February 1, 2017
Mika Aalto - CEO & Co-founder
Pasi Salo - Co-founder
Karri Kurunmäki - Co-founder
Pyry Åvist - CTO & Co-founder
Icebreaker (IB): Alright guys, how’s it going?
Pyry: It’s going well! We’re having a damn good time. It’s been pretty busy. One could describe it as ”controlled chaos”.
Mika: It’s been a positive problem recently that there’s just so much to do: new clients keep on coming in, our existing clients are happy and there’s just generally a lot going on, all the time.
IB: How did you come up with your team for this company?
Pyry: Basically, Mika called me and told me that he had an idea for a company. He asked me to found a business with him and I told him that I need a little time to think about it. I thought about it for the duration of my drive home from work and then I called Mika and told him that I’m in.
IB: What about your backgrounds? What were you doing before Hoxhunt? Is there something you have learned in your past that helped you with founding and running your company?
Mika: Learning how to eat has been a pretty useful skill through my whole life.
Pyry: Yeah, that has helped, definitely.
Pyry: But seriously though, it all started in what is now Aalto University School of Technology, where Mika and I – actually, our whole team! – were studying at the same time. I started studying machine learning and during my second year of studies, I joined a startup company called Eniram that developed optimization solutions for large cruise ships. I spent my summers coding in the Bahamas and Miami, which was nice. I moved on to the product development, then to product management and finally found myself from the management team, leading the product development and marketing. I learned how companies grow and how companies are actually built from scratch into success stories.
Mika: My story is pretty similar. I studied in Aalto University. I joined a company called Haahtela and saw it grow from a dozen employees to a company of couple hundred employees. I then moved on to a spin-off company from Haahtela that focused on human resources, where security issues caused by people’s behavior and obliviousness caused me daily frustration and eventually sparked my interest in cyber security. After that I founded my first startup, which was buried after seven months. That taught me that it’s not that important how hard you can get hit and stay standing, but how often you can get back up after getting beaten.
IB: In that case, is there something particular that keeps you going?
Mika: Our philosophy is “user first” which dictates everything we do. We don’t do anything “just because”, but instead everything we do must go towards the success of our end users.
Pyry: The other foundation on which everything we do relies on is our team. Sales, tech, everything – we all need to feel good in order to create value and success for our users.
IB: What made you start a company? Did you ever consider any other options for?
Pyry: I mean, there was always the chance to just go work somewhere. But personally I felt that this is the only right thing for me to do. I probably wouldn’t find working in any large, later stage company satisfactory.
Mika: You’re always looking for that next place where you can learn the most, you know. The great thing about working in a growth company is that the challenges are never the same and they keep on shifting and evolving the further the company grows.
IB: The challenges of entrepreneurship are the best and worst part of startup life. How do you handle stress, pressure and failures?
Pyry: Curling up into a ball and crying on the floor works pretty well.
Mika: But really, when you have a good team around you – people you can trust, people you can rely on – you don’t stress about day to day things, because you know everyone does their best.
Pyry: It’s important to have a pragmatic approach to failures and mistakes. If something doesn’t work, we analyze why it doesn’t work and do it differently the next time.
Mika: Failing fast is definitely important.
IB: Well, have you learned anything new during the lifespan of HoxHunt?
Pyry: Yes. Absolutely. We’ve learned ridiculously much about running a business, technology, teamwork, myself.
IB: So you’re definitely not bored?
Pyry: Definitely not! That’s one of the joys of entrepreneurship. It’s not just about developing your product but building and steering the whole company: creating a culture, reporting, financing and so on.
IB: Let’s talk about your company, HoxHunt. You solve security problems that are caused by attacks initiated through people. What does that mean? ”Attacks initiated through people” sounds kind of like someone physically attacking an office with guns and bombs, but I suppose that’s not what you are talking about?
Mika: Yeah, such physical assaults are not part of our business, at least for now. But what we mean by “attacks initiated through people” is so called social engineering. Nowadays, 90% of all cyber attacks start with using a human being within the target company. Whether it’s an information leak, ransomware-attack or even organized, state-led cyber-espionage, they always start with someone making a mistake. For instance, when Hillary Clinton's campaign team got hacked during her campaign, it was due to one fatal click made by one of her campaign managers.
Information systems have evolved up to a point where it’s very hard to find technical vulnerabilities within the systems themselves. It’s much easier to use the human weaknesses. It’s much easier to pretend being someone from the IT-support doing system updates and then just directly ask for a password from the CEO. Evolution has made us vulnerable that way: humans want to trust and believe other humans.
IB: So the technology has advanced so much that now we, the humans, have become the weakest link in the security systems?
Mika: Actually, humans have pretty much always been the weakest link. But recently criminals have begun to exploit that soft spot on a much larger scale. Exploiting human behavior is pretty simple and low-risk but comes with the possibility of huge profits, and criminals love the chance of getting lots of money with relatively low efforts.
IB: So how does HoxHunt tackle this problem?
Pyry: We train our users to recognize and block that kind of attacks. Our solution is to engage the employees through gamification to change their behavior for good. We simulate different kind of virtual attacks towards the users and then they have to recognize and report them.
IB: Do you have anything you would like to say for people, who are considering taking the same leap as you did and starting their own company?
Pyry: DON’T DO IT. Haha, no but seriously, this isn’t easy life. You have to really want it. You need to have the passion for your idea, passion for the business and passion for challenges. If you’re ready for what it takes, go for it!