By @SimonCocking

Great interview with Rami Essaid, @ramiessaid of CEO Distil, a regular attendee and speaker at the Dublin Web Summit. Distil @DISTIL has been blocking bots since 2011. Distil Networks is the first easy and accurate way to defend websites against malicious bots.

Rami, what’s your background? How did you get into what you’re doing now?

I was working in cloud security and found a niche in the market that no-one was tackling. I decided it was a big enough opportunity that I should quit my job and jump into it with a couple of friends.

What are you most excited about right now?

I think the thing that’s most exciting is how much the world recognizes the need for change in cybersecurity. For the longest time, I think the bad guys have been winning. In the last couple of years, after a lot of breaches that saw a lot of bad things happening,  the world has come to the realization that the good guys need some more ammunition, and so that’s what excites me the most – how much the rest of the world is excited about cybersecurity.

What specifically are these innovations that you’re introducing to the market with Distil Networks?

At Distil Networks, we are re-inventing the way web application security works. Web application security has historically been about compliance and about static rule sets. Now we’re at a point where Distil is able to deliver a proactive rather than a reactive solution – one that protects an organization’s entire web infrastructure, not just checking off items on a compliance checklist. The whole system of protection has been broken for a long time. Distil uses machine learning to predict when things are going to get malicious. We’re aggregating knowledge across our entire customer base. We’re maintaining the world’s largest database of known web security violators. We’re attaching fingerprints to bots so they can’t ever hide. In short, we’re changing the game by giving power back to the website owners – where it belongs.

What are you most happy about right now – personally and professionally?

Life’s in a good place right now, both personally and professionally. We’ve grown the company so much – what we’ve been able to put together really makes me happy. And looking back over the past 4 years really gives me a sense of confidence and accomplishment at what I thought was initially such a long shot. On the personal side, I am recently engaged and am planning a wedding next year, so that’s a great personal milestone as well.

Looking back over the past few years, is there anything you’d have done differently if you could?

This is always a tricky one. I guess if I had to pinpoint something, it would be that we concentrated too much on growth avenues for the business – new products, new sales initiatives, new marketing initiatives – at the expense of basic internal operations like accounting and human resources. If I were to do anything differently, it would simply be making sure that every aspect of the business is scaled at the same time, instead of just reacting to those things that aren’t actual growth vectors within the company.

Where do you hope to be in 1-3 years’ time?

R: In the next 6 months, we’ll be introducing several new products to the marketplace. In the next 18 months, we’re going to be three times as big, over 200 people. And in the next three to four years, we’re hoping to be public. So there’s a lot of exciting milestones between now and then.

What other interests do you have besides the business, and how do you manage them all?

Travelling was always one of my passions, and luckily I still get to travel a lot, although it’s more for work than personal. But I still get to explore the world. I’ve always loved adventure and trying new things – everything from skydiving to flying planes to scuba diving – and I have been able to squeeze in a few new adventures sporadically, as time permits. As for fitting it all in – you just have to get creative with your time!

Have you been to the Dublin Web Summit before?

R: Yes, I’ve been a supporter of Paddy Cosgrave and  Web Summit since the very beginning, when it was just a few thousand people and a handful of startups, and I’ve been a speaker for several years in a row now. From what I’ve been able to tell from my past speaking sessions, the crowd really values the stories of new and upcoming entrepreneurs. Pain points, growth strategy, and even cutting the right corners really appeal to this audience. I love what the Web Summit has done, how it’s brought together entrepreneurs from around the globe. It’s so exciting to see how big it’s gotten.

Is there anything in particular about the city of Dublin, about Ireland in general, that you’re interested in, that you relate to in your travels there?

The people are amazing. I grew up in the American South, where people are very friendly, very hospitable and welcoming of others, and that’s what I experience whenever I go to Dublin. It’s a foreign culture that feels like home, and it makes me very happy every time. And to go a step further, the type of people that Web Summit brings in for this conference is also a class above the rest. I’ve never had more Distil team members want to go to a specific conference because of the quality of attendees at an event – this group really does it right!

What will you be speaking about when you’re there this year? Who might it appeal to?

There’s a popular HBO Show in the states called Silicon Valley. You get it here in Ireland too. It’s about this company called “Pied Piper” and all the challenges they go through to get their company off the ground. Without giving too much away, I’ll be speaking to some of the hurdles I’ve had to overcome in getting Distil off the ground, as well as sharing my lessons learned. A real life Pied Piper story!

What do you wish existed that does not exist now and would make your life easier?

R: That’s a tough one, but what jumps to mind is teleportation. I spend so much of my life going from Point A to Point B, so much of my life is on planes, teleportation would be nice.

Life, work, online, offline – what are your strategies for managing it all?

R: Lots and lots of lists. I have more to do day in and day out than I can actually keep up with, so putting a list together and prioritizing the list helps me make sure that the most important things get done, while the least important things are those that get neglected. Additionally, I really feel confident in the group of people I’ve surrounded myself with. I tell my employees all the time how I would be happy to start another company with any of them – not just the co-founders and executives, but anyone – I truly believe in the idea that you only advance yourself by bringing people around you with stronger and better skills. They make me more successful and definitely hold me accountable for being a better leader.

How and where do you create time for yourself, to be a dreamer and a thinker?

Distil itself is a dream for me. What we’re doing with web security is very much out there. It’s game-changing. It’s revolutionary. For almost five years, I’ve put all my energy, my dreams if you will, into Distil. So day in, day out, I get to exercise those creative muscles as we continue to evolve the company.

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