Earlier this month WashingtonExec had the pleasure of interviewing Alan Snyder, founder and CEO of BoxTone, Inc.. Snyder, a 2011 E&Y Entrepreneur of the Year (Maryland) winner and frequent DC panelist on mobile technology, spoke with WashingtonExec about the thrills of “creating something from nothing” as well as where he sees BoxTone headed in the next couple years.
We also asked Snyder if he thought small businesses had an advantage in the federal mobility marketplace, where he draws the line between security and accessibility, as well as his outlook on the technology life-span of mobility.
WashingtonExec: Could you tell us a little about your background and what made you want to start BoxTone.
Alan Snyder: My background has always been technology and entrepreneurial focus– even when I was in high school. I interned at the Army writing computer simulations and then continued through college. Early on I started a company with some other folks, built it up and later sold it. When looking at BoxTone what was exciting to me was the opportunity to create something from nothing which is what I believe entrepreneurism really is. Even now, with hundreds of large enterprise and government clients and millions in revenue, BoxTone is only just at the very early stages of the impact that it is going to have on the market. To me, BoxTone is a real opportunity to make a profound difference in terms of building a company and just what we could do in the market to support mobility and help it grow and to help people have a really good experience when they are deploying and using mobile devices. Fundamentally what BoxTone does is we make mobility run better and that is by securing devices like iPhone, iPad and Android, configuring and deploying devices and then making sure that folks can support them once they are deployed.
“Our view on mobility is that it is every bit as big, probably bigger and as profound if not more so than the internet wave.”
WashingtonExec: What made you want to start your company in DC and not a more historical entrepreneur area like Silicon Valley?
Alan Snyder: There are a couple of things; one is I am from the local area in Maryland, I have a natural proclivity for the East Coast. When you also look at the history of this market in terms of the strong telco background with companies such as MCI and AOL, there is a pretty significant base of talent. In fact I run a local group for mobility CEO’s in the area and there are some 23 of us that participate and get together on a quarterly basis. A big part of what we do is security so in the local area due to the government– there is a very strong talent pool for security, and a very strong talent pool for telecommunications and mobile.
WashingtonExec: Where do you see your company in three years? Is mobility still going to be around or is there going to be a new hot buzz word?
Alan Snyder: Our view on mobility is that it is every bit as big, probably bigger and as profound if not more so than the internet wave. It’s the next big technology wave and so I firmly believe that we are at the very, very beginning stages of mobility as a technology platform, as a delivery vehicle, as the way that people interact with information. We see this as the early stages of probably a ten-year technology wave and span. Our biggest challenge as a company is that there are so many things that need to be solved in the mobile space – from security to service quality, from configuring devices and managing device diversity – all of these things have never been done before. It is a green field opportunity.
WashingtonExec: Do you think that start-ups or smaller companies, when compared to larger businesses, have an advantage in federal contracting when it comes to mobile?
Alan Snyder: I do think that we have an advantage. It’s partly because of the agility required in mobility. The mobile market is moving so quickly and we have the ability to adapt and change much more rapidly because the sales team is closer to the engineering team. We’ll tend to pick up on trends more quickly. The biggest advantage actually comes from the fact that we’ve been involved with mobility from the very early stages and so I have a team from top to bottom that really understands mobility. They really understand the customer and the challenges. They really understand where mobility is going and how it evolves, what the right thing to do in terms of putting together a solution and that makes a huge difference. It is a really, really complicated problem but also exciting because of the leverage and the potential to actually change the way you interact with government, to change the way you interact with your organization to make things massively more efficient is transformational, just like I said the internet wave was. The mobile wave is every bit as profound.
WashingtonExec: At a mobility panel that you spoke at, one of the panelists said that entrepreneurs tend to think “technology first and security second,” whereas government executives tend to think the opposite. Where do you see the balance between privacy security and public accessibility?
Alan Snyder: I would argue that neither of those is correct. In our view and this is the way BoxTone approaches the problem – it is the user first, not technology and not security. It’s the user. To me, if you’re user-centric and you understand this is who the user is and what they are trying to do then you are able to understand how to balance security requirements with usability requirements. Anyone that is a user of mobile banking has a reasonable expectation, that when they do mobile banking that it is going to be secure and no one is going to steal their identity and no one is going to steal their bank account information. If you’re in an enterprise or in a government agency and you have high security requirements then that’s who you are as a user. That’s going to be different from an agency that maybe isn’t in the security space, or doing National Defense or Homeland Security but is maybe doing something that is important but not as security conscious. Our view is to first focus on the user and if you focus on the user then the rest of it will flow from there in terms of the security requirements, the usability, what’s the right platform, what’s the right approach.
WashingtonExec: What is something that most people might not know about you?
Alan Snyder: That would probably be that I am an avid boater. As much as I like technology I also enjoy getting out on the Chesapeake Bay in the boat I have along with my family – so water sports are a big part of the summer. I am looking forward to the summer and looking forward to skiing and sailing and doing some tubing as well.
WashingtonExec: What was your first job?
Alan Snyder: My absolute first job was cutting grass in my neighborhood. My first official job, where I got an official printed paycheck, was clearing tables at a restaurant.
WashingtonExec: How did you like it?
Alan Snyder: You know I really enjoyed it because the restaurant also had a catering business. Everything was different and new; you had to set up and figure out the best place to locate the food or the bar for the best flow. In essence you got to go work a party which – even though I wasn’t participating in the party – it was still quite interesting.