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Matt Kraning has always been interested in understanding powerful systems that unified many ideas and then figuring out a way to have those systems grounded in the real world in ways that would actually deliver value for people. As the CTO and co-founder of Expanse, that’s exactly what he is doing today. Expanse is helping to solve huge security and operations problems and build a system of record to track all your IT across the internet. If it sounds complicated that’s because it is, but it’s also important work, and Matt was happy to share what it all means on this episode.
Best Advice: “In contrast to pretty much every other position, your job and what you work on will absolutely change in very large ways. You should try to be very intentional as you realize what things are working or not working. And whether or not you want to change or address the problem, that actually is something that you are not going to be the best at anymore and you actually need to hire someone else who will be better than you.
“I tell people you don’t need to be everything. You should actually think about what you want to do and how you’re going to be bringing on an overall technical team. It’s not your job to run everything. It’s your job to be the voice of technology in the organization that can take many different pathways.”
- By creating a management platform that can find and control all the IT across the internet, Expanse has created a system of record for all customer IT
- Maintaining secure networks and proper control of all of your IT is a massive problem that, until recently, most companies could not fully comprehend
- Having a governance strategy isn’t enough. You need a full operational strategy
Matt’s company was founded a bit differently than many others. He met his co-founders while working at DARPA, and their goal was to productize the bids they were placing on government contracts. There were a number of ideas they were trying to see through to the end, and what they eventually wound up with wound up being the initial version of the platform that now powers all of Expane’s products. Matt says that he didn’t expect Expanse to have the success it has had, but is obviously grateful to have made it this far.
Currently, Expanse is solving technology and management problems for its clients simultaneously. What the Expanse platform does is find all customer IT on the internet without the customer having to provide mountains of information. The platform also includes an operations function that then allows customers to wrangle, control and manage all of the assets that they have scattered across the internet.
“I think like all founders, I have a healthy amount of self-delusion, but not an unhealthy amount. And I think that if anybody says, ‘This is clearly going to be a 150 person company,” from the day it’s founded, I think that’s kind of an unhealthy version of self-delusion. Even though you should absolutely believe that you can get there, you shouldn’t expect that.”
“The biggest problem that our customers have is that none of them actually know where all of their IT on the internet is deployed, what state it’s in, and what risks it poses. So the problem that Expanse is solving for our customers is both a technology problem and then also ultimately a management problem.”
“Rather than just being a point solution, we’re actually making other parts and other components of their business that much more responsive and that much more valuable.”
The problems Expanse’s customers are facing and why the internet is broken
When you look at the initial design of the internet, security was not front of mind. The Internet is great, but Matt believes there are definitely some flaws, especially when it comes to security. People only really see half of the internet — the websites, the apps, the devices they’re connecting to each other — and the other half, the entire infrastructure that powers the internet is a mystery to most. And the security of that infrastructure is not up to snuff. Organizations are starting to understand that they need to focus more on security, but there is still a disconnect between those who are trying to be more holistic in their approach and those who want to just protect certain areas or processes. Another problem facing companies is the number of vendors they need to use for security as well as for other problems, including recruiting and retaining talent. Some companies are faced with a multi-vendor relationship problem that they have to manage and the security problems that trickle down from there.
What most companies don’t realize is that basic security hygiene protocols are not being maintained and that leaves them vulnerable. What they also are beginning to understand is that it takes a massive operation and a highly-skilled team if you want to maintain your security internally. That is expensive and unrealistic for most, and it is where Expanse can come in to help.
“The real problem is that we do not have a pervasive and efficient way to act and ensure that even baseline policies are being followed all the time. Instead, there’s actually a whole bunch of trying to trust but not quite trusting the people and definitely not verifying anything. So I think going forward, what we actually need and demand in order to both scale these systems and ensure security is systems that effectively can certify technically that they actually are meeting various performance criteria.”
The role of CTO
Matt says that being CTO means something different all the time. He says that every six to nine months it seems like his job and responsibilities shift. Currently, though, Matt is responsible for new product prototypes, the data science team, and the domain.
“The way that I described my job as CTO is that it really changes out every six to nine months. So if you ask me right now and if you ask me in a year, it will change a lot.”