Founders in Focus: Matthew Gregory of Ockam

Welcome to the inaugural post in our Founders in Focus series! Each month we’ll highlight one of the founders of Okta Ventures’ portfolio companies. You’ll get to know more about them and learn how they work with Okta. This month we’re speaking with Matthew Gregory, founder of Ockam.

What is Ockam and what is your mission?

Ockam is a tool company. Our open-source developer tools make it simple to send trustful end-to-end encrypted messages between connected devices.

Our mission is to empower millions of builders. Even though we are a “deep tech” company, our mission is people-centric. We’re building a community of developers to solve the tough technical problems in device identity, connectivity, and secure messaging.

What were you doing prior to Ockam that led you to this moment?

I’ve been a builder my whole life. After graduating from the University of Michigan’s School of Engineering, I built instrumentation systems for America’s Cup boats. I moved to Silicon Valley and pivoted to building tools for builders, my first tool being an API for weather data. API as a business model was a brand-new thing.

Then I landed at Heroku, where I learned the craft of code. Most people don’t think of beautiful design when they think of code, but Heroku nailed that virtue. I also learned about building ecosystems of tool companies.

When I went to Microsoft, Satya was transitioning ‘Windows Azure’ into an open-source infrastructure platform. It was such a crazy thing for them to recruit me, I had to say yes. It seemed preposterous that they’d build partnerships with the open-source community. I stayed for three years to help build and deploy products through partnerships with open-source developer tool companies like GitHub, Mesosphere, Docker, and the Jenkins foundation.

Having always wanted to start an engineering-centric company, I took time off after my sailing career to get an MBA. I ruminated on the instrumentation and software solutions I built in the early 2000s and reimagined them in a post-cloud world. The Internet of Things (IoT) wasn’t a thing yet, so we had to build the technical stack ourselves, which is how modern tech stacks are built—particularly from an open-source-first ideology.

What is Ockam’s solution? What challenge does it solve?

As I previously hinted, Ockam’s solution is a ‘mashup’ from my past experiences. Anecdotally I knew that consumer IoT is a debacle in terms of privacy and security. Industrial and enterprise IoT is equally messy. If we’re going to integrate cloud services to control devices or rely on sensors to make decisions in cloud applications, we need to figure out how to establish trust between the cloud and these devices.

Our solution focuses on four key elements that are critical to a trusted system of distributed applications and devices.

  1. We create cryptographic identifiers that live in hardware. This means that when an app in a piece of hardware generates data, another app running in a different device can know where the data originated.
  2. We use cryptographic protocols to establish trusted channels for devices to connect to each other.
  3. We enable devices and applications to send end-to-end encrypted messages to each other.
  4. We provide interfaces that allow any piece of hardware or any cloud service to connect to our protocols.

One of our core values at Ockam is that developers love their tools. We give developers simple and beautiful APIs, allowing them to build trustful connected systems—without understanding the complexities of the underlying technology.

But that doesn’t mean the technology isn’t excellent. Because our entire code base is open source, a security team of experts can audit, test, and pick apart every detail and design choice in the Ockam protocol.

It’s the best of both worlds: Ockam is simple to use and, if you are inclined, it’s transparent to understand.

Why did Ockam want to work with Okta?

The root problem with interoperability between devices is identity. To trust data that moves to and from the edge, you need to be certain that you’re receiving messages from a device or app you can trust. Cryptographic identifiers, where a private key is generated inside of hardware, give devices a self-sovereign identity. This is critical to secure connections between the edge and the cloud.

As Okta is a leader in enterprise-scale identity and trust, we want to help extend the cloud-based IAM and RBAC (role-based access control) tools they provide to the edge.

But there’s more to it than just a technology partnership here; Okta sees the world through the same lens that we do here at Ockam. Trust is core to our ethos. We both love developers and are passionate about building open ecosystems.

How is Ockam working with Okta? What support do you look for in a corporate partner?

Ockam’s code base is available under an Apache 2 open-source license. We make it easy to add cryptographic identifiers to devices and send trusted messages between the cloud and the edge. For builders of distributed systems, the problem we solve is one that is acute and wide-scale. We intentionally designed Ockam’s code to interface with other codebases. Because we’re open-source software, anyone can build an integration with us—including Okta.

There are certain integrations that are foundational for Ockam. Okta solves the IAM and RBAC layers of a solution stack, so they make a natural partner for us. This is why Okta is one of our first integration partners.

What trends do you expect to see in the data privacy industry?

I think the entire world of data is about to be turned upside down. It’s staggering how much data we freely give away. One of the core benefits in the creation of a self-sovereign identifier is the ability to retain custody of data. The holder of a key would be the only person to unlock the contents of a piece of data. When another app needs it , the owner can grant permission for access. You can see pretty quickly how identifiers, custody of data, IAM, and RBAC are on a collision course. Changing the data ownership model will radically change the tools through which we secure data.

Interested in joining Okta Ventures? Check out our FAQ here and feel free to reach out to our team or submit your business for review.