Portland security executive Joan Pepin is leaving the conventions of corporate life to forge her own path in information security entrepreneurship. In late September she stepped down from her post as chief security officer at Seattle-based Auth0 to launch her own startup.
I sat down with Pepin to learn more about her semi-stealth solo venture, ZeroWall.io, a company she founded in early November. In late November, she closed an initial $2 million seed round with a $12 million valuation.
She is now looking to put that funding to work by building her team to bring her vision to life.
Since the company is still early, she isn’t offering too many details on its technology but she describes the mission as “to help companies secure their data — both for their employees and operations — more efficiently and effectively.”
This is Pepin’s first foray as a founder, but it’s far from her first information security rodeo. Prior to her leadership role at Auth0, she held senior positions with Sumo Logic, Nike and more.
“As the 11th employee and CSO at Sumo Logic, I got to do a lot of pioneering cloud security work and was extremely early to the cloud in general,” said Pepin. “To put this into perspective, the only other tech company that was building its entire stack in Amazon Web Services before Sumo Logic was Netflix.”
Jumping into the founder role has been something Pepin has toyed with since she landed on the West Coast 10 years ago. Once Pepin jumped in she quickly realized how much her abilities would be put to the test.
“Being where everything stops and having something be 100 percent in your hands is a very different feeling,” said Pepin. “Having all the jobs is crazy. I’m fundraising, marketing, hiring and designing the technical architecture of the offering all at once. It’s a very empowering feeling.”
She has also learned the challenges of fundraising, particularly as a woman without a male co-founder. However, she said the women in her network have been supportive with introductions into the VC world.
In fact, Pepin largely credits the help of one investor she refers to as her “guardian angel” in this first round of funding.
“Along the way, a woman that works at one of the VC firms reached out to me and shared her story of trying to raise money alone,” said Pepin. “She told me she wanted to help and introduced me to over 20 venture capitalist firms. It was an absolute barrage of communication with folks on the inside and a good chunk of my investments came from her introductions, whether directly or indirectly.”
“It was a tremendous gift from someone I barely knew,” said Pepin.
Right now, Pepin is hiring for three founding engineers in data and back-end engineering to join her at ZeroWall. She is also wants to fill a part-time company administration position, as well as a fractional chief marketing officer.
She is building her team remotely right now, a skill she developed at Auth0, which was a remote-first company before the Covid-19 pandemic. But, she does expect to eventually build a headquarters in Portland.
This is part of a regular guest column written by the Technology Association of Oregon in the Portland Business Journal.