Making Digital Security Accessible – Benjamin Mah

Benjamin Mah is a venture-capitalist, a manpower development advisor, a national research advisor, and a serial-entrepreneur. As Co-Founder & CEO of V-Key, a Singapore-based company that provides digital security in smartphones, he is focused on making digital security accessible for anybody and everybody.

Tell me a little bit about yourself.

I’m Benjamin Mah, Co-founder and CEO of V-Key. Prior to V-Key, I’ve held senior management positions at Oracle, IBM and CA. I was involved with successful exits in two other cybersecurity companies, Encentuate Inc, a leading provider of enterprise single sign-on software that was acquired by IBM Software, as well as e-Cop, a managed security service company that was acquired by Certis Cisco.

I’ve spent most of my career spanning 20+ years in digital security. Being one of the pioneers building the industry here in Singapore, I’ve had the chance to see the industry evolve to where it is today. From a topic that used to be spoken of only amongst specialists and interest groups, today, security is something that is frequently discussed – and fiercely debated – in the public sphere.

Complementing my work in V-Key, I have taken on roles in Venture Capital, Future Manpower Development and a role as Singapore National Government Research Advisor to help shape Singapore’s place in the new realities and challenges we currently face, and will be facing in the future.

What is your business venture about?

V-Key is entirely focused on building and realising the future of digital security. Today, with mobile devices, we carry some of the most advanced technology mankind has ever produced, everywhere we go.

We use it for work and play, and we’re comfortable using our mobile devices for more than just information transactions; in 2016, we spent $620 billion through mobile payments. Seeing that this will almost double by 2020, it’s clear that we are just starting to realise the potential of this technology.

Security will play a fundamental role in unlocking all technology and innovation, by ensuring that people can thrive in the digital realm securely, and with confidence.

This is why we’ve developed the world’s first virtual secure element. We’re changing paradigms about how software can be as secure as hardware security elements (and in many ways, more secure). While our product is built on sophisticated technology, we designed it to be accessible to just about anyone. Security should be effortless and seamless, and most of all, inclusive.

What is your mission at the outset?

Essentially, we want to provide digital security for anybody and everybody. We built the V-OS Trust Platform, comprising products that provide the highest grade of digital identity, authentication and authorization for our customers.

How did you get your idea or concept for the business?

The initial idea came from spending a lot of time mulling over how technology had outpaced humanity’s ability to securely access the fruits of technology. High-grade security was accessible only to a select few, people I call “the smart, the rich, and the fast”.

These people had access to incredibly complex and prohibitively expensive security products. Consider that the cost of ownership for Apple’s most advanced iPhone is twice the average monthly wage in Indonesia. That’s not something a father of a small family can afford.

Modern security technology of today requires one to be heavily burdened by complex passwords, and there is a need for speed in completing an OTP transaction. Unfortunately, these obstacles have left those who are not as savvy, not as well-off, and not as able to process the many steps in the authentication process far behind.

We built V-OS as the solution to that; ensuring that digital security is consumed seamlessly with convenience and simplicity for everyone.

What is unique about your business?

When I started V-Key I was determined to approach security with a different lens. While many companies in my industry approach the market by creating a climate of fear and intimidation, I wanted to demonstrate that security can and must be seen from a perspective of optimism and enablement with the user in mind. Security is the basis for harnessing and driving innovation, and not preventing it.

We believe in the promise of security, which will shape our conversations around technology to be more inclusive and accessible. This is the culture we embrace in our company, and in our approach toward designing our products and solutions.

Who do you sell to and how do you get customers? 

Today, we are the deep tech that’s powering the transactions for international and regional organisations. Our security solutions are on more than 30 million devices today, supporting customers of banks and government agencies. We have key partners such as DBS, Singapore Government, and Ant Financial.

Why will customers stay or do repeat business with you?

The feedback that we hear from our customers is that they are impressed with how robust and resilient our products are, having overcome penetration testing from world leading agencies.

Most of all, they find our perspective on security refreshing, and in many ways aligned with their organisation’s vision of inclusiveness.

My team and I take ownership over the products we have built; it’s our life’s work, and it has come with decades of experience in security and innovation. As a testament to that, members of my senior management team are highly sought-after for our opinions on all matters pertaining to digital security, and its role in deciding the future of technology.

What have been the biggest obstacles? 

In our go-to-market efforts, we’ve had to spend immense resources and effort to educate our target market, as well as peers in the industry. You’ll be surprised at how resistant opinions are when it comes to seeing security as enabler.

This is work that we expected from the outset. We’ve taken it on ourselves to share the values we embrace, values that are more relevant than ever in the face of the new realities humanity faces today. Time is not on our side, however, as the pace of change accelerates even more.

If you had one piece of advice to someone just starting out, what would it be?

Be entirely focused on building the best team you can, to make your vision a reality.

Do you have any final thoughts?

2017 is set to be the most exciting year for V-Key yet. I’m immensely proud of the team for the work we’ve done to date, to bring us to where we are. We are today poised to move forward to the global arena. With that in mind, I have set ambitious targets for the team going forward. We’re far from done, because I know that there’s so much more that we can accomplish with the ground-breaking technology we have.

Who is your biggest inspiration or drive to do what you are doing?

I’ve always been driven by the vision of making an impact with innovation. I believe the biggest challenge to technology today is that of inclusiveness, where people – regardless of where they come from, who they are, or what means they have – should be able to access technology that can improve their lives. That’s the essence of disruption, and it’s what my team and I strive to realise every day.

What’s next for you and for V-Key?

We’ve spent the past seven years developing a breakthrough product, and we’ve been emboldened by the validation and traction we’ve seen with our clients locally and around the world. The next step is to take our technology to the world. Keep an eye out for us!

On a more personal note, I’m also deeply involved in various roles for Future Manpower Development in Singapore. I’m hoping to share my insight, to help steer the direction for crucial decisions in charting the course to nurture Singaporean talent.

Chia Hock Lai

Chia Hock Lai

Chia Hock Lai is passionate about how technology is disrupting the way financial services are being delivered to consumers and businesses, and in the process making the financial system more efficient and inclusive.

Hock Lai has 18 years of experience in the financial industry, having performed roles in both business and technology. He graduated from the National University of Singapore (Real Estate), Nanyang Technological University (Infocomm Technology) and Nanyang Polytechnic (Fund Management & Administration).

He is also a Fellow of the Singapore University of Social Science, advisor to FinTech Startups and mentor to student FinTech projects.
Chia Hock Lai
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