Have you ever thought about the security and privacy of the messaging services you use (email, Whatsapp, Facebook, etc.)?
In November 2019, Edward Snowden, the famous former US Intelligence Community officer and whistleblower, tweeted that he believes a certain Berlin-based company to be one of two safer alternatives to email. Used by governments, large corporates, financial institutions, international organizations and more than 1,500 global enterprises, this app serves as a collaborative communications platform and is referred to as being as secure as humanly possible. Headquartered in Switzerland, with offices in Berlin and San Francisco, this company has Janus Friis, Skype’s co-founder, as their main investor and backer.
If you guessed that this app’s name is Wire, then you’d be right. Wire have been serving clients like EY, UNICEF, Softbank Robotics, Blackrock and the likes for a few years.
Wire was founded in 2012 by former Skype and Microsoft employees, Jonathan Christensen, Alan Duric and Priidu Zilmer. The startup was launched in 2014 and in 2016 they reached a game changing milestone: end-to-end (E2E) encryption. This means that even messages awaiting transfer to their recipients are encrypted and cannot be read by the company and as soon as a message is delivered to the recipient, it is deleted from company servers. Your messages – sent and received – are stored on your device, using high level encryption. Even if there was a hacker invading Wire servers, none of your data (except messages waiting to be transferred) would be there to steal.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Morten Brøgger, the CEO of Wire since the end of 2017. During the pandemic, Wire saw the demand for its platform skyrocket, especially in the enterprise client segment.
Thank you for joining us Morten. What was the reason Wire was founded and what are the goals you set for the company? Have the goals turned into reality or have you pivoted at some point in time?
We originally launched as a consumer application in 2012, but we went on to identify a totally untapped void in the enterprise space. We therefore decided to pivot to focus solely on enterprises and our attention shifted to steering the platform to the consumerisation of enterprise communication and collaboration. The guiding principle behind everything we do is to make communication as secure as humanly possible.
Wire claims to be the most secure messaging and collaboration platform in the world. What does it do that other similar platforms cannot do or deliver? What is the main differentiating factor from your top competitors?
We offer a dynamically encrypted messenger, voice, video and conference calls, file sharing and external collaboration – all of which are protected by industry-leading end-to-end encryption, thus securing all data that passes through our platform.
Unlike many other larger collaboration providers, our encryption keys only exist on the devices of our users. We cannot access them, however – meaning there is no man-in-the-middle vulnerability, which is when the solution provider can access encryption keys and read your content.
Wire was founded in 2012 by names like Janus Friis, former co-founder of Skype, with Alan Duric, Jonathan Christensen and Priidu Zilmer. You got onboard in 2017. How was this process and how is your relationship with them and the team at Wire?
When joining, the process of re-aligning the company strategy to focus purely on enterprise sales was tough. This was because it required a 180-degree pivot. I imagine that to date, we are one of the few companies to have successfully transitioned from a consumer brand three years ago, to a well-known, established enterprise brand today, which is in the same category as the likes of Microsoft Teams, Zoom and Slack.
Alan Duric still has a leading role as CTO and is responsible for driving our work in Messaging Layer Security (MLS), so he is critical for advancing our product, which was also his vision when he co-founded Wire. Janus and Iconical still remain investors, and Jonathan has gone on to work for a competitor. The core foundation of the relationship and the transition process that took place is very strong, still today.
There is a saying in the cyber security world that you are only as secure as the weakest node in your network. How does Wire leverage the concept of “security by design” in its products to clients like EY, Fortum and the German Government and your more enterprise customers?
For more than 1,500 enterprise customers, we provide secure and scalable collaboration. This includes custom deployment options to cater for enterprises and governments looking to protect their documents, as well as to secure their communications across teams, with clients and partners.
As mentioned, we avoid man-in-the-middle attacks by encrypting messages on individual devices and not in the cloud. Each message – or, more broadly, transaction – via Wire also has its own encryption key, which can never leave the users’ devices. We also go further and incorporate Messaging Layer Security (MLS) into our product, which makes communication among large groups more secure.
What do you think it will be the next major shift in secure remote collaboration in the next three years?
The onset of the pandemic has led to many enterprises embracing video calls with dozens, if not hundreds of participants. But as employees prioritise flexibility and productivity, whilst also experiencing higher levels of online fatigue, the functionality of these all-hands calls will diminish.
Who were your business icons before you got the position of CEO at Wire and who are they now? How have they inspired you through your journey as a business leader up to now?
It has to be Elon Musk for me. He is transforming an entire category, which is one of the top three critical issues (green energy) facing the world. We hope that Wire can set an example of a new platform that is looking to combat another of the top three issues (cybercrime).
How has Wire financed its expansion from the beginning? Are you planning a next round any time soon?
We previously raised funding through private equity backers, although there are not any immediate plans to do a further fund raise in the new future.
If you could turn back time and knew you would be leading Wire, what trainings/courses would you take to prepare for these years in the company?
I don’t think there is a lesson or a course that could help overhaul consumer brands to enterprise brands. In fact, I think we’ve actually created a lesson for others to follow here. We effectively learned through trial and error, although we did find PR to be a key element of that strategy.
When you hire new employees, what are you looking for before formal education qualification? How many steps is a typical application at Wire?
The team at Wire works together closely to identify and build the most secure solution on the market. We look for entrepreneurial individuals and team players who are passionate about creating secure technology that people and businesses can trust.
Did Wire experience an increase in the demand for its services during the pandemic? Were you expecting that or was it significantly higher than your team had forecasted?
We grew more than 500% in 2019, and I believe we will see a similar or potentially even higher growth rate in 2020. For example, in April 2020, we signed up more enterprise customers than we did in the entirety of 2019.
Though it has been a challenging time for all of us managing this explosion in demand and existing customer requests during the pandemic, we have adapted through our collaborative culture and high customer orientation, in order to support a record-breaking number of new customers.
What are the most important countries and industries for Wire today? Is there a plan to expand to new markets in 2021?
EMEA and the Americas remain the main geographical focus areas. Admittedly, we are still not a truly global company in terms of our sales force, but we do currently have customers in six different continents. To date, we have been also successful in advisory, government, financial services, healthcare and in what we call, critical industries.
We are confident that the market for us will expand itself. Given that cybercrime previously posed a $6 trillion global problem, which has now been projected to be $10 trillion, from SMEs, right up to the world’s largest organisations, the desire for a secure messenger environment is only likely to keep growing.
Did you ever face any issues with regulations in a market? If so where, and how did you overcome that issue?
Essentially, regulation favours Wire. Looking at GDPR and CCPA, they regulate the minimum use of personal information – this is how Wire is designed. We process all the information on the edge, and we pride ourselves on protecting our customers’ content, without having access to it.
The verticals we operate in are the ones that react to this, in addition to data sovereignty, which ensures that they can deploy our solution wherever they want, in whatever data jurisdiction they want.
How important is the cyber security concept of Zero Trust at Wire?
The shift in how we work in recent years has led to the concept of Zero Trust taking hold as the best approach for securing business data and staying compliant with various regulations. In order to therefore address the needs of the perimeter-free workplace, Zero Trust is a major focus for us as we look to deliver secure collaboration at scale.
Last, but not least: what’s next for you and for Wire?
We believe we are on an upward growth trajectory, especially given that the pandemic has shifted how we work and increased the focus on cybersecurity. Whilst we do, of course, hope to break into more geographies and verticals, we also want to embrace the next level of collaboration, which is not all about just sending an emoji, but rather to keep data safe as it traverses through platforms.