Some people just seem to know from a very early age what they “want to be” when they grow up. Meet Jay Kaplan, a born entrepreneur.
The prologue to the story of Jay’s entrepreneurial success begins—as it does for many engineers and computer scientists—with a childhood fascination with technology. “At a very young age, I found myself figuring out how to break computers and put them back together,” Jay recalls. “I was always the on-call help desk.”
By age 13, Jay did what was natural to him: he combined his fascination with technology and computers with his interest in entrepreneurship, and he started his first company, focusing on website development and shared web hosting.
“I had hands on every aspect of the business and ended up growing the client-base to over 1,000 customers. I automated as many functions as possible so I could concentrate on school, trying to balance the value of an academic foundation with firsthand business experience. I sold the company my freshman year at GW,” he recounts.
At SEAS, Jay concentrated on learning the fundamentals of computer science and cybersecurity. He was accepted to several colleges but chose SEAS, because it was one of a handful of schools across the US that had been designated by the National Security Agency (NSA) as a Center of Academic Excellence in Cybersecurity. GW also participated in the Information Assurance Scholarship Program funded by the Department of Defense and the National Science Foundation. He received a scholarship to study under GW’s Cybercorps program in exchange for an agreement to work for the federal government in a cybersecurity capacity for three years upon graduation.
Although eager to start his own business, Jay began working for the NSA following graduation.He didn’t see his three-year obligation to the government as a delay, however. In fact, he says, “It was an entry point into some of the most fulfilling, challenging, and intellectually stimulating, work of my life—and a place where my work helped save a countless number of lives.”
At the NSA, he met Mark Kuhr and the two began laying the foundations over late night coffee runs and weekend meet-ups for their start-up company, Synack. In 2013, they left the NSA to move to Boston after being accepted into an extremely competitive startup accelerator program. Their innovative model to bring NSA expertise to the commercial sector immediately began attracting some of the most renowned Silicon Valley investors and eventually prompted another move for them, this time to the West Coast. And there, in a small incubator office at Kleiner Perkins Caufield Byers (KPCB), Synack was born.
“We give our customers, which are primarily Fortune 500 enterprises, a much better understanding of what they look like to an adversary trying to break into the organization,” Jay explains. “The way that we do this is by harnessing a global network of top white hat hackers and centralizing them on a technology platform to enable them to safely engage with our customer base. We do this continuously, giving our customers a constant set of eyes on their technology elements, so they know what the problems are before they eventually become breached.”
With Jay as the CEO and Mark as the CTO, Synack has grown to more than 75 employees and several hundred independent contractors around the world, and it has “gained the trust of very large enterprises as clients who are concerned about the ripple effects of a breach,” says Jay. It also has grabbed the attention of venture capitalists and investors, who have poured more than $34 million into it in two years—firms such as Google Ventures, KPCB, GGV Capital, and Icon Ventures.
On top of all of this, CNBC named Synack one of the top 50 most disruptive companies in the US, and Forbes magazine named Jay to its “30 Under 30” list for 2015. It seems he really is a born entrepreneur.