Betamore startup Riskive sees unmet need protecting social media accounts

Anyone active in online social networking has likely received one: A message from someone who clicked on the wrong link, flooding friends' inboxes or feeds with more links about weight loss drugs or shocking photos.

Or you might remember that time Burger King's Twitter account got hacked — sharing messages like "We got sold to McDonald's!" and changing its avatar to its competitor's golden arches.


Baltimore startup Riskive wants to be for victims of social media cyber-pranks what antivirus software and email spam filters once were for the average Internet user. It has launched a free guard service for individuals, and offers fee-based packages for parents to protect their kids and for companies to protect corporate accounts.

The concept and eight months of quick growth have landed the company a host of tech industry honors and $2.2 million from prominent local and regional investors. James C. Foster, Riskive's co-founder and CEO, wants to ride the momentum into being the next local tech success to go public — and investors are behind him.


"We feel like they're really solving a huge problem," said David Horowitz, a partner with Genacast Ventures, the Comcast-backed firm that led the investment in Riskive. "Just like great companies built when email first came out or when laptops first came out, we think there's a similar phenomenon happening with social media."

The company's product, FriendGuard, assesses a user's vulnerability to attack by analyzing social connections and messages. It alerts the user via email, text message and/or Facebook message, for example, if he or she receives a spam link or virus. It also issues a warning if a certain social connection is likely to send spam.

Riskive has already found demand — users have signed up 7 million accounts for FriendGuard since a soft launch that started in June, Foster said. A sixth of the world's population uses social media, according to Foster, and 70 percent of that group has two or more accounts.

Investors say the size of that potential market was attractive, but so was the team behind the concept. Foster's last role before founding Riskive was as CEO of Ciphent Inc., a Hanover-based information security company that grew to reach No. 16 on Inc. magazine's list of the fastest-growing private companies in the country. Ciphent sold to Denver-based Accuvant in 2010.

During the dot-com boom of the early 2000s, Foster was employee No. 3 at Silicon Valley information security company Foundstone, bought by McAfee in 2004. He also worked at Guardent, a Boston-area security company that sold for $140 million to VeriSign in 2003.

Riskive is drawing attention not just from investors but also from the local tech community with a pair of recent honors. At less than six months old, Riskive was named the Maryland Incubator Company of the Year in June, and then last month it was chosen from a group of 350 companies as the top startup at TechBUZZ, a showcase held by the Mid-Atlantic Venture Association.

"I think [Riskive] has a great future mainly because of the space they're in and the people they have," said Frank Bonsal, co-founder of the regional venture capital giant New Enterprise Associates.

Bonsal was joined by other local angel investors who, Foster said, all helped connect the company with the "smart money" he was looking for. Core Capital, which recently had a winning investment in the $2.7 billion sale of Sourcefire to Cisco Systems, invested the $2.2 million in Riskive along with Genacast and several others.


"If you find any one of the right 10 people, they'll introduce you to the other nine," Foster said.

Greg Cangialosi, who founded and sold the Baltimore email marketing company Blue Sky Factory, said that "serendipity" is the mission of Betamore, the Federal Hill business accelerator he founded, and where Riskive is based.

The Riskive deal was struck within 30 days of making the connections. It closed within 21/2 months of the initial meetings, quick for an investment deal, and particularly one so large. A typical round of "seed" capital to get a startup going is usually more in the range of a few hundred thousand dollars.

Foster said Riskive is committed to staying in Baltimore, thanks in part to that community, but also because of the pool of cybersecurity-trained workers here, which he said is larger than that of Silicon Valley.

Nearly all of Riskive's 20 employees are working to build up the company's technology and products. Interviewees and employees have come from California, New York, Boston and Austin, Foster said.

The company takes up nearly half of Betamore's 48 work spaces. With another person or two joining each week, Foster said, the company will have to move in the not too distant future. He plans to find space in or near Federal Hill.


But he said identifying the right minds remains a challenge.

"For us it will always be a factor of, 'Can we find the right people?'" Foster said. "The question we always ask is, 'What's your hobby?'" Foster said. "If your answer isn't 'code,' you probably won't mesh with us."