Customer Comes First
We provide businesses with cybersecurity protection so they don’t have to build their own internal security team.
Our customers are often small- to mid-sized businesses who have, unfortunately, already suffered loss at the hands of a hacker, something our leadership team have a lot of experience dealing with throughout our careers.
We (Sameer, Ed, John, and Jerry) came together at ActZero after spending many years working as security professionals. Throughout our careers, we’ve each been called upon at various levels to consult with companies, teams, and individuals (internally and externally) on how to lock down an operation, automate highly manual processes, scale for product launches, and detect threats before they happen, or (at worst) recover from an intrusion. The cost of the intrusion can put a business at severe risk, and we’ve seen entire companies fold, departments laid off, and consumers suffer because cyber security safeguards were not in place. And now, we’re building ActZero to help businesses defend against these intrusions.
At ActZero, we maintain a state-of-the-art Security Operations Center (SOC) on behalf of our customers. Like all SOCs in the industry, ActZero staffs a team of security analysts. These analysts are our greatest asset, but without automation these analysts don’t scale well across customers. For this reason, we believe that at its core, cyber security is a people problem. We will automate away many of the mundane tasks that a security analyst does on a daily basis. In doing so, we allow them to focus on the most valuable work: enriching themselves and their knowledge in order to more effectively stop threats before they impact the end-customer’s business.
We don’t simply request dissenting opinions, we seek individual opinions on important decisions.
Our commitment to open communication starts with the executive team. We often talk about how important it is to keep all communication channels open, and we’ve been deliberate and thoughtful about making transparency a part of everyday life at ActZero. For starters, when you join us, you’ll fill out a questionnaire so that we can learn how you’d like to receive feedback and praise. Generally, we openly praise and privately coach, but we recognize that everyone has different preferences. We publicly encourage individual opinions and actively discourage behaviors which stifle individual contribution.
When it comes to code, data, and metrics, we operate as one unit. All information is available to anyone within ActZero. Our systems automatically push information to dashboards, rather than requiring information be manually requested and pulled from disparate sources. We have well-structured Slack channels for disseminating and discussing important company and team news - all work in other systems trigger notifications in Slack so employees can keep abreast of all activity. Everyone maintains publicly visible calendars, including our leadership team, who also host open-office hours.
Finally, we run a monthly employee satisfaction survey. The output of the survey is anonymized and shared with everyone at the company, and we all work to implement improvements based on everyone’s feedback. We welcome dissenting opinions. In fact, we invite them! Even if they’re most comfortably shared in an anonymous survey.
Safe Environment to Fail
Resilience is built into our engineering culture.
We expect failure in our production systems and are building safety nets into those systems that automatically recover from failure. If machines can fail, so can people. Part of resilience means reducing the (negative) impact of failure. We encourage systems that self-heal and roll-forward. Engineers aren’t dinged when they push an error, but rather praised when they can reduce the amount of time spent in the outage.
We use AI, especially machine learning, precisely because we do not know the right answer before we start. We run many experiments and accept that most will fail. Our success metrics, therefore, are based on learning quickly to ultimately make people more effective through the use of AI: some things we build will help a little, some a lot, and some not at all. In the end, our goal is to keep moving the proverbial needle forward. We do this by measuring everything and constantly evaluating our resilience. Our quantitative measures are around system downtime, mean time to resolution, and time to push a change. Our qualitative measurements include 1:1 conversations between managers and their directs, discussion at all-hands, and our monthly anonymous survey.
We have a strong culture of documenting feedback.
We encourage all plans to come in narrative format (usually either Confluence or Google doc) and that all feedback be documented, too. Engineers provide feedback in the form of comments in a doc and then doc reviews are scheduled so we can assess all feedback in a broader team setting. We capture code feedback during peer code reviews and also conduct a monthly employee engagement survey, which contains several open-ended questions. Every 1:1 meeting at ActZero focuses on the free exchange of feedback.
We hold weekly product review meetings to discuss important changes in the product. We consider these to be a great opportunity for engineers to question, challenge, and/or comment on the direction of the product and make their feedback known. Everyone is welcome to Slack their PM or any member of the team individually, too. Regardless of when or how feedback is given, we rely on each member of our team speaking up.
Lastly, there’s a strong foodie culture at ActZero. Our favorite team activity is enjoying great good together and we have a healthy budget for very nice lunch/dinner events. So many of our celebrations, decisions, and debates happen around an amazing meal, and these create organic opportunities for feedback to take place, too.
Decisions are never made without supporting data.
We are instrumenting all of our company’s processes. In operations, we collect data on customer activity, LTV, threats, and engagement. For engineering, we capture data about performance, failure rates, response times/latency, build times, service throughput, and developer efficiency/happiness/engagement. These are just the tip of the iceberg of what types of data we will collect.
Data informs every decision we make about our product, too. At a very high level, we collect data about the threats our customers see. This data dictates which threat behaviors we model (for machine learning) first. We target the threats that are seen most often by the largest number of customers. In addition to frequency, we track severity of each threat and then model the most severe threats to our customers. Engineers at ActZero always stay close to the data as our team is structured so that engineers and data scientists work in partnership.
Engineers own their work from ideation to release.
We have a bold vision; transforming that vision into reality will require significant innovation and invention to solve problems along the way. To this end, we welcome ideas from everyone. Our engineers partner with our product managers to understand the “what,” and then spin off to figure out the “how.”
Engineers demonstrate ownership by thinking through and leading the design, implementation, testing, deployment and operation of their solutions. With this responsibility, an engineer gets autonomy to martial people and resources and to own critical decisions. For example, one of our devops engineers currently owns defining and implementing the chatops-driven, cloud-based development environment, including all measures of success and documentation.
Once work is released, developers are also accountable for the quality of their work. While we do have test engineers, they are accountable for the automation framework such that a developer can actually own the feature they are producing (and also receive immediate feedback). Long-term maintenance of a project is handled by our SREs (once the SRE team formally accepts the feature of course), and feature developers can focus on building new features.
Always be shipping!
For us, fast-paced describes our deployment processes and how we like to “always be shipping” versus how quickly we change strategies. This is another aspect of ActZero that makes us different from your average startup: while we adapt to new information, our strategy is generally unwavering. We already have product-market fit and work quickly out of excitement. Everyone operates with a strong sense of ownership, which translates into urgency. The feeling is not panicked, but rather a calm assurance and eagerness to deliver immense value to our customers and change how security services are managed.
We employ continuous delivery such that every code change can make it to production in a matter of minutes. We measure and optimize the number of builds per day and the amount of time to deploy. We care deeply about eliminating the amount of time it takes for a developer to be productive. Our desire for automation and ML doesn’t end with the Security Operations Center, we also use these techniques to reduce wasted effort in building and operating our software.
We judge our pace through measurement. Urgency is reinforced through our Kanban development process. Each task should take <1 day to complete and we are vigilant about this fact. If a task takes less than a day to complete, every engineer should be able to ship one thing per day. Everyone therefore gets the opportunity to demonstrate concrete progress, day after day.
Heavily Team Oriented
We have a strong founding team and recognize the importance of collective experience and skill sets.
Together, we have a wealth of knowledge in cybersecurity and it is our cumulative experience that gives us an unfair advantage as we take on this massive market. Managed Security Service Providers (MSSPs) already represent ~20% of total global security spend and the global Managed Security Services market is projected to quadruple to $101B by 2026.
Learn more about who we are and please reach out if you’d like to help us build a first-of-its-kind AI platform to manage cybersecurity holistically!
- Dr. Sameer Bhalotra (Co-Founder and CEO): Sameer previously worked as Co-founder/ CEO of StackRox, as a cybersecurity executive at Google, as COO at Impermium (acquired by Google), and as a board member for numerous security startups. He has served in various roles in government including Senior Director for Cybersecurity on the National Security Council staff at the White House and Cybersecurity & Technology Lead for the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.
- Ed Gardner (Co-Founder and Head of Product): Ed was previously a Senior Program Manager for Enterprise Protection and Detection at Microsoft, and Senior Technical Program Manager for Consumer Data Protection at Amazon working on a content classification and data loss prevention service. He spent nearly 10 years at Akamai Technologies, working in various roles including Senior Service Architect for Platform and Security, Service Architect for Cloud Security Solutions, and Senior Program Manager.
- John Nurczynski (Co-Founder and Head of Strategic Operations & Business Planning): John was previously team lead for Customer Success at Arceo Analytics and Operations Manager at StackRox, two rising security startups in Silicon Valley. He was Senior Analyst within the Investment Banking Division at AGC Partners, specializing in Cybersecurity and Enterprise Software. John is also a former Senior Associate within the Wealth & Asset Management Division at Ernst & Young.
- Jerry Heinz (Head of Engineering): Jerry previously led NVIDIA’s GPU Cloud for AI/ML, Professional Graphics, and Gaming. Jerry is the former Head of Advanced Gaming Technologies for AWS and led Amazon AppStream, Amazon Lumberyard, and operations for Amazon Game Studio. Over his career, Jerry has led engineering at multiple startups in online-dating, e-commerce, member management, education, and mortgage banking.