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The AtCipher Team: Duncan Wong, Jack Poon, Tony Yuan, and Eddie Chan.

AtCipher wants to bring more security to the cloud.

The young startup, which originally launched in Hong Kong before relocating to Seattle, provides client-side encryption to protect files that may be vulnerable on cloud platforms.

“We started two years ago with two founders with the goal of creating something that allows users to enjoy cloud services without sacrificing privacy and usability,” said CEO Jack Poon. “It took us nine months to create, implement and test the foundation of our technology before building a product.”

That patent-pending product gained the attention of Techstars Seattle, where AtCipher has been incubating for the past three months. AtCipher and other members of Techstars’ 2015 cohort will pitch their businesses at a Demo Day tomorrow.

We caught up with Poon for this Startup Spotlight, a regular GeekWire feature.

AtCipher CEO Jack Poon.
AtCipher CEO Jack Poon.

Explain what you do so our parents can understand it: “AtCipher is like the second key of your safety deposit box for your data in the cloud.”

Inspiration hit us when: “Cloud services are growing and companies and individuals are putting their sensitive data in the cloud. We want to provide a solution that allows consumers to use and enjoy cloud services while protecting sensitive data from cyber attacks.”

VC, Angel or Bootstrap: “I’m looking at funding from VCs and angels. Getting security products to a robust state takes a long time, as do selling cycles. At this point we’ve achieved the technology proof of concept. The next step is to turn it into a rock solid product, and to do that we need resources. Additionally, reputable backers are especially important in the security space as they help assure users that we are trustworthy and will be around for the long-term.”

Our ‘secret sauce’ is: “The patent-pending technology that provides secret exchange SaaS service with no access to our customer’s confidential data. A lot of security companies need access to all your documents in order to provide security services, which to me is an oxymoron and no more than a shift in risk. Our philosophy is that we can provide security services without needing access to your data.”

The smartest move we’ve made so far: “Joining Techstars because there’s no market in Asia for our products. The market is in Europe and the U.S., and Techstars provides us with a springboard to access the U.S. market, where people understand what we do. It’s very tough to just come over and establish a company in a completely new market. The U.S. is where the capital funding and talent are; with Techstars we get the brand, resources, and network we need to start strong.”

The biggest mistake we’ve made so far: “Being too slow to fire someone who clearly did not fit in the culture we want to build and was unable to execute.”

Would you rather have Gates, Zuckerberg or Bezos in your corner: “Gates. He is a true strategist and someone who can execute. He sees what is important, and plans step-by-step to get there.”

atcipher_logo_transparentOur favorite team-building activity is: “Having lunch together and chatting about problems and achievements in a casual atmosphere.”

The biggest thing we look for when hiring is: “Competence, integrity, and attitude. All three are equally important.”

What’s the one piece of advice you’d give to other entrepreneurs just starting out: “Know who your customers are and listen to their pain points. Once you understand the pain point, you have to dig deep to understand how it manifests in order to find the right solution, which is often not obvious. Not everyone will be able to bluntly tell you what their problem is — you need to talk to enough people so that you can triangulate and figure out what the real problems are.”

Editor’s note: GeekWire is featuring each of the 11 startups participating in the Techstars Seattle incubator in the lead up to the Demo Day pitch event on Oct. 27. Techstars applications for its next class are now open.

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