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Q&A With Fivestar Cybersecurity Founder, Boyd Sharpe

Q: Let’s get right to it. How did you find yourself as the founder of a cybersecurity company?

A: Exactly how long is this conversation supposed to be? Because that’s a long story. <Laughs> In 1983 or 84, I know I was 11 or 12 at the time, my parents signed me up for a computer programming course. I think it was at the local community college and we were doing BASIC programming on Commodore 64s.  I’m dating myself here, aren’t I?  

I enjoyed the course and my parents gave me a TANDY CoCo 2 and an old-school cassette recorder to save my programs on the following Christmas. Wait…. I’m sure 90 percent of the people reading this have no idea what I’m talking about. <Laughs> Let me jump ahead.  I took whatever typing and computer courses were available in high school. I didn’t take computer science in university but did an education degree and that gave me exposure to some of what was going on in the tech space. In my first teaching job, part of my responsibilities involved teaching Tech Ed. and running the computer lab. Also, like anyone my age in the tech industry will tell you, back in the 80s and 90s, if you knew which end of a computer was the keyboard and which was the monitor, EVERYBODY, would come after you to help them with their computers when they had issues. So out of necessity, I became a bit of a technology jack of all trades. You had to know a little about everything. 

In 2000 I moved from Newfoundland to Nova Scotia and there were, like, zero teaching jobs available. So I went back to school and got a 1-year diploma in Applied Information Technology. Long story short, I’ve been working in various information technology roles in the healthcare industry ever since.  

Q: You never ever burned out on technology?

A: Only every other day. <Laughs> I’m betting there’s not been a single day go by in the past 20 years that I didn’t swear under my breath and threaten to quit my job. <Laughs> But that’s the tech world for ya.

Q: Then why go out on your own now and start a cybersecurity company?

A: I ask myself that several times a day as well. <Pauses> I have been pulled into the risk management and cybersecurity world more and more, over the past 4 or 5 years. Obviously, in the healthcare industry, privacy and information security is big big business. Not to say healthcare organizations don’t still have a long way to go, but compared to the public sector, health organizations are light years ahead of many other businesses. So I had a solid foundation in many of the components that make up the cybersecurity tech stack, just by the nature of working in the environment and managing projects in that environment for so long. 

Then COVID quarantine hit. Boom… everything changed. Cybercrime organizations mobilized and joined forces and the next thing we knew all organizations, private or public sector found themselves the target of extremely effective and sophisticated cyber attacks.  

But… oddly enough… for me, this really started with building a log cabin. 

Q: Ok… that’s not what I was expecting you to say. How does that work? 

A: A few years ago we purchased a piece of land near Keji Park in western, Nova Scotia. Last summer, while trying to avoid people because of COVID I was down there cutting logs to build a cabin. Basically, my 20-year-old brain was driving my nearly 50-year-old body and I ended up herniating a disk in my lower back.  

Q: Ouch. That doesn’t sound good:

A: Yeah. It sucked for sure.  So now, not only was I stuck in my house because of COVID, I could barely get out of bed. I’m normally a pretty active guy so I found myself with a LOT of time on my hands. 

And then a random conversation with a friend of mine set this whole crazy project in motion.

Q: That must have been quite the conversation? 

A: Not really. It seemed mundane enough at the time. I was feeling well enough to drive for at least a few minutes so I popped by to visit my friend Rick Doyle who runs a security and civil enforcement business. They do security work, repo vehicles, deliver official court and legal documents, etc… <Laughs> He’ll be pissed when he hears this. They do a lot more than that… I’m not doing a good job of explaining what they do. <Laughs> 

Anyway, we are having a coffee and he’s complaining about how much he’s had to pivot his business since COVID hit. Almost without thinking I blurted out something like, “Man… you are in the wrong business. Criminals don’t kick the door in and take the cash register anymore. They sit at home on their computer, hack your network or your email or your bank account and transfer the data or money wherever they want. You should be in the cyber security business, not just the physical security business.” 

He just sat there staring at me for a long while. Then he jumped up and said, “You have to do this! We have to do this!!”  

Basically I went home and slept on it… and outside my day job with the Nova Scotia Health Authority, it’s all I’ve done or thought about since. That was 9 months ago. 

Q: There is no doubt that the market is there. Companies of every size are unprepared and have vulnerabilities they don’t even know about. So I can see you want to get into that market. But, it’s also a well-established fact that there is a huge shortage of cybersecurity employees globally. Where are you finding qualified staff? 

A: Yeah, that’s been a major challenge that has taken some creative problem-solving for sure. 

Q: How have you solved the problem?

A: Well, if there are two things that I’ve been able to do over the past 20 + years in the industry, it’s establish a vast network of contacts, and develop many strong, positive working relationships with a ton of people… all of whom are smarter than me. <Laughs> When I was much younger, a successful businessman said to me, “If you find yourself in a situation where you are trying to get something done and you are the smartest person in the room… you are in the wrong room.” That stuck with me.  

So, I’ve spent the past 9 months, mining my contacts list, getting people on board, developing partnerships… and we have some BIG ones we’ll be announcing over the next few months. Between the board of directors / advisors we we’ve assembled, the formal partnerships we’ve forged, and the bright new talent we’ve attracted, there’s nothing in the SMB space that we won’t be able to handle. I’m excited, man! 

Q: I can tell. But what separates Fivestar Cybersecurity from any of the other IT companies and consulting firms already providing cybersecurity services in Atlantic Canada. 

A: Well, it would be arrogant, and naïve of me to claim we were unique. But I feel we are early to the game on creating a comprehensive service offering targeted towards small to medium-sized businesses. There are two very different groups out there now…. well, maybe three.

First, there are the traditional tech companies that are pulling cable, installing routers and switches, installing firewalls, upgrading and patching computers, etc… All super important work that’s part of the whole cybersecurity tech stack. Then there’s the consulting and professional services firms that are dealing in penetration testing and risk assessments, TRA’s, cyber audits and such. Think about your EYs, your KPMGs, Gartner, etc… And then a host of smaller shops doing similar work on a smaller scale. Finally, you have the new kids on the block which would be the managed service providers (MSP). We’re talking 24 / 7 monitoring, 24 / 7 incident response, etc… Crowdstrike, Tenable io, PaloAlto, GoSecure, etc…  

Most SMB’s have next to nothing… zero… as far as cybersecurity controls go. A handful of SMBs are taking advantage of what group 1 has to offer. They have patched computers, secure networks and firewalls and virtual private networks for external access etc… But that’s only a tiny piece of the puzzle. And they are never going to afford any of the services from groups 2 and 3. And quite frankly, and you can go ask them yourself because I have, those MSPs and consulting companies don’t need to provide services to SMBs. There are too much work and too much money to be made at the enterprise level.

You gotta remember we are on day 1… the very very beginning of the cyber business.  
I mean… look at what’s happened in the past 12 months. And we have legislation, Bill C11, before the Canadian government that has the potential to completely change what is required for companies to do business in Canada. The wild west is over man. The sheriff is coming to town, <Laughs> and if SMBs want to be able to do business in Canada they are going to have to have their cybersecurity in order.  

So, back to your question, “What makes us different?” 
We have spent months and months working with cyber and technology experts, as well as with potential clients on identifying what it will take for small to medium-sized businesses to get maximum value from their investment in cybersecurity. We have a long way to go, and we will learn a lot in the coming months, but I feel we have developed a service offering that is going to bring tremendous value to our clients, without breaking their bank. 

But… if you want to know more about that, you might have to pay the price of admission. <Laughs>  

Q: Anything else you’d like to share? 

A: <Pause> I’d like to issue a challenge… no… not a challenge. I’d like to issue an invitation to everybody living and working in Atlantic Canada. Let’s come together on this one. Do we need to compete against each other? Sure. That’s the name of the game right? But there’s more at stake. 

Just look at how Atlantic Canada has responded to the COVID pandemic? There can’t be another region of the world that’s managed to keep the virus at bay while also keeping businesses (somewhat) open and our economy and society in general, functioning. 

 

The threat of cyber-attack and the devastation it could lead to for small to medium-sized business owners is a lot like what a biological virus can do during a pandemic. But here in Atlantic Canada have proven that we have what it takes to deal with that. Look at all the people moving to the Maritimes from Canada… and abroad. Hell, every second house that sells in my neighborhood is bought by a couple of professionals bring their kids… and their skills into the region. We are not just importing people, we are exporting ideas, technology and value, globally.

 

Look at what happened a few years ago with Radian6, a local firm, being purchased by Salesforce for a seemingly obscene amount of money at the time. And we don’t hear about is as much as we should but similar companies have had similar success in the years since.

 

Just last year Verafin out of St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador was purchased for over 2 billion… that’s with a “B”… billion dollars. And the trend is for those companies to be bought… and then their headquarters or at least the brains behind the operation to stay in Atlantic Canada.  

Exciting times man!  We are at the beginning of something huge here in Atlantic Canada. Between the home grown talent, the imported talent, the tech and business infrastructure we already have in place, we just might be the next Silicon Valley. There’s no reason why the best cyber analysts in the world can’t be living in Mabou, or Musgrave Harbour, or Miramichi.  

So let’s bring it back to the COVID19 thing again. I believe that one of the major factors in us doing so well during the pandemic is the whole, “I wear a mask to protect you. You wear a mask to protect me” mentality. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that people elsewhere don’t care about each other. I’m not saying that at all. BUT… when you are a ‘have not’ area of the country for as long as the Maritimes and Newfoundland and Labrador have been, you don’t survive as a community, a city or a province without taking care of your neighbors. We excel at that. It comes easy to us. 

 I’ll leave you with this. I was in a meeting the other night with the partnership director for a major player in the international managed service provider industry. He seemed to like what I was telling him but he stopped me and said, “You got 2 minutes. What’s your short, medium, and long term goals?”  

I didn’t have to give it a second thought. I said, “In the short term I want to deliver value to my clients and take care of my founding team members and ensure they are rewarded for the investment they have made and continue to make in our company. In the medium term I want to refine our service offerings, grow our business, and provide as much benefit as we can to as many clients as we can in the SMB space. And long term I want to work with my tech and business partners… and clients… and competitors… and the general public for that matter, to make Atlantic Canada the safest place in the world to work online.” 

… and do you know what his response was? 

“I’ll send you a partnership agreement and NDA for you to review in the morning.” 

Exciting times. 

Fivestar Cybersecurity Services, your neighbourhood cybersecurity partner. We are safer together.

Position: Cybersecurity Sales Agent/ Analyst

 

As a division of FiveStar Bailiff and Civil Enforcement, FiveStar Cybersecurity Services leverages our established reputation as a valued service provider in the maritime physical security, asset recovery, property management, legal and lender service industries. We facilitate the development of right-sized cybersecurity and data protection solutions for small to medium-sized companies/organizations that cannot shoulder this burden in-house. Through our partnerships with both local and international technology service providers equipped to meet the needs of clients from small businesses to large enterprises.

Click the Document below for more information and send your resume to cyberinfo@fivestarcybersecurity.ca

Position: Cybersecurity Sales Agent/ Analyst

 

As a division of FiveStar Bailiff and Civil Enforcement, FiveStar Cybersecurity Services leverages our established reputation as a valued service provider in the maritime physical security, asset recovery, property management, legal and lender service industries. We facilitate the development of right-sized cybersecurity and data protection solutions for small to medium-sized companies/organizations that cannot shoulder this burden in-house. Through our partnerships with both local and international technology service providers equipped to meet the needs of clients from small businesses to large enterprises.

Click the Document below for more information and send your resume to cyberinfo@fivestarcybersecurity.ca

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