This article was originaly written by Jason Hartmann for Authority Magazine.
Alan Duric is the co-founder and CTO/COO of Wire, a secure collaboration platform. He is an experienced entrepreneur with a strong background in real-time communications. He’s the co-founder and CTO of Telio Holding ASA that is listed on the Oslo stock exchange, and Camino Networks, which was acquired by Skype/eBay. Alan is an early pioneer of VoIP technologies and a driving force in the standardization and adoption of the speech codecs that led to the WebRTC standard, which revolutionized how real-time communication products are built today.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?
I think my career “backstory” goes all the way back to childhood. As a kid I loved mathematics and had an interest in computers, but had not had much opportunity to work with them. One day my father made a deal with my brother and I — if we won at an upcoming national Judo competition he would buy us a Commodore 64 computer. Needless to say, winning that competition and receiving that computer was a huge turning point in my life. Developing programs on the Commodore 64 tapped into my love of mathematics…I discovered that writing code was like solving a bunch of logical and mathematical problems. From there, it didn’t take much to convince me that I wanted to pursue a career in IT and computer engineering.
Can you tell our readers what it is about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?
Wire is a secure collaboration platform that offers end-to-end encrypted (E2EE) audio calls, video conferencing, text messages and file sharing for the enterprise. Most communication platforms in current use such as Teams, Zoom, and Slack prioritize useability and compatibility over cybersecurity. While this has made them more accessible, it has also made them vulnerable to exploitation by cybercriminals. Cybercriminals have already proven that they are capable of overcoming current security measures (Zoombombing, a number of government organizations banning WhatsApp) and this trend will continue as cybercrime is expected to cost global businesses over $6 trillion by 2021. Wire takes a “security first” approach and implements a system built on the zero-trust framework, without compromising usability (we won the Capterra “Best Ease of Use” award in 2019). This operates on the idea that anything inside or outside of a corporate network — including data, devices, systems and users is a potential security risk and must be checked and verified before being granted access. This involves using the most secure end-to-end encrypted (E2EE) method for each individual message and call to minimize the dangers of a security breach. By building a foundation focused on security from the start, the Wire platform is able to incorporate new technology and advances in cybersecurity more easily than current solutions in the market. Furthermore, Wire is also completely open source and we work with third-party auditors, research organizations, and industry experts so our claims are backed by evidence and fact. Wire is unlike any of its competitors and our team is hard at work in creating a new industry standard (Messaging Layer Security) to make communication more secure than ever before.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting?
Sure, the first story that comes to mind is not related to anything technical but it is kind of funny. After I finished my master’s thesis I started working my first job outside of academia at Ericsson. I was pretty new to the operations and behaviors of the business world so I was still trying to get my bearings when I attended an SNMP training session for the Ericsson team, provided by an external company. The external company clearly wasn’t well prepared, and as a result the training was a total disaster. Afterwards, all the Ericsson employees were asked to give feedback on how the training went. I ended up writing that the training went okay, because I thought I was expected to be nice or diplomatic in how I gave feedback. Turns out I was the only one — everyone else reported that the training was a catastrophe. Unfortunately the external company then went on to use my review as “proof” that their training was not a catastrophe, but in fact went smoothly. Aside from the obvious misuse of my review from that training company, my overly generous feedback got out to my coworkers and became a bit of a joke. It’s funny what expectations of propriety we can push onto ourselves when we are unsure of our environment.
Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I learned to always give truthful feedback, no matter what the circumstances are. Truthful feedback (whether positive or negative) is always better because it can serve as a tool towards improvement. We all need a little help along the journey.
Who have been some of your mentors? Can you share a story about how they made an impact?
One of the most influential people in my life is my cousin. He is quite a bit older than me (12 years older) and an absolutely brilliant engineer. When I was in school he told me to take on the most difficult engineering challenges, because tackling the largest problems meant creating the largest impact/benefit for people. I think that is why I took on some of the challenges I have in my career (WebRTC, end-to-end encrypted collaboration platform, etc). But perhaps the most important piece of advice my cousin ever gave me was that being an engineer or having great technical expertise/skills is not enough. He taught me that if you are aspiring to be a founder, or leader of any kind, you have to know how to work with people and understand the business side of things.
In today’s parlance, being disruptive is usually a positive adjective. But is disrupting always good? When do we say the converse, that a system or structure has ‘withstood the test of time’? Can you articulate to our readers when disrupting an industry is positive, and when disrupting an industry is ‘not so positive’? Can you share some examples of what you mean?
I actually think that no disruption is ever purely “positive” or “negative”. Overall I think every disruption has a positive and negative impact, it really just depends on what perspective you are viewing this new change through. Take Skype, for example. WIth Skype and by providing Skype with some of the key technologies, we disrupted the telecom space in a big way — suddenly people around the world could communicate in a new way and connect with loved ones for free. The flip side of this is that the market share Skype took away from traditional telecom companies resulted in hundreds of thousands of people losing their jobs. I even had friends who have a family and kids to support that lost their telecom jobs because of this. Was Skype a positive disruption for how we communicate? Yes. Was Skype a negative disruption on telecom jobs? Also yes. Everything comes with a price, all we can hope to do is create innovations that help us move forward towards the next chapter of growth.
In my line of work nothing can truly stand the ‘test of time’ because cybersecurity challenges and technological needs are constantly in flux. Even in the past year we’ve seen a massive shift in business priorities and demands. Companies are now worried about how to protect digital assets in a mostly remote work world. Cyberattacks have reached new highs as employees working from home transfer sensitive information from unsecured home networks. The moment to disrupt how collaboration and communication tools are built is now, because the market and customers need it. While disruption is never 100% positive, it’s important to take on when a new solution can address a chronic problem, set the foundation for a new standard and improve the industry as a whole.
Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.
It’s important to use quantifiable results as indicators of success and tools for managing and motivating your team. In my time at the helm of Telio and Wire I have lived by the saying, “if you cannot measure it, you cannot manage it.” Not only does this strategy help provide clear, objective (and unbiased) feedback, it creates a feeling of accomplishment and celebration amongst your team. Your team is a finite resource that you need to care for. Those that are working hard and pushing to achieve goals, should be rewarded and shown how their work is directly contributing to the company’s success.
I don’t have one single example for this, but know that the hand off of decisions and complete and utter trust in my team happens every day. People are the lifeblood of your business. So avoid micromanaging, cultivate talent and make sure to encourage creativity and decision making. Beyond that, make sure that you are there for them if they mess up or if something doesn’t turn out how they thought it would. You must continue to encourage them and help them adopt a learning mindset. Help them ask: What went well? What went wrong? How can we improve? Make sure to spend enough time with your team.
This is important to have as part of your management style, but also in how you design your company. Wire, for example, embraces hyper-transparency by using systems like open source development and third party audits. In fact, switching to open source was a big moment for us at Wire. At the time we made the switch, allowing a software company to share all of its code with the world was not a commonly accepted practice, and certainly not a popular idea with all of our investors. However we knew the power of transparency, and had a vision for how we wanted to build our company. Fast forward six years and our open source model enabled us to pivot quickly from the consumer to enterprise market, made our sales process faster and positioned us as a leader in our industry.
We are sure you aren’t done. How are you going to shake things up next?
The project that I’m currently working on that I think will disrupt the industry is Messaging Layer Security (MLS). MLS is a new end-to-end encrypted group messaging protocol that I am developing at the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) and alongside other industry leaders like Mozilla, Cisco, Facebook, Twitter, the University of Oxford, and more. What makes MLS unique is the fact that it is operable in a federated environment. This means that no central server or cloud is needed to implement it — allowing users to securely communicate across clouds, devices and programs, easily. Imagine the implications of this! Especially as we enter into a world steeped in remote workers, where many people operate outside of traditional perimeter-based security models and use multiple collaboration systems (Zoom, Slack, WhatsApp, Skype, etc) every day. I see MLS and federation as the next wave — the next tectonic disruption in how we collaborate and the shift of cloud models.
Do you have a book, podcast, or talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Can you share a story with us? Can you explain why it was so resonant with you?
The book The Medici Effect by Frans Johansson had a huge impact on me. In the book Johansson really delves into how great things happen at the intersection of many things — that there is strength in diversity. I took this piece of knowledge into how I build my teams. A team composed of people with different backgrounds not only results in better and stronger work, it creates great culture. I also like to read Paul Graham’s blog. He’s a software engineer (so we probably have similar wiring) who is very inspiring, asks interesting questions about how to solve challenges in the industry and approaches problem solving in a very pragmatic way.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“If you cannot measure it, you cannot manage it.” You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
My aspiration is to develop tools that allow anyone, anywhere to communicate easily, securely and with the utmost privacy. This is why MLS is such an important project to me.
How can our readers follow you online? You can follow the things my team and I are working on our company social media: Twitter (@wire @alanduric) and LinkedIn.