Mike Janke: Co-Founder, Data Tribe & Silent Circle

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Mike Janke is a 6X company founder, former member of SEAL Team 6  and a seriel entrepreneur. In addition to co-founding Data Tribe, Mike is Executive Chairman and co-founder of Silent Circle, one of the world’s leading Global Secure Communications service. Mike is also as an author of two best-selling books on self-discipline, leadership, and performance (Take Control & Power Living). Mike is the co-founder of DataTribe –a MD and Palo Alto based technology startup studio and Blue Pacific Studios  -a Los Angeles based Film & Media Production Company he co-founded with Daniel Weinand, co-founder of Shopify. Mike sits on the board of 4 other technology firms. Prior to starting Silent Circle, Mike was the founder and former CEO of SOC-USA, one of the countries largest defense logistics and security firms headquartered in Washington DC, with over 8,000 employees in 14 countries. Mike speaks around the world on Privacy, Cyber Security, and Encryption and is the 2016 recipient of the “Visionary of the Year” awarded by the Center for Technology & Democracy.

How did you get into the industry?

By starting and building 6 companies of my own. Learning the hard way. I have been a founder, investor and board member of technology startups in the past, so it was a natural transition to start DataTribe. I also spent years learning the Venture side of the business from my mentor, Bob Ackerman –the founder and chairman of Allegis Capital. Bob, along with my co-founder Steven Witt, felt there was a better way to de-risk the entire startup process and eliminate the all bad things about traditional Venture as well as the bad things that come with today’s incubators. That is how DataTribe came to life.

Any emerging industry trends?

In the technology arena, I work with our nations top engineers and minds in the U.S intelligence community so I get a glimpse of what the future holds. Quantum computing, AI autonomous drones, super-soldier exo-skeletons and cutting edge cyber tools. Data is eating the world, not software. Our current slate of tools for data ingestion, data lakes, analytics and cyber security are going to be obsolete in 5-7 year due to the immense amount of data companies will be handling. New tools are being created to handle this 1000x growth in data.

Any industry opportunities or challenges?

We are seeing a dramatic increase of technological advancements in “over-the-horizon” technologies coming out of Intelligence Agencies and Research Labs around Quantum Computing, AI, IOT Security and Homomorphic Encryption that was considered “science projects” 5 years ago. These advancements have the capability to change the entire architecture of how businesses operate with data.

The barriers we see are related to the massive amount of funding available today. Sometimes you can end up with 20 well-funded early stage companies attacking the same problems.

Inspiration for the business idea, and your vision for the Business?

At DataTribe, the vision was to draw “over the horizon” technology found in U.S Intelligence Agencies and Research Labs – out to turn them into commercial cyber security, Data and Analytics companies. These are the 3 areas where billions of research dollars flow and where the best and brightest tackle Nation State problems. The inspiration for this came out of frustration (my fellow co-founders Bob Ackerman & Steven Witt) seeing great technology startups fail because they had little to no support system to help them through the minefield of early startup life. Our vision is to actually co-build the company with a team of 10 all star, highly-experienced operators who have successfully built dominate startups –in a sense to make it an unfair fight.

What's next for the Business in the near future?

Getting better at what we do. There is always lots of room to get better at co-building startups. We fund and co-build 4 startups a year and we refine, learn and tweak the process along the way.

Your key initiatives for the success of the Business?

One of the single biggest keys to our early success has been the fact set DataTribe up as an Operating Company, instead of a traditional Venture firm or Incubator. We don’t take a management fee and instead, have an operating budget that gets applied to actually building the startup. In traditional venture, you place 40, 50 or 60 bets a year and hope 1 or 2 hit it big. Traditional Venture does not have the resources, people or time to really help their startups – its impossible when you have a $1 Billion dollar fund and you fund 60 companies a year. We took a “snipers approach” instead.

Your most difficult moment at the Business? (and what did you learn?)

Where to begin? Every company I ever started seems like it had to get to the point of almost closing its doors before it took off. In hindsight, this experience is also why we build DataTribe like we did –to overcome those massive “oh shit this is it” moments. I have made more bad decisions than right decisions  in business  over the past 17 years, but everyone of those bad decisions helped me learn and become a better CEO each time.

Ideal experience for a customer/client?

My experience has taught me that brutul honesty is far better than sleezy marketing speak with customers. Tell them what you can and cannot do right up front. Too often today people oversell and underperform. Eventually that is a flaw that kills the company. The same applies at DataTribe with everyone of our new startup founders – be honest with them about what to expect and that we are flawed human beings too.  We have no magic formula but we will work our butts off to help build the company. Egos kill more startups than running out of money.

How do you motivate others?

We used to have a saying in the SEAL Teams, “if you have to point to the rank on your collar to let people know your in charge –your not in charge.” If you help others with humility instead of bravado and ego, people naturally begin to listen. The technology and Venture world is so full of egos and “look at me –I am successful” type of attitudes that it turns people off. Motivate people by serving them and doing things you ask of others.

Career advice to those in your industry?

Never, ever give up. I am a former SEAL without a college degree. Persistence and “fight” is more important in the long run than intelligence. Observe what all the so called startup “Gurus” are telling people to do –and do the exact opposite. Don’t follow the sheep herd mentality.