Meet The Disruptors: Kunal Agarwal Of dope.security On The Five Things You Need To Shake Up Your Industry

An Interview With Fotis Georgiadis

Fotis Georgiadis
Authority Magazine

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Persistence: You will always have to level up yourself to accomplish the next challenge. In some ways, I like to think “the stars aligned” for me. Whenever I was ready, a new opportunity appeared. Especially during my time at Symantec, each new opportunity always came with strong challenges that I’d have to overcome with the help of my mentors and bosses. It was really tough at times, and I always wanted to do my best to push to the next level. When I founded dope.security, we had challenges each step of the way, whether it was acquiring funding, hiring engineers, or re-hiring new engineers; persistence has been key.

As a part of our series about business leaders who are shaking things up in their industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Kunal Agarwal, Founder and CEO of dope.security.

Kunal is the founder of dope.security, the fly-direct Secure Web Gateway (SWG). Prior, he led product at Forcepoint for insider threat, DLP/CASB, and endpoint. He also led the Internet of Things (IoT) and data center security portfolio at Symantec: lightweight system hardening and zero-day mitigation endpoint, USB scanning station, and network anomaly detection for industrial/in-vehicle applications. Before, he was product manager for identity & access management and integration of Symantec’s Information Protection portfolio (DLP, Encryption, Identity, CASB). His experience in security dates over fifteen years, ranging from credit card security, ethical hacking, and security research at the University of California, Berkeley — EECS.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

Thanks for having me! I’ve been hacking since I was around eight years old; writing malware, Xbox mods, piracy, and tons of other crazy things. I always loved to tinker — understand, exploit, reward, repeat. For anyone who went to my school, my career choice has always been very unsurprising. After I graduated from UC Berkeley, I started at cybersecurity company Symantec as an engineer, became a product manager, and rose through the ranks to lead the Internet of Things (IoT) business unit. After that, I ran product management for endpoint and cloud at Forcepoint. After almost 10 years at large legacy security companies, I was “pushed off the cliff” by a friend Rehan Jalil to start the venture dope.security, which officially launched in September 2022.

Can you tell our readers what it is about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?

Existing cybersecurity companies are pretty dull and clock-in/clock-out. At dope.security, we wanted to make a change and infuse this tired “old” industry with energy and passion that people have never seen before. Whether that’s with a beautiful user experience, eye-catching videos, or a cool logo; every piece should look and feel amazing.

Our product revolves around secure internet access. Let’s say you’re accessing Instagram. Today, if you access the Internet on a company laptop, SWG providers route internet traffic through stopover data centers on the other side of the world where it’s decrypted, exposing customers to issues with outages as well as impacting security and performance. It’s the equivalent of flying from San Francisco to Los Angeles and stopping over for a security check in New York. Insanity! This is the architecture of our legacy SWG competitors: tired, slow, unsafe and unreliable.

With dope.security, we remove the data center stopover completely and perform security checks directly on the endpoint. Think of it like TSA precheck — we do the security before you get on the flight and avoid any unnecessary layovers. This is our disruption: our fly direct SWG architecture. No more stopovers, no more outages; just a super fast internet connection, improved performance at a quarter of the cost, and a beautiful user experience.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

When I was 15, I hacked into my high school’s grading system and became a juvenile delinquent. While it was supposed to be “for fun”, given the seriousness of the crime, it quickly turned into a life-changing event for me. While I wouldn’t take it back because it gave me valuable life and career experience, I will never forget how I saw first-hand how easily trust can be lost. It took seconds but as soon as I was discovered, everyone started to look at me differently.

From that moment on, I have always tried, and I’m still trying, to hold high integrity in how I work with clients, colleagues, and friends. However big or small it may be, there is no reward worth ruining your word and the trust someone shares with you. To gain it back is nearly impossible.

We all need a little help along the journey. Who have been some of your mentors? Can you share a story about how they made an impact?

There are so many! I have to shout out Steve Schoenfeld, Nico Popp, Jason Merrick, Alex Wong, and Gary Krall. I met all of them at Symantec when I was 21, and they have been an incredible influence in my life, personally and professionally.

Gary was my first manager at Symantec, so when he saw that I had potential, he went out of his way to support me such as recommending me for the product manager position or promoting my ideas internally. We especially connected when four of us (Nico, Jason, Gary, and I) joined Forcepoint together during the pandemic. We were the outsiders just trying to make a difference.

Gary is retired now, but we still talk every day and he has been a massive support for me at dope.security. Beyond “mentoring”, we try to problem-solve together. Have we thought about X? How can we rethink the problem? Gary was fundamental in helping me realize the urgency of certain situations — for example, we were struggling to implement the front end of our platform, and he held my feet to the fire daily to hire new engineers to help. He knew if we didn’t plug the problem now, it would impact our release in the long run, and I’m so grateful he held me accountable and continues to push me.

The most important thing I have learned is that, as we all grow up, we should try to help others without the expectation of getting something in return. Without these people, I would never be where I am today and I am eternally grateful that they offered me their unwavering support and guidance when I had little to offer them in return.

In today’s parlance, being disruptive is usually a positive adjective. But is disrupting always good? When do we say the converse, that a system or structure has ‘withstood the test of time’? Can you articulate to our readers when disrupting an industry is positive, and when disrupting an industry is ‘not so positive’? Can you share some examples of what you mean?

Monumental “disruptive” shifts always come with mixed consequences. There is a balance of good and bad, and hopefully, it’s more positive than negative.

Take the modernization of the music industry with Spotify or Apple Music — as a listener, it’s beautiful to have virtually every song instantly available to you for a monthly fee. With cloud-based listening habits, you can discover new music that fits your tastes or share collaborative playlists with your friends. These have their own smartness to them due to the machine learning models powering them under the hood. As a musician, getting your music published has been simplified greatly from complex distribution contracts with a music label to a simple upload online. It puts the power back in the artist’s hands.

More negatively, some musicians have felt that the royalty payouts are much lower when compared to purchasing music. Music streaming’s impact on the radio industry has led to a loss of jobs and the closing of radio stations. In both examples, people’s lives have been affected both positively and negatively because of the disruption.

I always come back to the fact that disruption should always strive to be more positive than negative.

Can you share five of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.

It’s a combination of experience and advice:

  1. Persistence: You will always have to level up yourself to accomplish the next challenge. In some ways, I like to think “the stars aligned” for me. Whenever I was ready, a new opportunity appeared. Especially during my time at Symantec, each new opportunity always came with strong challenges that I’d have to overcome with the help of my mentors and bosses. It was really tough at times, and I always wanted to do my best to push to the next level. When I founded dope.security, we had challenges each step of the way, whether it was acquiring funding, hiring engineers, or re-hiring new engineers; persistence has been key.
  2. Awareness: Be mindful of your surroundings so that you can carry yourself in an appropriate manner in any situation. At dope.security, we aim to strike the right balance between seriousness and fun, especially with customers, to ensure professionalism and humility. The other day I drove one of our customers to the airport, where we got to connect on a fundamental level without being too dry or robotic. At the same time, we have to be respectful, show up on time, dressed appropriately, and be ready to give a first-class service.
  3. Humility: Ignoring people because of a small taste of success is not a good look. As I’ve seen a lot of my own friends find success in their industries, I’ve kept in my mind that we’re not celebrities. Building an ego and believing that the world revolves around you is not realistic and will likely never be true. Instead, do your work with passion and be thankful for the opportunities it presents and respectful of anything that it might entail, even if it’s mundane from time to time.
  4. Scheduled: We have to work to live, not live to work, so never try to overwork yourself past your personal bandwidth. It’s important to live too. Everyone at dope.security as well as myself have the weekends off. As a company, we try very hard to retain a scheduled work week. If I take a business trip, I try to plan that in advance to make sure my personal life (family and friends) never gets overrun with work.
  5. Rethink: When you think you have the answer, rethink the problem and determine whether it’s actually an appropriate course of action. Being disruptive, especially at larger companies, is often celebrated but also can be frowned upon. Rethinking the problem doesn’t necessarily mean ripping apart what’s been done for years. It’s more important to understand “why” has it been done like that, and how it can be enhanced, rather than replaced. dope.security was founded on the belief that we can be different in the right ways — do we need to have a separate login process, or can we reuse Microsoft and Google’s authentication? It saves us time and effort, but will we break certain customers? What are we losing by doing so? The answers to the questions help us boldly make the correct decision.

We are sure you aren’t done. How are you going to shake things up next?

When I’m working on a project, I am laser-focused on just that. I think dope.security is only in its infancy — with a good product comes great things, and doors will open from there. Watch this space!

Do you have a book, podcast, or talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Can you share a story with us? Can you explain why it was so resonant with you?

Cyberpunk, dystopian, and science fiction are my favorite genres. The movie ‘Dune’ comes to mind — it enveloped stunning cinematography, unforgettable music, and iconic costume design to make a masterpiece that transported you to a new world.

If you think about it, this kind of art requires an insane amount of practice and passion to be the best you can be at your work. It’s evident in people’s reactions to it. This is what inspires me every day, to put that much passion into the work I’m doing on a daily basis.

My dream is for people to look at our work at dope.security and just say “Wow, you’ve gone the extra mile”. Luckily for me, that’s happened a couple of times since starting the company!

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

I am not sure of the exact quote, but it boils down to each moment in life only comes once. When I’m traveling, working, or relaxing, I try to appreciate and seize the moment as much as I can.

It can be as simple as striking up a conversation (even if it’s intimidating) with someone. I am sure I would have never been able to accomplish and grow if I had been too scared to start the conversation with my bosses about the issues I saw at my previous companies. If I had been scared, I would have never met half of the people I call friends, mentors, or colleagues today.

It’s just as important to relish the moments with the people around you. Even if you’re just having dinner with a friend or colleague, I always try to make that moment meaningful.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

I would inspire everyone to find excitement in what they do. Whether you’re an engineer, a homemaker, a singer, or a chef, make sure that you are doing something you are passionate about. I continue to find excitement and passion in everything I do and hope everyone can find their passions too.

How can our readers follow you online?

Either on Instagram or LinkedIn!

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

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Fotis Georgiadis
Authority Magazine

Passionate about bringing emerging technologies to the market