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Zeroing In On Hackers

Tyler Olson, an entrepreneur who’s founded 11 Minnesota companies, has launched a Kickstarter to fund a new course on cybersecurity. The campaign netted $4,000 in its first 12 hours.

Zeroing In On Hackers
Tyler Olson is launching a new online course to teach cybersecurity basics.

Minnesota entrepreneur Tyler Olson is sitting atop a cerulean Porsche Panamera and pitching an unorthodox get-rich-quick scheme.

“You can earn six figures a year or more by simply using someone’s credit card information to buy awesome stuff like this!” he says.

So begins the promotional video for Olson’s new online course on cybersecurity. The screen then cuts to static, and Olson reappears as an eyepatch-wearing secret agent. He’s recruiting you – the viewer – to join him on a mission to stop hackers.

Humor, evidently, is a selling point for Olson’s new course. But, the self-described “serial entrepreneur” says he takes cybersecurity seriously. He notes that he’s spoken on a panel about the topic at a 2017 summit in Berlin, where he was joined by a former Department of Homeland Security official.

On Monday, Olson launched a Kickstarter campaign to help fund the SHYLD cybersecurity course. He’s seeking $15,000 in total. Within the campaign’s first 12 hours, the Kickstarter netted more than $4,000, according to Olson.

“Hackers are getting into our lives left and right,” Olson says. “And the biggest way hackers get into our companies and our lives is by people not doing the basics correctly.” 

In his view, cyber attacks are one of the “biggest threats” the country faces today. In its annual report to congress, the U.S. Office of Management and Budget said that cyber threats “clearly demonstrate the need for vigilance to protect the country’s data and digital infrastructure.” The report does note that the number of cybersecurity incidents actually fell 12 percent in the government’s 2018 fiscal year. But the threat is far from over.

“While the trend is encouraging, drawing conclusions based on this data point, particularly as agencies have adjusted to several new sets of reporting guidelines over the last few years, would be concerning,” the report stated.

Olson learned about the importance of cybersecurity firsthand while running a website for former U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman’s reelection campaign. In 2009, the DFL-turned-Republican senator was victim of a data breach that leaked donors’ credit card information.

Olson says he played a pivotal role in identifying the hack and reporting it to authorities.

“I had a chance at the age of 22 years old to learn a lot about cybersecurity in a really short period of time,” Olson says. “We were connected to some of the top cybersecurity people in the country. … That really inspired me to want to start a business in the cybersecurity space.”

Olson aims to offer the SHYLD course for both personal and professional use. Since the Kickstarter launched, Olson says he’s received a number of calls from interested firms. He declined to share names, but he says the companies range in size from about 50 to 500 employees.

Olson is launching the campaign after handing over the reins of his marketing analytics firm Modern Foundation. This year, he hired Lisa McEllistrem as CEO so he could focus exclusively on the cybersecurity course.

As for the Kickstarter, Olson is confident he’ll reach his goal of raising $15,000 by September 27 – the day the all-or-nothing campaign closes.

“To me the real question is how high above that are we going to reach?” he says.

SHYLD is starting out small. Right now, it’s just Olson and three people pitching in part time. Eventually, he aims to grow the team and a recruit a board with cybersecurity heavy hitters, such as Geek Squad founder Robert Stephens.

Users would pay $199 to enroll in SHYLD. Olson admits that there’s a wealth of free cybersecurity information online, but he says his course presents concepts in an approachable, organized way.

“I know how to communicate well with people so that they understand these hard technology concepts,” he says. “We think this brand will be a lot of fun.”

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