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Duncan Greatwood of Xage Security: “Realistic and creative perseverance wins out over failure”

The Xage solution, particularly with its dynamic data security capabilities, pivots from a reactive security solution to a proactive basis for digital transformation across industries. Xage’s Security Fabric enforces tamperproof data security with more control and precision than ever before, enabling secure data sharing across multiple systems, multiple locations, and multiple parties, in order to […]

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The Xage solution, particularly with its dynamic data security capabilities, pivots from a reactive security solution to a proactive basis for digital transformation across industries. Xage’s Security Fabric enforces tamperproof data security with more control and precision than ever before, enabling secure data sharing across multiple systems, multiple locations, and multiple parties, in order to improve collaboration and ultimately, business outcomes.


As a part of our series about cutting edge technological breakthroughs, I had the pleasure of interviewing Duncan Greatwood, Xage Security’s Chief Executive Officer. Most recently, he was an executive at Apple, helping to lead a number of Apple’s search-technology projects and products. Prior to Apple, Duncan was CEO of Topsy Labs, the leader in social media search and analytics acquired by Apple in 2013. Prior to Topsy, he was founder and CEO of PostPath Inc., the email, collaboration and security company acquired by Cisco in 2008. Previously, Duncan held Vice President roles in Marketing, Corporate Development and Sales at Virata/GlobespanVirata/Conexant, as well as earlier engineering and product marketing positions at Madge Networks. Duncan brings a blend of sales, marketing, operations, technology, and human experience to the task of driving growth at Xage. Duncan holds a B.A. (Mathematics) and M.Sc. (Computer Science) from Oxford University and an M.B.A. from London Business School.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I got my first start in technology as a software engineer, before moving through marketing and into management. I then founded PostPath Inc., an email collaboration and security company that was acquired by Cisco in 2008, and later joined Topsy Labs, the leader in social media search and analytics that was later acquired by Apple in 2013. I spent some time there leading Apple search-technology projects and products before leaving to join Xage as CEO.

With each of the companies I’ve founded and roles I’ve held, I have worked on technologies that enable the future of how we work and operate. When I saw what Xage was doing — creating cybersecurity in a new way, which could protect critical systems, and enable industries to implement new technology — I wanted to be a part of it. Xage’s mission is to empower the digital transformation of the real world — the most important wave of technology innovation for the next 10–20 years. I find that to be incredibly compelling and rewarding.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

I’ve been fortunate to have enjoyed a career full of incidents, from involvement in horribly-failed projects to managing through hyper growth (10x annual growth — from single-digit millions of revenue to many tens of millions in a single year). Each has its lessons and its interest.

More personal is the story of how I moved to California and became a startup CEO in the first place. I had been living in the UK, and flying more and more to California as our business in the U.S. grew. Eventually, we decided to move, and set up house in Palo Alto.

As luck would have it, less than a year later, my employer was acquired. The acquiring company made me a generous offer for a promotion after the acquisition, with one condition: I would have to move to a new state to work at their headquarters. We spent an afternoon at home writing pros and cons on a flip chart. There was no doubt about it — we should move.

Even so, we woke up the next morning, saying, “No, let’s stay. We don’t know what we’ll do exactly, but perhaps we’ll find even better opportunities here in Silicon Valley.” I like to think that the intuitive and rather impulsive decision proved to be the right one for us. It was after I quit from that job that I became a founder/CEO for the first time.

Can you tell us about the cutting edge technological breakthroughs that you are working on? How do you think that will help people?

Xage built the first and only blockchain-protected security solution for industrial operations. Our goal is to ensure that these organizations are able to participate in the massive shift to smart and next generation devices that will improve operations, and aren’t hindered because cybersecurity, until this point, couldn’t keep up. As a result, our Security Fabric lays the foundation for digitization of the systems we rely on every day, from military systems to smart utility meters, across IT and OT, cloud, and edge.

Most recently, we announced our secure remote access solution, powered by a unique zero-trust approach for industrial operations, across field, control center, datacenter, and cloud environments. This new capability enables us to deliver identity-based access, controlled by individual users, applications, and assets, across any location. The reason this matters: existing solutions for isolation and trust-based security are too complex, hard to manage, and insecure for the level of operations required by today’s digital enterprises. For the first time, organizations will now have complete granular control and maximum efficiency via remote access. In the age of remote work, this has never been more essential.

How do you think this might change the world?

With digital transformation speeding up across critical industries like utilities, manufacturing, supply chain, and oil and gas, organizations need security solutions that scale as they do. Not only that, they need to deploy innovative solutions that provide multiple layers of protection and improve data integrity. Security has long been a risk management technique, a stop gap, a precaution.

The Xage solution, particularly with its dynamic data security capabilities, pivots from a reactive security solution to a proactive basis for digital transformation across industries. Xage’s Security Fabric enforces tamperproof data security with more control and precision than ever before, enabling secure data sharing across multiple systems, multiple locations, and multiple parties, in order to improve collaboration and ultimately, business outcomes.

Keeping “Black Mirror” in mind can you see any potential drawbacks about this technology that people should think more deeply about?

On the contrary, this sort of technology is protecting against “Black Mirror” scenarios like major cyber intrusions. As critical infrastructure organizations see increasing cyberattacks on their systems, which could potentially cause service disruptions, it’s more important than ever for companies to invest in a security solution like Xage. Similarly, while Xage is a foundational layer to enable innovation and cooperation while preventing cyber intrusion, it also places power back in the hands of users and companies. For instance, in the Xage system, the producer of data gets to decide who can use the data, and the authorized partners consuming the data can have confidence in the data’s integrity, authenticity, and confidentiality.

Was there a “tipping point” that led you to this breakthrough? Can you tell us that story?

Some of Xage’s early insights came from talking to customers in the energy sector. On one hand, they had realized just how ill-protected their systems were and, as a result, often disconnected them completely from the outside world. But on the other hand, they needed to implement remote automation and work with their partners and suppliers. Simply “walling off” their operations was not a viable strategy in the face of their need to innovate. And often, their operations were highly distributed with requirements both for autonomous local operation and cooperation between different locations. So, it became clear that distributed and collaborative operations would need a new kind of security approach.

More recently, with the onset of the pandemic, organizations have been forced to navigate the transition to remote work. As a result, we’re observing continuous reports of new cyberattacks each week, proving that it still remains a challenge for even the most tech savvy operations. The FBI has also revealed a 400% increase in cybercrime amid the pandemic, and INTERPOL has reported a significant shift in targeting corporations, governments, and critical infrastructure.

The tipping point for our breakthrough: our economy depends on some of the most vulnerable and highly targeted “real-world” industries. Right now, these organizations have to not only protect their systems, but also optimize how they deliver and enforce secure remote access, for the foreseeable future.

To solve this, our team created a zero-trust identity-based remote access solution. The approach creates a secure environment using identities and credentials that only grant authorization to a limited set of interactions for a required duration. The result: organizations can enforce access control across their operation, and ensure that the right people have the right access to devices, data, and controls.

What do you need to lead this technology to widespread adoption?

While companies have been driving initiatives that further their digital transformation, the pandemic has forced them to accelerate. As they adopt new technologies, many are realizing that cybersecurity remains a problem, and are investing in it accordingly. Although things like automation and connected systems allow for increased speed, efficiency, and accuracy, they can introduce new vulnerabilities that leave companies open to attacks like never before.

However, the transition companies are making to digitally transform is accompanied by the high cost of replacing assets. This, and the invasiveness of some cybersecurity solutions, often impedes organizations from implementing them. Xage, on the other hand, eases that burden by giving industries fine-tuned, yet easily-implemented, universal protection over all their assets — legacy and new — so that they can transition at their own pace, knowing that our Security Fabric will protect their entire operation.

Companies have already increased their cybersecurity budgets and are turning toward emerging security technologies to help them safeguard their physical and digital assets. Specifically, the Xage Security Fabric layers on top of existing assets to give companies holistic protection, without the need for expensive overhauls. From my perspective, with the right approach, widespread adoption is only a matter of time.

What have you been doing to publicize this idea? Have you been using any innovative marketing strategies?

Overall, we’re pleased with the way that our product has been able to speak for itself. Our work with GE Renewables, Saudi Aramco, the Department of Energy, the U.S. Air Force, and the U.S. Space Force have elevated our profile in the industry, which has given us the opportunity to intensify our product investments.

To complement those efforts, we’re also active on our social media channels and blog to keep our followers up to date with our latest product developments, partnerships, and perspectives on recent industry trends.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

One of my biggest influences during the first few years of my working life was an executive by the name of Stephen Thomas. Stephen was wonderfully effective at giving feedback, pushing back on the bombastic or overconfident, but careful with people who needed more reassurance. “I might not have approached it quite like that,” I remember him telling an embarrassed underling who had made a mess of a project.

Stephen’s calm was also a stabilizing influence, but always also a path to action. There was no crisis too great that he wouldn’t break it down into pieces to be tackled one by one. I especially remember Stephen’s enthusiasm for doing great work. He was my first example of what can be achieved if you are determined to build great products. And he never hesitated to bet on talented people, even the most inexperienced.

Sadly, Stephen is no longer with us. He was far more adventurous than his understated demeanor might have suggested, and died after falling into an ice crevice in Antarctica. Still, his influence remains strong among many of our former colleagues and me.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

As a company, we’re working to secure and empower the infrastructure and industries that impact our everyday lives. From utilities, renewable energy, and water and wastewater recovery systems to supply chain and even satellite protection, we’re doing our best to help these industries become more efficient, while also safeguarding them from the dangers of malicious hackers and cyber terrorism. In our line of work, we believe that we’re serving as the foundation for great companies, and are allowing them to better our lives through secure, continuous operation.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)

1. “Listening, critical thinking and doing are more important than intellect.” Like many people with a technical background, I think I was too readily impressed with sheer intellect early in my working life. Intellect is nice, but over time it becomes clear that asking the right questions, and working hard to create high quality results, are the things that make the bigger difference.

2. “Realistic and creative perseverance wins out over failure.” It is the nature of high-growth companies that not everything is perfect. In my first job out of college, I was involved in shipping a product revision that replaced a successful product that each customer had deployed in thousands of units. With the new version, as soon as the customer turned on their 16th instance, the whole system collapsed. The new version, nonetheless, went on to great eventual success. How? Firstly, we were realistic about what had gone wrong (we did not respond to issues with denial or blaming others). Secondly, we stayed close to the customers through the process, so they could triage and see progress. And thirdly, the team was creative and not afraid to rethink everything to find solutions.

3. “Put your ego aside.” It is so much easier to succeed if you’re not trying to prove that you’re the smartest, that you’re right, or that mistakes are not your fault. All those bad ego-driven behaviours are mental distractions for you and your teammates that block progress towards the best outcomes.

4. “As a leader, give others the credit if you can — and even if you can’t, at least build up the contributions of others.” Early in our careers, it can be important to let others know about the great work we’ve done; it’s hard to make career progress otherwise. But as we become more senior, we need to unlearn self-promotion, and maximize the credit we give to others. It is one of the clearest signals a leader can use to show that they are not driven by their own ego.

5. “Be a human being at work.” Every colleague has a personal life, personal successes, and personal challenges. Empathy toward colleagues, and willingness to share the human side of yourself, builds mutual emotional credit that provides support during the toughest work challenges. At the times of greatest work stress, when colleagues might suspect each other’s competence or motives, it is much easier to work effectively together if people have real sympathy for each other as human beings, not just as workers.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

We need a renewal of the principles of freedom and self-directedness on the Internet. Too often our activity is mediated, controlled, and certainly watched by a few powerful companies and governments. While these organizations may be trying to act responsibly — perhaps more than they are given credit for — they often are trying to act responsibly. The core issue is that there is too much arbitrary power held centrally by a few.

We can use distributed digital identity to liberate ourselves from these centralized chokepoints. Want to share a photo with friends? Publish an opinion? Update a public résumé? Using secure identity as the foundation, all of these things can be made convenient and safe without reliance on centrally managed platforms. Even problems of offensive or dangerous speech can be ameliorated by putting real control back into the hands of end users. Just as we can exercise considerable — though not perfect — control in the real world over what we choose to pay attention to, we can also better empower users and communities to control their exposure to offensive and misleading digital communication.

Xage uses distributed security to help companies share information with, and collaborate with, whom they choose — safely and securely. We need to give everyone this kind of independent control, which is foundational to personal freedom on the Internet.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“There is strength in numbers.” It’s a common maxim. But because of Xage’s underlying blockchain technology, which is inherently stronger with each device added to an operation, it takes on a much more literal meaning for our team.

Some very well known VCs read this column. If you had 60 seconds to make a pitch to a VC, what would you say? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂

While companies across the globe have made great strides toward digital transformation, the rate of adoption of new technology has left many vulnerable to a new landscape of cyberthreats. Simply put, technological innovation has progressed far faster than the cybersecurity tasked to protect it.

However, Xage is uniquely suited to secure the remote access and data sharing capabilities the world’s most critical industries rely on. Through its proprietary Security Fabric and a zero-trust approach, Xage provides the essential trusted foundation for every interaction — human-to-machine, machine-to-machine, and edge-to-cloud — and protects all equipment, OT and IT, edge, and cloud. With major partners and customers across energy, transportation, manufacturing, supply chain, defense, and utilities, Xage provides tamperproof data security and access control that enables multi-party collaboration, increased efficiency, and new or improved revenue streams.

Rather, Xage is changing the narrative around cybersecurity for the first time — moving away from simply a costly necessity and toward cybersecurity as a source of increased efficiency, collaboration, and revenue.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Readers can follow me on Twitter and LinkedIn. For company progress and updates, feel free to give us a follow on Twitter and LinkedIn as well, or check out our company blog at https://xage.com/blog/.

Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational.

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