Jazz Shaper: Tim Sadler

Posted on 23 October 2021

Tim is the CEO and co-founder of Human Layer Security platform for enterprise, Tessian.

Welcome to the Jazz Shapers Podcast from Mishcon de Reya.  What you are about to hear was originally broadcast on Jazz FM however the music has been cut due to rights issues.

Elliot Moss

Welcome to Jazz Shapers with me, Elliot Moss, bringing you the shapers of the business world together with the shapers of Jazz, Soul and Blues.   My guest today is Tim Sadler, Co-Founder and CEO at Tessian, the security software company protecting businesses from threats caused by human error.  Interested since childhood in how technology could make people’s lives better, it was while working in banking that Tim and University friends, Tom Adams and Edward Bishop, saw a problem which had not yet been solved.  As Tim says, “For too long, cyber security software has focussed on securing technology and neglected the security of the people who run the organisation.  It just takes one wrong decision for an employee to cause a catastrophic security breach and businesses are starting to realise they must do something to stop this.”  Tessian was launched in 2013, analysing email data in real time using machine learning technology to eliminate threats from phishing attacks, ransomware and from insider threats.  It’s really nice to have you.  For those of you that don’t know, sometimes we’re live in the same place together and other times, through technology, we are brought together, and this is one of those occasions.  Tim, you are, I am looking at you in Los Angeles, Santa Monica no less. 

Tim Sadler

That’s correct.

Elliot Moss

And it looks nice to me - the weather, the sun.  The sun is always the thing that when we are over here in the UK, we go ‘I wish there was a bit of sun’ and you have plenty of it. 

Tim Sadler

Exactly.  Santa Monica is kind of the opposite to the UK in terms of its year round sunshine.

Elliot Moss

Yeah.  I’m not jealous at all and I’m sure anyone listening isn’t jealous either.  The engineer in you, I think it was a Product Engineering Degree, and then you did a Mechanical Engineering element to it, a Master’s in something.  Tell me how the engineering person becomes an entrepreneur.

Tim Sadler

So, I think, the engineering goes way back to childhood.  Many people in my family were engineers or involved in building, designing, making things.  Both my grandfathers, one of them was a engineer who worked in railways and locomotives and then my other grandfather was a locksmith who actually built the locks that are on Buckingham Palace right now.  So, as a kid I kind of grew up around Lego, Meccano, everything, you know, building and also my father’s an engineer as well so I was really into just that concept of creating things and designing things from a young age and then through school I studied Math, I studied Physics and I studied Design Technology and then I went to University and got my Master’s Degree in Mechanical Engineering at Imperial College, which is where I met Tom and Ed, who I then went on to start Tessian with so, kind been with me from a really early age and kind of wired into the DNA of who I am, I just love, love creating solutions to problems that can help people, and things that really wouldn’t have existed otherwise if, you know, creative thought or if somebody hadn’t bothered to kind of stumble upon them and try and solve that problem.

Elliot Moss

The Lego thing is interesting to me and I was reading recently just how well Lego has done in this lockdown, I mean, extraordinary figures like, you know, hundred and however many few hundred percent up.  At what age, and obviously in the family you were say, you know, you’ve got engineers everywhere, so there was no escaping for sure and it’s also the children of creative people end up somehow or other are more likely to be in that profession than the children of lawyers and so on and so forth but I hated Lego, I was awful at Meccano and I love solving problems so, for you, how young were you when you realised the tactile nature of making stuff appealed to you?  Was it just, you can’t ever remember how young you were or was there a moment when you went, this is, this just makes me happy?

Tim Sadler

That’s a really good question.  I can’t really remember exactly when it was.  My parents probably could but, it was from like my earliest memories, you know, I would always be playing with something or building something, I think, you know, some of my early memories are, yeah, I remember trying to take apart VCR players and fix them.  I think that was probably my earliest memory, it was, there was a particular Disney video that I had that I had watched so many times, it had got jammed in the VCR or something and when I was three years old I got very frustrated that I couldn’t watch it again so I tried to take apart the VCR to fix it so I could watch it again, which you know, kids today, they don’t have to worry about any of that but I think that was probably the earliest moment, I think that’s when my, when my parents told me that, you know, you were probably destined to become an engineer when you figured out how to do that. 

Elliot Moss

Tell me what you’ve made.  How would you describe Tessian, as if it was a piece of a Lego creation?

Tim Sadler

So, Tessian is a Human Layer Security platform for the enterprise and what Tessian does is understands when people are doing the wrong thing in a computer system so, when they are making a mistake, when they are breaking the rules, so when they are being tricked and what we do is we analyse their interaction on things like email and we understand when a mistake is being made, we stop the mistake from happening and then we provide in the moment security coaching for those employees to guide them towards better security behaviour and avoiding potentially causing a data breach.  And this was born out of my experience working for one of the world’s largest banks, where I saw a paradox, and the paradox was that the bank had an enormous cybersecurity budget, had lots of people working in security and had a lot of cybersecurity software but breaches would still happen all the time and they were usually caused by inadvertent human error, people breaking the rules or people being tricked and the reason for that is that, you know, cybersecurity over the past sort of three decades really has only focussed on building technology to secure technology.  So, everyone’s heard of firewall or many people have heard of network security, we also use EDR platforms antivirus to secure our devices but there’s no technology layer that secures people and their digital interactions.  What’s happened over the past forty years is we’ve had this, you know, wave of digital transformation where work now, for most people, happens through a computer screen, everything we do is digital.  You can wire millions of dollars in a few mouse clicks, you can share your entire customer database in a few clicks on email.  Now, with that power comes huge consequences and disaster if somebody makes the slightest mistake or somebody chooses to break the rules or somebody is coerced through social engineering so, we wanted to build the world’s first cybersecurity technology that would help secure the third paradigm in the enterprise, which is people.  So, we secured the network, we secured devices and now at Tessian, we are building human layer security to secure people. 

Elliot Moss

What’s really cool about you described and I understand what you do but I wouldn’t have had a clue how to put it together, is of course that you’ve created your brand new category and the category that you are in is your category, which is this formation of Human Layer Security, which is very smart.  When you came upon that was there a Bond villain image in mind, a sort of Blofeld and this Blofeld was sitting there with his cats and saying ‘I think I’ve cracked it. I think we’ve found something pretty cool here’.  I mean, is that where it started with the why don’t we do that or did that emerge later through the fact that actually the technology was creating that vey thing?

Tim Sadler

It was a bit of both, I think.  It’s really easy to look back at companies and think, you know, on day one it started and there was this perfect messaging and perfect pitch and the reality is actually it’s, you know, you iterate and you pivot and you try a lot of stuff and then you refine it over time and, for us, we had reached a point where it all just started to make sense but there was that moment, that lightbulb where we said, and I remember going over to the desk of Ed, who is my co-founder, and saying, you know, I think I’ve got it, I think what we’re building is, it’s called Human Layer Security, HLS, that’s our category, that’s what we are going to call the platform that we’re creating, that’s the movement that we’re going to create and what’s been so amazing is, you know, in those moments, it’s just three words and you can go online and oh, human layer security.com is available and it’s 99 cents and you start acquiring these things and then actually it becomes a movement and it has become a movement, you know, we’ve created the Human Layer Security Summit, we have thousands of people attending that summit every year, we have our customers talking in terms of their Human Layer Security and that’s just been so amazing to see so, the answer to your question I think is, there were not cats or, you know, it wasn’t kind of the Bond villain set up but there was that lightbulb moment and I think everything just clicked and it felt right. 

Elliot Moss

Stay with me on JFM.  You are listening to JS talking with my Business Shaper, he’s on about HLS and there’s a lot of value in it.  His name is Tim Sadler, he’ll be coming back in a few minutes but right now, we’re going to hear a taster from the Mishcon Academy Digital Session, MADS, which can be found on all the major podcast platforms.  Mishcon de Reya’s Joe Hancock and Katy Ling talk about current trends in cyber fraud and what companies need to do to protect themselves against them. 

You can revel in all our former Business Shapers on the Jazz Shaper’s podcast and indeed, you can hear this very programme again with Tim, if you pop Jazz Shapers into your podcast platform of choice, or if you have got a smart speaker, you can ask it to play Jazz Shapers and there you will find a soupcon of our recent shows.  But back to today’s guest, Tim Sadler, he’s the Co-Founder and CEO at Tessian, the Human Layer Security software company that protects businesses from threats caused by us humans.  Now, to set up your own business, Tim, and you have described a little bit about what Tessian is, you need to be an optimistic fellow and we don’t know each other but you seem to have a smile on your face, you seem to be liked as you view the world, which is a pretty amazing feat, I think.  When you, if you can cast your mind back, when you started raising money, and you’ve raised a lot of money over the years, how did you manage to convince the biggest VCs in the world, the biggest venture capital companies in the world, the Sequoias, the Baldertons, what was it do you think, that got them over the line?

Tim Sadler

So, I think when you are raising money as an entrepreneur, especially towards, you know, Series A, Series B, it’s a combination of two things.  Your company has to have good metrics and good metrics means growth and you have to be able to show that you have customers that are not only using your products but paying you for your products and VCs talk to those customers so, when you raise money, I think, you know, when we were raising our Series B, the investors we were raising from, they probably called ten of our customers, and probably more I imagine in back channel, so they cared deeply about what do customers think about your products, how do they feel about the price they pay for your products, would they pay more for your products and what do they think about the company and the people that they interact with?  So that’s one thing.  It’s super important that those things are in place but then I think the, probably the most important thing if you’ve checked the box on the first point about your growth and those metrics, is what your vision is for this company and how it’s going to change the world and the vision, you know, usually sits hand in hand with a really big opportunity, something that’s defining, something that’s going to change the world, something that’s going to make, in our case, the enterprise a completely different place to work in and a completely different place from a security standpoint and then you have to kind of articulate that into why it’s a great investment opportunity but fundamentally, how it’s going to open up opportunities that are much bigger than the opportunities you have today, as a company.  So, you often hear about companies that start off as features and then become platforms over time and I think that’s one of the things that we did really well at Tessian, which is we started solving a direct, very acute piece of pain for our customers and then over time were able to extend the service that we were providing to customers into a platform. 

Elliot Moss

Everything you’ve just described to me makes perfect sense to me, Tim.  The rational part of my brain says of course they had a good growth story, of course they had the conversations, the back channel conversations with customers, of course there was a compelling vision, size of market, everything works for me, and yet I’m kind of thinking that as much as the world is rational, you were rational, our friends in the venture capital space are rational, there’s a big emotional piece in this and I guess my question is, what emotionally do you think they bought in you and your co-founders?

Tim Sadler

I think this plays a huge part when you are investing in any early stage company.  The founding team are the people who show up to pitch and meet the partnership and I think that seeing people that you believe have the characteristics to build an enduring company is, yeah, it was, I omitted that from those other two points about having great metrics and a great vision, yeah, I think you need to have a great founding team but I think what investors have told me about their decision to invest in our company or things that maybe they thought was strong in our founding team was the concept of grit, we show this photograph of the early days of Tessian when we had moved into an apartment together in Hammersmith and you can just imagine it, it’s like there’s laundry everywhere, it’s a super small room, just books and desks, you know, printers, everything, just piled up around us but that’s how it was and we show that photograph to communicate how in the early days, like we had a thousand dollars in the company bank account and it was just the three of us building and writing code on literally the kitchen table.  So that concept of grit, the fact that we, we didn’t start life as a company raising $2 million from a great VC fund, we started with no, you know, no money and no contacts and kind of clawed our way through and that’s something that’s been highlighted, just that grit, scrappiness, hunger and it’s still alive, not only in the founding team today but we’ve taken that through to the company, we have grit and perseverance as one of our six core values as a company.  And then I think the other thing is, a founding team that knows the line between confidence and optimism but is also humble and, you know, willing to kind of share their flaws and highlight the mistakes that they’ve made in the past and listen to people and gather feedback and act on that feedback, and you know, not just kind of stonewall feedback or not try and hide things that are imperfect in your business, everyone has scars and those scars make you, you know, they make you hungrier, they, those chips on your shoulder, you know, whether you, as an individual something happened in your life or something that’s happened to the company, it makes you stronger and it pushes you on and investors that I know and work with today, they like that a lot, they care about that a lot and I think it’s a common trait in entrepreneurs. 

Elliot Moss

Those values and the kind of atmosphere and the culture that you’re creating and inculcating in our people, tell me a bit about how in a practical way that team understand and believe it because it’s one thing to say we are humble and it’s another thing to actually deliver it and it’s another thing to nurture it.  What are the manifestations, if you like, on a day to day basis within the team and what you expect from them?

Tim Sadler

Yeah, it’s a great point.  So, something we do as a company, every fortnight we hold our company All Hands meeting, we call it The WIG, it’s the Weekly Interdepartmental Gathering, that our CFO named when she joined the company now five years ago so it’s kind of stuck.  It’s no longer weekly, it’s fortnightly but we thought WIG sounds better than FIG and one of the things that we do at that meeting is we talk about how Tessians have demonstrated the values that we have as a company through kudos so we recognise people for amazing achievements tied to the values that we hold as a company and this is, it’s exactly that, we are showcasing how people have lived our values as a company so, you know, one of our values is positive mindset solution oriented.  Everything looks like a problem in a start-up or a growth stage company and, you know, we see amazing stories of Tessians who have overcome seemingly impossible challenges, whether it’s in engineering – there was one example very recently where, you know, our data science team turned around a improvement to a set of algorithms within two weeks and it delivered like a 40% uplift for our customers, without getting into the details of it, you know that was a positive mindset solution oriented moment where it looked impossible that we’d be able to turn something around that quick and we were able to do it.  We have other examples of people going above and beyond to show customer centricity, which is another one of our six values and, you know, common examples of customer centricity are where we have teams that are working, you know, not often but sometimes late into the night to deliver something for a customer or help them with an integration or a deployment to make sure that we are on schedule and for me, these are some of the, yeah, most amazing parts of building a company, which is seeing people deliver things that they didn’t even know were possible and a company that kind of provides an environment and opportunity like that is amazing.  The other thing we do is we have the Values Champions which are for the really, really exceptional demonstrations of values, every, so twice a year we hold that at a town hall and we have a Values Champion for each one of the values and that person is kind of, goes down in history as one of the Tessian Values Champions and there’s some great SWAG around it as well, which is just always important in a start-up. 

Elliot Moss

Do they get badges? 

Tim Sadler

Oh they get more than badges, you get…

Elliot Moss

Because I want them to get a badge, Tim. 

Tim Sadler

They get more than a badge, they get their own fancy Tessian SWAG with their imprinted value on the badge.  It’s pretty cool, I’m quite jealous actually of the jackets. 

Elliot Moss

I think I want to be involved in this but where are these Tessians?  All the people that work for you, I love that you call them Tessians.  Where are they based because obviously you’re in The States, the Englishman in America and obviously there’s a whole set of conditions that would change in terms of that dynamic but for your people, are they everywhere or are they all physically with you?

Tim Sadler

We have people throughout the world, a lot of those people are based in London, we have people in… on the West Coast in the Bay Area in LA, we have people in Austin, we have people in Boston, we have people in Colorado, we have people in Poland, all over the world now but a majority of our people are in London, Boston and Austin. 

Elliot Moss

Sounds pretty cool to me.  Stay with me for my final chat with Tim Sadler, he’s my Business Shaper today.  We’ve also got a treat from Kurt Elling, that’s all coming up in a just a moment, don’t go anywhere.

Tim Sadler is my Business Shaper just for a few more minutes.  I keep coming back to this thing, Tim, you’re incredibly successful, highly funded, when you speak you have real poise and you have a perspective which is usually what you connect with someone much older and much more experienced.  Do you ever sort of think about how young you are or don’t you feel young anymore now that you’ve, you know, you’ve got your battle scars from this business that you’ve created?

Tim Sadler

I think that’s a good question.  I don’t feel young, I guess, is my gut reaction to that question.  I think we’re in an industry where age doesn’t matter, there are people who are… could be in elementary school or middle school and developing technology there is, you know, nominally interesting but there are entrepreneurs who founded companies at the age of thirteen and I really believe that so, I don’t feel young but at the same time, I do reflect on the fact that this is, for me and Ed and Tom, it’s Act One, it’s the first thing that we’ve done in our careers and it’s been just the most amazing journey for us and I don’t know what’s, you know, I don’t know what’s next, you know whether Tessian is everything we’ll do in our careers or whether there will be something after Tessian but that’s something that I think about but I think certainly in this, in this industry but also just the world in general, I think it’s amazing to see how the power of, you know, technology and people can learn so much online now and have access to so much, it doesn’t matter how old you are, it doesn’t matter, you know, where you’re based, you can actually, certainly with regard to software engineering, you can write code and you can put things together from your bedroom and I think that’s pretty cool. 

Elliot Moss

And it makes me think about the fact that intellect and… plus technology can equal huge success beyond the intellect.  Have you found yourself, now, understanding the world better because of the experience, which is not intellectual but is just lived experience which is just Tim actually sitting there with the co-founders from Hammersmith, getting on planes, having people across the world, having to learn about PMLs, balance sheets, raising money, working out connectivity, all these things which are… and I mean connectivity in the way you talked about people and, you know, your values champions and so on and so forth.  How important is it to you that beyond the intellectual and beyond the technology piece, Tim Sadler who we are talking to now is a very different animal to the one that set this business up?

Tim Sadler

I think the thing that it teaches you that is an amazing life lesson is empathy.  I was talking to somebody about this recently.  When you build a company, you interact with so many people through that journey.  All the people that you hire, work with, all the customers that you sell your product to, all the end users who use your products, all the people you kind of meet along the way through networking or through other kind of events and it exposes you I think to just so many different kinds of people with different circumstances and different motivations and for me, the biggest thing is learning and I guess, growing that sense of empathy that you have as a person, for other people, when you are designing the products and thinking about how they’ll use it or their interaction with it or their experience with it, when you are hiring people and thinking about the commitment you are making to their future career in joining your company, when you are having to deal with difficult situations at work, when you are having to deal with difficult customer situations, I think for me that’s the thing that I’m most grateful for which is just gaining, you know, that deep perspective on other people’s emotions, thoughts, considerations and, yeah, empathy is the thing that I use a lot, every single day and I’m still working on it as well but for me that’s been the thing that I’ve taken away from this experience which has really, you know, helped I think shape my perspective on life. 

Elliot Moss

I think that might be the first time I’ve heard someone articulate that quite as well and I’ve spoken to a lot of people over the years.  I think it’s a great thing to hear for other people that are thinking about running their own business or indeed are.  Tim, thank you, it’s been a real treat talking to you, despite the miles and technology which can sometimes play its evil part, and it’s brilliant part Tim, obviously, because your business is all about ensuring that it does do the good stuff, not the bad stuff.  It’s been great, thank you so much.  Just before I let you disappear literally into the ether, what’s your song choice and why have you chosen it?

Tim Sadler

My song choice is St Germain, Sure Thing, and I’ve chosen this because I did not know a lot about jazz or acid jazz until I met my now wife and she loves this song, it’s her favourite song, we listen to it a lot and it’s been the soundtrack to many amazing moments in our, in our relationship together. 

Elliot Moss

That was St Germain with Sure Thing, the song choice of my Business Shaper today, Tim Sadler.  They brilliantly created a category of one Human Layer Security.  He talked about the importance of grit, beyond growth, beyond vision - the team of entrepreneurs has to have grit.  And finally, a really interesting take on what he’s learned beyond being obviously a super smart person in the world of technology, and that’s empathy, empathy through his customers, through the people that work with him, through the people that work for him.  Fantastic stuff.  That’s it from me and Jazz Shapers, have a lovely weekend.

We hope you enjoyed that edition of Jazz Shapers.  You will find hundreds of more guests available to listen to in our archive, just search Jazz Shapers in iTunes or your favourite podcast platform or head over to mishcon.com/jazzshapers.

Tessian designs and develops security software using machine learning, to protect the legal, financial and technology sectors from data breaches and security threats caused by human error in the workplace.

After studying engineering and working in banking, Tim and university friends Tom Adams and Edward Bishop realised how much sensitive data was being put at risk by human error and people sending emails within companies. Tessian provided the technological solution, while blending in with everyday workflows and keeping highly sensitive information safe, from NDAs to misdirected emails. Tim has been leading the company’s mission from 2013, and has raised $127m from leading VC funds.

Highlights

It just takes one wrong decision for an employee to cause a catastrophic security breach...businesses are starting to realise they must do something to stop this.

I love creating solutions to problems that can help people.

We stop the mistake from happening...then we provide in-the-moment security coaching for those employees to guide them towards better security behaviour.

Cybersecurity...has only focused on building technology to secure technology...but there’s no technology layer that secures people and their digital interactions.

Human Layer Security, HLS, that’s our category...that’s the movement that we’re going to create.

Probably the most important thing...is what your vision is for this company, and how it’s going to change the world.

What was strong in our founding team was the concept of grit.

Those chips on your shoulder...it makes you stronger and it pushes you on...I think it’s a common trait in entrepreneurs.

When you build a company, you interact with so many people through that journey...the biggest thing is learning and growing that sense of empathy for other people.

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