Could you provide a brief recap of your career since graduating from Owen?
I graduated from Owen in 2012 and went to Amazon as a senior product manager working on a big data analytics program that Amazon sold to sellers. I did some time there and later moved on to obtaining an MBA from Owen. I always had a plan of moving back to Nashville but took a pit stop in Ann Arbor to do a year long Masters of Entrepreneurship program at the University of Michigan. In the program you had to come with your “big entrepreneurial idea”. I had a really cool idea relating to golf, but it never panned out that well, so I ended up joining a startup in DC that did peer to peer lending for small businesses.
I spent about two and a half years in the Washington, DC area until a job opened at Owen for the C4E. Knowing the goal was always to get back down to Nashville, I saw it as a great opportunity to get back to the area and ended up running the C4E for three and a half years. Throughout that time I had been working with a team of PhD’s on their technology which ended up being my current business ARMS Cyber. At this time I left Owen to be the CEO and co-founder of ARMS Cyber.
What is your company and where did the idea come from? What served as the the biggest motivator or influence in starting your company?
ARMS Cyber is a cybersecurity company whose technology was developed over the past 5 years by twin brothers that were PhD and electrical engineers at Vanderbilt. While I was working at the C4E I started working with them very closely, helping them commercialize the idea and build a company around it, ultimately becoming one of their advisors. As we got further along it made sense to jump over and be the CEO to lead the business side of things.
One of the twins’ research had been funded by some of the three letter agencies in the Air Force arena as he was helping solve the problem of zero day attacks in software. Zero day attacks are cyber attacks that have never been seen before so even when it happens the people who made the software are unaware there is a vulnerability. In his research he discovered one of the best ways to prevent attacks like these is through constantly shifting the structure of the software. What we do is shuffle the code. For example, if somebody were to find a vulnerability on line 100 of your Microsoft, on mine it’ll be randomly somewhere else. This prevents an attacker who finds a vulnerability on one version of Microsoft from also attacking another person. It drastically cuts down mass hacks that big nations are attempting.
What is the most challenging thing about being an entrepreneur and how have you worked to overcome this challenge?
I’d say the hardest part is a little bit of something you can’t do anything about. There is a lot of vested interest in you not being successful. That doesn’t mean you can’t but I think it can be very demoralizing. There’s a lot of entrance factors. It doesn’t matter if you’re 10 or 15 times better, that is the hard thing – sometimes finding your way in those areas where you may have the perfect way in, but there might be some entrance interest. That’s what entrepreneurship is about: finding those obvious ways that are blocked and going out to find ways that nobody else thought of. It’s not giving up even after those first times you think it’ll be easy home runs and they’re not. It’s about finding those different routes.
What qualities are most important to possess as an entrepreneur?
For me, the best feature you can find in an entrepreneur is the want – the ability to do what you’re doing not just for the money. If you’re doing it just for the money there is going to come a day where you’re going to say it’s not worth it. Some people call it passion. I want to see that you’re still going to do this after you get told you’re stupid, when you aren’t getting paid, and after you have had to make major cutbacks in your life. If you’re still interested in what you’re doing, I think you can make it. There’s a lot of people who can’t wait to turn their computer off at 5PM so they can get up and walk out of the office. The ones that are going to make it are the ones who you’re going to have to tell to shut it off since it’s 3AM.
What are you most proud of about your business?
I think I’m most proud of what we’re doing. The days of people standing and shooting at each other with guns is going by the wayside. You no longer need to drop a nuclear weapon on Washington DC, you can instead change all the road lights to green or murder someone by hijacking their car and making it go 100 mph. Cyber is a new battlefield. I’m very proud that we are at the forefront of this battlefield. These are the new ways and we’re hoping to defend against these types of attacks that are coming from malicious actors who aren’t fans of America and want to see chaos.
What advice do you have for students as they launch their business? Are there any tools you consistently use as an entrepreneur?
I definitely recommend for students to start with their end goal of what they want to be doing and backward plan on how you get there. A lot of people think the first thing they need to do after graduating from Owen is start their own company but you don’t need to launch your company this minute. I think the two important traits you need to know are vision and focus. Vision in the sense that you know where you want to end up and focus on taking the proper steps to get there. You must always look at everything you do in how it’s getting you to your end goal. Whether it be wanting to start an e-commerce company and working at Amazon for two years to learn on their dime or wanting to start a flower shop – it’s all about learning and learning from people’s mistakes. Every mistake has been made, so listen to other people to avoid mistakes upfront.
What do you do to live a balanced life? Do you have any interesting or fun hobbies?
I don’t have a balanced life. I have my startup and two toddlers so there is not much time. Anytime I’m not working I’m doing things like trying to get to my son’s soccer games. For me it’s making sure two toddlers get raised and starting a company from the ground up. You have to take care of yourself physically and mentally but outside of those three things I don’t care. It goes back to vision and focus, relating to if it doesn’t advance the ball. I do think it’s important though if you don’t carve out time for yourself, what’s the point? I go back to the passion stuff if all you’re doing is hazing yourself and life is miserable, why would you spend time doing something that’s miserable all day long everyday. Life is too short.