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Neil Costigan, CEO of BehavioSec, is a serial entrepreneur and company leader with over 30 years of technical and go-to-market experience building venture-backed startups and driving innovation at global corporations. Prior to BehavioSec, Neil served as a principal investigator at DARPA, VP of R&D at Gemplus, CTO & Co-Founder at Celo Communications, and holds a PhD in Cryptography.
We caught up with Neil right before LexisNexis Risk Solutions, a subsidiary of RELX (NASDAQ: RELX), announced its acquisition of BehavioSec.
Neil, congratulations on the announcement! How do you feel?
I’m full of nervous excitement. It’s not quite public knowledge yet as we’re just in that last phase. I just can’t wait to tell everybody on the team…to let it sink in then I imagine 5 minutes later, explain it all again!
We’ve been together for quite a while – nearly 14 years or so, and it’s going to be great in so many ways – the realization how huge this is going to be for everyone and for what we’ve built.
BehavioSec has such an incredible heritage including your involvement in its early days. How would you summarize the extraordinary journey you and BehavioSec have had to get here today? What are some of the highlights?
We have had quite a journey, that is true. BehavioSec started as a university spinout –while doing my PhD in Dublin I found myself as a guest researcher at the Luleå Technical University in the far north of Sweden. Asked for some advice via a mutual friend, I got to know what the company was building when they were at the University’s Arctic Business Incubator. I really enjoyed helping them out, so much so that let’s just say my PhD took a little longer than it was supposed to…
Then there were the funding rounds: first seed in the Nordics, then London, then Silicon Valley marked big milestones in our evolution & growth. When I think of how oir investors who took such a leap of faith with us as well, including Alberto & Forgepoint Capital. Our company is literally at the Arctic Circle – as far from Silicon Valley as one can imagine, and through it all your team supported us, helping us expand into new markets and grow.
Step by step it was all so exciting, from that well-worn path as an idea conceived by students, through an incubator, to getting first funding, then first customers. From there we’ve had quite a rollercoaster to get to where we are now with five countries around the world and about to be acquired by a leading company like LexisNexis Risk Solutions.
I’m really proud of how we kind of made this space – we didn’t come into an existing standard or just clone an existing product. We saw an opportunity and innovated in a particular vertical of security where everyone is skeptical about new things (quite rightfully so) and stuck with our vision and focus. We were this small, stubborn Swedish startup that just stayed with it and felt so fortunate when people started believing in BehavioSec.
Early on, we demo’d BehavioSec at this Fintech event Finnovate in San Francisco back when our team was just 8-9 people. There were all these big brands/logos all around us, but we won the best in show. We were shocked and stunned – especially as the smallest company there just to evangelize our product and get some exposure.
I remember our first customer rolling our product out to 1 million users – that was huge for us. It was a banking customer in the Nordics who really took a chance with us – with no references or proof of value. They believed, they went for that leap of faith – they were truly willing to experiment and give us a try.
In parallel we started working with DARPA, the holy grail for engineering. To be adopted and endorsed by a group as prestigious as DARPA, that was incredulous and surreal. DARPA isn’t just thinking about what’s going to happen in the next three months or next year but what’s the future going to look like – the moonshots. Not only did it give us enormous credibility but as engineers, they offered a fantastic environment to work in.
Then there’s when we hit a 100 million users – that was jaw-dropping – not all in one particular customer or industry vertical. It was official: we had crossed the chasm and had made the leap!
The concept behind BehavioSec sounds so simple – measuring human behavior to verify an individual’s identity – yet the technology is far from it. How did you and your team approach the strategy and development of such a sophisticated platform that delivers precision results at scale?
I’d highlight how encapsulated the complexity of the underlying AI engine. This as “fitting in” rather than replacing – and being pragmatic rather than academic. I’ve worked in academia and been around commercializing research quite a bit.
Everyone thinks that the idea is 95 percent of the business when it’s actually 5 percent. The delivering – the execution – that’s the hard part. You must take the concept and be pragmatic about usability and where you can fit it in with your target buyers.
Say where you can enhance what’s there vs. completely revolutionizing everything all at once. Focus on the good you can do and don’t surprise your customers with underlying architectures, approaches. You’ve got to step back and see the whole context and environment from their point of view, then don’t try to do too much without realizing the total impact. We don’t need to tell banks to throw everything out!
Great advice. Let’s shift to the merger at hand. You have such sophisticated customers – what will LexisNexis Risk Solutions and BehavioSec achieve together for your customers and our industry at large?
First, let me say how proud I am of all the amazing brands that took the leap of faith with us to be those early adopters. The technology from LexisNexis Risk Solutions is truly complementary to ours – and there’s a huge market for pre-integration. Uniting these layers – behavioral biometrics plus device identification and risk scoring – is not just 1+1 is 2 but 1+1 is 5. The performance levels and quality of the risk scoring will be so much better for the combined offering. Future customers can now enjoy best of breed, feature-deep technologies – bringing enhanced authentication and added defense within a seamless user experience.
Then there’s our small and mighty team of 45, joining a huge company. As an engineering-focused company, this is a great fit. We’ve always been inspired by LexisNexis Risk Solutions’ global reach across verticals – they are truly a global player. This will open up new markets, new sectors – from APAC to e-commerce and gaming, while also providing the resources to let us go deeper with the technology.
What does this acquisition mean for your day to day and how you’ll lead?
It’s pretty self-evident how complementary the technologies are, but for the first six months, it will be about how to optimally integrate the team. Much of that is ‘obvious’, but from my experience there’s still some ‘hands on’ help needed on both sides. Then I think the multi-hat role of a CEO will be more focused on technology strategy & evangelist ensuring the successful market uptake of the joint offering.
How will you celebrate this moment?
Delete Excel. 🙂
No seriously – I think a post-pandemic holiday is in the cards. Then a team offsite. The last time we did one, we went to Iceland – it was supposed to be Ireland but something got lost in translation. What a difference a letter makes…snow vs. rain.
Anyway, we have a close knit and very flat team where most have worked with each other for seven years or more on average(!). It will be great to get everyone together. I think we’ll end up patting each other on the back for three days straight.
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