Why CEO Haroon Meer of developer darling Thinkst Canary is not straying from the 'stupidest product out there' during a tech downturn

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Why CEO Haroon Meer of developer darling Thinkst Canary is not straying from the 'stupidest product out there' during a tech downturn
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Why CEO Haroon Meer of developer darling Thinkst Canary is not straying from the 'stupidest product out there' during a tech downturn
Haroon Meer is the CEO of Thinkst Canary.Haroon Meer
  • Thinkst is the 33-person cybersecurity company behind Canary, an industry-standard developer tool.
  • CEO Haroon Meer tells Insider how the firm maintains its "product-first" focus.
  • The cybersecurity industry suffers from a complexity problem, Meer says.

Canary, a cybersecurity tool for software developers, has emerged as something of a standard in the information-security industry, driving an $11 million-a-year business.

Thinkst is the company behind this tool. Haroon Meer started Thinkst after his decades-long stint as a penetration tester, someone who simulates cyberattacks to point out vulnerabilities in their client's security systems. The results he found were sobering: Companies would spend "millions on security, yet won't know they've been breached," he told Insider.

Canary attracts over 3 million users to its free product and customers in the Fortune 500 to its paid product, the company says. That success is made more notable by the fact that Thinkst is a small company in an industry dominated by giants like Cisco and Microsoft. Based in South Africa, Thinkst is fully bootstrapped, meaning that it's never taken a dime of venture capital, even as VCs pumped billions into the cybersecurity industry in 2021. The startup received a $130,000 of grant from the Open Technology Fund in 2013.

When Insider spoke with Meer last year, he seemed to be a bit of an outlier, especially since VCs and startups alike were boasting high valuations and record amounts of funding. Now that tech is in a downturn, and companies are raising money at half or even one-third of their valuations, Meer said he refused to lose focus in what he described as a "product-first company."

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Meer, after decades as a penetration tester, saw how complexity ended up tripping software up. His solution was then to make a security system so simple anyone can implement it.

"To be honest, I think we are the stupidest product out there," Meer said."We are super simple, and we work. In part, that's what security needs — you need building blocks that you can rely on."

Canary allows a customer to set up its namesake "canaries" — software designed to send an alert when a specific cyberthreat is detected. Those canaries can sit on computer networks, servers, and routers indefinitely. When an attacker tries to break in, the canaries are immediately set off to notify customers.

Meer said Canary was pretty rudimentary but that it became apparent early on in the product's existence that it would become Thinkst's flagship and most popular product.

The company has grown from 25 to 33 employees, but its client base has more than doubled. Yet Meer said the firm's focused headcount and purpose drove its success.

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"I can totally understand why so many people hate security software, like, it gets in your way. It doesn't really do the job. It leaves you confused," Meer said. "What we were and now are still conscious of is making sure that our product is practical and that anything the customer doesn't like can be switched off."

The result, Meer said, is a company thriving on its own terms by focusing on building a single useful tool that does exactly what it says it will do, nothing more and nothing less.

"Especially last year, as our company grew, people — from clients to other security firms — were pressuring us to put out new stuff because new features and new products are how the industry measures growth," Meer said. "But it takes courage to not just push out new stuff for the sake of seeming like you are moving forward."

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