Originally aired on January 27 @ 11:30 AM - 12:00 PM EDT
This week is Cloudflare's Founder Spotlight on Cloudflare TV, featuring dozens entrepreneurs from across the tech industry and beyond!
This session features Tony Perez and Daniel Cid, founders of CleanBrowsing. Tony Perez is a former GoDaddy executive (Security Product Group), Co-Founder at Sucuri and Founder at CubicTwo. He enjoys doing what needs to be done, and focusing on things that make the web hum. Daniel Cid is a former GoDaddy executive (Security Product Group), Founder at Sucuri and the OSSEC project. He is a builder of things that make the web just a little more secure.
to find the rest of these featured conversations — and tune in all week for more! Founder Spotlight hub Welcome everyone to another segment of Founders Spotlight. This is your host Val and I'm here with Tony Perez and Daniel Cid, who's only going by this Cid in his Zoom ID I see, but trust me, it's him, it's his full name. And you're watching, as I said, Founder Spotlight on Cloudflare TV, where we are hosting founders who started startups for the first time, or as in this case, not only for the first time, and we try to go over their story, how they built it, why they built it, who's using it and so on. And with no further ado, I'm going to introduce the guests today and I'm going to let them introduce themselves. But before that, if you're watching live and you want to ask questions, you can email us at livestudio at Cloudflare.tv. And also there's a phone number that I've written somewhere. Okay, what's the phone number, Tony? Founded 380-333-5273. Again, 380-333-5273. So if you want to ask questions live, please do. If you're watching this as a replay, you can still tweet at us at Cloudflare.tv and just ask any question for Tony, for Daniel, we're going to send a question to them, and hopefully they'll make some time to respond to you. So please, Tony, Daniel, introduce yourselves first, and then we'll take it from there. Hi, everybody. My name is Tony Perez. I'm one of the founders here at Clean Browsing. And with me today, we've got Daniel, who's... And go ahead and introduce yourself, Daniel. I'm Daniel. So I'm also one of the founders of Clean Browsing. And we've been working together for quite a few years, me and Tony, so it's... Unfortunately. It should be fun, yeah. Yeah. And just a quick caveat. Like, if you're looking for this for insights for founders and entrepreneurs, this probably isn't the session you want. Daniel and I will probably tell you all the things not to do. Like everything we do, like, okay, I shouldn't do this. That's also useful, though, to know not to do that. We have more failures than anything else, but that's okay. It's the same as parents teach their children, you know, what not to do first. Don't touch the fire, you know, don't go near the water and all that. So that there's also good advices for founders. And just to put this out of the water, me, Tony, and Daniel, we worked together at a startup, also startup, called Sucuri. I think I remember, Tony, I was employee number 106, if I'm not mistaken. If the numbers actually went chronologically, I never asked, but I assumed. So security, DNS, privacy, all these keywords, we sort of work and have been working on them for many years. You two worked together way longer before I joined Sucuri. But if we're going over what safe browsing is doing, clean browsing, sorry. Oh, maybe not a bad name, though. Both of them are very good. What exactly is this startup all about? Like, what do people, what can people do with it? Yeah, so clean browsing is interesting. It actually, it tackles a market that has actually been in existence for a long time. In fact, OpenDNS established this space over 15 years ago. And we're not doing anything unique in the sense of the technology. We have an Anycast-based network, etc. We're supporting all the encrypted DNSs. But our real focus and what really helps differentiate us is kind of who we focus on. And our focus has predominantly been an underserved audience or market, which is essentially children. And this stemmed out of a problem that both Daniel and I had. And the conversation actually started around 2016, where I was kind of fiddling around with OpenDNS and try to deploy something for my kids. And it came from our experiences at Sucuri, where we were focusing on a lot of infected websites. And we were like, man, my kids get online. They were of an age that, you know, we were keeping them quiet with a device. And so they were always like two clicks away from landing on something that I didn't want them to land on, whether it was malvertising, whether that's pornography, etc. And regardless of your religious beliefs or personal beliefs, both Daniel and I have kids around the same ages. And we're like, man, this is kind of a problem. And the solutions out there, like DNS-based content filtering, while not new, wasn't focused on this underserved market. It was focused on the enterprise. And at the enterprise, you have a lot of margin, like, eh, if a couple of things get through, no problem. But we were specifically focused on malicious content, pornography, obscene content. Like we just felt a kid that's under 11 years old, like they're not old enough to really understand this. Like we didn't have a lot of science behind it. We didn't truly understand the market. We just knew that we had kids and it was a problem. So around 2018, kind of, you know, a couple of years after discussing this and kept coming up, Daniel started to kind of fiddle around with this idea. And he built a service and released it to the world. Kind of similar to what we do at Sukuti. We release it to the world. We literally had no idea if anybody was going to be interested in it. It's like, well, we find it interesting. We need it. So we're going to release it. Turned out that it became really interesting. And even though we shared the idea with other people and people were like, hey, this is an established market. It doesn't make any sense. We started to find a lot of parents thought the same way, right? A lot of parents were like, man, I have kids and I want to have better control of what they're seeing. And there's a lot of apps available, but some of them are too intrusive. They record what you're doing or they just ask for too much control and parents like that. I just kind of want to put some guardrails at this age. Right. And they found, and we found that DNS was a very effective solution. And so from there, it's just kind of blossomed. So initially we had no real focus outside of, hey, we just want to create a safer browsing experience for young kids. And the immediate market was like, hey, this would make sense for parents. But since then, over the past two years, a lot has changed and we've identified a lot of adjacent markets that we never even accounted for, right? Like there's a big problem right now on the web around online addictions, right? Individuals that are struggling specifically with either video game addictions, pornography addictions, and it's causing big problems for marriages, relationships, et cetera. And then there's another adjacent market of organizations that are tasked with creating safe browsing experiences for kids. Think of like the city of LA that has 3000 buses and has to offer public wifi, right? The last thing that they want is somebody sitting on that bus surfing Pornhub while somebody's in the, like a wild child in that environment. Or think of a school that gets federal funding, but they have to be SIPA compliant and they just can't afford kids to go into school surfing Pornhub or some other like obscene content while in class. And so kind of, wow, never intentionally focusing on these markets. That's what clean browsing does. Clean browsing is really focused on this underserved market of young people that aren't old enough to make that distinction between what is good and bad. And it's designed for either individuals or organizations that are trying to create those guardrails and create a safer environment. And we do everything at the DNS level. So it's built on our prior experiences, building large networks. And we essentially function as a DNS resolver for anyone that's technical. Anything you want to add to that, Daniel? Well, I think you've covered it pretty well, but right in the beginning, he was talking about OpenDNS, which was pretty much the standard, right? If you had a kid, either you use the OpenDNS or I think it was the Northern DNS. And I remember we were testing that and right in the beginning, we enabled, oh, it's safe. It's blocking the main domains. But at the same time, you could just go Google and type any keyword and you could see all the images and videos on the Google image search or video search. And you're thinking, why are they not enforcing safe search by default, which you can do at the DNS level. And that's where the conversation kind of begins. We could build something that's a lot safer for kids, leveraging all the tools and the options that are available for us. So for example, clean browsing, we enforce safe search everywhere on Google, Bing, Google, and anywhere else we can. So I could go on Google and search for something and get the image that we are blocking from other sites. So pretty much, let's say two parents, right? Seeing the actual problems, the actual issues occurring with browsing and the lack of safety in browsing online, came up with the idea. But also, both of you have backgrounds in security. So it's not like just two parents sitting around with a beer and thinking of, let's do something in tech. Can you go a bit over like, what's the previous experience you've both had? I know people can read it off there online anyways, but as we're live, can we go over a bit, a few minutes, like both of you have sort of a different, but also common commonalities to your past experience? Yeah, sure. I mean, so Daniel and I have been working together since about 2010. You know, whether that's good or bad, we're still kind of debating that. Yeah. Like, depending when you ask us, it's great. And then if you ask us, it's like, unfortunately, the keyword would be. Yeah. And so we were both the founders at Security and Website. That was a website security platform. That's really kind of where we dug deep into building large scale networks. We went on to be executives at GoDaddy, where we continue to expand on those networks. And so, you know, you're right. I mean, it's not like just two non-tech guys were sitting around thinking about this. In fact, it was, hey, there's so much similarity into what we've been doing for the past decade. This could be really interesting. And in fact, it kind of started off more as a project than a company. And then, you know, as we started to get more people interested, it became like, hey, let's apply some of the things that we've learned from another startup with security and see if we can rebuild something from scratch. But this would be essentially my third startup. And I stopped one to focus on security at the time when Daniel invited me on. And then we focused on that. And then Daniel has background going even further than myself with OSEC. So Daniel, you want to tell a little bit about yours? Yeah, I've been in this space for a while. Since pretty much I started to work, I've been working on information security. First was OSEC. And then I work in many antivirus companies and others and went to also Cudi and GoDaddy and now Clean Browsing. So we've been on that for a long time. And that's just one more step into our career, you know. Another iteration. Like a logical progression, right? And what's really interesting about what we focus on, I think, if you look past in the past 12 years between the two of us, and then 20 years for Daniel is we've typically focused on like the unsexy part of the web, right? The, you know, the things that make the web go hum that most people don't think about. We just kind of, we really enjoy that behind the screen type of work, how systems are communicating with each other, the protocols, what's happening, what isn't. And we really like seeing like, hey, can we tackle something in that space, but then bring that forward? And what's really interesting is that when we bring it forward, for whatever reason, we're always thinking of like ourselves and consumers more than enterprises. So we kind of suck at that. We're like, wow, this is a really cool problem. Like, how awesome would it be like the shine of light on this one technology? And we're always stubborn. Instead of trying to speak to the consumer in their language, like, no, you will learn this language. And we refuse to let it go. Right? Like I remember at Sucuri, I'd be like, yes, you are a webmaster. And everybody would make fun of me. Like, Tony, we don't use that language anymore. I was like, no, but that is what they are. Right? And so you are remembering the 90s. Well, we always first solving our own problems. Sucuri was our own problem. On clean browser is our own problem. And as we're solving our own problems, we're thinking, can we help some others? And we let others use it. We are focusing on ourselves too, right? So, well, that's the language we use. That's how we ship and that's how we build, right? And it's interesting because we are more focused on consumption than we are on making money to a detriment. And it actually hurt us at Sucuri as well. Like we just wanted people to use it. Like, you know, usage of a product is like oxygen for us. And so we get so excited when people start using it, which is why we have one of the cool things about clean browsing is we have a free filter. Anyone can use it. We track absolutely nothing. We do all the wrong things, right? Like we don't like productize the user. All we look is the usage going up. And we're like, yeah, people are like, what do you do with the data? I was like, well, we promised them we wouldn't do anything. So we do nothing with it. People are like, wow, what are you talking about? But for us, it's like, wow, you know? And so, you know, we're doing about four and a half, five billion requests a day now. And that's pretty cool for us. And like, we get more excited about that consumption than we do about actually making money. And so suddenly we make no money. It's kind of like, oh man. How many times a day you refresh those analytics in the dashboard? Every day. And I think Daniel checks it before he goes to bed, you know? We check the wrong analytic. Instead of checking, like, are we making money? Are we getting usage? Are people going to these sites? We're like, no, more, more usage, more usage. Number of sessions. Number of sessions. Yeah. Okay. So I love the fact that when Daniel mentioned that we had a problem and we wanted to fix it for ourselves and then realize what if we actually can scale and apply the same solution to other parents or other people having, you know, kids the same age or, you know, suffering from the same lack of the possibility to have a clean, safe and, you know, let's say, not necessarily okay, but at least safe browsing online. Do you think looking back now, especially Daniel has more experience, like in time, I mean, how was, how is the web evolving? And I mean, browsing online, all these things, like Tony mentioned addictions, is this, is this helping the world? Like, is Internet becoming better as everyone hopes to be? Or is it like, does it need so many other tools to, you know, filter, make it safe, make it affordable, or I don't know, allow kids to use it in a safe way? That's a good question. Where do you think we're going? Like, what's the future like? I think on a macro level, it's helping quite a bit, right? Look at all the business running online and we're talking online via Zoom. It's just amazing what we have right now. But at the same time, for every good, there's always some bad. And that's the bad that you have to control, especially with addiction of kids, kids spending too many hours gaming on Instagram, or even worse, looking at sites that they shouldn't be looking. And that's where clean browsing helps and other tools. They do as well, right? They help to create those cross rails and, and to enjoy the web, the good parts without being affected and impacted by the bad ones. And if you're a parent of kids, you also need to be aware of the time they spend online and things like that. But it's just not just the tech, but also the presence and being involved and seeing what you're doing, right? Yeah, I mean, Being a friend with your child. The one thing that I would expand on that is I think the fundamental difference, if you look back 20 years, if you look now is just the scale of content, the amount of information. So from a technical standpoint, as technologists, we'll kind of get into these weird debates of like, we got to use this cipher, we got to do this thing, and we got to encrypt this part, and like, we're making the web safe, like, okay, fine, whatever. As a consumer, though, the big problem is consumption. There is just so much consumption, whether that's social media platform, I mean, social media has just dramatically changed the way we interact. I mean, everything from the good of like, hey, I can start a business from anywhere to like, cyber bullying, right? Pornography bullying, like all this stuff that's happening and the ability to access or, you know, the fact that Twitter has no controls whatsoever around pornography, and anyone can access anything, or malicious content or violent content, even though they're trying. Now we're getting into this very weird conundrum of like, the principles in which we use to build the web around openness and access to like this space of like, do we filter? What's the point of which we filter? Should everything really be open? Like now we're seeing what open really means with what's coming online. And I think that's the tricky part. And I think what we're also finding is that the pandemic has accelerated how people consume and how much more time people have like become introverted with their devices and their consumption, which is why consumption is huge across the board, even with pornography, especially with pornography. And so what's happening now, parents specifically talking to our space, have become even more intimately familiar or aware of what their children are doing. And they're like, Oh, my gosh, they really can't separate themselves from their video games. Oh, my gosh, are they addicted? Oh, my gosh, they're attached to their, you know, devices for pornography or, or gambling. It's placed the spotlight on these little niches on the web or on information that as technologists, yes, make it all available. But as organizations and as parents, we're like, wow, this is affecting productivity. This is affecting their psychological health. This is affecting how they think of the world. This is how they think and how they see the world. And now people are saying, what can I do about this? Like, yes, I want everything to be open. But I don't need it to be open for my five year old. I'm not sure that my five year old has the mental capacity to truly appreciate what's on the web yet. You know, and so I think that's this, this, this pendulum swing that we're seeing on the web today. Not to mention you, you have to wear multiple hats, you're a parent, you're a business owner. And then you also want to, like you said, have everything open and available. And you know, let's not put laws on the Internet. Let's not make you know, people not have access to certain or from certain areas, geographical areas, political and so on. And at the same time, if, if, if I'm a parent, and I want to use a product like yours, do I have, you know, the not the trust, but how should I say, can I believe that actually, you know, my child will be protected? Because what if the law in my country or, you know, their country says something else, and then the product protects from something we call clean, but then again, it's maybe illegal, because we live in a time and day when, you know, stuff that is called illegal is not, or illegal is not necessarily also moral or clean, or, you know, Oh, I agree. A thousand percent. And I think Daniel and I share this belief in that we are big proponents for what, why the web was created and the openness of the web and the accessibility of information. We don't believe that any higher power should dictate what those things are. That being said, we also believe in a world of choice. We believe in the consumer's ability to dictate. I do not want this on my home network. I do not want this on my devices for myself as an individual. And for those who I'm responsible for, whether those are my kids, whether those are kids that I'm responsible for, et cetera. And that's the fundamental difference. People sometimes ask us like, Oh, you guys are against porn. You guys are for censorship. I was like, no, not at all. Like we don't care about any porn can exist. You know, anything on any content can exist. We're completely consenting adults. My two-year -old isn't a consenting adult. My two-year -old doesn't know what they're doing, but they're on YouTube and they're clicking and they click on an ad and these ads are targeting them and they click on something. They're too. I would say they're always two clicks away from a malicious site or pornography site or obscene content or some form of content that I, as a parent do not deem appropriate for them at that age. And that's, we offer that like that's their service. Like, Hey, if you believe in that and you want to take control, by all means, here's your mechanism to do that. If you don't, we're completely okay with that. Yeah. The openness of the web is kind of interesting because it means we should have a choice as being open. So for example, if I go to my router and I configure to use the clean browsing DNS, my computer or my browser should never override that and force me to use some other DNS because they think it's better because that's removing the opening and it's removing my choice, right? And that's one of the big fights that we have is that whatever the parents that are responsible for the network or for the family decides and controls, the devices should honor that. The browser should honor that. They shouldn't just overwrite and make their own decision because well, everybody deserves privacy. Even though it's my five -year-old child using the browser that I configured to use a safe DNS and now they are pushing elsewhere, right? And that's the battle that you have. We are all for privacy, but at the same time, they need to respect the choice and the openness that we have. You're talking about ISPs default settings that you can change on a router, right? That's right. Yeah. We see this a lot, right? And not just with ISPs, but we see this with browsers. And this is one of the big debates we have from a technical perspective. If you look at some of the evolutions around encryption and stuff like that, we're not against these technologies. We're not against encrypting the communication. We're not against making things safer. And from a privacy standpoint, we're against choice being removed. If I, as a parent, go into my router and I explicitly define what I want to use, what I find to be appropriate, no one should overwrite that. I shouldn't have a browser telling me, hey, we're going to implement it because you don't know what you're talking about. And this is the appropriate mechanism, right? Like, what is that about? Like, when did we get to that point? Or we shouldn't have an ISP that says, we know better than you. So we're not going to allow you to make this change. And you're going to use ours. Oh, and by the way, we're going to use it for ads. We're going to use it for marketing. We're going to use it to better understand your behaviors online. But we're not going to give you the option to change that. Like, that's just inappropriate, right? Like, we believe in that choice. We believe that people are intelligent and people want to take control. And we should allow that to happen. That does not mean that we don't believe in innovation and progress and improvements of these technologies. Do you feel that you have more conversation around these topics with, like, directly the parents or, you know, are schools reaching out to you, public libraries, like you mentioned, the transportation organizations and so on? Like, who are the main, you know, requesters for all these types of technologies? So we started off originally like, hey, let's look for people like us, right? We're always solving for our problems and they must be other parents. And it kind of started like that. And then from there, it's just kind of blossomed, you know? And as you know, if you know anything about Daniel and I, we suck at ads. We suck at marketing. We just kind of like write for ourselves and whatever happens, happens. But what's been really interesting is that over the past year and a half, especially with the pandemic, we've seen this, all these adjacent markets that we, I'll be honest with you, we never planned for them, right? We never planned for a community of online addiction. We never planned for schools. We never planned for, like, it just wasn't a mind, a thought process. But they naturally come to us. I think they come to us from the content we put out. I think they come to us from our engagement. But we have a lot of schools. We have a lot of municipalities. In addition to parents, parents still make up a big portion, especially with our free services. But I would say a lot of our premium services are made up around, like, resellers that are servicing schools, libraries that have to provide a safe environment for kids coming in, municipalities that are worried about their public Wi-Fis serving for the community. And it always, for some reason, comes down to, like, we don't care if an adult is watching porn next to another adult, but it's like, we can't have kids around this. We don't want to be liable for that. And that's a market we just kind of, like, tripped into. It was not necessarily intentional, but it aligns really nice with this audience that is at the core of who we focus with, which, what do you think, Daniel? Yeah, I agree. I agree. And you're asking about the parents. And I think that one of the main challenges we see with parents right now is that quite often their kids are more technical than the parents. Yeah. And that poses a really challenge. Like, well, just log into your child's device and install this app, for example. And they're like, oh, I don't know. Let me ask my kids to do that. And suddenly their kids have admin access to the whole... And they're overriding the whatever... So that's one of the interesting challenges of this age, where quite often kids are more technical than their parents. Yeah. It's funny because it reminds me of our time at Security, when we used to be like, you're a webmaster. And people would make fun of me, like, Tony, you're still thinking of the 90s. I was like, no, but they really are webmasters. If you look at what that is, that's what they are. Technology has made it so much easier for anybody to get their website online. And they're not thinking about it from those terms, but they have the same responsibilities. Well, now in our space, we somehow managed to get ourselves into the same space. We're like, these are network admins. But you'd never go to a parent and be like, yeah, I'm a network admin. They're like, no, what are you talking about? I don't even know what my router is. No, but you are. That's your responsibility. And so we have this clash. You're the gatekeeper. And so we have to go through this journey of, we have parents like, I want to control what they see. But they're not using the same language. They're not saying, oh, I want to control what's happening on my Internet. I want to control what's happening on my network. But that's essentially what they're saying. I have this problem. Can you help me? And so I used to say this all the time. If you recall, security is our responsibility to bridge the gap between what they're looking for and what we're building. And we find ourselves in that same conundrum again. So there are a lot of kids who are actually outsmarting their parents in the terms of technology, surfing and all that. So there is a gap. Do you think that maybe companies like yours can help educate parents? I'm looking at myself also, how fast can a parent get to the level of, let's say, equally talking to their child? Or would you rather go for something like be friends with them first and then let them fly online? So that's an interesting question. If you think about it from a security standpoint, in the security space, in InfoSec, it's always been about education and awareness and bringing people up to speed with what's happening. But if you're in security, you know how difficult that is. Like, oh, we can educate all day, but somebody's still going to click that freaking link and get phished. And so I think we have a similar problem in this space. And so I think that it's a hybrid approach. I think, yes, there's an education, letting parents know that they do have the ability to take control of these things. But I also think that it's going to require a technical integration and streamlining with the service providers, whether those are ISPs or routers or other network devices, that can make it just a little bit easier. Like, gosh, if a router would just respect the configuration change, if that same would only work, it would make life so much easier than having to tell the customer, can you please reboot? You got to wait. Can you reset? Like all these additional things. The thing is that there's this technical side that isn't applying any energy to thinking about that, because it's just one feature of so many. And then you have this, it's such a critical piece to make it successful for this consumer. And so I think that, like, we have to figure out a way to marry and have a better relationship on the technical side, while still communicating and educating parents that they do have the ability to take control of what's happening. You mentioned that Daniel loves questions, and we're only like a minute and a half time left here. But I do have some questions, and I'm going to read just one. What are some of the examples of healthy use for the Internet websites that are good for kids? So what sort of websites kids should go to and navigate to them? There's so many of them. And it really depends on their age. For example, even YouTube, for example. My kids use that a lot to watch. There's a lot of good shows that teach a lot of interesting stuff about science, math, and things like that. There's Skin Academy. There's so many good websites that they can go to, right? And if we direct their attention to the right ones, and even games. There's some interesting games that they play the game, and at the same time, they solve math challenges, which I love when I do that. It's so much better than the games where just mindlessly doing something, right? I think one good example would be YouTube, I think, is a very powerful platform with a lot of information. But there's this platform called YouTube for Kids, I think it's called, that essentially strips out a lot of this noise that young kids shouldn't be looking at. And so you have the ability to even redirect that in your own personal DNS environment without even using a service. But things like YouTube Kids are extremely invaluable. Educational platforms, whether that's Coding or Khan Academy and stuff like that, those are invaluable platforms to build skills for the future.