Go Phish: Dave Atkinson, Founder and CEO, SenseOn 

Go Phish: Dave Atkinson, Founder and CEO, SenseOn 

On the lighter side of things, we Go Phishing with Dave Atkinson, Founder and CEO, SenseOn, about what makes him tick. 

Dave Atkinson, Founder and CEO, SenseOn

What would you describe as your most memorable achievement in the cybersecurity industry?

Without a doubt, it’s founding SenseOn, which sparked the generation of a whole new category within cybersecurity. Back in 2017, the concept of Extended Detection and Response (XDR) didn’t exist. I’m extremely proud of the courage the founding team showed to challenge the status quo at that point as together, we’ve made cybersecurity simpler, smarter and more secure. 

What first made you think of a career in cybersecurity?

I first got into cybersecurity when I was gathering intelligence abroad in one of the UK military’s specialist units. I began to develop hacking techniques to help us with intelligence gathering so we could better perform tasks such as counter terrorism, hostage rescue, support and influence, surveillance and reconnaissance, and deliberate action. It ended up having such a positive impact that I was asked to teach others the hacking techniques. As a result, I developed the first ever computer networks operations course for that part of the military. I was very focused on and passionate about this project and it made me think about how else we could leverage technology to do our jobs better.

What style of management philosophy do you employ with your current position?

My experience in the UK specialist military units breeds a very specific type of ‘eyes on, hands off’ leader. That’s because the selection process demands highly capable individuals who are well aligned with the organisation and our values. This fosters an environment where everybody is on a level playing field and can contribute to the conversation. By doing this, a very professional foundation is formed which enables people to achieve great things under high stress. 

I think applying that same approach to a cybersecurity company works well as we’re trying to achieve things that very few people are successful at. By finding the right cyber talent I can keep ‘eyes on’ but ultimately, I have full trust in my teams which enables me to be ‘hands off’, which can be difficult as a founder. 

What do you think is the current hot cybersecurity talking point?

It has to be Artificial Intelligence (AI). Of course, this buzz is partly being driven by the market capitalisation of the likes of Microsoft, Google and Nvidia. In terms of practitioners, AI is unlikely to be top of the budget list for 2024. Instead, visibility, identity and cloud security are still where the majority of investment is going. However, nobody can deny the potential Generative AI could contribute to cybersecurity – applying it within SenseOn has enabled further gains in terms of the automation, summarisation and clarification of complex topics for users.

How do you deal with stress and unwind outside the office?

I have two very young children, as well as three older children, so understandably they take up the majority of my spare time. But over the last few years, I’ve got into ultra marathons and run 50k or 100k races fairly frequently. I’ve got a race coming up in the next couple of weeks, which you might think would add to any stress I may be under, but I find being out in nature really helps me unwind and gives me the space to think.

If you could go back and change one career decision, what would it be?

I’ve only really had two careers – my military career which ended in 2015 and my current career in cybersecurity, which began when I set up Fortitude, a cybersecurity consultancy before SenseOn. I feel fortunate to say that I don’t regret any of the decisions I’ve made in my career, and I hope that’s something that continues. 

What do you currently identify as the major areas of investment in the cybersecurity industry?

Among our customers we’re seeing an increased appetite for automation, alongside the concept of a ‘single pane of glass’ as an alternative to SIEM which is costly and cumbersome. Identity is also a critical area of investment for CISOs as more and more applications move to the cloud. They’re not only interested in the governance and management side of things, but also the threat detection and response aspect of credentials being misappropriated by attackers. 

Are there any differences in the way cybersecurity challenges need to be tackled in the different regions?

There is certainly a difference, driven in large part by regulatory requirements, but also at times by cultural nuances. In the Middle East, for example, we often see more demand for on-premises installations rather than cloud, purely due to preference. 

What changes to your job role have you seen in the last year and how do you see these developing in the next 12 months?

In the last year, we’ve moved SenseOn to a channel-first model, using channel partners such as value-added resellers, MSPs and MSSPs to grow and execute our business. That has been a really important change for us, and we’ve learned a great deal from our channel partners as they’re able to give us feedback more objectively than if we were doing it all internally. 

Off the back of this success, we’ll be developing this approach further and expanding globally with our new channel partners. So personally, I see the time I spend with these channel partners continuing to increase, which I’m excited about. 

What advice would you offer somebody aspiring to obtain a C-level position in the security industry?

Whether you’re aspiring to become a CISO within a company or a CTO or CEO in a cyber business, then my main piece of advice would be to really understand your customers. 

For those wanting to become a CISO of a company, you need to really understand how your organisation conducts business, brings in revenue and satisfies and drives value for customers, as you can then overlay this understanding with your security expertise and leadership. It’s that lens that the board will be looking to you to provide to ensure that the customer’s continue to have trust and confidence in your company.

The same thing really applies if you want to build your own company. You need to be intimately aware of your customers’ struggles and pain points and what your business is ultimately trying to solve as well as what both you and your customers see as your organisation’s differentiated value. 

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