‘Which skills do you hire for, and which do you train for?’

The Entrepreneur

A serendipitous conversation with a fellow traveler in Costa Rica pushed Navroop Mitter to ponder the vast security concerns for smartphone users as more and more computing is done on the go. Using the conversation as inspiration, Mitter returned home to begin working on plans for a start-up, capitalizing on his professional expertise from leadership roles helping build practices at IBM and Accenture focused on security assessments and identity management. Teaming with partners Bobby Saini (chief marketing officer) and Aaron Huttner (chief technology officer), Mitter started Gryphn in 2011.

(Courtesy of Gryphn)

(Courtesy of Gryphn)

The Pitch

Mitter

“Gryphn is focused on delivering innovative solutions to protect your privacy in an increasingly mobile world. The greatest threat in your digital life stems from how we interact with our mobile devices, the many uses we require from our mobile devices and the very nature of how our mobile devices were originally designed.

“We are simplifying the user experience around IT security on mobile devices so that anyone can feel confident that their personal information is not being compromised.

“With organizations allowing employees to ‘BYOD’ — bring your own device — to the workplace, organizations need an effective digital solution to ensure their mobile networks are secure. We launched Gryphn with our very first product addressing concerns around mobile messaging: ArmorText. Our application can be downloaded to your smartphone and secures the picture, audio, video and text content of text messages you send. One of the best parts about ArmorText is that users don’t have to change their texting behavior or habits to use our product – it integrates seamlessly and secures data both locally and as it is traded between the mobile phone carrier’s networks. Today we give you the ability to encrypt your messages and control if they can be copied or forwarded by your recipients. Soon, we’ll provide you the ability to set limits on how long a message can be seen, how many times it can be seen, when it will expire and more. We’re accomplishing all of this with a single touch.

“Our app is free for consumers; however, we are pursuing enterprise clients for a customized version of our product which will offer companies critical IT security and infrastructure to meet new regulatory compliance demands such as audit requirements. We also have plans to expand our technology to new industries, such as health care. There is a huge opportunity within the health care world to secure patient information with mobile devices, allowing for bedside implementation and shared mobile networks among caregivers. Further, the same solutions are needed in financial services, law enforcement, the legal profession and government and its related industries.

“One of our challenges is the question of hiring. When you’re developing an enterprise software — or as an enterprise start-up in general — you often need multiple types of technical skill sets, but have a limited budget for hiring. For example, we’re looking to bring in a developer who not only knows how to create a mobile product, but who also understands neural networks, biometrics and security. Which skills do you hire for, and which do you train for?

The Advice

Elana Fine, associate director, Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship

“Start-ups are usually laser-focused on their initial product development and go-to-market strategy, and often delay thinking out the hiring process. Having great people is a priority and a critical part of your execution strategy. You have to focus on the unique skill sets that will further differentiate your company to customers and from competitors. Build a team that deepens your expertise in the security market and train on those skills that require less expertise. Start early so you know you have hired the right person and they share your passion and vision. The wrong hire can really be a setback for a start-up.

“In today's competitive environment, if you’re primarily a security software company, your team needs to ooze security talent. If they are smart programmers, you can teach them the rest.”

Reaction

Mitter

“What you’ve said reaffirms the direction we’re moving in. We’re going to hire for the more unlikely niche skill sets of neural networking or biometrics. Then we’ll train them on the specifics of our mobile technology platform that they’ll be developing.

Fine

“In Washington right now, there is really a ‘people-grab’ over talent. You want to make sure you are looking for the right people and that you make the right hires. D.C. start-ups have to be very creative about where they look for talent. This region has a strong infrastructure around enterprise technology. As government consultancies start to contract, there is an opportunity to attract experienced talent to the start-up activity in the region but it won’t happen over night. People haven’t been talking about this enough.”

Mitter

“I keep getting asked this question by other start-ups, and I keep giving the same advice: Hire for the vertical skill sets, and train for horizontal skills. Our geographic strength is our proximity to so many strong enterprise industries, such as the major players in the hospitality industry and defense contractors. They are our likely customers and potentially our eventual acquirers, which further drives the importance of having the specific skill sets they need. We have a shortage of talent here and no one wants to admit it, but we need to start talking about it.”

 
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