It’s 2018— tech giants like Facebook and Google now have unprecedented access to every aspect of your digital life: your email, your social graph, your search history, and most websites you visit. Now there’s a way for you to take back responsibility for one of the most important pieces of that.
Helm is a beautiful server you can run in the comfort of your own home. It lets you send and receive secure e-mail on your own domain, and that’s important since your email is how you securely authenticate your whole online life.
This is what it looks like:
The iPhone is your one secure device, but you need another one
Apple is well known for having one of the only widely accessible and sufficiently secure computing environments. But what does that device talk to? The cloud — Gmail, file sync services, calendar, you name it.
Cloud services are often hacked en masse (see: massive Facebook hack that happened last week), and are subject to all manner of outside interference or data collection from multiple levels: governments, accidental data leakage via vendors, and most obviously the company itself.
As consumers we are all safer with a secure device in our pockets and Apple iPhone users enjoy that. Having secure devices at home amplifies that safety to another level, and that’s why the team created Helm.
The cloud doesn’t actually exist, it’s just servers run by someone else. To run your own, it has to be easy.
Software engineers generally know this so many of them end up looking into it: “How to run your own email server” is a common Google search for those in the know.
But if you dig in, the options aren’t great. It’s actually a lot of work to run your own email server. I had to run my own servers for one of the my startup Posterous, a blog-by-email service founded in 2008 (acquired by Twitter) that was used by tens of millions of people at its peak. It was a Quantcast Top 200 site on the web. It was a lot of work to get up and running and maintain. A veritable acronym soup: SPF, DKIM, IP blacklists, that’s just the start of it. Then you’ve got to run regular backups, keep track of your own storage, and finally keep a whole OS and software stack up to date.
Helm takes care of all of this for you, keeping you always up to date, secure, and backed up. Restoring from backup is just like restoring your iPhone from iCloud.
Helm users enjoy end-to-end encrypted email, no app or behavior change
One of the things that drew me the most to Helm is that when other people use it too, the Helm devices speak to each other securely and with encryption: So you can actually have device-to-device encryption that has communication that isn’t read by any outside party. To date, you’ve had to use PGP (which is pretty hard to use) or another mobile app like Signal to get that level of security.
This allows Helm users to use regular email apps and get a level of security most folks have never enjoyed before.
It’s time to take control of our online lives, starting with email.
Email is just the first of a series of security and privacy-related features that will be coming out. The best thing about the Helm server is that since it’s programmable, it actually can run new applications.
When the iPhone was first released it had the initial set of built-in apps: Phone, Mail, Camera. Later, the iOS app store came online, leading to today’s cornucopia of apps that touch every part of your life. You can expect the same with Helm, a software platform that will continue to get better day after day, week after week.
Helm is the missing link to enable the other side on the server: secure apps to serve you and your family and make you safe.
This founding team is focused on building for the long haul
Giri and I got to know each other over 15 years ago when both of us were undergraduates at Stanford University’s Computer Science Department. He and his cofounder Dirk actually built an award winning mobile security startup called Mobilisafe that helped companies with their mobile device security, and led that company to a successful acquisition by security startup Rapid7 (NASDAQ: RPD), which had a successful IPO in 2015.
They’re industry veterans who have built and shipped high security systems for decades. More than ten years ago, they both worked on hardware-based security (Trusted Platform Modules) which are the core building blocks for trusted computing, and what make Apple’s iPhone a fundamentally secure platform.
Dirk and Giri are great security-first software engineers who have built something both secure and easy to use— this device wouldn’t work without both of those at the top of mind. While we’ve funded a lot of startups, very few have required such high levels of excellence across so many disciplines: user experience design, software, security, hardware, manufacturing, finance, customer support, and operations.
This was one of my highest conviction investments out of Initialized Fund III, so much so that I joined the board which is unusual for a first check out of our seed-focused early stage fund. This experienced team built this for themselves, and they’re committed to building and supporting this company for the long haul.
Helm is ready and shipping this year.
You can order Helm now at https://thehelm.com — the team has been hard at work on this product for three years, and you can buy one now for $499.
The online purchase process helps you also set up a custom domain well in advance of your device arriving, which means that you can start using your Helm the day it arrives at your home or office.
Built for expandability and sustainability
One of the more interesting things we like to ask startups is “Why Now?” Time was, you needed rack-based servers with as much compute and storage as you can muster. An interesting thing happened recently: Your smartphone is now even more powerful than the laptops we were using just a few years ago.
The Helm Server is a high performance computer with 128GB of onboard storage that is expandable to 5TB that is extensible and expandable. This includes one year of service, which is $99 per year after the first year.
Your recurring annual fee assures that your Helm will be always up to date with the latest security patches and also gets you access to all new features Helm will be launching. Quality software takes smart engineering teams to build the and the team has made sure their pricing is geared towards long term sustainability.
Your device includes full-disk encryption, secure boot, and encrypted backups. Certificates from the Let’s Encrypt Project make sure all connections between your devices and your server are secure.
Once you have your own secure server, that server can turn into an always-up-to-date device that gets new capabilities. Just a taste of what the team has planned: a secure anonymizing VPN network, distributed file sharing and sync, password management, secure family chat and messaging.
Time to take back your digital life. This is how you do it.