Inigo Merino, founder of Cienaga Systems, first conceived of the need for applying user behavior analytics to cyber security in 2013. As a recently minted Wharton Executive MBA with 15 years as Senior VP of cybersecurity at Deutsche Bank and Merrill Lynch, he was certain of the need for these types of solutions, even if he was unsure exactly how the solution would work.
“The idea came about because I had done some research and independent studies in artificial intelligence as an undergraduate. Over the years, I had this increasingly nagging feeling that the way people were conducting security monitoring was too primitive and could be improved though AI,” he said. “Through my interactions with classmates and professors at Wharton, I became convinced that it was wise to explore the idea further. Since I was graduating soon, I decided to take the leap.”
Cienaga Systems has since developed an advanced analytic solution for cyber threat management which is commercialized as an agentless software-as-a-service (SaaS) offering, called DejaVu.
“DejaVu runs analytics on behaviors observed on our customers’ networks,” Merino explained. “Based on the patterns we observe, it can determine if someone is trying to compromise the network or already has done so. Normally, this analysis is done via human experts, but these experts are hard to find and very expensive to employ. Organizations literally have spots open for years because they can’t find the right talent. Our product allows these organizations to perform that same monitoring using artificial intelligence at a fraction of the cost and at higher rates of effectiveness, reducing cyber risk while increasing regulatory and industry standard compliance.”
In 2015, their innovative approach earned Cienaga Systems a spot in the coveted Cybersecurity-500, a listing of the world’s hottest cybersecurity companies.
Merino’s advice to aspiring entrepreneurs is to not focus on raising investment capital too early. “Too many people don’t recognize how important traction is for raising money,” he said. “No amount of pitching can convince a VC of the merits of a technology the same way sales figures can. Instead, follow the a Lean Startup approach: form a great team, build an MVP and iterate. Do not waste time raising money before you have a product that’s functional and operational.”