In May 16, 1980, CIA operative David Rolph met KGB Maj. Victor Sheymov in a back alley in Moscow, then smuggled him, his wife and daughter out of the country so they could defect to the U.S. Twenty-one years later, Rolph—along with a former CIA director and America’s largest insurer—is again aiding Sheymov, this time with the marketing of his Internet security firm, Invicta Networks Inc.
Founded last year by Sheymov, Invicta Networks has recently signed on an impressive cast of marketers, board members and corporate partners, personnel that your average start-up CEO might betray his country for. They include R. James Woolsey, former CIA director, who joined Herndon, Va.-based Invicta as a board member, and American International Group Inc., the world’s largest insurer, which is marketing Invicta to its clients.
Moving from 20th century détente to cyberspace, Invicta’s team has begun a marketing rollout for its Variable Cyber Coordinates platform, software intended to make corporate Web sites impenetrable against hackers.
Sheymov claims his system can not only provide real-time detection and protection against all overt intrusion attempts, both internal and external, but also against those of a more cloak-and-dagger nature. "The deadly ones," said Sheymov, who oversaw all the KGB’s encrypted overseas communications, "are those quietly hacking into the system."
Invicta’s platform has received good reviews for its effectiveness. But much of its early success stems from the celebrity of its founder and those joining him.
Among them is Rolph, a 20-plus-year CIA operations vet, former chief of the agency’s Moscow station, and now Invicta’s VP-international business development. A lawyer by trade, Rolph joined Invicta a year ago, spending his first months on housekeeping tasks such as setting up a company pension program. Since then he’s taken responsibility for Invicta’s non-U.S. sales, a job he said his spying life prepared him for.
"We had to do a lot of cajoling and assessing of people," Rolph said.
Also good background for the job was his past fieldwork in countries including Singapore, Japan, Bosnia and the former Soviet Union, plus his knowledge of several foreign languages.
Also aiding Invicta is Rolph’s old boss, Woolsey, who headed the CIA between 1993 and 1995 and is now a board member of the start-up.
At a recent event showcasing Invicta at the National Press Club in Washington, according to Reuters, Woolsey said Variable Cyber Coordinates was an "absolutely remarkable achievement," and that "it just approaches this from a completely different direction that everybody else."
Such hyperbole from start-up executives is everyday stuff. Coming from Woolsey, however, it carries a great deal more marketing cachet.
While Rolph’s and Woolsey’s assistance gives Invicta a head start, lots of tech start-ups have had a rough time, despite heavy-hitting board members and executives. Invicta’s greatest marketing weapon is far less sexy but more powerful: its ally, AIG.
The New York-based insurance giant, known for its aggressive overseas marketing and access to America’s corporate boardrooms, is offering business clients that use Invicta’s technology a 10% discount on insurance policies. It’s an unusual move for AIG, and one that could give Invicta an entree to decision-makers it probably wouldn’t get otherwise.
"Their technology was different than anything we’ve seen, in that it hides the IP address," said Ty R. Sagalow, COO of AIG’s e-business risks division. "That’s something that no other company has done that we’re aware of. From an insurance perspective, it potentially has tremendous benefits."
AIG will market Invicta’s platform at global insurance conferences and through its brokerage base, Sagalow said.