Uniki Founders: “Laziness Usually Wins Over Security”

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The first product of German security startup Uniki, uSpace, was sold out within just a few weeks. The founders Matthias Bollwein & Roman Leuprecht on why they focus on productivity rather than security products:

How would you describe Uniki in a few words?

We are a software security company with a passion for privacy. Our product, uSpace, provides extremely secure, but easy to use online collaboration. It’s a plug&play box that safely encrypts your data and connections, but can be used from anywhere just like a Cloud service (e.g. Dropbox). It provides a platform with an app store that can be used for document collaboration, chat and video conferences, project management, customer relations or even setting up an online shop – all with maximum data sovereignty.

What inspired you to create the startup? How did it all start?

During the NSA scandal, we decided to build and sell private server together with our friends. In the beginning, it was just a small project. But in recent years there has been an alarming increase in data breaches, attacks and companies selling or not protecting their customers’ data. Of course, that gave us even more motivation and sparked interest by accelerators and investors. We developed the business plan, won competitions, got accepted into accelerators, found an investor and, in 2016, we founded our company: Uniki GmbH (Ed., LLC).

The demand for Uniki boxes was so high, you were sold out within a few weeks. One of the reasons for this is that the box is completely private. Completely private?

Yes, completely private. That means, not even we as the provider can access our customers’ data. And we are the only ones to achieve this by technical means. Once a customer plugs in their box, encryption keys get generated  – we can’t even know.

Data stored in the box is encrypted and a hardware security module protects the identity of the box and ensures that neither we nor anybody else can read the encrypted data streams.

Cybersecurity is on the rise, with a vast amount of startups entering the field every day. What makes Uniki stand out from the crowd? What is the key differentiator?

There has always been a tradeoff between security and usability. The problem with this is that laziness usually wins over security. Uniki proves that security and usability can be achieved at the same time! We firmly believe that forcing people to change their habits or use complicated additional tools makes the security situation worse instead of better. That is why our product is not a “security product”. Instead, it is a productivity product. It is designed to help people to collaborate and get things done. It is built with security in mind instead of being another bolt-on solution. To the customer, it is an integrated solution for running all their business applications (through our app store) without having to worry about security.

The blockchain, though still in its early stages, is currently experiencing a lot of attention. From your perspective, what are some other encryption practices we will see in the near future?

Right now, the blockchain gets all the attention and it will stay that way for a while. Current encryption solutions that protect connections as well as data at rest, are proven and only need to be packed into easy to use products. We have done that. Right now we’re also experimenting with the blockchain because it has one thing in common with our product: It’s designed for decentralization. Like Bitcoin decentralizes money transactions and scares the big banks, we take away control over customer data from big corporations and put it back into the hands of the people. In the near future, the blockchain will make our servers even more independent and let customers securely share their resources and even data in a private way, which will enable completely new forms of collaboration.

In your very early days, you faced a challenge many startups face at some point: disagreement in the founding team. How did this situation work out for you and what were the biggest learning points?

We were originally a team of six friends, but not all had the same motivation. Some dropped out voluntarily because they could not manage their studies and startup at the same time. Others were in it mostly for the fame and lost sight of the big picture. We discussed our goals and found out that we do not see any common success with such different ideas. And then we separated. This was not an easy decision as the workload was enormously high in our new constellation.

From that, we’ve learned to focus on finding out whether you will be able to work together as a team, whether everyone has compatible motivations and is willing to learn and tackle any warning signs immediately very early on.

What are the next steps for Uniki?

In addition to the blockchain topics, we are also experimenting with smart home, which is another area where data sovereignty is very important. And we are planning a crowdfunding campaign for 2018 to make data protection simple and affordable for private individuals.

What’s one piece of advice you can give to fellow founders for their startup?

Focus on the client – always! Startups with unfinished products and missing customers are dreaming of fame and millions in investments. After the funding runs out, the minority survives the hard business-reality. Every day is different and unexpected things happen: Extreme willingness to learn and discipline are the indispensable conditions.



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