Women Founders
28 November 2018

Thriving as a Female Entrepreneur in the Tech World

Meet Sandra Tobler, Co-founder and CEO of Futurae (MIR ’08), a cybersecurity start-up. 

Meet Sandra Tobler, Co-founder and CEO of Futurae (MIR ’08)
As phishing becomes ever more sophisticated, two-factor authentication is essential although it’s a despised practice. Authentication-as-a-service provider, Futurae, aims to remove the annoyance factor for a seamless user experience. Its technology has impressed market watchers and now the company has raised CHF 2 million in a financing round. With the funds, Futurae wants to accelerate its market expansion. Co-founder Sandra Tobler brings experience as a trade commissioner in San Francisco – perhaps not the usual Silicon Valley background, but a very useful one!

Tell us about Futurae in your own words. How did you first get started with this project?
The three founders, Claudio Marforio, Nikos Karapanos and myself, met in the US and we instantly clicked. We shared a passion for privacy matters and ideas on how cybersecurity and IT in general, could become more human-centric. My two co-founders graduated with specialisations in mobile and online security, as well as cryptography and machine learning. Combined with my IT business background, we have a very strong combination of skills and character!

At Futurae, we make every type of login seamless and secure by using sensor signals and context, instead of taking sensitive personal information like biometric traits. We offer plug-and-play strong authentication options in a modular way for any web platforms or mobile applications.

What do you love about your job? Why do you do what you do?
It’s great to run a company with great people. Although it can be a challenge at times to constantly have the responsibility for the company, it is also very liberating to choose who you work with and create the environment you work in.

We love the cybersecurity space because there is so much we can improve on in terms of centring it around humans. With increasing digitalisation, there is a huge need for specialists who understand how to protect the privacy and security of complex structures. This can happen without jeopardising the user experience. And it should happen! This is what I am passionate about.

What’s been your experience as a woman in infosec? What are your experiences in that context?
Unfortunately, there is a super small handful of women in IT, less in leadership positions in IT and even less in cybersecurity. At times, it can be tiring to still talk about this inequality. However, I am convinced that it is in the interest of the quality of projects that overall diversity in the industry will increase. I am confident, though, that there is a new generation of leadership that is growing and is more and more diverse.

How could that mismatch be addressed?
It is definitely very important to provide children with role models early on. Also, I see a lot of value in close exchanges between entrepreneurs who can benefit from one another’s experiences.

What advice do you have for women who want to launch their company in high-tech?
Go for it, but go all in. Being an entrepreneur is something you have to commit to for the long haul. As an entrepreneur you need to be able to keep getting up, motivating yourself and the team, sometimes against the odds, and just continue. You also need to be able to deal with hundreds of different opinions about what you do. On the other side, there is all the excitement you share as a team for an accomplishment you reached together.

Depending on the subject in tech, you need to be able to cope with largely engineer-driven male environments. This can be reflected in the way things are communicated. It’s important to be aware of potential misunderstandings and always be able to take things lightly.

How was the Venture Kick experience?
Venture Kick provided a basis for our initial, pre-revenue months, from refining our prototype and working on our go-to-market strategy, to winning our first customers. All of our team members are based in Switzerland, however it is a challenge to cover salaries that offer a decent standard of living here. Founders give so much to their startups, and to the growing community and Venture Kick is highly beneficial in this way, yet we always expect more. Lobbying to make corporate law and taxation fairer and more pragmatic for startups should be on the priority list of every single association, accelerator program or law firm working with startups!

Sandra Tobler is pictured above, front left, along with the team and board members of Futurae.