Building The World's Largest Cybersecurity Community
The story of Hack The Box, Viva Wallet on the path to 🦄, jobs, HR Greece Slack Group, remote work, microservices and more
👋 Happy Friday! Welcome to Hunting Greek Unicorns #28. I’m Alex, a product guy turned VC, and every two weeks I send out a newsletter with everything you need to know about the Greek startup industry.
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🎙️How Hack The Box built the largest cybersecurity community in the world, with Haris Pylarinos, co-founder & CEO of Hack The Box
Today, I’m really excited to welcome Haris Pylarinos, co-founder & CEO of Hack The Box on Hunting Greek Unicorns! Hack The Box has built the largest and most engaged education community for cybersecurity in the world with more than half a million members that have spent almost 20 million hours of play-time. Cybersecurity is the new security and the team is well positioned to capture this wave by creating a great product, which embraces the power of Product Led Growth and leverages the power of the community as a lead generator to enter the enterprise world too. I invited Haris to discuss:
How Hack The Box is redefining the way cybersecurity is taught.
What are the different ways the product is contributing to the growth of the community.
Community as a lead generation for enterprise and much more!
Why is there a need to redefine the way cybersecurity is taught? How is Hack The Box doing it?
Cybersecurity training used to be for decades theoretical and class-room based. It depended almost exclusively on once-off industry certifications, which were not really affordable for everyone. Professionals did not have access 24/7 to hands-on and always up-to-date training, while enthusiasts found it very hard to kick off their journey in cybersecurity resulting in a tremendous skills gap today.
Change had to come. And this is what we did by turning hacking training into passion. Hack The Box is a massive hacking playground that offers hands-on, self-paced and gamified upskilling capabilities to absolutely everyone in the world, 24/7/365. No more textbook reading to learn how to prepare against cyber attacks. You can now learn through actual hacking. Meanwhile, businesses and organizations access an exclusive environment where they can maintain a well-trained and attack-ready workforce, and at the same time source and recruit top industry talent.
Joining the platform, you enter a training community of cybersecurity enthusiasts, who level up their hacking skills. Members do this inside Hacking Labs. These are simulation environments with challenges that are tailored to different levels from beginners to experts, constantly updated content, tracks for users to master specific areas, etc. Furthermore, we have created the Pro Labs with names such as Dante, RastaLabs, Cybernetics and others, which are more advanced training environments that simulate real-world scenarios, giving players a chance to penetrate enterprise infrastructure environments and prove their offensive security skills. Moreover, Hack The Box offers “social” hacking competitions, where players can form teams or compete against others such as Capture The Flag and Battlegrounds.
You have created the largest community of cybersecurity enthusiasts in the world. What are the different ways your product is contributing to the growth of the community?
Yes, and we couldn’t be more proud. 550,000 platform members, almost 200,000 followers on LinkedIn and 80,000 Discord members. In 2017, I didn’t even imagine we would reach those numbers. I started Hack The Box for two reasons: (a) my personal need to practise my skills and (b) as a community project, to connect like-minded professionals and exchange ideas and methodologies. Back then, I wasn’t really familiar with terms such as Product Led Growth and User Generated Content, which both are significant levers of how our community has grown that fast. We just wanted to provide true value to our users.
It is crucial that we have built a great product designed for the end user, with short Time to Value, powerful product growth loops and a freemium model. First of all, users register in a self-serve manner and start hacking immediately - no need to receive support from our team. Also, the platform is free to use with options to upgrade e.g. Pro Labs for the more experienced users or VIP subscription with new challenges. At the core of it though is a product experience that motivates people to talk to each other about the platform. Users generate content and then share it online in different formats such as YouTube videos, blog posts, Medium articles, etc. (you can check here a video with 126K views on how someone hacked a box). The way this is done is that initially the Hacking Labs are created by the community and then once people find the “solutions” to the challenges, they post them online, as a way to showcase their hacking skills and generate buzz. This is a viral loop that drives new users to the platform and increases engagement.
At the same time, the platform always had integrated community empowering features such as a chatroom, social sharing of achievements, leaderboards, and teams. A gamification experience around cybersecurity training. These are built-in network effects - the more people using the product, the more valuable it becomes. All of these have significantly contributed to the growth of the Hack The Box community.
In what ways do you think having built a large and engaged community can help you dominate the enterprise world for this industry?
This became obvious before us realizing or even thinking about it. For the first year, Hack The Box was exclusively a community project. However, it was not that late when the first enterprise lead came right from the community, asking about corporate licenses and exclusive access. Community acts as a great way to penetrate into the enterprise world, as members later become leads for enterprise subscriptions. That’s a great benefit of a bottom-up distribution; a go-to-market strategy that focuses on the end users, who can use the product at a personal capacity first and then drive internal adoption within their companies and facilitate expansion.
In our case, we realized that the industry could benefit from our training approach to build attack-ready cyber teams and started working on an enterprise product portfolio, resulting today in over 800 organizations and 550 universities working with us. They enjoy hands-on training with dedicated training labs, labs that simulate realistic corporate scenarios or access to a pool of cybersecurity professionals from the community to hire. With the release of our Academy product, which offers courses even for the absolute basics level, we are now targeting a much larger user base (e.g. the entire IT or development department).
Your community recently surpassed 500,000 members. What are the main challenges in maintaining a healthy community of that size?
Building a community is not easy, and you definitely don’t do it to monetize it; people will notice when you start over-selling. Communities are built naturally and take their time, it's like a living organism, you can’t force it.
For us, it’s a process that takes time and full-time resources, because we care. We want to connect our members, help them create a network, level up their skills, get certified, get hired. Effective communities receive and give back value, “live” in a channel they love and feel comfortable with (for us it’s Discord, where members help onboard, guide, and ramp-up other members), are moderated, have rules and clarity. The community is genuinely part of everything we do, we ask for its input (through product surveys or “feature requests” through the platform) and take it heavily into account. It’s interesting to note that in the past we have even hired members of our community to join Hack The Box as full-time employees.
What do you see as the future of cybersecurity training and where does Hack The Box fit in this future?
As devices become part of our lives, they get “connected” and smarter, thus the need for cybersecurity increases. Our entire life (the most sensitive information) can be found on our smartphones. The same thing is happening for businesses. For many cases, the most valuable asset is a company’s database and it should not be breached for any reason. Digital transformation, remote working, and moving everything to the cloud, will only make cybersecurity a necessity; it already is.
The future entails a massive switch towards cyber awareness. Moving beyond IT professionals and starting from education, before bachelor degrees. The skills gap needs to be bridged and Hack The Box has already done the steps needed not just to be ready for that moment, but to make that moment come faster.
If you are interested in learning more about Hack The Box, check out their website or follow their Twitter account! The team is hiring for roles across the board (engineering, design, sales, operations, marketing). Check out their openings here.
🦄 Startup Jobs
Greek startups are hiring! Here are some of the latest job opportunities:
Epignosis - Intern Web Developer (Remote) - Apply here
Ferryscanner - Senior Software Engineer (Athens) - Apply here
Metrika - Senior Data Analyst (Blockchain Protocols) (Remote) - Apply here
Netdata - Senior Site Reliability / DevOps Engineer (Remote) - Apply here
Pollfish - QA Engineer (Athens/Remote) - Apply here
Project Agora - Business Analysis Manager (Athens) - Apply here
SafeSize - Accounting Manager (Athens) - Apply here
Simpler - Senior Backend Engineer (Remote) - Apply here
Skroutz - Business Optimisation Specialist (Athens) - Apply here
Transifex - Sales Account Executive (Remote) - Apply here
Viva Wallet raised a $80M funding round from Tencent, European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, Breyer Capital & Hedosophia. Valuation was not confirmed, but seems like Viva is on the path to reach 🦄 status soon! The caliber of investors in this round is truly world-class. Breyer Capital has backed Facebook, Epic Games, Spotify, while Hedosophia has invested in N26, Transferwise, Glovo and others. And Tencent is one of the largest corporations by market cap globally.
Aisera announced a $40M Series C round, raising its total funding to $90M+. The team is building Enterprise Service Automation at scale and was co-founded by Christos Tryfonas, while also having a team in Greece.
Metamaterial (CSE: MMAT) founded by George Palikaras and Themos Kallos adds to the list of Greek founded tech companies that have recently decided to open up an office in Greece, establishing its European headquarters for sales and R&D (10-15% of its team) here!
The launch of Sporos Platform, an impact investing fund, was announced with €30M+ size that aims to start investing in H2 of 2021 with focus on SMEs operating in Greece & Southeastern Europe.
VentureFriends invested in Huspy, a proptech team based in Dubai that offers people a faster mortgage process entirely online. Size of round was not disclosed, although according to the article it’s one of the largest seed rounds ever raised by a startup in the MENA region.
Intelligencia, a startup building software to minimize the risk of failure in drug development & clinical trials, was selected in Forbes AI 50, alongside other private, promising companies using AI in ways that are fundamental to their operations.
💭 Reading or listening
If you’re working or interested in the HR space in Greece, you should absolutely sign up to the HR Greece Slack Group here. This was just launched by Sanne Goslinga, Director of Talent at Marathon Venture Capital, as a way to connect HR professionals in Greece.
Maria Katris, co-founder & CEO of Builtin, discussed about flexibility at work, how the shift to remote may impact diversity in tech, EQ in workspace, and more.
Babis Makrynikolas, VP Product & Pricing at Blueground, on the microservices architecture and how it contributes to speed increase, ownership improvement, and risk reduction using the example of Amazon, here.
Georgios Konstantopoulos, Research Partner at Paradigm, wrote an article on the transition from Proof of Work to Proof of Stake in Ethereum’s blockchain and how staking ETH works.
A podcast with Panos Papadopoulos, Partner at Marathon Venture Capital, at Mikri Kouventa with Antonis Kalipetis and Paris Kasidiaris, on all things Greek startups, his journey from Bugsense to Marathon, the importance of storytelling and positioning in startups, building a network of Greeks In Tech, and more.
A post by Adam Markakis, CEO of Kineo, on the future of mobility, electric vehicles, and micromobility.
Vasilapostolos Ouranis, co-founder & Chief Strategy Officer of Magos, on experiences in a VR environment and how your fingers will act as VR controllers here.
What should a Product Manager focus on during his/her first 90 days at a new company? Check the Twitter thread I wrote below 👇
Stay safe and sane,
Greek Startup Pirate 👋