Introducing Oliver Sild
Oliver is a 26-year-old entrepreneur who has built three companies today and is very active in the cybersecurity landscape. WordPress folks would know him as the founder of a website security company called WebARX.
Preferred Pronouns | He/Him
Tara: This is Hallway Chats, where we meet people who use WordPress.
Liam: We ask questions and our guests share their stories, ideas, and perspectives.
Tara: And now the conversation begins. This is Episode 129.
Tara: Welcome to Hallway Chats. I’m Tara Claeys.
Liam: And I’m Liam Dempsey. Today we’re joined by Oliver Sild. Oliver is a 26-year-old entrepreneur who has built three companies today and is very active in the cybersecurity landscape. WordPress folks would know him as the founder of a website security company called WebARX. Hey, Oliver, welcome.
Oliver: Hello, there.
Tara: Hi, Oliver. Welcome. It’s nice to meet you. And thanks for joining us on Hallway Chats today. Would you tell us a little bit more about yourself?
Oliver: Sure. First of all, thanks for inviting me. I’m very happy to be here. I’m a 26-year-old entrepreneur. I’ve actually been into cybersecurity from very early stages or very early ages. I got into it when I was I think 14 or 15. It happens to be in a way that in many cases, people get into cybersecurity from gaming. So that’s really how it happened with me as well. But eventually, I started to found a company that was mainly working on web development. That’s how I got into WordPress. Before that, I was working with Joomla, Drupal, other content management systems.
Over the course of managing businesses and doing web development and most of technical stuff, I also created a co-working space, which of course right now is closed, but yeah, it was an interesting experience. And now for the past four or five years, really, I’ve been completely focusing on website security, and especially the security that includes components within your websites. So WordPress, people would understand that this, for example, means plugins themes – anything that you plug into your websites.
Tara: Where are you located?
Oliver: I’m in Estonia. I’m traveling a lot. But I’ve been moving back and forth from London. Right now I’m in Estonia at home. But mainly in Estonia.
Tara: Is there a large WordPress community there where you are in Estonia?
Oliver: I wouldn’t say that there’s a large community in Estonia, but there’s a large community in Nordics in general. Finland is with a very active kind of community for WordPress. But in general, Europe isn’t that kind of big. In most of the cases you still kind of communicate with community all over the Europe. WordCamp Europe was last summer. So a lot of people went there all over Europe. So not so much happening in Estonia. We are actually organizing WordPress meetups under our co-working space. So we have been doing them for I think three times this year. Still I wouldn’t call it a big community, but it’s its existence kind of.
Liam: Is that something you’re looking to transition to an online meetup in light of everything that we’re seeing in the world right now?
Oliver: We’ve been actually doing coffee mornings because the people who would usually be in the co-working space, obviously can’t be there because of what is going on in the world right now. But we’ve been kind of finding a way how to still stay in touch, and understand how everyone is doing and so forth. So we were trying to do weekly coffee mornings where we just discuss how’s everyone’s projects, how’s the business going, kind of personal level as well like how everyone is doing and so forth. I think after kind of transitioning through the environment that we are right now, I think more and more kind of meetups and events like these are going to be online. I think it’s going to be kind of the new method eventually.
Tara: I’m impressed with your entrepreneurial spirit. You’re a young person and you’ve done a lot already at your young age. Did you grow up in a household where that was encouraged or what influenced you and taught you how to kind of go out on your own and make things into businesses?
Oliver: I would say I have an influence from my mother, but I wouldn’t say that it’s an influence directly towards intrapreneurship. She was always very supportive, whatever I did, even though, for example, I didn’t do very well in school. So instead of that, I was always trying to find things that I wanted to do. If you would talk to the teachers from my school, they would say that I always had my own ideas, what I wanted to do and how I wanted to do them, so I didn’t really follow all the rules. But I guess the support of understanding that this is who I am, and this is how I want to go with things allowed me to just continue to pursue whatever I wanted to achieve and allowed me to just really work on the stuff I wanted even though some people would have said that school would be would have been much more important at this stage.
Tara: Is it relatively easy to be an entrepreneur in your country?
Oliver: It’s very easy. I mean, Estonia has the highest number of startups per capita. Basically, our country rebooted after the occupation. So from that point on, everything went online. Right now I could take my phone and I can register a new company in 15 minutes and open a bank account as well from my phone. So I could do all these things online now. All the government services, everything is online. I think it’s made so easy to go through with all these things. Even accounting, taxes…For example, in Estonia, I don’t need to do tax declarations, everything is automated because they get this information from the banks and so forth. So once in a year we just log in to the tax website, click “declare now” and it does everything and then transfers the money back to your account.
Tara: Wow. I’ve heard that Estonia is is pretty advanced in technological things. I wasn’t aware of that, as far as entrepreneurs go. But I know like your public transportations pretty advanced there too, right?
Oliver: Yeah. I think it’s easier for a country to kind of evolve with technology that fast if they have to reboot. And also for the reason that if a country is so small and you don’t have a lot of legacy systems that you need to kind of first, either get rid off or try to basically suggest people to start using something else. And then they are like, “Things are working. Why should we go to a new one?” I think we kind of managed to grow something good out of the not so good times as a country. But yeah, I think it’s going really well for us right now.
Liam: Yeah, that’s really interesting the timing of Estonia’s pivot from the late 80s, early 90s. That’s pretty forward-thinking. I imagined it was tumultuous for everybody, but certainly for leadership and to say, you know, the internet was just kind of starting to enter the public awareness and transition to that at such a pivotal time, and to your point, just put the whole country on a founding have that level where you can open a company in a bank account from your phone in 15 minutes. And okay, even if it was half an hour, still just amazing, right? That’s really fantastic. I could spend probably hours talking about that and learning from you. Tell us a little bit about WebARX. You said it’s a security focused. What does that mean? Is that a monitoring service? Is that a monitoring and fixing service web? In just a couple of minutes, share what you do.
Oliver: WebARX is basically a security solution for websites that are built with the modern technologies that a lot of local development is happening on. So WordPress, different kind of frameworks that are used to build websites. And what I mean by local development is that you don’t need to write a huge amount of code to get your application running. WordPress is a really good example of that. You just spin up WordPress, use plugins to basically extend the functionality instead of just coding all that stuff. But these kind of approaches or these new approaches in web development and especially the use of third party code and plugins and components has created an issue where people who are less technical in using these components, have no understanding of whether this developer who built this plugin, for example, was aware of the security implications that could come with if the plugin becomes popular.
So WebARX’s focus is really, first of all, detect the components within your web application or in your website. Then say if these components like plugins, for example, are vulnerable to any attacks or to any security issues, and third of all provide automatic [unintelligible 00:10:57] patches. So, for example, if there is a very popular plugin on your website that is vulnerable, WebARX automatically sends your website a very custom firewall rule. Let’s say that this basically there’s vulnerability within this component. So basically, for example, with WordPress, I think there’s the statistics that 98% of the vulnerabilities within the whole WordPress ecosystem is all coming from these third party code, basically, plugins, themes and so forth.
Eventually, if you manage to patch these vulnerabilities within these components, you don’t get your site infected with malware, you don’t get your site redirect traffic somewhere else. And even if you use some sort of solutions that you collect customer data and so forth, you won’t get breached and don’t fall under…well, in Europe, you would fall under like GDPR, and so forth. But yeah, in general, it will just keep your website safe. And really basically if you look at it, it’s like a dashboard where you can have hundreds or thousands of websites. For example, if you manage them, you just connect all of them on WebARX and then you would have like a central place where you can manage security across all your websites. There’s a lot of neat small things that you can find from there. But I wouldn’t go like too detailed in there because there’s a lot of stuff to cover.
Liam: Yeah, no, I appreciate that. Tell me a little bit about how you grew the business. How did you get to the point, you said, “Hey, I want to do some web security stuff. WordPress is a growing content management system core team is on top of a lot of it, I’m going to focus on to your point the components.” Okay, there’s the idea. 15 minutes later, you’ve got a company in a bank account. We know that now. Then where does it go from there? How did you get to the point where it’s a viable income and a real client base?
Tara: It actually goes back in time, I think because as I mentioned, the first company I built was the digital agency. So it was a web development company basically that was focused on building secure website basically. The main idea when we started it was because we already saw that a lot of these websites that are built with WordPress, Joomla – back then we were more most focused on Joomla because it was more popular then – but we saw the same issue. Even web developers, you just use a lot of these components, plugins and everything and extensions in Joomla and then you put together to websites, you’ll give it away to the customer and then you have no idea if these components receive new updates, if these components are having any security issues. Back then there was no solutions to even have an overview of plugins installed on a lot of your sites. Nowadays you have like ManageWP and MainWP and all these different solutions. But then for Joomla, there was nothing like that even for WordPress.
At this point, we were like, “Okay, let’s build something internally that would just let us as a team to be aware of what kind of components we have been using on our web development projects, what is happening with them and so forth.” And then really, that’s where we came up with, you know, “Okay, that’s a big issue. We shouldn’t just build it for ourselves. Let’s build it for everyone.” This 15 minute period of registering a company, actually, it was interesting because we were invited to a cybersecurity program in London, which was sponsored by GCHQ is basically like the NSA of UK. So they were basically sponsoring a cybersecurity accelerator. It’s like a startup accelerator kind of thing but only for cybersecurity startups.
And when we were there – it was like a three-month program in London – we basically decided to go full in, have more people on board, and then we raised Angel funding for that. So really went to the startup way of raising money basically. So we started building the product much faster than we could with just bootstrapping it. And yeah, from there on, we launched the product in 2018. So we had a period of building the product, making sure it works. And then before going public with it, and just test it and so forth. And yeah, 2018, then we launched the product and now today we have customers in over 84 different countries.
WebARX, in general, it’s really kind of growing by word of mouth, mainly. I mean, we don’t do paid advertising. The product really sells itself because it’s obvious that with all these attacks going on, more and more companies need to be aware of that. And a lot of agencies are selling care plans, and this is like a big part of selling care plan to your customer by saying, “You need security,” for example.
Tara: I’m kind of looking at your website while we’re chatting and seeing a lot of interesting content there too, including some hand-curated lists of threats that are happening at this point in time in the world with people taking advantage of what’s happening with the virus. So it sounds like you’re doing more for the community than just putting firewalls up on websites. You’re sharing information and curating information, which is great.
I wanted to ask you a question that we asked all of our guests, which is about success and how you define success. We’re at a time right now where we’re probably doing a lot of reflection on what’s important to us and those types of things. So this question might go in a different direction than it would otherwise. But if you could just share with us, Oliver, what you think about success, how do you define it and apply strategies for success in your life.
Oliver: Well, I can obviously only say from my own experience. What I would consider success is not kind of taking failure as a failure, if it makes sense. Because I really appreciate failures. I had so many moments in my life where I was like, “Okay, I just quit. Mostly because it’s massive challenges. And then if you fail, and you get criticized, for example, you think that, okay, that’s the end of the world. The next morning, you wake up and you’re like, “Huh, okay, actually, I think, this is a good learning.”
I think success really in the long term is just being able to appreciate the failures and really thriving even for them. That allows you to become much better person that you are compared to yesterday, I think. And at the same time, I think it just makes you learn so much more. I think learning, and not being afraid of failure is really a big part of being successful. I think for me it’s really about learning all the time. I just value it so much and staying curious about everything.
Liam: Let me ask you, what’s the biggest thing you’ve learned from one of your failures in progressing WebARX?
Oliver: I think in the early stages, the biggest failure was believing your own hype. This can happen a lot with startups in general, is the fact that once media starts talking about you, media obviously creates a lot of buzz around everything. And then at one point, you might just end up believing by yourself as well. I mean, all these kind of over the top kind of…I’m not sure even how to very well explain it. Like over the top explanations of what the company does or the hype in general.
Basically, I think believing your own hype is the biggest learning point for me when it comes to WebARX. Because at first, we had big media wrote articles rogueing us like we even made AI and stuff like that, which was really very far from true. I think AI is very high thing that a lot of companies are just using for getting attention basically. But at our point, the hype made us think that we are further away in our journey than we actually were. And that made us to just step back, start thinking about things realistically, and really focus on what matters at this point. And that’s really what we do as well now. So we just try to stay very much on the current moment and not too much like thinking about just too far away. Because eventually, as I said, when I started the company, I had no idea that it could take the course of what it is right now. And I think it’s how it’s going to be even from now. I have my kind of vision of where I want to take the company but I really have no idea what’s going to happen in three years.
Tara: I was thinking just about the goal of what you do is kind of like policing, right? Your business runs because there are bad people out there doing things to harm businesses and websites and that type of thing. How do you approach that I guess? I’m not sure if I’m asking this very clearly. But the fact that your business is running to help people and help fix problems that are caused by other people who have bad intentions.
Oliver: In our case, one of the things that we’re trying to do is keep the focus on awareness or spreading awareness in general. For that reason, we’re trying to make people understand why these things are even happening. Like, what’s the intentions behind the people who are doing these things. For example, right now, there’s a peak of attacks because a lot of university students, for example, are at home and they’re just bored, but at the same time, there’s people who lost their jobs. So there’s a lot of intentions that you can put behind these different attacks. But for people that need to be aware of being able to protect their websites, for example, I think this comes down heavily on awareness to just understand the other side who they are facing. That’s one of the reasons.
For example, you mentioned this COVID-19 database that we have on our website where we basically invite every IT professional to submit information about phishing attacks, like email scams, and all these kind of things. It’s not like our core business. None of these things are really something that we protect people from, but it’s cybersecurity awareness in general. And I think in the long term, we are trying to make the web a better place. So we just need to find the ways how to do it. I think awareness building should be very much focused for most of these cybersecurity companies.
Tara: I really appreciate your answer. That was very thoughtful and interesting. Thank you.
Liam: I’ll ask kind of an obvious question given the fact that as of this recording, we’re all in various stages of lockdown in various corners of the world. When you’re not trying to do business, and you’re not trying to write the next blog post or find the next immediate hack concern, what are you doing to entertain yourself or past time or make constructive use of, or just generally stay healthy and safe in an era of self-isolation?
Oliver: Right now I’m just trying to have at least once a day to just go outside and stretch my legs and walk somewhere. Luckily, I’m living in a town where there’s only 30,000 people. So, it’s not that hard to find a place where you don’t see people. It’s fairly easy to stay in isolation here. But in general, trying to be healthy. I mean, in the summertime, I’m a very big fan of skateboarding. For example, I don’t have car licenses, for example, or driving licenses. So the only thing I use for commuting is a skateboard. That’s one of the things that on a daily basis just keeps me kind of moving.
I like slacklining, which is like this rope basically that you put behind trees. So sometimes I take it with me and put it into a park and you just need to balance yourself and just walk on that. I mean, it’s kind of meditating in a way. I also play airsoft, which is like…You know what airsoft is? What else do I do? I’m working a lot. So just full disclosure here, I would say I work a bit more than regular people do. So I have like a really long days. Summertime is a bit better because I’m trying to force myself and the weather is also forcing myself to be more active and go outside. I don’t have very specific regular gym routines or stuff. But yeah, just trying to stay moving.
Tara: Yeah, that’s a good thing to do. Let me ask you about advice. I wonder what’s the best advice that you’ve ever been given or received or maybe read in a book or in a blog post or something like that, and then have successfully implemented in your life? What’s the best advice that you were ever shared?
Oliver: I think one of the things is I remember that my brother told me that I told him this and he said that this changed his life, was that every time you do something that scares you, just ask yourself, what’s the worst thing that’s going to happen? I think for me, I am thinking the same thing. And it’s started me to reflect on what he told me – how this changed his life. Kind of reflected back to me that, okay, this might be the reason why I’m where I am in what I’m doing because I’m always thinking about that. So I think this comes down to what I also mentioned to you what I feel like successes, which is just appreciating the failures and the learnings that you can get from those. I mean, what do you learn when you always win? You can’t learn anything because you have to already know about this to be able to win, right? So, yeah, I mean, what’s the worst thing that’s going to happen, right?
Liam: Yeah. I love that. Because so often it’s so bad in our head or we’re so fearful about it, and then we go through it, and maybe we don’t win, but we came second, third or fourth, whatever that is in a life environment and “Oh, well, that wasn’t so bad.”
Tara: That applies under the current circumstances a little.
Liam: Yes, please. Yes, please.
Oliver: Yeah, it would be nice.
Tara: Yeah. Hopefully when this ends that we will say that the worst has not happened.
Liam: So you mentioned skateboarding and I kind of skateboarded of a little when I was younger. I don’t anymore. And I was never totally into skateboarding. Are you one of those really long skateboards? Or you’re nodding your head, “All right.” Tell us about your skateboard. Tell us about it.
Oliver: Well, actually, I have multiple ones. Basically, when I started or when I got into skateboarding, I was using the one that you do the tricks and stuff. But I think three years ago or something, I went to a program or it was a two weeks surf camp, I would say. So there was like 20 people and we’re just trying different kind of surfing activities. And then the main commuting was with longboards, which is the ones that you use for down hilling and stuff like that. And I got really hooked. So that’s how I got back to skateboarding. After that, I’ve been using what they call longboards, which is a bit like a longer one. But I also have this thing called Penny, which is a smaller longboard, but they have bigger wheels, and it feels much smoother to just cruise around the city, for example. So not doing a lot of tricks anymore, but just cruising around.
Tara: It’s interesting to hear you use that for your transportation. You live in a small town so that works.
Oliver: We have really good roads as well. Everywhere is very clear kind of asphalt. Very, very easy to move here with this one.
Liam: I live on a big hill and I could skateboard down but that would definitely be a workout for sure.
Tara: Yeah, same here. Same here.
Oliver: Estonia has no mountain so no problem with that here. Zero mountains.
Tara: Well, Oliver, we are out of time. It’s been so delightful to chat with you and hear about what you’re doing and how you’re helping people with your websites and with cybersecurity and to hear your story. I look forward to seeing where you go.
Oliver: Thank you.
Tara: Where can people find you online?
Oliver: People can really find us from webrxsecurity.com. Even if you just google WebARX, you will just see our stuff popping up. We also have a community in Facebook where we always share about different kinds of security tips, talk about the latest threats that surround with WordPress and so forth which is called WebARX Community, so everyone can join there. And if they just want to talk to me, you can just go to webrxsecurity.com, on the bottom right corner, there’s a chat button, and then you can just right there, “Hey, I want to talk to Oliver,” and I’m going to magically appear there.
Liam: That’s awesome. Oliver, thank you so very much for your time today. Wish you all the best, not just with the company but certainly in light of everything that’s going on the world. Stay healthy and safe and we’ll see you online before long I hope.
Oliver: Thanks for calling me.
Tara: Take care.
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