An Interview With DNSFilter’s New CTO, TK Keanini

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In exciting news, DNSFilter recently hired TK Keanini to fill the role of Chief Technology Officer (CTO). TK has over 30 years of experience in network security and most recently served as the Vice President of security architecture and CTO of Cisco Secure. In his new role, TK will lead product management, customer experience, engineering, and security intelligence toward ongoing innovation and growth, focusing on customer needs and feedback to determine product direction.

As we welcome TK into the DNSFilter circle, we’re excited to share this exclusive interview.

Q: What ultimately made you decide to join DNSFilter over any other tech company out there?

TK: There is a sea of cybersecurity companies out there, but I’ve noticed that the ones that actually grow and succeed long-term have a few consistent properties.

First, these solutions don’t require experts for it to be effective because the design is so inherently simple. Second, the layer protected is one critical (not optional) to both businesses and adversaries alike. And finally, these solutions intercept as early in the lifecycle as possible, often the first to detect and respond to a threat. 

DNSFilter has all three of these properties, and I knew I wanted to join a company where I saw the potential for scale and success.

Q: What do you see as the biggest opportunity at DNSFilter?

TK: Everyone, from your grandparents to your kids, are at risk of navigating to a “dangerous” place online because bad actors are very good at what they do. And we live in a world where our cars, refrigerators, and myriad of other devices are all connected to the internet. It is not just about the machines anymore, it’s about the humans behind them. If you were to build something to ensure that only safe and legitimate Internet services were available to you, DNSFilter is exactly what you’d build. 

What I see as the biggest opportunity at DNSFilter is that we already have this technology in-hand, with the ability to protect these devices before they make the connection to dangerous places. But the number of connected devices will only increase going forward, and DNSFilter is equipped to be the best solution to mitigate the risks of those devices world-wide.

Q: Why leave Cisco after 8 years? What made you think you were ready to walk away and start a new journey?

TK: It was the right time for me (and everyone involved) to make this transition. I had implemented systems at Cisco that no longer needed my presence to scale and thrive, and a big part of that is because I implemented the principle of Kuleana while at Cisco. 

Roughly translated, “Kuleana” (a principle within Hawaiian culture) means “responsibility”—but it’s much more than that. The way it was explained to me by an Auntie when I was young was to consider the seven generations before me—their values and experiences—and then do the same for the seven generations ahead of me. 

It’s hard to do that for two generations, let alone seven. But at Cisco, I started to put that principle into practice in my work. I wanted to leave Cisco a better place than when I started, and I wanted to set up future employees (or generations) for success while imbuing current work with the values of my predecessors. Knowing my work there was done, my desire to return to a security startup like my previous ventures (nCircle and Lancope) was growing stronger every day. 

After taking my time to find the right fit, I am fortunate to have found DNSFilter.

Q: What from Cisco will you be bringing with you to DNSFilter, if anything?

TK: At Cisco I had a reputation for being incredibly passionate about my work, with a goal of doing right by the customer and making sure their voice is somehow present in product decisions. I learned early on in my career that if you do right by the customer, they’ll do right by you. And the product we’re creating, afterall, is for the customer. 

It’s refreshing to see that same passion for the work and for the customer perspective present in the individuals who make up DNSFilter.

Q: It's still very early days, but what has struck you the most about the culture at DNSFilter?

TK: What has struck me the most about the culture at DNSFilter is its commitment to intellectual honesty, respect, and high performance. This is evident from both top-down and bottom-up perspectives. Additionally, DNSFilter has excelled at being an effective remotely distributed organization, valuing talent over location. 

This deep-rooted cultural aspect ensures seamless collaboration and high efficiency. It’s impressive how well they’ve mastered this challenging dynamic.

Q: What specific objectives do you aim to accomplish in your role as CTO at DNSFilter, and how do you plan to leverage your expertise to drive innovation and growth here?

TK: Being CTO is kind of like being lead saxophone in a jazz band. My priority is to play my best and lead much of the way, but in a way that allows all band members to shine. The goal is to play our best possible set, and the audience will take notice and join in—I want our customers to be the biggest fans of our band.

As for the how: It will take rituals and practices that yield innovation and growth. I realized early in my career that creating great products people love is more about social science than computer science. While we call them engineers and developers, I see them as creatives. Managing them is akin to guiding a sculptor or photographer, and only with this approach can we rise above an industry of copycat products and deliver features that truly excite both our customers and members of the company.

Q: Is there a milestone on the horizon at DNSFilter that you are most excited for?

TK: This might sound strange, but I love reaching the end of a sprint. Those milestones can be as often as weekly.  And each week we have an opportunity to ask ourselves "How did we do?" and "How much value have we created?"  

Even more, I appreciate the opportunity to understand why we might have missed our goals. While larger milestones are on the horizon, it's the weekly progress that excites me the most. Celebrating small wins and making necessary corrections keeps the journey dynamic and rewarding.

Q: How do you see your role contributing to DNSFilter's overall goals? Product roadmap in particular?

TK: As CTO, I need to understand our technology not just for my own sake, but for the customer’s. My biggest contribution to the business is to put the customer front and center in all we do. 

I can’t deliver value without understanding what excites our customers about the product and what they ultimately need from it. My goal is always to satisfy the needs of the customer beyond the expectations they have.

Q: What is your vision for DNSFilter heading into the second half of 2024?

TK: My approach will be to place our customers at the heart of our design and innovation processes, ensuring our talent feels this is the best place for them to excel, and growing the business steadily each quarter with a team as passionate about delighting customers as I am. 

Beyond this year, my vision is to leverage our strengths—simplicity, scalability, and strategic positioning—so that integrating DNSFilter's portfolio becomes synonymous with secure-by-design.

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