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Karl Swannie of Echosec Systems: “Learn every day”

Learn every day. I started as a product guy and ended up a communicator to boards, advisors and bankers. Every step along the way I had to learn something new. You have to love that. As part of my series about the leadership lessons of accomplished business leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Karl Swannie. […]

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Learn every day. I started as a product guy and ended up a communicator to boards, advisors and bankers. Every step along the way I had to learn something new. You have to love that.


As part of my series about the leadership lessons of accomplished business leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Karl Swannie.

Karl has been the creative, persuasive and decisive force behind many successful SaaS companies before successfully founding Echosec Systems in 2014 and exiting in 2020.

Karl is a well-known technical thought leader, project director, business developer and former CTO with a 20+-year career. He is an expert in massive data aggregation, advanced analytics, AI, NLP and advanced visualization.

Echosec Systems delivers real-time security and threat data analysis generated by media, news, social networks, and dark websites. The Echosec Systems Platform uses proprietary triaging techniques to clearly visualize data, as well as machine learning to contextualize data into actionable intelligence. This enables users to quickly adapt their security strategies and mitigate threats targeting their organization.

Karl is an excellent presenter and is often requested to speak on SaaS, business, intelligence, privacy, and emerging technologies. He has delivered talks around the world on a variety of topics, including presentations at TEDx, NATO and SMi-London, where the audience consisted exclusively of European national security agencies.


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

I became a CEO out of necessity, not necessarily desire. At the time of Echosec’s foundation, my network did not include people who could build a company around the software I envisioned. I come from a small city on an island in the Pacific Northwest. We simply did not have CEOs on hand to make this company happen, so I naively stepped forward.

As soon as I stepped forward and became the CEO I started to meet so many people who wanted to help. It was truly inspiring. We were very fortunate to find advisors, investors and a community who wanted to help.

Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey?

Hard is when you are pre-revenue. But it’s also when you have the most freedom to make big bets, change things and constantly test.

Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?

I surrounded myself with the very best people that I could find, like my business partners. The four of us shared a very small space with a beer fridge that was left behind from a previous startup that had been in the same space. We worked long hours on building the product, but inadvertently also built up an incredible amount of trust between us all. In the end, the partnership was more valuable than anything. We helped each other push through by staying focused, while not taking ourselves or each other too seriously.

So, how are things going today? How did grit and resilience lead to your eventual success?

We were acquired by The Tusker Fund late last year.

U.S. firm buys Victoria software company Echosec — Andrew Duffy — Times Colonist

“Swannie would not disclose the purchase price, but said his investors are extremely happy.”

Things are going quite well today. We’ve focused on finding the right customers and making sure we serve them with the most useful product possible. It’s important to say that this was never my success. This took an entire team!

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Because we were a startup, we’d often work with other startups in the portfolio. Some of these startups were better than others. One, in particular, was a teleconferencing solution that never seemed to work. If you have ever watched Silicon Valley, the TV show, and remember Gavin’s Holographic teleconference with Bighead, keep that in mind. If you have never seen it I would highly recommend you look it up on YouTube (NSFW). https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9YOEEpWAXgU

We would try to have meetings with investors and teams through this technology. It was a truly horrifying experience and nothing can adequately explain the excuses we heard for its constant failure.

Needless to say, we learned the importance of not shipping crap, never making excuses and laughing about our own blunders.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

Extreme teamwork cannot be stressed enough. The acquisition took months. And when it came down to it, each team ran as an autonomous unit and could be counted on to deliver. This was critical as more of our management team were pulled into the process. In the end, we could have never increased leads, increased sales and delivered the product without everyone taking ownership, staying in their own lane and still going in the same direction.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

I’ve never been burned out. Or, perhaps I live in a steady state of burnout.

What has kept me sane is that I’ve always been able to talk to my friends who are very good listeners and forgive me when I put my foot in my mouth, which is inevitable. I’m also fortunate to live in a city with great resources, get-togethers and associations to help you get through things, communicate with or validate your approach.

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?

Some people are “ideas” guys, like myself, and some are connectors — like Owen Matthews.

When I met Owen I asked him for help connecting me to a sale. Within a month, he had funded the company, connected me with my business partners, found us a space to work from and helped position our security software in one of the largest events of world leaders.

Chamath Palihapitiya, CEO of Social Capital, has an interview where he speaks about Terry Matthews, Owen’s father. To paraphrase the interview, the Matthews see money as an instrument of change. Since I’ve known them they have changed many people’s lives, including my own, and I’ll be forever grateful.

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

Not as much as I plan to. 🙂

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I started leading my company” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

Lead. Seriously, it took a while to realize that the title “CEO” does not imply leadership.

MRR. Revenue means everything. Money can’t fix everything, but it can surely help.

Team. This doesn’t mean that everyone is your friend, but they all have to be going in the same direction.

Make most decisions quick and fast with an eye on the exit. Know that you might have to fix some of today’s decisions tomorrow.

Learn every day. I started as a product guy and ended up a communicator to boards, advisors and bankers. Every step along the way I had to learn something new. You have to love that.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start 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.

Success was never a guarantee. But I tried to instil as much knowledge and autonomy as possible into my team. Everyone knew what we were facing and what growth looked like. They took it upon themselves to create a special company.

I feel like this is beyond “my movement” and I’m curious to see the movement of those I’ve helped grow.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

https://www.linkedin.com/in/karlswannie/

Thank you so much for joining us!

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