expanding internationally, and we recently closed an $8.3 million Series A with Avalon Ventures. They’re a great, large fund, and we’re very happy to be working with them. The funding is being used to grow our technical team and sales department.
In terms of challenges, working closely alongside mobile carriers made the first year difficult. It took a while to get in place and approved. Also our HQ is in San Francisco, so recruiting is competitive and challenging, but we’ve got an exciting story and we’ve actually been fortunate in terms of recruiting a team. We’re live in the US market today and also growing internationally. We have partnerships with telcos internationally, and some activity in Europe coming up.
Are there any other industries that you see on the horizon that will require Averon down the line?
Today we’re focused on FinTech, IoT, and automotive. Those are three areas that are important. Any other areas that are important are wherever there’s any sort of sensitive information, like file access and sharing documents. Our initial focus is on those three areas, but there are others we’ll be growing into as well.
What are the best pieces of advice, or things you’ve done wrong, that you’ve taken into this role?
From my prior companies I’ve always learned from experience. I think some of the basic lessons as an entrepreneur are to address a large market: People get excited when you solve big problems–not only customers but also investors and such–so it’s important to address big problems and big markets. With Averon, we’re doing both of those: It’s a big market, it’s a big problem, and it’s important to the world.
From more of a personal standpoint, it’s also a problem that affects people. This is a problem that affects my family, it affects everyone, it’s impactful, it’s important, and it affects the world. The important thing is to go after large problems and create solutions that make a positive impact.