MORRISVILLE — Over the last 13 months since launching, JupiterOne has raised a whopping $49 million for his cyber asset management startup, JupiterOne. (A $30M Series B funding round in May 2021 (led by Sapphire Ventures) and $19 million in Series A funding announced in September 2020).

Its founder, Erkang Zheng, says the Morrisville-based startup has tripled its annual revenue and more than doubled its team.

It’s also added strategic investors, Cisco Investments and Splunk Ventures, alongside Atlassian CTO Sri Viswanath and Netflix VP Jason Chan. It has clients in Reddit, Databricks, and Auth0.

Sky’s the limit for Triangle cybersecurity startup protecting clients in age of ransomware

WRAL TechWire’s Chantal Allam recently had the chance to catch up with him in the company’s new HQ in Morrisville’s Aerial Center Park. Here’s what he had to say:

TechWire: Tell me a little bit about yourself.

Erkang: I was born in Beijing moved to California when I was in high school. I lived there for about  two years and moved to  Raleigh, which I’ve called home for almost 21 years.

TechWire: You went to NC State, both for undergrad and graduate school. So why did you end up picking NC State?

Erkang: That’s an interesting story. I was enrolled in UCLA, and I gave it up. My wife, then girlfriend at the time, wanted to move to Raleigh to be closer to her family. So I moved with her. I figured, hey, a school is a school and NC State was a great option.. At the time, my mother didn’t understand. but it all worked out in the end.

TechWire: Why did you decide to focus on cybersecurity?

Erkang: One of my professors at NC State sparked my interest in cybersecurity. For my master’s, I did research with Dr. Mladen Vouk. We started doing research in network anomaly detection. So that experience was my first entrance into cybersecurity, or network security as it was called at the time around 2002.

TechWire: Eventually, you ended up at IBM leading its security services globally. 

Erkang: IBM is where I spent a large part of my career. Right before I joined, IBM acquired a company called International Security Systems, and then  formed the IBM Security Division. There were several different acquisitions afterwards, and I joined that group and took on  multiple roles throughout my seven and a half years there. I led multiple different global practices: application security, penetration testing, data security, emergency response, forensics and PCI, which is a credit card security program.

TechWire: Let’s jump ahead a few year, and you’re working at a startup called LifeOmic headquartered in Indianapolis. It would eventually spinout JupiterOne. Tell us about that.

Erkang: I had this great opportunity to join the startup in 2017. At the time, I was kind of struggling a bit. I remember thinking, why would I leave my fast-growing team of 50 people to join a startup and be a team of one again? To top it off, they weren’t even based here.

But I decided to pursue  it because I could start fresh  without the legacy of an established company. I could restart and rebuild a security program the right way, without any  baggage. Also, everybody wass moving into the cloud, and things needed to be done differently; so I saw that as an opportunity to start from scratch  and doing things the right way in this new modern era of information security.

TechWire’s LinkedIn Live today features ‘Tomorrow’s Unicorn’ JupiterOne CEO Erkang Zheng

TechWire: So essentially, you got to start over from scratch, and build it from the bottom up.

Erkang: That’s right, and the work became the foundation of JupiterOne. We built a prototype internally that we were using ourselves, and got early customers. While I was part of LifeOmic, we created a subsidiary company and incubated it there, and then spun it out when the time was right in 2020.

TechWire: TechWire: How does your platform work?

Erkang: It’s kind of like DNA sequencing for an organization. But instead, we build a graph knowledge base for cybersecurity.

With our platform, customers can discover detailed information about their data. For example, they can find answers to questions such as: re there resources that are internet facing that may be at risk? Is there data in the production environment that’s unencrypted? The immediate answers provide valuable information about an environment so decisions can be made quickly.

JupiterOne’s CEO and founder Erkang Zheng.

TechWire: What is the technology behind the platform?

Erkang: It’s simple data analysis. I say it’s simple but it’s complex data behind scenes. Our technology aggregates a massive amount of data across different environments and resources, mapping them to create this graph data model. We create an easy-to-understand graph that helps visual complex relationships between cyber assets.When you ask a question, you get a contextual answer back. Not only does it tell you to ‘the what,’ but it tells you the ‘so what.’By providing context, we help users make smarter, informed decisions about their security.

Four years ago, we were in a cyber pandemic. There were so many data breaches happening all over the place. Hardly a day went by without news of a data breach at yet another company. And it’s not getting any better because things are getting more complicated.  Companies are transforming key areas of their business and are more digital and software-defined. It just becomes increasingly difficult for security teams to keep up, and because of that there are more gaps and unknown issues that happen.

Many people think of information security as cops for companies. But I look at them as the doctors and the wellness coaches for the organization. I think of a security program in terms of a cyber wellness program. A key part of that is preparation and prevention. If you think about a data breach or an attack, it’s an organization getting sick.

The problem is, the organization doesn’t really fully understand the organizational body, per se, because there are so many moving parts. Things change on a daily basis in this digital operating model. Organizations need a platform that allows them to understand the resources they have, and how they’re connected so they know what to protect.

TechWire: When did it go from beta to being in the market?

Erkang: We consider ourselves already in the market for roughly a year.

Techwire: You’re growing quickly. You’ve had two recent fundraises totaling $49 million. What are you doing with those funds?

Erkang: We’ve made various investments in the research and development of products, many of which e are in go-to-market. We’re ramping up our marketing and sales teams   to drive visibility of our company  and close  deals.

TechWire: Was it hard to raise that that capital?

Erkang: It was challenging, especially the first round. It’s more complicated because it’s a spin out and a lot of VCs usually shy away. The second round was a lot easier because we had more proven records, and the cybersecurity market is really hot and growing. There is significant demand in cybersecurity products and capabilities.

TechWire: Why back-to-back rounds?

It wasn’t by design. There was a lot of investor interest, and we took an early round. We weren’t planning on raising a second round that early, but we had quality or engaging investor discussions and it was a great partnership at good valuations, so it all lined up.

TechWire: Why do you think it’s taking off so quickly?

Erkang: It’s the right product at the right time. The market is ready for it. We had this significant explosion of cloud and digital transformation, and the whole COVID situation actually accelerated that growth. For the entire cybersecurity market, it has accelerated the demand for better security measures.

We’re also believe security is a basic right; it’s not optional. Whether you’re a 10-person startup or a Fortune500 company, you need the right security product and visibility to do business securely. We built a platform that can support both ends. We have free products, and we have enterprise products that any of those customers can leverage.

TechWire: Surely there are lots of other startups doing the same thing. What sets JupiterOne apart?

Erkang: It’s a couple of things. It’s our approach to how data is analyzed. We’re the first to embrace using a graph data model to do this entire asset and inventory mapping at scale.

We also had some very strong early adopters in the cloud-native digital space. Databricks is one example and customer of ours.

TechWire: In July, you announced two additional strategic investors, Cisco Investments and Splunk Ventures. Tell us about that.

Erkang: We’re very excited. Both are very strong technology companies focused on the cloud-native and security space as well.

We’re at the beginning of the partnership. There are a lot of things in motion and we look forward to our joint efforts. I can anticipate those being critical partnerships in the future growth, but it’s only been two months.

TechWire: How quickly are you scaling?

Erkang: Last year, when we spun out, we were 17 people; we’re 75 right now.  We’ll probably be 150 in a year. We’re growing at over 3-4X.

TechWire: Could you see JupiterOne becoming a unicorn anytime soon?

Erkang: I don’t know about the timing, but I can certainly see that. That certainly is the goal. We do foresee ourselves as the next Pendo, if not bigger hopefully. Pendo is great. We use Pendo products ourselves.

TechWire: Do you have any kind of timeframe?

Erkang: No, it all depends on how fast we scale on the market. There are so many different variables, but I certainly hope sooner than later.

TechWire: Why did you decide to headquarter JupiterOne in Morrisville and not in Indianapolis, its parent company?

Erkang: I’ve been here for 20-something years. I built the internal prototype here, so there was no reason to move somewhere else. This is a great area for talent, for growth. And right now, we have more than 50% of our people working remote. It really doesn’t matter as much where the HQ is located. We decided to make Raleigh home because this is already home to us. It has a great cultural hub, and there’s also an innovation and entrepreneurial spirit. There’s also the opportunity to foster talent from local universities as well.

TechWire: Do you think this region could become a hub for cybersecurity?

Erkang: I don’t know about a hub for cybersecurity, but it’s definitely more of a hub for startups and software companies. When I first moved here in the early 2000s, I worked for a couple of startups, actually. And it was very challenging at the time to be an East Coast startup and raise money. Today, it’s dramatically different.