The founders of Seattle startup Tenta Browser want to help banish your digital doppelganger. Or least take control of it.
People’s behavior online these days “is not just about sharing your cat videos and family photos. You’re having this long digital shadow,” said Tenta co-founder and CEO Jesse Adams. “People are starting to realize this is my own digital clone, and it’s betraying me and it’s following me.”
Tech companies and retailers are collecting vast amounts of information about what you view, buy and post online. They can use that data to target ads and news content and if their systems are breached, that personal data falls into criminal hands. Governments in numerous countries such as China, Russia, Turkey and many others surveil their citizens and censor the information that’s available online.
So in 2016, Adams and co-founders Jennifer McEwen, chief operating officer, and Christopher O’Connell, chief technology officer, launched Tenta, a secure browser that protects privacy and can skirt censorship controls. The company has 100,000 active users, 16 employees and recently raised seed funding (they’re not disclosing the amount).
A decade ago, the trio co-founded the popular adult-content app store MiKandi, which is billed as the first and largest app store of its kind — and an enterprise in which privacy protections are paramount to most users.
Tenta Browser prevents internet service providers (ISPs) and others from seeing which websites a user visits, but is just as easy to use and as fast loading as other browsers, Adams said.
Tenta, which is currently available as an app for Android users, encrypts everything: browsing history, downloaded and local files, bookmarks, videos, documents and other media. And for people who like to keep their browsing sessions separate, say for work, personal use and depending on where they’re currently located, Tenta has a “zone” function to organize different uses. Tenta doesn’t store users’ data, and all of the information is decentralized.
Competition includes browsers that are basically “Chrome reskinned” with limited privacy blockers, Tor Browser for more “hardcore” users, and tools from Norton and McAffee, said Adams.
Opera used to utilize a VPN-based tool like Tenta’s, but removed it. Over the next year, the Tenta team is working to expand to other devices and keep improving their speed.
With Tenta, the core browsing function is free, and the company offers subscriptions of $1 to $5 per month for added protection of your devices. Adams said they’re aiming for subscriptions that are as cheap as possible, but people still need to pay something. That’s because Tenta doesn’t follow the more standard approach where handing over personal data is the price for using “free” services.
“You are not the product,” he said.
We caught up with Adams — who co-founded the MiKandi app store for adults — for this Startup Spotlight, a regular GeekWire feature.
Explain what you do so our parents can understand it: Today’s browsers need your data to survive, resulting in constant privacy violations and browser spying. Tenta is a crypto browser that takes the complete opposite approach and protects your personal data instead of exploiting it.
Inspiration hit us when: Previous to Tenta, we built the world’s first and largest app store for adults. From this experience, we learned three major trends from our customers. First, internet freedom around the world declined for the past eight years, and censorship and network interference were becoming mainstream. Second, cyber security was no longer solvable for the average internet user who craves a simple and trustworthy product to protect them and their families. Finally, constant data collection and surveillance and the resulting massive data breaches revealed that privacy violations have become the norm. In response, we began building browser tools to help our customers alleviate these issues, but soon realized we were just creating more browser Band-Aids. Then the inspiration came when one of us posed the question: “Why not build a better browser instead?” We know that sounds crazy, but we’ve always been driven by big ideas, so that was the spark that got us going.
VC, Angel or Bootstrap: For the first two years, we were self-funded. This past month we announced our strategic partner and investor, ConsenSys Ventures, for our first significant seed round. We decided to start raising money once we gained real user traction and growth. We especially wanted to work with ConsenSys, which is focused on blockchain businesses. The decentralized future is coming, so if you’re building the browser of the future, you must partner with the best in the industry. We share the same values and vision. Tenta is the secure gateway to the new internet that will help drive adoption of many blockchain services, so we’re looking forward to deep collaborations with them.
Our ‘secret sauce’ is: Our team is awesome. Most of us have been working together for many years on complex, large-scale software, so that gives us an advantage. Having a great team also leads to smarter product decisions. For example, we offer built-in VPN and encrypt all your browsing data by default. That includes your bookmarks, downloaded files, open tab data, domain name system (DNS), online traffic, etc. No other browser in the world does this. Our team figured out early on that this was going to be a real differentiator and the team knew how to execute that strategy.
The smartest move we’ve made so far: Deciding to build a strong cryptographic foundation to power the browser. There are many private browsers in the market today, but most are glorified incognito browsers with an ad blocker attached. These do nothing to keep you invisible or protect your data. We decided early to go all-in on building a private browser and that meant redesigning many components that our competitors ignored. It also meant that it took us longer to get off the ground, so there were times we thought “maybe we’re going too hardcore with this privacy thing and no one cares.” Now that early decision is the reason why we’re gaining momentum with amazing customer reviews, which in turn helped secure our funding.
The biggest mistake we’ve made so far: Drastically changing the browser user interface (UI) when we first launched. You might be lucky to create an app design that is totally new and that people love right away, but that’s extremely rare. With software, it’s often better to iterate and improve on existing experiences. We got too excited with the idea of building a new type of browser and went overboard. We re-learned that lesson the hard way, wasting precious time simplifying the UI.
Which entrepreneur or executive would you want working in your corner? Elon Musk. He’s actually trying to do something grand for humanity. He’s awe-inspiring. If he can land rockets and take us to Mars, then helping us build the browser of the future should be a piece of cake :)
Our favorite team-building activity is: Eating together and sharing a toast. Our team is distributed around the world, so we really enjoy getting together and sharing a meal. Most of us love to cook. I think it’s one of the best ways to build bonds and spark conversation and creativity.
The biggest thing we look for when hiring is: We look for people who are passionate about what they do for a living and love learning. We often prefer to just look at a candidate’s personal GitHub repository instead of a resume. If you have no personal projects to share, then I’d argue you’re only coding for the money, not because you enjoy it. That difference matters in a startup.
What’s the one piece of advice you’d give to other entrepreneurs just starting out: My advice is to take this quote from Calvin Coolidge to heart: “Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan ‘press on’ has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race.”