Creating solutions: How to succeed in an overcrowded marketplace with a lack of investor appetite



Faiz Shuja, CEO, SIRP

It isn’t unusual for start-ups to struggle to make themselves heard. But when faced with an overcrowded marketplace and a lack of investor appetite, the founders of SIRP wasted no time in looking overseas.

This article first featured in the Apr/May 2020
edition of the Data Economy Magazine.

Cyber security has traditionally been an overcrowded and overlooked sector for investors, but over the last three years that has started to change.

In fact, over the last decade eight out of 10 of the largest funding deals occurred since 2017 according to figures published by Pitch Book and it’s a situation many are starting to benefit from.

In 2019, Faiz Shuja and Muhammad Omar Khan established SIRP Labs Ltd and launched an integrated, risk-based SOAR platform (security orchestration, automation and response) that “fuses essential cybersecurity information to enable a unified cyber response”.

“On average an organisation has 25 to 30 security tools that generate alerts and those alerts need to be monitored by security analysts. But there are around 10,000 alerts generated in one organisation, so managing them all manually is not humanly possible,” says co-founder and CEO Shuja (pictured).

Initially serving customers in the Middle East and subcontinent, SIRP’s broad appeal is boosted by the automation and orchestration elements – including the automation of the company’s own inhouse processes – setting Shuja and Khan apart in the marketplace.

“I would suggest to anybody who is looking to develop a product, look at the problem it addresses. Then speak to the experts, get their feedback, see how competitors are doing it, how other companies are handling those problems. Once that is in place you can start working on the idea, but research before you develop,” Shuja advises.

GOING GLOBAL

In the early days SIRP was funded through a combination of friends, family and customers, but Shuja and Khan knew that to take the company global they would need more than to simply break even.

Faced with a lack of funding options in their native market, they looked overseas. In September 2019 SIRP was accepted to CyLon’s London-based accelerator programme, which connects cyber startups with investors and advisors while providing exposure across the mature markets of Asia and Europe.

“The culture varies country to country, but security investments are not very popular in the Middle East. I think the venture capital market in the US and Europe is more mature because VCs have been through cyber security investment. The trend is changing, it’s all about awareness, but that is one of the reasons we [went] to the UK. The VCs we spoke to in the Middle East weren’t as tech savvy as in London,” Shuja recalls.

Following a “eye opening” three-months, during which Shuja and Khan sourced the expertise and funds required for sales and marketing activities and refined their pitch, SIRP received seed funding in January and a Series A round is expected in the coming 12 to 18 months.

“It is very important how you present your product to the investor because we as technical guys don’t always explain the way that investors like to listen. I think whoever the investor is it is very important to show the value of the investment,” says Shuja.

He adds: “They don’t care how technical you are at the end of the day it’s all about the team: are they able to take it though? Do they have the ability to run a company?”

SECURING SUPPORT

SIRP isn’t Khan and Shuja’s first foray into the start-up world, having established Rewterz in 2006. However, it is the coming years that will define success for Khan, Shuja and, of course, SIRP Labs Ltd.

In March, the SIRP Security Score update launched providing customers with a calculated score based on such factors as the criticality of IT systems, and threat intelligence on exploits and vulnerabilities.


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The next area of focus is the continued enhancement of the customer base, in line with targets.

After that, the focus will be on cracking the European and North American markets with the ambition that, within 10 years, SIRP will be acquired by a big-name tech brand. In terms of the future for investments, Shuja is optimistic that recent activity is a sign of things to come.

“I think cyber security is one of the primary investment areas. We see a lot of VCs coming into this space and the industry is moving that way as well. I see there is a lot of investment coming from the Asia-Pacific region – Malaysia, Singapore, China – and I think there will be more VCs as part of that who are looking to invest in the cyber security space,” Shuja says.

“There will be a lot of start-ups as a result and they will need to distinguish themselves, make sure they understand the industry’s issues and develop a suitable product.”

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