This is the second instalment of our new regular feature: ‘The Great Invisibles’ – where we shine a light on some of the people, we are fortunate to have bumped into along the way, who have an interesting story to tell. The sorts of characters we often deal with within the industrial sector are your, you know, quiet basic genius types: smart, successful, and modest.  We feel a responsibility to the sector to bring out the inner Rockstar in all of you.

This time we are delighted to be able to share our chat with Simeon Tan.  Simeon is a Singapore-based entrepreneur, co-founder and CTO of Protos Labs, new Dad and Cyber security guru.

After graduating with a degree in Electrical and Computer Engineering, Simeon cut his teeth working on digital transformation and cyber security projects before landing a consulting gig at the behemoth that is Booz Allen Hamilton.  So far, so typical of a studious and career-driven young graduate, and then something happened…


So, Simeon what was the catalyst for starting Protos Labs..?

“Elias, my son, is the reason I started all of this.  He was born with a heart condition and was in ICU for 18 days.  Fortunately, he ended up pulling through and is now a healthy baby boy, but it just highlighted to me how precious time was.  I always thought I had all the time in the world to pursue my dreams, but now I had this new impetus.  If you know what you want to do – why delay?”

Most people see the arrival of a child as the point at which they try to increase their job security, not take on additional risk in the form of leaving a well-paid job to set up a new business?  “Yes, my wife has been very understanding…”

And next, Protos Labs, your second ‘baby’ was born…what is it exactly?

“We have developed a way to quantify and price cyber risk. We have two client groups that this is relevant to – businesses (typically SMEs) and insurers.  Insurers are often using outmoded ways to price their cyber risk products, which has lead to them losing a lot of money insuring cyber risk.”

The global cyber insurance market was worth $7bn in gross written premiums (GWP) in 2020 and is estimated to reach $20.6bn by 2025.[1]  Whilst few people shed tears at the thought of insurance companies losing money, the downside of all of this is that if they can’t find a way to accurately price their products they may decide to stop providing coverage, cyber security could become ‘uninsurable’ and there’d certainly be fewer products to choose from.  No one benefits from this scenario.

And what about businesses?

“Very big businesses tend to have solutions in place, most of the companies we help are small and medium-sized – they have been looking for a proportionate response to cyber risk, which they realise is a growing business risk for them, but they don’t really know what to do about it.  For example, we helped a $20million business in Singapore quantify their annualized risk exposure to cyber-attacks; this came to more than $100,000 a year.  They were completely unaware of the risks – some of their employees had leaked credentials on the Dark Web that were accessible to hackers and could have easily led to a cyber-attack.  We came up with a plan of action that cost about $20,000 to implement.  The numbers stacked up, they could see the risk was real and the solution was proportionate.  We leverage machine learning and statistical models to quantify cyber risk and present it in a way that is easy to digest.  Our mission is to enable business leaders to make smart choices about cyber security.”

Your co-founder, Joel Lee, a former Booze Allen colleague was also on paternity leave when you decided to work together?

“Yes, babies have been the catalyst to create a new business!  We always stayed in touch as we knew we wanted to work together in the future.  Well, the future ‘arrived’.  We talked and shared ideas and decided to go forwards together.”

I’m intrigued by business partnerships, tell me about yours…

“Well, it is a little bit like a marriage.  In fact, sometimes I see Joel as much as my wife, so the most important thing is that your values are aligned.  Second – you need complementary superpowers.  Joel’s tenacity and ‘never say die’ attitude amaze me.  Me, I am a builder, quite a laid-back, positive character. We work really well together.”

What has been the most challenging thing about starting a new business?

“Building something that people want.  We did so much brainstorming and had so many ideas, but you must test your ideas and assumptions.  At the beginning most of our hypotheses were wrong!  You really don’t know what people want unless you ask them.  Our networks proved invaluable…we knew we were onto something when people started to offer up their own contacts and introductions – they clearly believed enough in the concept to put their reputations on the line.”

So, what’s next Simeon?

“Delivering on our promises to clients and a new round of funding so we can continue to expand.”

Quick fire round

  • Who has helped you along the way?
    My wife, Michelle.  To tell your wife that you’re quitting your job when you have a new baby at home…she’s always been there.  She’s my North Star.
    Joel, my co-founder, he surprises me every day.  He really puts himself out there, his energy is amazing.
  • Thing(s) you are proudest of?
    Elias.  He has made me a different person.
  • Your greatest disappointment?
    I don’t really dwell on things that don’t go my way!
  • If you could give your younger self a piece of advice..?
    Go for it!
  • Who or what has been your greatest inspiration?
    My Mum.  She raised and provided for five children.  And now she looks after the grandchildren!
  • Soundtrack to your life?
    Endless Road by Tommy Emmanuel
  • A perfect Saturday would be…
    I’d start the day jamming with my buddies – I play the drums and the guitar (music has always been important to me), then I’d go on a family picnic.  A nap would be nice, then I’d take my wife out for dinner.  I’d then watch soccer (Liverpool FC is my team) and play computer games! (Michelle is a very understanding woman…)

[1] GlobalData, Cyber Insurance, 2021 Update