Fang Yu ’06 on Building a Big Data Security Startup as a Woman Founder

Renowned experts in Internet security with PhDs in Computer Science, female co-founders Yinglian Xie, CEO, and Fang Yu ‘06, CTO, started DataVisor to build a best-in-class security analytics solution that could help protect online services of all types of industries – including social, financial, gaming, e-commerce and more. 

Combining patent-pending unsupervised learning algorithms and “in-memory” Big Data frameworks such as Spark, Fang and Yinglian have created a disruptive new technology that has an unprecedented ability to catch hidden crime rings hiding within online services before they have a chance to do any damage

Xie and Yu previously worked together for seven years at Microsoft Research Silicon Valley, where they developed a number of technological advancements to help secure Microsoft’s consumer-facing web properties. Xie and Yu hold more than 24 patents and have published more than 50 research papers in top academic conferences.

Q.  DataVisor seems to be in the thick of the “Big Data” rush. Can you tell us a bit about the genesis of the company/product, how the company was formed?

Yinglian and I met while working as researchers at Microsoft Research Silicon Valley after my completion of my PhD in Computer Science at UC Berkeley. We joined the same month, and since then have collaborated together on various research projects for more than seven years before we started DataVisor.

As security researchers, we have seen an increasing trend of online attacks. There are a lot of common challenges faced by different types of online services. We feel our experience and expertise can create something new and bigger to potentially protect a wide variety of online services.  So we decided to start a company together to achieve this goal.

Q.  What significant challenge is your company working to solve, and how are you doing it?

DataVisor’s mission is to build and restore trust in online communities and services and to protect the legitimate users of these services by finding the hidden bad users lurking within these sites before they can do any damage. 

We have accomplished this via the patent-pending DataVisor Security Analytics Engine that operates within a Spark Big Data platform that can analyze billions of events per hour and automatically discover unknown malicious campaigns early, without labels or training data.

Q.  There has been A LOT of talk about the lack of underrepresented minorities in Tech right now. How is DataVisor looking at this issue as you grow?

Being founded by woman founders, DataVisor is focused on hiring the best people regardless of their race or gender. Honestly, I really don’t think about people’s gender or race when making hiring decisions – we have a very high bar when it comes to recruiting talent due to the complexity of our solution, and so we base hiring decisions on the candidate’s capabilities as well as culture fit. We are proud to have a top-tier team made up of good percentage of both women and men.

Q.  Do you think you define your company culture differently because you are a woman founder?

DataVisor is focused on hiring the best talent to create a next-generation security solution. I certainly hope that my experience as a woman founder will encourage others like me to start companies of their own – knowing it is possible for all genders.

Q.  What is the hardest thing about being a founder of a fast growing startup? What keeps you up at night? 

Two things that Yinglian and I both possess are balance and the ability to prioritize. We realize that a startup is a marathon, and there will be ups and downs along the way. Being researchers, we tend to be highly rational and spend our time as productively as possible and not waste cycles worrying about things we cannot control or don’t help move the company toward our strategic goals.

Q.  How did you bounce back from your early failures and use those experiences to fuel your later successes?

Going through the Ph.D. program and also being researchers we realize that failure is part of the innovation process. The important thing is to learn from early failures in order to make yourself and your company better.

Q.  What have you carried from your Berkeley experience to your work in entrepreneurship?

From Berkeley, I not only gained the knowledge to become a top security researcher, but through the Ph.D. process I gained courage and skills to work on challenging problems. As a first time entrepreneur, not surprisingly, I need to solve many issues that I never met before. It’s the confidence and methods learned during the PhD that help me to learn quickly, adapt quickly and move forward quickly.

Q.  What advice would you offer Berkeley students just beginning their careers in the startup world, either as founders or as early team members?

The first advice is to work on something that you like and are passionate about. Interest is always the best driving force of great work. The second is to find a cofounder/team that you enjoy working with and you can trust. Like I said earlier, a startup is a marathon and it is easier to make decisions and keep each other going during the tough times (and there will be tough times) when you have someone to share the journey with.