Mako making international inroads

By Alexander Speirs

Bill Farmer, CEO of Mako Networks in Albany. Photo / NZH
Bill Farmer, CEO of Mako Networks in Albany. Photo / NZH

Mako Networks chief executive Bill Farmer is adamant the philosophy behind the company's significant innovations isn't typical of a New Zealand firm with a "Number-8 wire mentality".

Mako Networks is fast becoming internationally recognised for its cloud-based cyber security systems. But says Farmer, every single element of what has been done "has followed a set innovation process founded upon a cross-departmental development system that saw significant input from every department of the business".

Orginally YellowTuna Networks, the business began in 2000 when two former Xtra employees, Chris Massam and Simon Gamble, spotted an opportunity to provide managed firewalls to small businesses. At the time they worked for Xtra, there were only 4000 business broadband customers. But the pair "were very aware and had an acute understanding of security issues associated with broadband," says Farmer.

In 2003, YellowTuna brought on Farmer as CEO, rebranded as Mako Networks (it was decided a more aggressive moniker was needed and management settled on the mako shark) and entered a new phase.

Their proprietary network technology was brought to market, with great success. Among the first clients to implement the Mako system were Telecom and the Ministry of Health.

Now Mako Networks is a truly global company operating international offices in London and San Francisco, and working with partnership companies elsewhere. The United States credit card market is the current primary focus. International recognition is growing: Mako picked up the Security Innovation of the Year award at the 2012 UK Digital Entrepreneur Awards.

"None of this would have been possible without that initial innovation," explains Farmer. He said the process began by sitting around a table and posing the question "What could be done differently?"

When Farmer came on board, YellowTuna was operating as a traditional small-site networking company, providing managed firewalls to small businesses. "Small businesses had very little understanding of networking and security at this time ... but it was an extremely inefficient way to do business." The solution to addressing the inefficiencies identified was to centralise the management of these networks and use computers to automate a number of time-intensive processes - a largely "common-sense approach".

Mako developed the technology to make this with a Cloud-based solution. The product offers enterprise- level network management for businesses at a fraction of the cost. It does this by taking the management off-site to Mako using a patented communications protocol developed in-house.

The technology developed uses this communications method to securely connect businesses between sites or to the internet and Mako's Central Management System.

The security of the system is industry leading and enabled Mako in 2009 to gain PCI DSS certification, the highest standard for credit card data security globally. Mako was the first end-user provider to gain this certification and it opened significant opportunity for them internationally.

"An important part of the innovation process is knowing the right time to terminate a project," said Farmer, explaining that this process had to be done before they had the potential to negatively impact upon a business.

The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment has invested more than $5.1 million into Mako's research and development since 2009 MBIE's commitment is reciprocated. "It's important to Mako that we keep our R&D based in New Zealand," says Farmer. "Keeping those facilities in Auckland meant the domestic technical skill base would grow and more talented New Zealanders could be kept here."

Farmer sees Mako continuing its rapid growth trajectory, adding "we hope to be a company with revenues in the hundred of millions of dollars within the next few years".

- NZ Herald

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