When it comes to cybersecurity, brands like McAfee are synonymous with antivirus software and privacy protection. And with the ever-increasing threat of ransomware, malware, phishing and hackers, cybersecurity has become big business.
According to a report in the Australian Financial Review (AFR), which explores why Australia is a prime target for cybercriminals, it revealed that there’s at least one report of cybercrime every seven minutes - and these are the crimes that get reported!
With that in mind, it’s safe to say that Ian Yip, former CTO for McAfee Asia Pacific, knows a thing or two about creating a safe online presence and helping others to do the same.
In fact, it’s what inspired him to start Avertro.
Whilst at McAfee, Ian’s conversations with leaders revolved around the key challenges they were facing, particularly the disconnect between the cyber team and the rest of the organisation.
Even with powerful technology, executives were frustrated that they still needed spreadsheets and consultants to effectively implement it.
Avertro was founded in September 2019, born from Antler’s first cohort in Australia.
As an AI-enabled cybersecurity SaaS solution, it helps leaders make business-driven decisions and meet regulatory compliance. As part of that, its CyberHQ platform not only streamlines security tasks but also aids in compliance and reporting, making it easier for companies to align their cybersecurity efforts with business outcomes and roadmaps.
Avertro has since grown in size and success into a profitable global business with significant commercial deals, enterprise customers and investment to accelerate its traction.
We caught up with Ian to check in on Avertro’s progress and achievements over the last four years. But first, to contextualise this, we’ll take a moment to reflect on his startup journey which has led to this success.
From Day Zero: Ian’s experience building Avertro with Antler
Ian joined Antler as a domain expert, one of three profiles that Antler believes makes a great founder.
A domain expert has deep industry insights and knowledge about a particular field. Paired with a technologist and a commercial founder, this is a powerhouse co-founding combination.
“As a domain expert, obviously I know a lot about cybersecurity,” Ian says. “That was the easy part. For me, the hard part was navigating the startup ecosystem, navigating through the ways you can build a business.”
For this reason, Antler was the launchpad he needed to kick-start his entrepreneurial journey.
In those early days of building Avertro with Antler, Ian says the support from Antler was vital.
“Through the entire process of building Avertro, Antler has been very supportive.[When in the cohort] I could call anyone at Antler and the team would always tell me what they thought and point us in the right direction.”
With Antler’s support, Avertro launched with eight pilot customers, including CPA Australia.
What followed was significant and meaningful funding rounds in steady succession.
Antler invested AU$100K in pre-seed funding, which was quickly followed by another AU$50K from CyRise, the shuttered cybersecurity venture accelerator program, and an oversubscribed AU$750K pre-seed+ round, led by Black Nova Group, in which Antler also participated in.
“Every investor who participated in our pre-seed+ round had been introduced to us via the Antler network,” says Ian, “It was a great deal of help.”
Ian went on to continue to leverage Antler’s reputation and global reach to help boost Avertro’s growth.
“Antler helped us generate buzz and leverage messaging channels that we could use to share why we were building Avertro, but ultimately it was the validation Antler provided by association that helped people feel comfortable. This enabled us to have the necessary number of conversations to find the right investors.”
To Greatness: Where Avertro is now
Since 2019, Avertro has hit profitability as of mid-2022 and the team has quadrupled in size to 20 team members, with a key appointment to the board in former Chief Information Security Officer (CISO) of the ATO, Jamie Norton.
A cybersecurity expert with over 20 years of experience in both government and commercial sectors, Jamie has helped organisations develop their cybersecurity strategies, governance structures, and risk management practices. He has also been actively involved in various high-level committees and working groups focused on cyber resilience, including contributing to the Australian Cyber Security Strategy 2020.
Ian also considers Antler to be an extension of the team, saying they’re “always there to guide and support while simultaneously letting us focus on driving the business forward.”
“As Antler has grown, so has the benefit of being a portfolio company. Most of our major investors to date have come from the Antler ecosystem. As such, Antler has been a significant contributor to our initial survival (we started the company just prior to the pandemic), and our subsequent growth.”
“The Antler experience is the best ‘startup MBA’ you are going to get, short of literally running a startup for a few years. I’ve referred many a would-be founder to Antler because of how beneficial the experience has been to me personally, and to Avertro.”
Their customers now include major international organisations in the following industries: utilities, retailers, government departments, universities, financial services, manufacturers, telecommunications, maritime, mining, and technology providers.
Avertro has also garnered some major partners, with well-known Australian companies like RSM and Cyber Audit Team (CAT) joining the ranks. In the CAT partnership, companies that can't afford a full-time CISO are provided a more cost-effective way to assess and manage their cyber risks while maintaining compliance and optimising their security budget.
Additionally, the startup has garnered official support from Austrade and the NSW Government in Australia, alongside the Tampa Bay and Denver governments in the US. A research and development partnership with UNSW’s Institute of Cyber Security and the University of Queensland has also proven fruitful.
UNSW cybersecurity experts Professor Sanjay Jha and Dr. Jiaojiao Jiang have developed new modelling, used by Avertro, which draws from both internal sources such as system logs, network equipment, boundary security devices, and antivirus systems, and external sources such as popular social media platform, Twitter to learn patterns of cyber threats and grades the business according to the predicted level of risk it poses, according to the UNSW newsroom.
Four years on, Ian says, “Cybersecurity is more front-of-mind today than when we started. We launched with the mission to empower leaders, including boards and senior executives, to make data-driven decisions when it comes to governing cyber risk.” Their innovative solution and foresight into the increased focus and accountability from the top that would permeate security measures of today has provided significant tailwinds
“Being the category creator means we have a significant advantage over would-be competitors, having been first-to-market with our solution; CyberHQ is the most mature product on the market globally, solving the challenge that every regulator in the developed world is now enforcing upon organisations.”
“While we have had to fast-track certain roadmap items to bring our functionality back to the market in some respects, our efforts spent perfecting the more future-focused features has not gone to waste.”
And Beyond: Where Avertro is going
Now with a number of strategic investors and partnerships onboard, Avertro is continuing to pursue ongoing funding rounds, and starting to scale beyond their current borders.
Specifically through its support from the NSW Government, Avertro has begun its global expansion, with Singapore as its first successful target and a key gateway into the broader APAC market.
Across the waters, Ian is also focused on Avertro’s US plans, having already hired multiple people to fuel that growth. Not only does this give Avertro access to the broader Americas, but helps them tap into the burgeoning US cybersecurity market, which sits at an estimated US$73.41 billion in 2023 and is forecasted to reach USD 108.31 billion by 2028 according to Mordor Intelligence. This boosts Avertro’s traction exponentially, with Ian expecting it to triple the company’s ARR within the next 18 months alone.
Ian says Antler’s global network will be key in supporting these expansion plans thanks to its presence in 27 cities across the world.
“Being aligned with a global venture capital firm like Antler is a great validation point for an early-stage company. I always start my introductions — for someone who has never heard of us — with we are an Antler portfolio company, and we came out of the Antler VC process; they gave us the initial kickstart. The association immediately validates our business, what we do, me as a founder, and our team.”
Meanwhile, with their future-focused roadmap, Avertro’s product will continue to mature and evolve in tandem to suit the cybersecurity needs of its customers on a growing scale.
As major companies such as Optus, Medibank Private, Meriton, CBA, IPH Limited and Latitude Financial make headlines, falling victim to widespread data breaches and up to 76,000 cybercrimes being reported annually - complex data-retention laws, outmoded privacy laws and poor document-destruction practices, as identified by the AFR, are being blamed.
Industry leaders, including Ian himself, are calling for government intervention to review data retention laws, introduce regulatory requirements, and provide more funding to curb these imminent dangers.
“We cannot be cyber resilient as a nation without a stronger ecosystem, which includes businesses of all sizes, as well as a healthy amount of sovereign capability in the form of technology and solution providers,” Ian penned in an opinion piece in response to the Australia Federal Budget in 2021.
“It is time that the government recognises that we are stronger when the ecosystem is properly supported and allocates more funding and support outside of its own departments.”
To learn more about Avertro’s world's first All-in-One Cyber Governance platform and how it helps businesses govern, manage, measure, and report on the performance of your cybersecurity function here.
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