Raul Popa is a successful co-founder & CEO, a focused goal achiever, with a pragmatic view on the way you build a startup.
He founded TypingDNA, a typing biometrics startup that tells if it’s you based on the way you type, used in banking and other industries.
The company also launched ActiveLock, which can lock your computer if someone other than yourself tries to use it. They also have an experiential app called Focus to track your mood and improve productivity based on how you type.
TypingDNA was born in Romania, then transitioned to the US together with its Series A and just before COVID hit.
NOTE! The full interview and content are available only in audio or video form. The followings are snippets from the interview podcast that were edited for clarity and brevity.
Tell us about the beginnings of TypingDNA and this field of typing biometrics
Raul Popa: There is a lot of research in this space but not a lot of competition. Not a lot of companies are building the same kind of thing.
There is a lot of research conducted by different universities and researchers, and it’s going back around twenty years or even more. There are patents even thirty years old around typing biometrics, so it’s not that new of a science.
Behavior biometrics, in general, is an interesting domain, and I got fascinated by it while doing other types of user behavior analysis and using machine learning for other UBA (User Behavior Analytics).
At some point, I found this typing biometric domain which fascinated me, that you can recognize a person by the way they type.
Then, I realized that the research was not up to date, and I knew a lot of other research in the biometric space that did different things. Then I thought those things could apply to this type of technology; build something on top of it, make something better. This is how I found that this is what I really want to do.
I still wasn’t sure. So, for two years, I did research on my own as a hobby. Then, at some point, I decided to start building a company out of it.
Story short, after I sold some of my shares from a previous company, I wanted to have a sabbatical year, but I just couldn’t do it. Three days later, I started working on TypingDNA.
What was a crucial moment for the company?
Raul Popa: I think that was the moment when we realized that going local doesn’t really make sense, so we need to make global and go to the US, or other parts of the world like some countries in Europe will qualify as well. But building a company out of Romania alone is difficult.
That’s probably the moment you were asking for.
What are your insights about funding?
Raul Popa: I think there are more interesting topics to discuss around funding than actually funding. That’s usually the success of the business.
That means, if you are a deep technology company at the beginning it’s really important for the technology to work well. Then have a few clients that would test the product, and be able to testify that the product works well. And that really brings in the first investors.
Investors don’t just come to you and give you money unless you have something interesting in terms of product, strategy or you’re already making a lot of money from clients, and then they want to jump on board because they see it as a multiplier for their funds.
But very often, you need to have a really good technology of you’re a deep technology company like us.
If you’re a company that doesn’t build necessarily something completely new, you have to have some sort of salesforce, results that you can show and that is good to be able to raise those funds. Then you’ll need those funds to get even more results.
It’s a long chain of events that needs to happen, and raising capital is not necessarily a success. You basically dilute yourself whenever you’re raising money.
It’s just that moment where your bank accounts will be larger than your actual company value in a way. Well, your company value will be large but you don’t get that amount of money from your clients at that point so then you want to convert money that you have from investors into money that comes from your clients.
By the time you start doing that you’re going to want more from your investors and so forth.
If you bootstrap all the money that you make you need to reinvest that. You could get a smaller loan from someone or a bank but because it’s not going to be a big VC behind, so you need to reinvest over and over again.
The VC Game
In a VC game, the whole idea is that you build something that has the potential to grow much larger than a shop in a particular street, or particular city. It’s about something that can go global.
Once you understand that there is no reason to stop in one city, one country, you’ll want to acquire a big piece of the market.
That’s why it makes sense to not wait for profit or for a lot of income before you actually start reinvesting and growing. You want to grow faster because others have this mentality as well, and by the time you prove your business to be successful others raised tons of money to pick a part of the market before you.
So, in any business, if you realize it’s a potential cash cow you’ll want the investor’s money because using your own money will take more time.
How important is culture to you, and how do you maintain the culture at a fast-growing pace?
Raul Popa: What I’ve seen in terms of culture, very often lately, is that companies are just embracing this diversity for the sake of diversity culture.
In my opinion, the culture of a company should be to make things happen. Everybody needs to understand that it’s a company, not a club, not a thing we do as a hobby.
Maybe we like it, or a few of us have a real passion for what we are doing, which is great, but it’s not a club. We don’t do it to feel well. We do it to have success.
So, I think it’s very important for any company to define what you want to achieve and what success means in terms of the company.
If people have no idea about the goals of the business, they will figure out goals for themselves.
You need to factor in more things when it comes to a company. It’s good to know what you want to do, but a company’s purpose is not to make everybody happy. That is nice to have.
Obviously, you don’t want people to feel bad at the job, or to feel neglected or frustrated. You want them to be happy, but not as a primary objective. The primary objective is to have success.
And a lot of companies nowadays don’t understand that because there are so many things about embracing diversity, embracing who you are, what you want to do and make. All these things become about the employee but in a way that it’s not about the company anymore.
Diversity is a really good thing. It’s very important to have different people thinking in different ways, but eventually, everyone needs to understand what the company is trying to achieve.
What’s next for TypingDNA?
Raul Popa: We are focusing on continuous authentication technology or zero trust endpoint protection that reduces unauthorized use.
Everything is related to cybersecurity. The idea is that you want to verify a user all the time, not just when they log in, but it’s a very important part of the whole story, and nobody else is solving it at this point.
The full interview and content are available only in audio or video form.
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