University of Pittsburgh

Former Navy SEAL Connects the World of Special Operations and the World of Startups

Friday, October 28, 2016

The core principles of military leadership and entrepreneurship are not so different. The worlds of special operations and startups involve high-risk situations, require adaptability and assembly of an elite team, and there is an intense fear factor, according to Mike Janke, a  former 12-year member of SEAL Team 6.Former Navy SEAL Mike Janke Connects the World of Special Operations and the World of Startups

 Janke led the October 2016 Thought Leader discussion, “SEAL Team 6 to Silicon Valley — Unique Strategies Applied to Modern Startups.” During the session, Janke shared his unconventional path toward entrepreneurship with dozens of Pitt Business veterans and aspiring entrepreneurs.  

A former student at the University of Pittsburgh, Janke is the CEO and co-founder of Silent Circle, the world’s leading global encrypted communications service. He is also the founder, part owner, and former CEO and board member of SOC, one of the country’s largest defense, logistics ,and security firms. 

 “A problem that’s not being solved is a problem that’s not being solved, and it’s an opportunity for someone to come along and solve it,”Janke told the audience.

Janke found such a problem when the employees of SOC were sharing sensitive information via emails, texts, and phone calls over public servers.

“The user does not own the data, browsing history, or call log, and the data isn’t private,” Janke explained. “I remember thinking, surely, the intelligence community has a device or application to put on devices to protect the information.”

Janke discovered that no such device or application existed. He worked to assemble a team to solve the issue. He recruited Phil Zimmerman, creator of Pretty Good Privacy, the most widely use email encryption software in the world, and John Callus, the chief cryptographer of Apple. Together they created Silent Circle, an encrypted communications firm. Silent Circle is now used by private and public organizations around the world.   

After developing Silent Circle, Janke next pitched an idea to the board of directors to develop a secure smartphone. 

“If a hacker puts malware on your phone or laptop, the encryption installed doesn’t matter, because the hacker will see your documents before they are encrypted,” Janke says.

His pitch was denied by the board. Undeterred, Janke  took his idea and did his homework. In a joint venture between Silent Circle and GeeksPhone, a Spanish mobile development company, a smartphone called Blackphone was built to ensure security. 

Blackphone was awarded “Device of the Year” at Mobile World Congress 2014, and was named one of the Top Inventions of the Year by TIME magazine and Top 10 Technologies of 2014 by MIT Technology Review. 

Janke urged Pitt Business entrepreneurs to take advantage of the innovation happening at Pitt, as well as the community’s abundance of resources. 

“I always say you have to make business an unfair fight. By going to Pitt Business, you are already doing that. You are learning, finding mentors, and hearing the stories of people like myself and others who have either been successful or who have failed and then become successful,” he says.

He also advised students to “get comfortable being uncomfortable.”

“There is so much support at this school for you to make it an unfair fight. It’s up to you to dare,” he says.

View a recording of the Thought Leaders presentation