Posted on 06/04/19 by Sindy Yeh
Meet the CEO is a quarterly feature in which we interview a local CEO. In this interview, we speak with Justin Antonipillai of WireWheel. Founded in 2016, WireWheel helps people protect privacy. Its easy-to-use, cloud-based privacy management platform enables companies to comply more quickly and efficiently with privacy regulations around the world, including the European General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and the new California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA).
Q. What motivated you to start the company?
A. With the exponential increase in data collection and data sharing, the potential for inappropriate disclosure of sensitive data has exploded. We built WireWheel to empower organizations to be diligent caretakers of the digital footprints people leave behind in everything they do.
WireWheel’s mission is a personal mission for me as well. I believe that if we can’t tackle difficult privacy issues, it negatively impacts human rights. Today, there are ways that data is being shared about people that they just don’t understand. When people are making critical life choices without knowing how their data is used, it affects the way they live their lives. We need to enable people to get back in control of their information.
Q. Prior to WireWheel, you ran the Economic and Statistics Administration during the Obama Administration and also led the American negotiating team in reaching the landmark EU-U.S. Privacy Shield Framework (GDRP) with Europe as Counselor to US Secretary of Commerce. What is the biggest difference in your day-to-day work with running a large government organization versus running a startup?
A. First, I would say that many of the aspects are the same. It takes people to protect privacy. Within the government, we were constantly connecting with people to bring in the perspective of consumers, as well as small and large business owners, privacy practitioners and technology experts. We do the same at WireWheel, where we are constantly talking with our customers to understand their needs.
Now, as a product company, our focus is integrating that customer input into a tangible solution and working directly with customers to make them successful. To make this happen, we have the agility to choose top technology partners like Amazon Web Services and other tools, rapidly prototype and test, and scale as needed.
Q. WireWheel recently has received many honors, including DC INNO’s 19 Startups to Watch in 2019; the Northern Virginia Technology Council’s 2018 Tech 100 Companies; and one of the ten finalists selected for the RSA Conference 2019 Innovation Sandbox. What does winning these awards mean to you?
A. These recognitions confirm that our strategy is on target. We’re addressing the top challenges privacy and IT teams struggle with every day. We’re designing the WireWheel platform to solve four foundational questions that are core to privacy management. By answering these questions, companies can address virtually any privacy or data protection regulation around the world, including EUGDPR, CCPA or any future Internet Bill of Rights. These central questions are: What personal data are you collecting or observing? Where are you storing that personal data? Where are you processing that personal data? With whom are you sharing that personal data, and for what purpose?
As much as they underscore our strategy, these awards are also a recognition of the team we’ve built. We started with privacy and technology experts and we’ve added more people from industry, developers, and other experts to support our partners and customers. We’re creating a business that build on a mission and is primed for growth. I am really, really excited about this next phase.
Q. Why is this area good for startups?
A. Every week a new privacy story hits the news. Consumers are very worried about the privacy of their personal information. New legislation is raising the bar for transparent management of personal data companies collect and share.
Yet, the manual privacy management process many companies use today is inefficient, time-consuming, and error-prone. Companies need effective tools to protect privacy or they will stagnate and possibly be prevented from doing business. Those companies with exceptional privacy operations will gain a competitive advantage, strengthen customer relationships, and accelerate sales.
There are a number of startups working on many different aspects of privacy to help companies increase data protection. Our focus is privacy management, including collaboration, data mapping and classification. We’re partnering with other innovative companies to provide a holistic privacy solution, from encryption and data pseudonymization to transparent communication with customers.
Q. Last year, WireWheel moved into an office location in Courthouse. How does having an office in Arlington help with employee recruitment and retention, or any other aspects of your business?
A. Arlington is a thriving community and the energy here is palpable. There is tremendous technical expertise in Arlington, including top talent with development, security and cloud computing skills. Virginia and the surrounding area are rich with consumer brands, SaaS companies and others that are all struggling with privacy issues. Finally, we’re close to Washington, DC, where privacy experts and legislators are debating the future of privacy, so we can tap into the latest trends and build them into our business.