Bahrain company is taking on Silicon Valley

Gulf Insider meets Mirza Asrar Baig, founder and CEO of CTM360, to talk about his plans, ambitions, and latest project – EDX Labs.

What is your ambition?
For world class technologies to be developed in the Arab World and be adopted globally. I want international companies that create tech for the world to start coming from this region. There is a mindset in this part of the world, that it is easier to trade, so why go through all the trouble to invent things? Building technology platforms locally is considered an unrealistic challenge. Previously, there were many times when I was told: “Why are you building it here? Do it in the US where more people will value what you do and adopt it”. Even during my earlier startups, I was repeatedly advised to just brand in the U.S, because we could still sell it here. No, I don’t want to just brand it here; I want to develop it here too. It is not about making money but more about making a difference, making an impact. Fortunately, the current wave of tech startups now encouraged by regional governments is helping but almost all of them are either replicas or nearby look-alikes of some global player and intended to serve the regional markets only.

Why did you choose to base your operations in Bahrain?
I am in Bahrain because the government here is ahead of the game. The ecosystem still requires a lot of legal frameworks, policies, and procedures, which can provide innovators with the right set of rules and regulations. Bahrain is still at the forefront of this. For example, some countries that are framing their regulations say that the data of the country cannot be held outside of the country; this then stagnates their technology companies and businesses because they can’t use cloud computing which provides exponential computing power at a very low price. When you take that away from companies you are restricting their potential for growth and advancement. We should rather come up with ways to leverage the cloud. That’s what governments need to do and this will undoubtedly stimulate the technology sector. Bahrain’s government recognized this and embraced it at a very early stage.

So what’s your strategy?
Our motto is “We are not here to become machines; we are here to build machines” and we infuse this message regularly with discussions on how great companies scale to acquire customers across the globe. By leveraging technologies and systems, we are building powerful machines relevant to our space. For example, we are currently acquiring and analyzing large volumes of data from across the internet and will soon publish global statistics in specific areas not done by anyone before; a world-first. I also make it a point of hiring young and fresh minds because they have a passion to prove themselves. Collectively, such actions help build resilience to shrug off critics who question why an international company will use technology invented in Bahrain, or why we dare to think a Bahraini company can compete with Silicon Valley.

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What are the biggest lessons you learned?
My biggest lessons are about human beings. How people lack the belief in themselves. You sit there saying you could do this, or do that – so why don’t you? We need to believe in ourselves in order to succeed. Another lesson is that technology right now is being built by putting in too much money, whereas it could be done more efficiently. Yes, it takes time, it takes money, but nowhere near how much most companies spend. If you compare our organization to other international companies, we are operating very inexpensively. There are companies who spend many millions of dollars doing exactly what we are doing. This means we can do things much more efficiently.

Tell us about the companies you are currently running?
We have established 5 companies now. We have CTM360 from which we extracted the EDX Labs component. CTM360 is a cybersecurity department that works in the cloud. Most companies just give you a part of their service in the cloud, not the whole of it because they think it is easier to secure what is not cloudbased. We are comprehensive and serve as an organization’s whole cyber security department. Then we have DMARC360, which provides end-to-end mail delivery, security and intelligence services based on the global framework of DMARC. We have also been Penetration Testing for over 20 years and managed year-long projects while partnering with vendors across the world who brought their consultants to the Middle East. Pentesting is typically done once or twice a year. But that, I think, is not the right way to do it because technology evolves so fast. We have a concept where you can do pentesting every day, and that is PENTEST360. Lastly, we also have MG360 which interacts with banks and merchants to handle their security requirements. We already have contracts with severabanks and are now also expanding to include merchants. We hope to use this platform across the Arab world and beyond. MG360 and PENTEST360 are our own concepts which no one else has done yet. In these two concepts, we are world leaders. All of these technology companies are purely built in-house by EDX Labs, the engine powering each innovation.

What about your latest project, EDX Labs?
EDX Labs will help to grow an efficient and economic tech development environment in this region. It is about looking at any business and bringing in BE3, which is to take out 3 B’s from a business and bring in 3 E’s. You take out branches, brokers, and borders and your business model will certainly grow – but it has to be complimented by bringing in the 3 E’s which are efficiency, economy, and equality. Theory is easy but execution is difficult. We ourselves are doing the same within our own companies. Once achieved, good companies rapidly become great companies.

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How do you achieve it?
One example is leveraging the cloud. Another is to focus on acquiring and managing Big Data. Through data alone,EDX Labs is implementing machine learning and artificial intelligence to disrupt the cyber security industry for CTM360. One clear goal is to bring the price down; there are few companies in this line of business right now and their services are expensive. Market dynamics force these vendors to keep their prices high. Ultimately, the biggest challenge will not be people or customers, but competitors who will not be happy about our approach. We want to economize and do things in a manner where we give great value for less price. Overall, EDX Labs will continue to create innovative technologies that are game-changers to serve global markets.

Your family is involved with you in this – have they always been interested in the business?
My most difficult decision was in 2014, to give up a security system integrator business worth millions to focus on technology development. My wife Shahnaz was the most supportive in that decision. She encouraged me to take the leap of faith. Frankly, she has been the most important sounding board for my technology ideas and business strategies. I was also very lucky when it came to my daughter Sana and my son-in-law Arsalan who both gave up their lucrative careers in Dubai to join in my leap of faith. My elder son Abdullah delayed his Master’s degree, and younger Yousef came back from Canada after completing his Bachelor’s Degree, all to join forces to make this dream come true. Maybe because they have all been watching me struggle in developing world-class technologies that it infused the same passion and resilience in them. This definitely gave me a boost to manage the challenge.

CTM360 was recently awarded “Technology Company of the Year” at the MEED Awards in Dubai, UAE.
CTM360 was accepted as a full member of the Forum of Incident Response & Security Teams (FIRST). The very first privately held company from Bahrain and the Middle East to be accepted.
CTM360 is the only Middle Eastern cyber security company to be rated as one of the top 14 Digital Risk Protection Companies in the world by a Top-Tier Global Research Company.