Revamping Virtual Private Networks — Why I joined Antler

A conversation with Mikhail (Misha) Bragin, founder of WireTrustee.

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Antler

The investor backing the world's most driven founders, from day zero to greatness. Enabling thousands of founders every year to launch and scale companies that move the world forward.

Welcome to Antler, Misha! Could you tell us a little bit about yourself and your background?

I am a software engineer by profession and by heart. I got my bachelor's degree in computer science in Russia. In fact, while studying, I opened an online electronics store with friends. That was the initial point where I realised the power of software engineering. Funnily enough, before that, I was not really into programming. But at some point, there was a very interesting use case for our store where we had to optimise advertising with the help of custom made software. After that, we sold the company, I worked for a few years in Russia, and moved to the other side of the world in Brazil.

Why from Russia to Brazil?

I was pursuing a specific technology in big data processing called Hadoop and the whole ecosystem around it, but the technology was so novel that not many companies were doing it. I did some research and found a cyber security startup in Brazil that was adopting the technology. So, I applied, got the job, and moved there. I had my first experience working in the area of cybersecurity at this point. After that, I moved to Germany to work in the SEO area, focusing on data processing pipelines.

What made you leave your job and start your own thing?

I always had the goal of having more control of what I am doing and working on the things that I really want to work on. Even while switching between different companies, I tried to pursue this. It gives me immense joy when someone is using something that you have created. So, I started working on this B2C project. The idea was a plug and play device that would let anyone install it at home and have a gateway to a home network with access to personal data e.g. family pictures or documents as easy as Dropbox or Google Drive. Without any centralised servers, complex configuration, but with a strong encryption and personal privacy focus. I pitched the idea to my friend Maycon and he loved it! We called it Wiretrustee and started building our first PoC.

This seems quite a complex project; were there many bottlenecks?

There were 2 problems to solve — software (configuration and hassle-free secure private network) and hardware (small powerful device with storage capabilities). While the software PoC was ready in about a month, the hardware part was harder. There were not many suitable budget Single Board Computers (SBCs) on the market with a storage extension. Luckily, the Raspberry Pi foundation released a Compute Module 4 in October 2020, adding a crucial interface with the ability to connect storage devices natively. This wasn't possible with the Raspberry Pi before and I knew that an extension board can become quite a thing in the Raspberry Pi Community even without a nice enclosure. I hired a freelancer and we designed and produced the first prototype in January 2021. I published it on Reddit in the Raspberry PI community channel and got so much positive feedback. Afterwards, I sent the prototype to a popular Youtuber to make a review and his video hit 350k views.

Crowdfunding was the next obvious step that brought me to the CrowdSupply team. It was all going well until the semiconductor market crisis happened and prices skyrocketed. At this point I decided to pause hardware development and together with Maycon focus on software only, slightly changing the target of Wiretrustee. We saw a big potential in the area of simplifying corporate networks for businesses.

Simply put, we started focusing on a fast and simple alternative to corporate VPNs to bring more security, performance, and ease of use to this field.

What brought you to Antler Berlin?

After open sourcing the first software version and a few posts on Reddit, a lot of open source community interest came. The project was even featured on Y Combinator Hacker News. GitHub stars started to grow which was a clear sign to further develop and consider some incubation programs to commercialise the project. By the way, you can check the Wiretrustee Github repository to learn more about it. We've collected feedback and published a public product roadmap. Meanwhile, I explored a few incubators, but after a couple weeks there, and asking around, I realised that it is not the right place for me. I was looking for more structure and advice. After starting the interview process with Antler, I immediately noticed the difference. Even before entering the program, I was getting concrete feedback on my ideas and received a few pieces of advice. That concrete feedback and proactive approach was the deciding factor for me.

How has the Antler Program been so far?

I love it. It is quite intense in the first weeks. But those two weeks helped me a lot in getting our product even further. I received a lot of valuable feedback from other cohort founders, Antler team, and advisors.

But most important: Last week we tracked out with a business co-founder from the cohort as a major milestone to complete the founders team. He brings experience from tech and marketing consulting as well as B2B sales which completes our tech expertise.

What are you looking forward to in the next few weeks?

The project has quite a solid foundation already. We have released a beta version in September and since then we have more than 400 accounts registered. You can already sign up on our website and create your first private network in less than 5 minutes. Yes, it is that fast and simple!

Now that we have two technical co-founders (Maycon and myself) bringing a business co-founder (Tobias) to the team, we will focus on defining our go-to-market strategy and business model. Furthermore we work on getting closer as a team to form a unit. Both the team and the product are important to have as the foundation for kickstarting a great venture.

What validation is needed for you to refine your idea and be ready to execute?

We actually just want to start executing the existing plan we. We have strong positive feedback from the demo calls and a list of missing enterprise features to start doing sales pitches and building first traction. Customer feedback will be crucial for us ‚ the earlier we can get it, the better Wiretrustee will be positioned on the market.

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