To make the pitch for her Seattle-based startup, Yuan Karppanen poses some basic questions for our tech-enhanced world: Do you know what your home assistant is doing at your home? Do you know which services are getting your data when you browse a website? Do you know what devices or users are currently on your network?
If you answered “no” to any of these queries, Karppanen’s company UNpkl has a solution for tracking your tech devices and flow of information.
Launched in 2017, UNpkl (pronounced “un-pickle”) offers routers and software that can manage this data, blocking and unblocking devices from a customer’s system and blocking and unblocking specific sites used by the devices.
UNpkl’s technology shows real-time data traffic on a user’s network. Customers can use their own router, or UNpkl’s router; their software works on a variety of systems. Their target customers are business and industry as well as home users.
“As today’s kids are moving more and more of their entertainment activities and social interactions online, parents have been in the eternal battle of restricting the time their kids spend on the internet,” Karppanen said. “Our solution helps parents restrict their kids’ play time with a single click, and within budget.”
In the case of curbing kids’ behavior, a parent could, for example, create a list of social media sites like Facebook and Instagram and block them on devices used by the child.
CEO Karppanen co-founded UNpkl with Chief Technology Officer Yogesh Nagarkar. The two work for Microsoft and are both parents.
Nagarkar is the inventor and patent owner of UNpkl’s technology, which he was inspired to develop to help limit his son’s use of the internet. Karppanen has worked in technical product management, marketing and management consulting in the U.S., Asia and Europe. The third member of the team is Caleb Wells, who, according to Karppanen, “is an iOS developer with an artistic flair.”
UNpkl has pricing packages for business customers based on the number of devices or platforms, cloud accessibility, data analysis and other services. For residential customers, they receive a three month free trial of the service when they buy an UNpkl router, which costs $98. Subscriptions to UNpkl’s services are $1.99 or $4.99 per month, depending on the number of devices and extent of the services required.
Competitors in the business market space include Cisco Umbrella and Google Public DNS. Xfinity xFi sells a solution for home users.
“Nobody has this all in one package that we’re developing right now,” Karppanen said.
Over the next year, UNpkl will continue working on new capabilities with a focus on the enterprise market. Karppanen said they’ll be looking to raise some seed capital and want to hire some more software engineers. But they’re getting positive feedback already.
“All of the pilot customers love the solution,” Karppanen said. “We see the benefit — that they enjoy it and it makes their life better.”
Data privacy has become top-of-mind for consumers and businesses across the globe, with concerns about location tracking and how smart speakers listen to users making several headlines in the past year.
We caught up with Karppanen for this Startup Spotlight, a regular GeekWire feature. Continue reading for her answers to our questionnaire.
What does your company do? UNpkl provides you with a live data cam with our router and services, which empowers you to monitor your own data traffic and block/unblock sites with your own customized policies. UNpkl also works with enterprises and businesses to integrate our software with any platforms and original equipment manufacturer (OEM) machines for advanced access management and IoT use cases.
Inspiration hit us when: Both founders are parents, concerned about their kids spending too much time on the internet and the threats from malicious websites. It’s a problem that challenges a lot of parents and people in general as the awareness of personal data protection increases. We see a huge potential for our solution in the area of privacy protection. With our long-term vision, we make our business models flexible and adaptable to a wide range of customer segments.
VC, Angel or Bootstrap: Bootstrap has allowed us to launch and develop our product in our own terms. We are getting ready to raise our seed round after our service is live.
Our ‘secret sauce’ is: We provide the option, but leave the flexibility and power to our users to decide what they want to do with their own data traffic. Both home users and businesses can easily create policies that best meet their individual needs. We humbly listen to our customers on what additional features they want and focus our development efforts on the most requested features.
The smartest move we’ve made so far: We moved fast and pushed out our product on Apple’s iOS platform first, which enables us to get early-phase customer feedback and gauge market interest. With something tangible to demo to industries and consumers, we are able to be more convincing and credible as prime movers in the area of personal data protection.
The biggest mistake we’ve made so far: Instead of seeking external funding early, we funded the development by ourselves, which slowed down the progress and our go-to-market speed. We understand now the importance of scaling and are taking more initiatives in pitching our business ideas to investors.
Which leading entrepreneur or executive would you most want working in your corner? Computer scientist Alan Kay famously said: “People who are really serious about software should make their own hardware.” History has also confirmed Kay’s assertion, as pure software companies, such as Microsoft and Google, have become more involved in hardware design and manufacturing.
We are inspired by Alan Kay and started our cooperation with router manufacturers right from the get-go. As we expand our business to include more hardware types to our portfolio, we would really like to have a mentor like Kay to show us the direction and areas we should deepen our knowledge.
Our favorite team-building activity is: We each have a favorite activity. Due to our hectic schedules with work and family, hardly anyone gets to do things we genuinely enjoy. Therefore we use team-building opportunities to rotate our individual favorite activities. As a result, Yogesh has seriously challenged Yuan with high-intensity interval training (HIIT) workouts and Yuan has often made fun of Yogesh in a cardio dance studio.
The biggest thing we look for when hiring is: To make a diverse team, we value different perspectives our talent can bring to the table. We look for people from different backgrounds, yet with the same can-do attitude and move-fast spirit.
Our company also aims at creating flexible job opportunities for moms who want to strike a balance between career and family. Because of visa limitations, I spent two years as a stay-at-home mom after relocating to the U.S. from Finland, where I worked full-time as a management consultant. I felt the distinct challenge of women sacrificing their career for the benefit of family because of the lack of flexible opportunities in the U.S. job market. I am determined to help women in the same situation to maintain their financial independence without “feeling guilty” about working.
What’s the one piece of advice you’d give to other entrepreneurs just starting out: Belief! Believe in what you do and that it will fundamentally disrupt the world and set new norms. If you don’t believe in what you do, don’t even waste a second. If you do, put in all you have!