ZenMate anonymous and secure Internet surfing
Please introduce yourself and your startup ZenMate to our readers!
My name is Simon Specka and I am the CEO and co-founder of ZenMate. We are a young and energetic startup based in the heart of Berlin, creating easy-to-use internet security tools for everyone. Our vision is to bring internet security into the mass market, by the easiest way possible, to become a new global consumer security brand.
ZenMate is a free and premium service platform and device-agnostic internet security solution that acts in a similar way to a VPN connection. We basically enable anonymous and secure internet usage across the globe. We are proud that our produtcs are trusted by several million users, spanning across 180 countries worldwide. With our software, we won the Europas Award for Best Security/Privacy Startup of the year 2014.
At ZenMate, we believe in a free, protected and private internet connection, without the limitations of geographical boundaries. One of the many problems associated with free internet is the difficulty of manually setting up a proxy or VPN on your computer. Therefore, we created a simple, effective service, that provides everyone with the ability to empower themselves with a free and secure internet. To be fair, this ability goes far beyond the IT knowledge of the everyday user. Since that little “Eureka” moment in 2013 my co-founder Markus Hänels and I hatched the idea to launch ZenMate. At the moment we are working on a platform, that can offer a holistic package in the field of internet security to our customers. With the recently launched WebFirewall – out first non-VPN-prodzct – we made a first step in this direction.
Please tell us more about about why you started ZenMate and what was the “Eureka” moment you talked about?
While I was traveling around the world, and specifically while living in Jakarta during an internship, I found it pretty bothersome not being able to access websites which were not local or not accessible due to their domain name. So when I returned to England, where I studied for my MSc in Innovation Management and Entrepreneurship at Manchester Business School, I had a pretty good idea of what I wanted to do next in my life. I wanted to take all of those life experiences I learnt whilst on the road and provide an easy solution to people all over the globe, who want to be able to access online what they want, whenever they want, regardless of their ‘physical’ location.
I teamed up with Markus, my good friend and co-founder, who has been an integral and necessary key player in ZenMate’s success and growth so far. Needless to say that without him, ZenMate would have never taken off. It’s a pretty strong partnership and we work well together. Markus is a genius with all the technical aspects of our daily operations and takes care of everything behind the scenes. All the work that makes ZenMate such an easy, simple and successfull VPN solution is thanks to Markus’ efforts. After Jakarta, he instantly started programming and he helped develop the first prototype of the project,and achieved finalist status at the the University of Manchester Innovation Centre in 2013 and ensured the correct first steps that were taken in developing ZenMate as a permanent name in the internet security world.
How difficult was the start and what challenges did you overcome?
The most important challenges that we faced at the beginning were how to scale a business from the bottom to the top. Another very substantial question was how to find the right people – those having the same motivation, spirit and of course the necessary experience. It is especially hard to find good people for IT roles. For quite a while now we have been trying to find a VP of Engineering that fits us and our products. At the beginning of ZenMate we were a pretty small team, as every company is, I guess. When we started to grow and hire more staff, we had to bring the whole original team beyond the transition phase.
There are technical aspects related to this of course. With us being a technical product provider, we had to keep the whole infrastructure alive 24/7, while constantly working on improving it. I am proud to have such a fantastic team that manages all the daily challenges.
A funny little anecdote I must share related to the hiring process. In the IT department we had someone in for an interview. That person said he didn´t understand why people do not just simply get their own server at home and program themselves a VPN client. Obviously, he didn´t understand the need for a simple internet security solution for those people who cannot write their own programms, but still want to be active in the World Wide Web without having to be scared!
How did your company develop since it´s beginnings?
Officially, we started in February 2013 in England and by July, we had been in Berlin few months with our first employees. Only one month later we launched our first product, which absolutety flew off; after only two weeks we already had 100,00 users. This made us very proud and made us strive for more success. In August we had our seed round of one million Euro. With that money, we could now focus on our processes, enlarge the team and build our platform. In the third quarter of the following year we secured a Series-A funding of eight million Euro. At the beginning of this year 2016, we had another small and quick investment round – alongside our current stakeholders, Bessemer Venture partner who joined in. This is one of the oldest investors in the United States and ZenMate is only their second investment here in Germany. This was an accolade for us. Until now we have over 60 people at two locations – Berlin and Cluj in Romania. We have more than 30 million users, a number that speaks for itself. I am looking forward to future success.
Who is the target audience of ZenMate and your products?
Our target audience really is everyone, but I guess all companies would say that. A more narrow focus would be consumers who want to be able to use the internet the way they see fit, and be able to do so anonymously, quickly, and without having to set up a lengthy manual proxy or VPN. Basically, we provide a service for everyone who wants to protect themselves but do not know how. That is why we work so hard to make our service available on as many platforms as possible.
Generally we are currently facing a big change by working on products outside the VPN world. We want to be able to offer a wider product range and therefore to address a bigger target audience.
Additonally, ZenMate is perfect for travellers. Everyone on the road needs to be secure when using public internet hotspots, to be protected against hostile access,while not having to worry about technical implementation
In summary, our solutions are easy and flexible to use and enable consumers to be in the driving seat regarding internet privacy and security control.
How important is your service, what is the customers advantage?
Well, to be honest, I think we offer one of the most important services in the modern internet environment. The internet/cyber security industry truly is unique, as it is one of the only industries which will never stop growing. If you think about it, every time someone comes out with a new technology to keep the ‘bad guys’ at bay, the ‘bad guys’ try to develop new methods to be able to access people’s online information! With that in mind, coupled with ZenMate pushing to become a global leader in not only VPN related services, but the entire cyber security industry, I believe our service’s importance is not measurable by words. We truly are aiming to create a safe, free, and personal internet for anyone and everyone who wants to be protected online, something which most people take for granted.
Need some proof? Just type in Google “cyber security crime statistics” for the evidence.
How does it work?
ZenMate encrypts your browser traffic, hides your real location, unblocks geo-restrictions, provides Wi-Fi and hacker security and protects user privacy. This works quite simple really because it is a ”one-size- fits-all” solution. Once connected to our browser extensions or the desktop clients, you can connect to any of our 20 server locations, which essentially reroutes your IP address. By doing so, you can access any content available and have the safe feeling that your data and web traffic is all securely encrypted using an AES 128bit encryption protocol. Th best part is that it really is a “3 click max” solution (from download to server location).
What’s the USP of your startup?
ZenMate offers a unique product because it really is so simple. The entire process from downloading to using is on average less than two minutes, and you are instantly protected online with anonymous encrypted data, and the personal ability to choose where you want to browse across the world.
Where do you see yourself in five years?
We see ourselves pioneering the cyber security realm and becoming a global leader in all aspects of cyber security. We are trying really hard to roll out multiple products and expand our company’s ability to cover all areas of the web. We want ZenMate to be the go-to-service for anyone who wants to have a safe, fast and secure computer experience.
Last but not least: what advice would you give others startup founders?
If you have an idea make sure you are passionate about your work before delving into it. Be ready to work hard, and have a ‘go big or go home’ mentality everyday at whatever it is you may call your ‘office space’. Any idea is potentially a good one, but remember, poor preparation leads to poor performance, so work hard and be passionate!
Thank you Simon Specka for the Interview
Statements of the author and the interviewee do not necessarily represent the editors and the publisher opinion again.