When we think of a start-up, many quickly draw upon the stereotype of a group of twenty or thirty somethings pitched up in a trendy loft or accelerator, surrounded by ironically giant and plush furniture. The imagined narrative then moves from start-up success and unicorn IPOs, to the business being swallowed whole by a tech giant.
However, there is one UK company which has rewritten the entire start-up narrative – with a plot twist which involves a deal with the second biggest computer chip maker in the world, second only to Intel.
Disregarding the hipster stereotype of start-up founders, Norman Shaw is a self-described ‘old geezer who loves his garden’, who, at 63 years old, is the driving force behind ExactTrak.
The start-up differentiator when it comes to Norman is not just his age, but the business and technology experience he has gained in those 63 years. 10 years at Sony selling future products around the world, then establishing European franchise centres for Entre Computer Centres, has afforded him a two factor head-start on most start-up founders.
A world away from Shoreditch or Silicon Valley, ExactTrak exploded into the market when the then two-man team near Banbury, Oxford, launched, what Norman calls, ‘a USB on steroids.’
The mission-impossible style USB, which contains GPS, GSM and self-destruct capabilities, won recognition from around the industry, catching the particular attention of AMD, the US behemoth of chip and semiconductor manufacturing.
That attention, however, was not captured by a viral video, modern marketing or Kickstarter pitch – simple, old fashioned word-of-mouth led to the deal.
"Our accountant was talking to some American venture capital people generally and they just said have you seen anything of interest and our accountant said there is this small company that does this. Next thing I knew AMD was in the line-up."
"[AMD] are looking at not just being the low cost manufacturer of processors; they want to put an ecosystem around it.
"One of the core areas is security so they found this tiny little company in the UK and the rest, as they say, is history."
AMD’s interest was piqued, but the partnership, or ‘courtship’ as Norman puts it, was slow to materialise.
"It has been a two year courtship because AMD have had a lot of senior management changes and only in the latest incarnation have they said this is how we need to go forward…then all of a sudden it has happened in the space of six weeks."
Although no specific numbers have been put on the deal, Norman has said that the AMD-ExactTrak tie-up is a multi-year, multi-million deal, predicted to generate over £100m in the next four years.
At the core of the mission-impossible style USB is technology which allows users to understand where data is, what’s been accessed and by whom. It is this technology, which Norman emphasises is a service, not a product, which AMD has bought in to.
The company’s new Pro A Series Mobile Processors are the first to feature ExactTrak’s technology embedded in the hardware and offering the same features and benefits of the USB device. The Pro A series in the first in the deal, which is expected to extend to all AMD processors in the future.
Norman said: ""With device and data security traditionally software-based and therefore vulnerable to attack, we’re working with AMD to disrupt the market with our embedded and hardware-based security technology. The new AMD Pro series will anchor the ExactTrak data and device security technology into hardware which means the security element will kick in before the operating system even starts."
The hardware technology, dubbed Security Guardian, provides geo-fencing and the ability to remotely destroy the data chip if the device is lost or stolen – a timely product launch in the wake of numerous data breaches.
Explaining the tech and the path forward, Norman said:
"The ExactTrak security solution, although hardware-based, is sold as a service and is managed and controlled by a management console which can be hosted, on-premise or integrated with an existing MDM solution.
"In the first instance, the ExactTrak technology will be seen as an M.2 expansion card in devices that will hit shelves in Q1 2016. In the future, OEMs or managed service providers could license the management console and run it themselves."
Already Norman is delivering on the provider plan, with the company currently working alongside HP to get customers. However, when your product points to problems with data security, and your customers include three major central UK government departments, marketing and winning business is that little bit harder.
"No-one wants to admit they have a data security problem, which makes selling the business that much harder. What you really want is a cornerstone customer that says, yep we are proud to have this – but unfortunately with a mission impossible product, the people who have it, would never allow us to have a case study."
Although it is hard to gauge when a start-up ceases to be a start-up and becomes a business, ExactTrak is accelerating towards the start-up exit. Ultimately, Norman says:
"’I would very much like to see our technology being seen as the gold standard for endpoint protection. I think we overcome a lot of barriers and weaknesses of an operating system.’
Fiercely proud of the company’s British roots – "The one thing that we are very proud of is the fact that we are 100% British, we don’t manufacture outside, we don’t develop outside and that has won us some serious business" – Norman is surprisingly candid about his role in the future of the company:
"I have always said if someone joins us or an investor comes on board that can do a better job as CEO then I’m very relaxed about that, I want the best person at the top – not necessarily me."
For the time being, Norman’s enthusiasm, the way he talks about the company and the way he engages, there can only be one person at the current time to take the company forward.
The only bad news is that means less time in the garden for Norman.