- AJ Yawn, a former Army captain, cofounded cybersecurity compliance SaaS company ByteChek last summer.
- Traversing the venture capital industry led Yawn to seek out Black investors to back his company.
- With $3 million in seed funding and a mounting number of cyber threats, Yawn’s growing team is attempting to thwart threats through compliance.
The rapidly changing privacy and cybersecurity ecosystem has a new entrant in ByteChek, a new cybersecurity compliance platform. Cofounder and CEO AJ Yawn is moving a little differently in his attempt to transform corporate cybersecurity from an afterthought to a forethought.
In the wake of the nearly ubiquitous log4j vulnerability that is still affecting companies like Amazon, Microsoft, Google and many more, after the bug was discovered last month, it may be easier to pitch companies on the importance of being compliant.
“Compliance has traditionally been a point and time activity where people are going through an end of the year audit and then they move on and it’s a retroactive report. We have moved to continuous monitoring, but it’s still not real time, the future of compliance is real time and auditors will say ‘no, that will take out my job,” but it builds trust from company to company,” Yawn told The Plug.
ByteChek SaaS, founded last summer, works by connecting to companies’ digital tools then reporting and testing them against System and Organization Controls (SOC 2) standards developed by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) which has established how organizations should use customer data. Based on the assessment the company then offers recommendations based on problem areas.
It’s common that companies are found to have vulnerabilities as the number of cybersecurity breaches holds steady. Last year, in the U.S. alone, there were over 1,000 data breaches in which 156 million records were exposed. A July study by IBM found that the average cost of a data breach has increased by 10 percent from 2020 to 2021 to $4.24 million. The report cites the uptick in remote work among the reasons for the increase.
In spite of the current threat ecosystem, Yawn initially had a hard time securing initial funding for ByteCheck.
“I was defending my background and who I am and why I’m the right person, that can be draining. I was talking to an investor whose thesis was to invest in former military officers and former student-athletes, so I said, ‘I’m 100 percent going to be good for this fund’, but according to them, I ‘didn’t fit their thesis’, some areas of this space are not necessarily for us [sic.],” Yawn said.
Yawn played Basketball for Florida State University but after an accident that broke both his ankles, he was forced to give up sports and his scholarship. He joined the US Army to pay for college. During his service, Yawn took advantage of cybersecurity courses and rose to the rank of captain before an honorable discharge in 2017.
His experience with non-Black investors caused him to chart a different course and intentionally raise funds from majority Black investors. Last month investors including Concrete Rose Capital, Level Up Ventures, and Black Venture Capital Consortium. High-profile angel investors include Nick Caldwell, VP of Engineering at Twitter; Omri Dahan, Chief Revenue Officer at payment platform Marqeta; and Tom Stocky, previously VP of Search at Facebook backed ByteChek with $3 million in investments. The initial funds will be used to grow Yawn’s team from 11 current employees to 26. He anticipates raising a Series A this summer.
“I had to jump out and be an example to people and say, ‘you can look like me, wear gold chains, wear the shoes you want and still be in the tech industry’,’ Yawn said. “I’ve been trying to be so authentic in this role so that some kid, somewhere sees me and knows they can do this and so I can build a company where people can bring their whole selves to work.”