Concept to Construct | Remote Browser Isolation
From concept to construct, join us for an authentic conversation with the creative technologist behind the Cloudflare for Teams Dashboard where we'll explore the convergence of new ideas and their journey to production.
All right. Well, first of all, thank you to everyone who is tuned in today and welcome to Concept to Construct, a segment that's all about ideas and the people who bring them to life.
I'm your host, Abe Carryl, and I'm also the product manager for the Cloudflare for Teams dashboard.
And I'm joined today by Darren Remington, our innovation director within the emerging technology and incubation group.
Thanks for being here today, Darren.
Thanks for having me. Awesome. Cool. Well, today we're going to be talking about the S2 remote browser isolation patented technology and the unique value it will create within Cloudflare for Teams.
And if you aren't familiar with S2 or even remote browser isolation in general, don't worry.
We're going to get to that.
But first of all, let's get to know each other a little bit better.
And I kind of will just pass it over to you, Darren, and say, you know, do you mind telling us a little bit about yourself and your background and specifically kind of just what you do at Cloudflare?
Sure. The short version, which has to be condensed because I've been around that long.
I started messing around with technology in high school.
This was a long, long time ago before Apple 2, before the IBM PC and kind of got started from there with the old MITS Altair.
And then over the years, you know, I was going to college and actually quit and started my own software company.
And one thing led to the other. I spent a bunch of time at Microsoft and done several startups over the years.
And then did S2, which was acquired by Cloudflare in January this year.
Wow. Cool. And I know that you mentioned kind of some of those first entrepreneurial efforts, but can you go back in time a little bit and talk about maybe like your very first one?
It could be anything from a lemonade stand to a startup or a family business or what just kind of your first entrance into that space was?
Well, the first one I think I got paid for, which probably wasn't the first one, but the first one I got paid for was a software-based, interestingly enough, I was doing medical and insurance billing system that I started doing in high school for dental offices.
And then in college, I did the same thing, carried forward making some money in college for medical offices.
So that sold that business in the middle of that process. That was the first one.
Interesting experience. Sold it for not very much money, which now I think I sold it for $27 ,000, which seemed like a lot of money to me at the time, but in retrospect, Seems like a lot of money to me now.
So that was the beginning of the disease.
And it's been many, many since then, I think.
Well, that's a really interesting and kind of niche space to get into. What drove you into the dental or kind of like medical space?
Yeah, good question. And it wasn't as random as it might seem.
I was actually on a pre-med track in college, and was, you know, getting all of the courses necessary to go into medical school.
And I decided, much to my mother's chagrin, that computers were more interesting than sick people.
So I had been doing this, this, you know, some computer work since, since high school, and then into college and decided this, I enjoyed this a lot more than the stuff I was doing in college around pre-medicine and medicine stuff.
My, my family is, is deeply involved in medicine. My father's a doctor, I've got many uncles that are doctors and cousins and brothers.
So that was, that was sort of the expected track.
But I kind of, I left the track, became the black sheep and decided that computers were more interesting than sick people.
And so that's the reason I was doing medical offices, because I was connected to that and understood that space.
So it was, it was not completely random, but still a little odd.
Yeah, and it sounds like you've kind of always had that entrepreneurial spirit.
Is that something that that's also, you know, in the rest of your family or in?
And if so, how did it manifest itself specifically for you? No, it hasn't, it hasn't manifested much beyond me, I think.
Okay, my family are involved in medicine one way or the other.
Which is a great thing. Thank goodness for doctors.
Right. But I don't, you know, when I started it, I just don't, I didn't really think of it as as entrepreneur, being an entrepreneur, I don't even think I knew what that word was.
And it was just, it was something I really enjoyed. And I felt like, okay, you know, I do okay at this, maybe I can figure out how to how to get paid to do it instead of just doing it for free, which I did for a while.
Some of my early stuff.
But it was really just kind of connecting, hey, I enjoy doing this, if I could get paid for this, that would be great.
And, and that's, that's literally where it started.
You know, but it kept on, you know, there was, you know, as did another, another one, after I sold that one, I got involved with another one that was around expert systems, and building expert systems, which was, we were trying to, trying to not call it AI at that point in time, because AI had a bad reputation at that point in time.
And so got involved in that. And, you know, that that got sold to another company.
And, and that one was totally different. That one was a mortgage system, expert system.
So you could basically produce a mortgage from a from a interview, quite a series of interview questions.
It was quite complex and quite deep, but it was.
So, you know, I don't think I've ever done into entrepreneurship or entrepreneurship sake, it's always saying, hey, there's an opportunity, or there's something that interests me.
Let's go figure out how to make it work and see if I can finally get paid for it at the same time.
Yeah, that's so interesting.
I think that, that I was going to ask you a little bit about what your process was.
And it sounds like, you know, for at least your first opportunity, it was, you know, this is something I enjoy doing.
And I think that I could also make money doing it.
And that's kind of the, you know, that's, that's the dream scenario.
And sounds like as it moved forward, it kind of just became, you know, maybe moved a little bit more towards like, I can do this.
And I will also have fun building something.
Is that kind of what your process is? Or did you start to start to figure out, you know, exactly what your strike zone was?
We're using like the, you know, kind of Warren Buffett diagram there?
It's a good question. I think, you know, I can't say that I have had a master plan behind any of this.
But what I can say is, I think the skill I've tried to hone was being able to see business problems, and identify business problems and be able to apply technology to those problems to solve those problems.
That, I think, has been the sweet spot that I've always tried to, to put myself in.
You know, and that's maybe different than some people, I think sometimes people start with the technology and then go look for the problem.
And I've always tried to reverse that, as you know, what's the what's the problem?
And can technology fix this? Or help? And, and that's, I found been a sweet spot for me that has worked for me personally, and I'm sure there's lots of other modes that work for other people, but that has worked for me pretty well.
And, you know, I think that was my currency at Microsoft as well was being able to bridge the business and the technology and being able to say, here's an opportunity because we can apply this technology to it.
And that that worked for me.
Well, there as well, not just in the stuff I've done on my own projects, entrepreneurially, but in my career as well.
And as you as you progressed with some of these ventures, I assume that you know, these teams got larger and that more people got involved.
Do you feel like that ever affected the way that you, you did people start to influence your process at all?
Or have you always kind of been resilient in your approach?
Um, I think, you know, being an entrepreneur and starting a company by yourself is one thing, when you start to hire other people, and their lives are in your hands is a whole different level, I find, definitely add stress to what you do.
And I think you have to be careful to your question.
I think you have to be careful about letting too many external influences start to push you blow you one way or the other, because you'll lose sight of why you're doing what you're doing and lose sight of what you're good at what you're not good at.
It's really important, I think, when you're building start hiring other people.
You know, philosophically, my view is I always try to hire people that don't overlap who have non overlapping skills with myself.
Hiring people who know what I know, hiring people who think like I do, hiring people who have the same background that I do is actually not that useful.
I try to find people who have different sets of skills that are complimentary to mine.
And so when you get those voices in the room, it's different when it's just your own voice.
And you have to learn how to balance and sift noise from, from very material information.
And that's, that's always a challenge for entrepreneurs to sift out, figure out what's noise and what's not noise, what you need to listen to and what you don't need to listen to.
That's super interesting and resonates a lot with me.
I grew up in in my, my father had a small family business. And I think the one thing that you that you learn from being around that is that the responsibility that comes along with it is a lot different.
And as other people get involved, to your exact point, there's, there's a lot of emotional taxation that comes along with those decisions and how you make those because you're no longer just operating for yourself.
And you kind of inherently get a little bit, a little bit more risk averse, because there are other people at stake who you care about and who you're bringing on.
I think that to that same point, too, it makes it, you also see how a lot of times from, you know, from just a pure employee standpoint, you're like, well, I would I would make a decision this way.
But when you're in that position to where, you know, you're the one held held accountable for that.
I think it's the it's the classic kind of, you know, Uncle Ben, with great power comes great responsibility kind of kind of analogy.
But um, yeah, I've certainly seen that to be to be true as well.
And I think that's one of those interesting points that that that maybe is not not so glamorous on the on that side of the house, but but still very fascinating.
Yeah, I think entrepreneurship sometimes gets glamorized unrealistically.
People, and that's kind of a natural human nature phenomenon, right to sort of focus on the interesting, the cool, the wonderful, the fun parts of the story.
But there's lots of parts of even the successful stories that aren't fun.
And, and that's always a challenge. There's a book actually by Phil Knight, who is the founder of Nike, and sort of his journey in this journey and story of like it that he that he wrote.
And it's really a good read for entrepreneurs, because it's one of those few retrospective entrepreneurs stories that don't glamorize it in an unrealistic way.
He's pretty open and honest about it's called shootout.
I don't think I mentioned the name.
But it's he he does a really good job of describing the evolution and the process and the journey without glossing over the things they did wrong, the things they didn't know, and the things the mistakes that right, it was a very good, very good description that I found refreshing, because a lot of them are glossed over.
And hey, we knew what we were doing from the beginning. And that's rarely the case.
I don't know anybody that really knew exactly what they were going to do from the beginning changes.
And if it doesn't change, as you evolve your original idea, you should be concerned because you're probably not going to get it right.
Right. And I'm a huge fan of that book. I have it sitting on my on my bookshelf right, right over there.
And I'm also a big Nike and shoe fan. In general, I have too many shoes.
And I'll admit on live stream right now. But to your to your point, I found that very refreshing as well.
And I think that that's such an admirable leadership trade.
And I think what what you often find in in a lot of successful founders is, is that vulnerability in people who are, you know, raw know how to share that emotion and also who are willing to be just as open about the shortcomings as they were about the successes.
And I think that that's important to to kind of demystify for people who who could go in otherwise, you know, unprepared for some of those, those tumultuous moments.
But kind of switching, or sorry, go ahead.
I was gonna say, I think entrepreneurship requires a balance of, of naivety, and, and optimism.
Sometimes if we knew everything, before we started, we wouldn't do it because the journey is hard.
But it requires just just enough naivety and optimism that you will dive in with both hands.
But then you have to have the tenacity and persistence to keep going.
So you can't know too much, but you also can't know too little.
It's, it's right. Delicate balance there. So, so moving that specifically to the story of, of S2 and remote browser isolation.
I mean, you know, it's one thing that I found fascinating about you is, is just how there's so many different, different kind of industries that you've operated in.
And I'm just curious, how did you even decide that, that remote browser isolation was what the problem that you wanted to solve?
Yeah, it was an evolution. And it wasn't the first idea.
So just as I just said, I left Microsoft and started working with a kind of a very young company who was doing federal contracting.
And the idea was, hey, we have some good, good, a good base here to work from to expand what this company does for federal, for the federal government.
And so was looking at building some specific software systems for the government.
And I recruited the first two partners in to that out of Microsoft, which is always a scary thing to do sometimes.
And we, you know, we banged on our head on that wall for, for 12 or 14 months, I would say, and trying to make that go.
And it became clear at some point in time, you know, I'm talking about entrepreneurial stories that don't don't always go well, it became clear at some point in time that that wasn't going to work, the government is, you know, it has its own peculiarities when you're dealing with them.
So I spent several months in my evenings and weekends, looking at different landscapes, okay, what else can we do?
I have felt the responsibility of these other guys and, you know, pull them and convince them to leave Microsoft.
What are we gonna, what are we gonna do? Not a not a great feeling.
But it was clear that in our other work that we'd run into multiple issues with security, cybersecurity, for the government and for businesses.
And so I dove into that space, and identified, it was four or five, or maybe six different areas that we could go in.
And I did a deep dive on each of them and, and made a list.
And we eventually sat down, the time was three of us, and we debated which of these, which of these items on the list we think is the right one, I had an opinion, strong opinion, but you know, partly out of fear of getting blamed if we picked the wrong one, I, you know, we made it a group discussion.
And we picked specifically remote browser isolation from a list, a short list of four or five or six things.
So now that sounds like a really kind of unique approach to arriving at a problem space.
You know, and I can't speak from from experience, but have you found that to be true in your kind of community as well, that most people either start with a solution or start with an industry, but you kind of started with, you know, here's a here's a problem, and here's a bunch of different ways to solve it.
Was that was that unique?
I don't know if it's unique. It's the way I do it. And to be honest, I don't know if it's unique.
You know, we looked at the cybersecurity space and, you know, made the observation that most of what's done in cybersecurity is what I call ex post facto, meaning not, the industry is not great at preventing problems.
But so they focus on detecting and remediating once, once somebody has been breached.
And that's where most of the money goes to. That's where most of the energy goes to.
And to me, that just seemed backwards. It seemed we should be focusing on prevention.
And, you know, the zero day mess that everybody is in is a problem.
So philosophically, I think we approached it from the perspective of let's focus on zero day solutions, where we can prevent things from happening and not have to rely on remediation or detection, which is not the greatest, you know, the results of which we see in the market all the time.
It's not the greatest, right.
So we had a we had a philosophical approach behind it. And we approached it that way.
And that is how we identified the specific areas where we thought there were some technical solutions were possible, that that could address the zero day problem in a definitive sort of way.
And I think it helped to have a pretty broad understanding and perspective of, you know, technology broadly.
So we had some ideas about what we can plot what different technologies we can apply to the problem.
That's super helpful. That's knowing just enough, as I've talked about, right, right.
So so there was a con there was context to it.
And there was sort of a view of what we're trying to solve and why behind it.
Now, is that unusual, that kind of approach? I don't know. But as I said earlier, I've always tried to come at it from what's the business problem, and then go find the technology to solve it.
That's, that's kind of the way to do it. And that's worked for me.
I'm sure there are other approaches that work well for other people as well.
So so I know that you that that you all took a unique approach to the way that you solve that problem.
And you kind of, it sounds like you arrived there by kind of looking at the industry and understanding the limitations first of, of the traditional approaches that have been taken to solve that problem.
How did you arrive at your solution? Was that? Was that again, kind of knowing that it was a good space and that you knew just enough to where you thought the two things could converge to form a solution or?
Yeah, classic example of knowing just enough, but but not everything.
I think when we started, we picked remote browser isolation, basically, because the principle, if you think of it from a conceptual point of view, is one of those kind of no brainer things when I went out and talk to people about the concept, a lot of people hadn't heard of the concept at the time.
When we went out and talked to people about the concept, most the most common reaction was, that makes total sense.
Why aren't we already doing this?
Right. And so but we looked at the solutions that were out there.
And there were two basic categories of how people have tried to solve this problem, take this concept and solve the problem.
But but neither of them really got there.
And, and we were just naive enough to think that we could, we could, we could find a solution that was better, or arrogant, you could put it in any one of those buckets.
I'm sure it's, I'm sure it's a foot in each one of those buckets, actually.
So we thought we were smart enough to figure out another way to do it. And that was probably really naive.
But we were lucky in some sense that we did find another way to do it that does solve the problem, and makes the concept actually live up to its potential.
And that was and how we actually arrived at that solution was kind of goes back to what I said earlier is hiring people with non overlapping skills, hiring people who are really good at what they do, and also have a broad sense of technology, but non overlapping skills, it was a combination of those different backgrounds that helped us get to that solution.
It wasn't my specific idea that the specific solution, but it was definitely, you know, the team's effort.
And as we're banging our head against the, the wall of trying to solve how to make this work better, found a third way to do it, that was completely different.
So that was definitely some serendipity in that in that process, but also hard work and, you know, having made, made good decisions about who we hired.
And they were great, great, fantastic people who are now now.
That's awesome. And when you were thinking about what you wanted to look and feel like, where did the where did the end user kind of fit into that?
And what was the what was the end goal or the vision for how that looked and felt for them?
Well, I think it's always been, you know, for for S2, it was always the end user was always front and center.
The two solutions that existed in the market, previous to us, had both had pretty, pretty drastic implications for user experience.
One was either really slow and jumpy and just just not a satisfactory experience.
And the other one, although it was much faster, broke a lot of websites, just breaks websites.
And so from a user experience, they were very unsatisfactory experiences.
And we we had the fortunate ability that we weren't first in the market.
A lot of people think it's important to be first in the market.
And I would I would say if you actually look at the data, that's probably not the case.
Being first is is tough. And often the first, the first to the market is often not the winner in the long run.
And we had the ability to look at the solutions were out there and understand the user implications of the user experiences we talked about.
We could also talk to the people that that were buying these systems, the enterprises and the government that were using these systems and their issues.
And, you know, they have a slightly different set of issues than other than the user issues, which they hear about users, but they have other concerns and other issues.
So that was an advantage for us in some ways that we weren't first or even second.
We had the ability to learn from what had been done before and build on that.
Wow. And so fast forwarding a little bit.
And, you know, what kind of spoiler alert here, but what brought you to Cloudflare?
And, and what made it feel like the right fit? Well, I think we reached a point in the company where we were talking to a bunch of potential partners.
And one of them said, Oh, we don't want to partner with you on buying.
And that was a bit of a surprise. It was unexpected. We didn't that wasn't we weren't looking for that.
But once we realized that, oh, maybe we are marketable now, we we started talking to a number of different companies, one of whom was Cloudflare, we were introduced to Cloudflare by a member of our board.
And that conversation went really well.
The first things almost the first things out of their mouths were Hey, we're about security and performance.
And we're like, Oh, well, that's clear, because that's, that's exactly what we've been trying.
One of the problems we've been trying to solve.
And, and that and that the company itself, the architecture of the company, the way everything's built at the edge and runs at the edge, is actually a perfect architecture, there's no better architecture for how you would want to run our browsing system.
So it was a really good fit.
People were great. One thing led to another. And we closed the deal on January 1.
Wow. And what was the the first once you once you joined forces, you remember what the first kind of feature or benefit or demo when the two kind of converge that you remember being like, wow, this was either the right or the wrong decision?
Well, I think we're, I mean, we're still moving the system over from what it was running on to the edge.
I think that's, we're right there now. And, and some of those early results are are meeting our expectations that it was, it's, it's really a great way to do it.
So that's right on the cusp of that. Now, it's been a lot of work to kind of get from we were running it on AWS, and moving that over to run on Cloudflare's edge.
And our expectations around the results of that would bring, I think, we're starting to see that although it's just the very beginning of it, that the early tests are very positive.
So very, very positive, very exciting.
So we're pretty happy about that. That's awesome. Well, they're not, you know, that story is still being written.
So I won't spoil it too, too much.
But um, but so kind of, if you if you're putting on that same kind of exercise, and you're saying, Hey, you know, I'm gonna brainstorm, you know, 10 ideas that I think, you know, will be the next movement in enterprise security space.
You know, what's like, what's your sneak peek? What do you think, you know, one of the two of those things are, what do you find most fascinating right now that you just like to read and in your free time?
Well, I don't know that I can, I can reveal any of those because active consideration.
But there's no doubt there's a lot of things going on in the industry and Internet broadly that, you know, changes are happening constantly.
The Internet landscape still moves very, very quickly.
I still think the original vision that we had around being able to address zero day issues, and our, our big deal, and I think we're continuing to focus on that.
Cloudflare brings a lot to the table in terms of the assets that it has in its network, the scope and the scale of the things that we do, and the things that we see, allow us to do and create some solutions that not too many companies can do.
And we're certainly looking at ways to leverage those and solve again, starting with the business issues, solve those business issues and figure out how we can bring those assets to bear on solving those problems, and bringing technology in from the outside as needed.
Yeah, there's, that's definitely a part of it.
If you had any advice to any founders who are out there listening right now, you know, on where to start, you know, it doesn't have to be the idea, of course, for them, but just how to start, you know, what would that be?
And, you know, what's kind of your mantra of wisdom there?
Well, I think I think I've said it a couple times with my mantra, what's worked for me is start with a business problem.
Don't start with what's cool, what what is the great technology? You know, I think I think we see a lot of that in the market these days, you know, Bitcoin, or not Bitcoin, but blockchain, people use that to go find problems as a technology, but start, my advice is always to start with the business problem, because ultimately, that's what pays the bills.
It's not the technology that pays the bills, it's the problems that you're solving for businesses that pays the bills.
So I would definitely start there. Cool. And then this is, this will be kind of my close out question.
But there's a question that I, I love asking, what is one of your favorite products that's out there on the market today can be something to use for personal use for business use?
And then what influences have you brought into, you know, whether that's, you know, remote browser isolation, or ideas here at Cloudflare that, you know, that you think that they do a really good job of kind of, of building up?
That's a good question. I think the answer, my best answer would be what we relied on really heavily when we were, you know, we were starting up.
And, you know, frankly, one of the things we relied on a lot was Dropbox.
We, we just, we, because we were a distributed group, and it was, it was, well, I was distributed, the rest of them were in Seattle, but it was, it was a huge help.
And there were several tools that we use that were a huge help.
We used Slack in the early days, we moved to Teams eventually.
You know, we kind of went through different things as our needs shaped and evolved.
Use what works, I think, is the recommendation, what works for you.
And we found that what worked for us at the early stages, we had to change as we went further on as our needs evolved.
And that's okay. Don't get too, too married to one thing, but just use what works.
Yeah, I love that. And I think that, that, that's a great one. And I think that Dropbox is a, is a company who can be admired for a lot of reasons.
And I think that they do a great job of kind of democratizing storage, you know, and I think that, that that's, that's something that's accessible to almost everyone, and just making that an easier transition for people.
But thank you. I think that's probably all the time that we have, but thank you so much for joining.
This was a great, and hopefully very intriguing conversation.
And we'll see you next week on Cloudflare TV.