"We are only at the very beginning of our data security problems"

Interview with Bill Aulet, MIT's Director of Entrepreneurship


Bill Aulet is an entrepreneur, educator, speaker, and author of the best-selling Disciplined Entrepreneurship. Since 2009, he has served as the managing director of the Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship as well as a senior lecturer at the MIT Sloan School of Management. We sat down with Bill to discuss the many challenges and rewards of entrepreneurship, cyber security, and the future of data.

Silent Breach: Thank you for joining us today. Letís begin by discussing a very basic, yet crucial question that sits at the center of your work at MIT. Mr. Aulet, what is an entrepreneur?
Bill Aulet: An entrepreneur is someone who has the spirit to be different. If all the fish are swimming one way, the entrepreneur is willing to swim against them; theyíre excited to swim against them. In doing so, however, they enter a world of imperfect information, where thereís lots of failure and chaos involved. So, they need to have the skills to execute against that. What we try to teach people at MIT is how to be anti-fragile human beings. To be able not just to survive but to thrive in a world full of chaos.

SB: Some of the biggest names in entrepreneurship Ė people like Gates, Jobs, Musk, Zuckerberg Ė are college dropouts. Many of them are known for their distinctly undisciplined style of management. What makes you think that entrepreneurship is something that can be taught?
BA: When we look at all the data, we find out that those kinds of entrepreneurs are often outliers, and certainly the stories about them are outliers. What the data shows, first of all, is that the more times someone is an entrepreneur, the more likely they are to be successful. So, for instance myself, my first startup was not successful. My second one successful. My third one was very successful. And in that process, I got better at it. And thatís not just me, the data shows that anyone can learn to be a better entrepreneur.

If you look at the results of MIT, in that square mile, people who go through there produce companies at prolific rates. The number of companies is now well over 30,000. The number of employees is in the millions. The annual revenue produced by companies that exist today that were started by MIT people who are still alive is almost 2 trillion dollars. That would make it the 10th biggest GDP in the world. When you look at the results of our programs, over 75% of those people are still in business 5 years down the line. This idea that it cannot be taught is just crazy, and I think that people are really discarding that view.

SB: What advice would you give to students today who are interested in becoming entrepreneurs?
BA: Do it. Do it now. If you want to be an entrepreneur, donít think about which job makes more money today. Think about which job gives me skills that will allow me to be a robust entrepreneur going forward.

But there is no better way to test your mettle than to go out and start your own company. One of the greatest challenges is to see whether you can fight the battle and deal with this amorphous world full of ups and downs. So, start a company when youíre young. If it fails, thatís okay. Itís like playing a sport; you have to get on the court. You canít just sit and watch it and talk about it, you have to get on the court.

At the same time, itís so important to have a community around you when you start out. This idea of solo founders flying on their own is not true. Entrepreneurship is not an individual sport, itís a team sport. Good communities make good entrepreneurs.

SB: Cyber security and user privacy remain hot-button topics. Do you think that the industry is experiencing a cultural shift in this regard? What steps would you recommend to entrepreneurs who are concerned with the security and integrity of their data?
BA: We are only at the very beginning of our data security problems. Cambridge Analytica is not just a blip on the screen. Itís just the tip of the iceberg. Thereís a book by Mark Goodman called Future Crimes that demonstrates just how unbelievably scary everything that is going on today in regard to data. And itís only just begun.

The world in 2019 is going to produce more data than the entire history of mankind before 2019. And it will be the same thing for 2020.

The people who will win in the future will be the people who can utilize that data. I hope that the data will be used for positive things, but as you can read in Future Crimes, it is often exploited for bad purposes. In either case, the data is there. The data needs to be protected not just by regulations, but by technology. This is the future. I donít know how to be any clearer than that.

What we are seeing now is only the tip of the iceberg and itís only going to get exponentially more important. I cannot overstate how important it is.

SB: Thatís all the time we have today, but we look forward to welcoming you back to Silent Breach soon!
BA: Looking forward!


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