Erik Breuhaus (MBA '14)

  • An Entrepreneur’s Education: A Q&A with Erik Breuhaus, Co-founder and CFO of CounterFlow AI

    Erik Brehaus 350xErik Breuhaus (MBA '14)

    Co-founder and CFO of CounterFlow AI Inc. 

    CounterFlow AI Inc. is a provider of advanced network traffic analysis for security operations centers. It is redefining the art of threat hunting by integrating full packet capture with AI-driven, streaming analytics to provide explainable insights. Its flagship product, ThreatEye, enables overwhelmed security analysts to scale threat-hunting operations and significantly reduce time to detection and response. 

    After three years in a corporate finance leadership program at Johnson & Johnson, Erik Breuhaus (MBA ’14) knew that he wanted to work at a startup. He joined one while he was a second-year student at the University of Virginia Darden School of Business, and he never looked back. Read on to learn how his experience at multiple startups in a variety of industries, where he handled finance, operations, business development, recruiting and marketing, prepared Breuhaus for his role as co-founder and CFO of cybersecurity company CounterFlow AI. 

    Sean Carr: Tell me about CounterFlow AI.

    Erik Breuhaus: There’s a great quote in the industry that there are two types of companies: those that know they’ve been hacked, and those that don’t know they’ve been hacked. We build software for large organizations to help them hunt proactively for threats that may not have been detected but are in and around their networks.

    Our customers are Fortune 500 organizations, or managed-service companies that help small- and medium-sized businesses deal with security. A big challenge in the industry is that there’s a shortage of security analysts to defend those networks. If you don’t have enough talent to throw at a problem, you need some technology tools, and AI is a natural fit. There’s an abundance of data in network security, so by using machine-learning analytics, we can enhance an analyst’s ability to identify patterns and threats.

    Sean Carr: How did you come to be a co-founder of CounterFlow?

    Erik Breuhaus: I was involved in a startup that fell apart, and I found myself out of a job. Thankfully, I knew Randy Caldejon, who’d just sold a cybersecurity company and was starting a new one, so I reached out to him. He’s the CEO, and he needed someone to put all the pieces in place, from fundraising to other aspects of growing a startup, and do it fast. I’d spent three years at a venture-backed, Internet of Things systems company called PsiKick, doing exactly that, so it was a serendipitous match.

    Sean Carr: Tell me about your other experiences with startups.

    Erik Breuhaus: Prior to Darden, I did a leadership program at Johnson & Johnson in corporate finance. I spent three years doing rotations and understanding how big organizations work. I learned in the process that I wanted to be closer to the decision-making, and startups are a perfect fit.  After Darden, I knew that PsiKick had just raised a series A round. I decided to get coffee with the CEO, knowing that as soon as you raise money, you need the most help. I joined the company after graduating, and I got to be the CEO’s right-hand man. It was a tremendous learning opportunity. When you work with someone who’s really good, you take your learning to the next level.

    Sean Carr: How did your experience at Darden contribute to your entrepreneurial career?

    Erik Breuhaus: The most important aspect for me was learning what questions to ask, and also whom to ask and when. By getting a general management education, you’re well-positioned to understand all facets of business, but you need to take it to the next level in specificity when you’re responsible for your own startup. If you don’t ask the right questions, you're going to go far too slow for a startup.

    Sean Carr: Was there something about your experience at Darden that enabled you to develop those capabilities?

    Erik Breuhaus: Yeah, it’s your classmates. Each of them is just so much better than you at something, and it’s similar to a technology startup, where you’re surrounded by people who are much better than you at different aspects that are important to the organization.

    Sean Carr: What advice would you give someone who might be considering an entrepreneurial career?

    Erik Breuhaus: Learning is much more important than compensation. It’s hard to quantify just how valuable the things you learn early are and how they can benefit you later. At PsiKick, I was learning from others and making all kinds of mistakes, and if I didn’t have that experience, I wouldn’t be able to lead CounterFlow and drive it forward. One concern I often hear from Darden students is about making ends meet. I can guarantee you, there are all kinds of ways to do that in a startup. I see entrepreneurship as a career path. There’s always going to be the next cool opportunity, and this idea that it’s super risky, that there’s no fallback option, is a myth.

    Sean Carr: When you were at Darden, you had your own venture and you were involved with the i.Lab. Tell us about that.

    Erik Breuhaus: I was really a part of a team, and I was helping a group of UVA professors who had developed a novel technology for MRI imaging. My role was to identify a strategy to enter the market and transition the technology from a university setting into the world. This was my first attempt at this type of endeavor, and the i.Lab was a wonderful experience — just the sheer amount of available resources and people to help you. 

    Sean Carr: What’s next for you and for CounterFlow?

    Erik Breuhaus: 2019 is going to be a big year. We’re going to market with some Fortune 100 organizations. We’re setting up for the next fundraising round, and it’s an exciting time for me because it’s the first opportunity to throw gas on a fire. I’m both eager and anxious, but I think the Darden education and subsequent learning years in startups have prepared me for what lies ahead.