10 to Watch 2016: Echosec

“When the Malaysian airliner was shot down over the Ukraine and they weren’t sure where it hit, we knew because of where the posts were happening. We’re seeing it right now with Russians in Syria.”

Photograph by Jeffrey Bosdet.

Imagine this as your startup debut: A NATO summit is happening in Wales at the castle hotel owned by Sir Terence Matthews whose firm, Wesley Clover, has invested in your company. Heads of state will gather — and you’ve been asked to provide the digital security fence for the summit.

“Nothing like diving in,” laughs Karl Swannie, CEO, from Echosec’s Fort St. headquarters. Yup, that’s the building with a Bell 430 helicopter from Ocean’s Thirteen on the first floor and gondolas from Whistler set up as meeting rooms.

Echosec is making global waves with its location-based social media search platform, which can search and map all publicly available social media posts around the world, by topic, date and location. Users, from security/military to police and media, can see where posts originate from, right down to a street address.

Searchable info runs the gamut from “What are popular photos posted in Victoria?” (Answer: Baked goods) to “Have Russian soldiers crossed into the Ukraine? (Answer: Yes, Echosec watched it happen on their platform).

“Every soldier who digs a hole wants to take a picture and post it,” says Swannie who started with a big idea and, thanks to Owen Matthews of Wesley Clover and the Alacrity Foundation, met a team of UVic students searching for an outlet for their big-data expertise. Today, the two-year-old company’s clients include Motorola and the U.S. Defense Department.

Want to know who’s posting what on your street? Or the fallout from an ISIS attack? Or the buzz around a product launch? Echosec takes you beyond the nightly news straight to the people posting. It’s an eye opener.

Q&A with Karl Swannie and Michael Anderson

What scared you most when you first started?

Michael: When we found all the Russian soldiers in the Ukraine [when President Putin said they weren’t there]. And I said to our team, “You guys, Russia is big and scary. Should we be doing this?”

Karl: Then when it went viral and all of a sudden we saw our analytics go from zero to a 1,000 in a couple hours so we kind of freaked out.

What was your biggest challenge?

Karl: Besides making sure we met all of the privacy protocols … being Island-based, we actually have to make software that will bridge the Strait of Juan de Fuca. So our vision here had to be bigger because we have to build it with the vision of getting it off the Island and getting the world to take notice.

Advice for other startups?

Michael: Work for a year in a 10×10 room with your team [laughs]. You get to know each other very well and know what you are capable of.

Echosec Business Profile

Type of business: Social media monitoring and analytics

Year founded: 2013

Owners/principals: Karl Swannie, Jason Jubinville, Nick Turner, Michael Anderson

Employees: 8

This article is from the April/May 2016 issue of Douglas.