Alex Cagnoni | Crain's Washington D.C.

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Alex Cagnoni

Background:  

Based in McLean, Va., Datablink is a privately held, global provider of authentication and transaction signing solutions that are used by banks and enterprises to protect millions of online users and transactions every day. Alex Cagnoni joined Datablink in 2014 when the company merged with BRToken, an internet security business Cagnoni co-founded in Brazil.

The Mistake:

[Early on at BRToken,] we didn’t take advantage of the opportunities that were ahead of us because we didn’t think we were capable, coming from an emerging market economy.

I’ve been working in the securities industry since 1998. In 2007, got together a few good partners and founded a company called BRToken in Brazil, where I’m from, that specialized in authentication and transaction signing technologies. Our main focus at that moment was internet banking customers.

Brazil, like any other emerging market economy, wasn’t free from growing criminality at that moment, so Brazilian banks were forced to spend a lot of money on internet banking portals, transactions and the security behind them. To give you an idea of what internet banking was like in Brazil at the time, you could do anything—you could wire money to anyone in Brazil or around the world, pay any type of bill, and make property tax payments. It was quite complete. Then, the criminals started to focus a lot on how to defraud and attack the banks and their customers. Our company invested in technology to protect those customers’ identities and transactions. It was a big thing at that moment, so we grew quite fast in Brazil.

About four years after our company was founded, there were national attacks of U.S. banks, where fraudsters wired more than $11 million to banks in China. The Federal Financial Institutions Examination Council recommended that the banks provide their customers with some measures to validate their transactions, which was exactly what we had been doing in Brazil for four years. When we heard about that, we thought, “Wow, this could be a great chance to grow internationally.”

Sometimes, however, when you’re part of an emerging market economy like Brazil, you have the sense that you’re behind the rest of the developed world, in terms of technology. So we said “OK, it’s not for us—it’s for bigger and better companies,” and we didn’t do anything. When we saw the big vendors doing what we were doing almost two years afterwards, we realized we’d missed out on some great opportunities outside of Brazil.

We shouldn’t have underestimated ourselves ...

The Lesson:

We shouldn’t have underestimated ourselves or the capacity of our country to create technology that could be considered best of breed in larger economies like the U.S. I now understand that countries in the developing stage can show relatively interesting and innovative technology created by their own unique social factors.

We aren’t cautionless today, but never for a moment do we think we can’t grow outside of our own comfort zones. If I felt that way in 2011, I would have hopped on a plane and made a plan to show our technology right away. We’ve since had the chance to grow internationally, and opened an office in the U.S. in 2014 [when we were acquired by Datablink]. It’s harder now because there are more companies around that world that do what we do, but we see growth potential and opportunities.

Follow Datablink on Twitter at @datablink.

​Pictured: Alex Cagnoni | Photo courtesy of Datablink.