Priebe’s ‘Google of the north’
Trevor Nichols - Feb 01 - Biz Profiles

Photo: Twitter/TwoHatHQ

Every day, about four billion online messages filter through  Chris Priebe’s software.

Priebe, the CEO of Kelowna tech startup Two Hat Security, says that, in the time it’s taken you to read these words, Community Sift has already identified and prevented “thousands” of cases of online bullying and harm.

In a single day, Two Hat will resolve about one million cases of online abuse.

The numbers are staggering, and have helped Two Hat grow substantially since its inception in 2012, but Priebe wants to push things even further.

Last week, reclining in his workspace in the office Two Hat now occupies on a spacious top floor of a downtown Kelowna building, Priebe talked about taking the company even farther onto the leading edge.

Two Hat is already working with some of the biggest names online to curb abuse, but these days Priebe is funnelling resources into solving a potentially more dangerous problem: child pornography.

Priebe says he’s not even sure what he’s trying to do will work, but with stakes this high, he’s charging ahead full speed.

“You have to have a bit of crazy in you to be a startup. Because if it was a known outcome everyone would be doing it,” he explained.

Crazy people invented the lightbulb and the airplane, they just had to try a whole bunch of times to make it finally work, he said. But those who did succeed changed everyone’s lives in the process.

It took eight tries to get Community Sift to where it is now, and just like with online bullying, in child pornorgaphy Priebe sees a big problem that needs fixing.

He’s been spurred on by real-world events like Amanda Todd’s suicide in the face of online exploitation, and he only has to talk about the harm that’s proliferating online for a few minutes before it becomes clear how seriously he takes the task of ending it.

Priebe says that altruistic motivation it doesn’t just impact the workplace, it defines it. He even screens his new hires based on it.

“We hire people who want to change the world. And consequently we hire some of the most talented people in the field,” he said.

When he left a cushy job at Disney to start his own company Priebe’s goal was to create “the Google of the north,” full of engaged and hard-working people all pushing themselves to their limits.

“You come here and you feel like you’re in the deep end,” he says. It’s hard work, but “you love it” because for the first time “you’re growing again.”

“There’s no clock punchers in our office. We’re here for a purpose and a reason,” he says.

Even TwoHat’s investors aren’t exempt from that ethos.

Priebe’s primary goal at TwoHat is not to make money. He is trying to stop online bullying and exploitation, he says, and profit takes a back seat to that objective.

He choses his investors based on that, screening out huge chunks of potential investors he feels are too focused on money. This year his goals is for Two to start making a profit, a milestone that will free him up to start thinking even bigger.

“When you’re in a profitable state you can be a lot more crazy,” he says, his lips curling into a smile.

Check back next week for a chat with Chris on the future of Kelowna’s tech industry, and why he (seriously) thinks knocking down city hall is vital to it.

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