Koverse co-founders tap NSA expertise to build a platform to solve ‘unsolvable’ tech challenges

Part of the Koverse team. (Koverse Photo)

Koverse CEO Jon Matsuo would love to tell you all about the cool ways that his startup is helping the U.S. government, global bio-pharmaceutical companies, global finance organizations and market-leading analyst firms use their super-charged database platform to advance their work or businesses. But for right now, he can’t.

“Customers aren’t allowing us to stand on top of the mountain and scream,” Matsuo said.

For proprietary and other reasons, its projects are on the down-low. That’s going to change next year with some partnerships and new initiatives that will be going public.

So far we do know this: The 20-employee Koverse is profitable, taking only one round of Series A funding totaling $4 million three years ago. It was co-founded by Paul Brown and Aaron Cordova, who met while working for the U.S. National Security Administration (NSA). In 2008, they helped create Apache Accumulo, a powerful database engine created by the NSA.

In 2012 Brown and Cordova launched Koverse, using Accumulo and additional technology to help businesses and government tackle complicated problems by analyzing huge quantities of data. Their product’s scalability and security are “unparalleled,” Matsuo said. The founders’ skill and experience and the capabilities of their artificial intelligence-using platform allow the company to make transformative changes for customers, he added.

Pairing up to solve a problem: Paul Brown, Koverse co-founder and chief product officer, on the left, and CEO Jon Matsuo. (Koverse Photo)

“We’re not just trying to go for an operational improvement,” he said. “We’re helping [customers] figure out how to do something faster and better that generates millions.”

Koverse’s competition includes Silicon Valley’s Palantir Technologies, a company worth billions that was started by PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel. Matsuo downplayed Palantir’s hype. “They have gaping holes in their product that we are starting to exploit,” he said.

Matsuo joined Koverse in 2016. His background includes working as one of the first presidents at Concur and senior executive at Qpass. We caught up with him for this Startup Spotlight, a regular GeekWire feature. Continue reading for his answers to our questionnaire.

Explain what you do so our parents can understand it: We help organizations use diverse data and AI to build innovative products or services or gain a competitive advantage.

Inspiration hit us when: While at the NSA, our founders realized that complex problems could be solved by applying AI to disparate data. Later they realized that the same technology could help solve meaningful problems at a broader range of organizations.

VC, Angel or Bootstrap: Our Series A was funded as a strategic investment by Credit Suisse, our first commercial client in 2015. Uniquely, we are already profitable and cash flow positive which gives us tremendous flexibility to self-fund our future growth initiatives.

Our ‘secret sauce’ is: Our secret sauce is our experience solving problems previously thought unsolvable. Our team has baked those capabilities into our products.

The smartest move we’ve made so far: Focusing on intelligent, AI-based solutions that address meaningful challenges and opportunities. Bringing those solutions to market ourselves, or with strategic partners who are domain experts with established distribution channels. Expect to see and hear more about that in 2019.

The biggest mistake we’ve made so far: We started out selling a technology platform that can solve a variety of use cases. But only very large, established companies with deep pockets can sell platforms effectively in big markets. So we made the shift to solutions that address specific challenges brought to us by our customers.

Jon Matsuo, CEO Koverse. (Koverse Photo)

Which leading entrepreneur or executive would you most want working in your corner? Jack Welch, legendary CEO of General Electric and author. A fantastic business person who knew how to focus on the right levers.

Our favorite team-building activity is: Our work environment is unusual in that most people work from home four days a week. This provides tremendous daily productivity benefits and helps us recruit top talent. So our favorite team-building activity is our weekly “watercooler” call with the whole team on Friday mornings. Each employee talks about what they are working on as well as their weekend plans or other fun personal activity. The watercooler call helps build trust and connections on many different levels.

The biggest thing we look for when hiring is: We look for coachability (listening), curiosity (desire to learn and grow), intelligence (smart people like working with smart people), passion for making a difference, and previous success.

What’s the one piece of advice you’d give to other entrepreneurs just starting out: Do what you really like to do so that it is fun and does not feel like work!