On today’s edition of the Atlanta Small Business Show, we’re pleased to welcome Michael Gargiulo, Founder and CEO of VPN.com. In this segment, Michael and Jim discuss everything you need to know about VPNs, what they are, why your business needs one, and how to go about acquiring the right one.
Jim Fitzpatrick: Hi everyone. Jim Fitzpatrick with the Atlanta Small Business Show. Thanks so much for joining us on the show.
Michael Gargiulo: No, thank you for having me, Jim. Really excited. We’ve got a great show lined up.
Jim Fitzpatrick: Good, good. So first of all, congratulations on being Atlanta’s top tech entrepreneur. That’s pretty cool.
Michael Gargiulo: Yeah, just came out last week, the Atlanta magazine. Very, very excited about that. Certainly a prestigious award, a lot of other top entrepreneurs in the mix too, so yeah, thank you for that.
Jim Fitzpatrick: Yeah, that’s incredible. I mean, you’re among some heavy hitters when you’re in Atlanta and you’re talking about technology, right?
Michael Gargiulo: There’s heavier hitters than myself, but there’s some great guys doing great things and that was a great award. We’re very, very happy and excited about that.
Jim Fitzpatrick: Congrats, congrats. So what exactly is VPN and how does it work to protect businesses?
Michael Gargiulo: Yeah, so a VPN been around since the mid nineties, really since the inception of the internet. It’s an app that goes on your phone and computer that encrypts your internet. So governments and universities traditionally use these to protect the flow of information, especially when people were offsite. We’ve got Coronavirus now. People are spending a lot of time at home or in remote locations. VPNs are even more critical because that connection from home to the office or to anywhere else in the world, if it’s not encrypted, it’s exposed for anyone to see your ISP, hackers, thieves, anybody can get that information in and quite frankly, do whatever they want with it.
Jim Fitzpatrick: So VPN stands for …
Michael Gargiulo: Virtual private network, and then we’ll go into a little bit more detail about what that means, how it works, and why businesses need more.
Jim Fitzpatrick: Yeah, let’s talk a little bit about that. Why are businesses at risk?
Michael Gargiulo: Well, one in five businesses have already been attacked according to the FBI.
Jim Fitzpatrick: One in five.
Michael Gargiulo: One in five have already been attacked.
Jim Fitzpatrick: That’s huge.
Michael Gargiulo: Yeah. It’s unfortunate because that number is only going to grow. Cyber crime in the next two years will grow to $6 trillion for our business owners watching. The entire global drug trade will be surpassed and the amount of crime that’s actually occurring online versus the illegal drug trade. So cyber crime is very quickly becoming the quickest and easiest way for criminals to extort and extract a lot of information and ultimately money from companies. The average crime is costing anywhere from 50,000 all the way up to $4 million and without a VPN, without the encryption a VPN offers, you’re riding around the internet without your seatbelt on. You’re going at the speed of light, your information, your sensitive private information to your business, your family, credit cards, passwords, all of this is out there for anyone to grab and unless it’s encrypted with the VPN, you can’t be reasonably certain that it’s protected.
Jim Fitzpatrick: And for small businesses and entrepreneurs that are starting out, it could be detrimental to their business. I mean they could literally be out of business if something like this happens.
Michael Gargiulo: I mean law firms in particular, CPA people who deal with critical, sensitive information, especially other people’s information. There’s a famous law firm here in town who got hacked because they believe an employee was offsite, did not have a VPN. Hackers mounted a file onto the computer while they were away. They brought it back to their network and very prestigious law firm was ultimately …
Jim Fitzpatrick: And you would think law firms, if anybody would be protected, they would be protected.
Michael Gargiulo: The FBI just released some guidance for CPA firms. So now if CPA’s are going to be submitting your returns, they have to use a VPN. So the FBI is mandating that for a lot of different types of industry, especially if you’re dealing with people’s sensitive or financial information. So if you’re a business and you’re online in today’s environment, you don’t have a VPN, it’s like riding around with your seatbelt off.
Jim Fitzpatrick: Are some businesses more susceptible than others to something like this?
Michael Gargiulo: Yeah, absolutely. I mean we were just talking about accountants. They are dealing with more sensitive information than maybe a newspaper or a consultant. So the type of information that you and your business are dealing with, if somebody else was to have that, what’s the worst case that can then happen to it? So if you’ve got more at risk or you’re dealing with more sensitive information, then you most certainly got more to lose. Absolutely.
Jim Fitzpatrick: For sure. We’ve all just heard the Barbara Cochran story from Shark Tank, she just got nailed for $400,000. I think she was able to get it reversed in the 11th hour. But that was just by the grace of God. Right?
Michael Gargiulo: Absolutely. And she thought who she was giving her information to was real. And what’s happening unfortunately, is when you connect to the internet, when you connect to wifi, if you’re in a hotel or airport or a Chick-fil-A, looks like a phone, it looks like a hotspot. They’ll put it in the drop ceiling of the location of where you’re at. They’ll come back two weeks later. Everybody that’s connected-
Jim Fitzpatrick: You’ve got to be kidding me.
Michael Gargiulo: All of their passwords, their information, anything that goes into your work network, that’s all there for them to see. And depending on the skill of the hacker, they can again, leave files on your devices to then take back to your home, your work, and ultimately infect those devices as well.
Jim Fitzpatrick: And that person that does that could actually be an employee of one of those companies that does that.
Michael Gargiulo: And they might not even know they do it. That’s the sad part. It’s like carbon monoxide. You don’t know it’s there until it’s-
Jim Fitzpatrick: Until it’s too late. Yeah. Wow. That’s incredible. Does every business need a VPN?
Michael Gargiulo: Yeah, every person needs a VPN. Okay. Getting online. If you’re concerned about your internet privacy, if you’re concerned about your security, you need a VPN. I call it the seatbelt of the internet because it’s that encryption. It’s your way to be in control of your privacy. If you don’t have a VPN, when you connect to the internet, your internet takes 20 or so hops to get to the site you’re going to and back to your device. Any one of those hops, whether it’s the access point in this room, Or the ISP that’s providing the internet to this building or the server you’re trying to get to at the end. Those are all vulnerable for you, your business information to be basically exploited. With a VPN it puts that in a secure encrypted tunnel. So even if you are connected to a fake wifi or somebody is trying to get in and pry into your information, it’s encrypted so they can’t-
Jim Fitzpatrick: How long does something like this take to set up?
Michael Gargiulo: For businesses it’s anywhere from five to 10 minutes.
Jim Fitzpatrick: I thought you would say five to 10 weeks.
Michael Gargiulo: No, not five to 10 weeks. It used to be where they had to come onsite and they had to set up all this infrastructure. Now with our top business VPNs, you can get set up in I mean literally 10 minutes and you can do that for a team up to 5,000 people. We have a great business VPN provider, encrypt.me. They supply VPN support to some of the biggest brands out there. And they’re able to do that from one, two people all the way up to, four to 5,000 size teams. And that is critical for larger companies, especially when you’ve got people all over the world, all over the country contacting your work infrastructure remotely at home, outside the office, inside the office.
Jim Fitzpatrick: And I would imagine there’s thousands of these individuals around the world that just do this 24/7.
Michael Gargiulo: It’s becoming the cheapest, the fastest way to steal someone’s information. So it used to traditionally be mailbox skimming, credit card skimming at gas pumps. Maybe they were able to get some information that they could resell at 50 to $100 a pop. With this, like I said, they’ll put the device in the drop ceiling or they’ll have some other way of attacking you. And at that point, they can resell people’s information at a much larger volume for much more money than credit cards.
Jim Fitzpatrick: A friend of mine had $100,000 set aside to open up a business and he was a victim of this and $50,000 out of one of the accounts gone and it really set him back because there was no insurance for it. The bank said, sorry, we can’t help you. They’re doing a big investigation on it, but we know where that’s going to end up. That was eight months ago.
Michael Gargiulo: And that’s the saddest part of all of this. Rarely do people have riders on their insurance policy to cover this particular type of cyber theft. If you do have cyber insurance, that’s great. You’re ahead of most, but most people don’t. And when something does happen, you’re generally not covered. There’s limited to no recourse for the damage they do. So if they get into your bank account, if they steal your credit cards, if they run up bills, unless you report it immediately within the confines of what the credit card or bank says you have to, which generally you don’t know.
Jim Fitzpatrick: Yeah. And this is all being done by hackers that are outside the US so our law enforcement doesn’t even have jurisdiction for the most part.
Michael Gargiulo: Yeah, absolutely. It’s being done everywhere. So people, even inside the US especially, people, they’ll go to high target locations. So think high-end hotels, the airport. If you travel, you’ve got money. They know people connecting there and the internet will actually work faster on the malicious wifi, on the fake wifi than it will on the wifi of the airport. Yeah. You get on, you don’t know the difference. Your computer doesn’t know the difference and it’s a silent killer. But using a VPN allows you to be reasonably certain that my information is protected.
Jim Fitzpatrick: Yeah. Yeah. How many VPN users are there in the world right now?
Michael Gargiulo: So there’s almost 500 million people who use a VPN across the globe right now. Our goal at vpn.com is to grow that closer to a billion here in the next five years. We believe we have the right timing in the market, the right team and the right brand to do that.
Michael Gargiulo: But I mean, look, businesses and families, this threat is only going to grow exponentially. So there’s no reason we can’t help the next one to 2 billion people that come on the internet, start their internet experience with a VPN and outside the US, VPNs are much more common than inside the US so we use them for privacy and security here. But if you go overseas to China for instance, companies are faced with a difficult situation. Either we give the Chinese government all of our information because we have to use their internet or we have to somehow use a VPN to protect our information. Many countries around the world censor their internet. So VPNs are used to pierce that censor and to access free internet that we, free and open internet the way as American citizens know and take for granted. So many different use cases for VPNs, but about 500 million people today use one.
Jim Fitzpatrick: 500 million. That is incredible. So for our viewers that are not as familiar with you as we are, tell us a bit about your entrepreneurial journey, your background. This is a pretty cool program. Pretty cool company you’ve built.
Michael Gargiulo: Yeah, no I appreciate that. I love domain names. So I actually got started in the internet buying and selling premium domain names. In fact, I still do that. We helped governor Brian Kemp acquire Briankemp.com. We’ve done some really cool work for brands, entrepreneurs, politicians. But over the last 10 years of my life, I really consolidated my focus of what I was working on and I saw the trends that were happening in VPN because in high school I, I’ve built some tools to get around the school firewalls. Not saying our high school-
Jim Fitzpatrick: You’re the guy they were talking about.
Michael Gargiul…: Yeah, I was, I guess growing up a part of that. But no, I saw what was happening with the direction of privacy even in the last five years. I mean, really, since Edward Snowden in the San Bernardino iPhone case, privacy is in the forefront now. And we were fortunate enough to acquire VPN.com the domain name after a four- or five-year pursuit, we paid $1 million for that.
Jim Fitzpatrick: And you are in that business. So you know that deal.
Michael Gargiulo: Yeah. to pony up seven figures for a domain name, most business owners will look at you like a deer in the headlights. I was blessed to understand the internet, the convenience of how people type in domain names. Dot.coms are always king and we made the investment in, we’ve gotten, I got eight-figure offers to sell now and I’m at the point where, I see the trajectory of this market and how it’s grown almost 400% since we’ve acquired the name.
Michael Gargiulo: We’re growing 100 million a year. There’s no reason we shouldn’t get there before we take the parachute and hop off.
Jim Fitzpatrick: How important is having the right domain name in building your business?
Michael Gargiulo: It’s very important. I mean for us we’re able to walk into a place like this and have almost instant credibility and respect because we’re VPN.com.
Jim Fitzpatrick: You’re the authority.
Michael Gargiulo: Right, if I’m going to talk to you about internet privacy, internet security and attempt to sell you a VPN, well being vpn.com, it’s that instant credibility. So if you’re a business owner or you’re someone that has a .org or a the or a hyphen in the name, you’re making it more difficult for your consumers, your customers to access. And ultimately that has an impact on your bottom line.
Michael Gargiulo: So the smart savvy entrepreneurs who see 10 years down the road, they know that the internet is the way we get online and will forever be the way we communicate and transact. They’re buying the best pieces of real estate online the internet has to offer and we were fortunate enough to do that for 1 million bucks on VPN.com.
Jim Fitzpatrick: When did you launch?
Michael Gargiulo: 2017.
Jim Fitzpatrick: Okay, 2017. Where’s the company five years from now?
Michael Gargiulo: Five years from now, we’re at a billion. We’re at a billion VPN users across the globe. Like I said, my goal was o get to $100 million per year and we’ve got I think, a very uniform plan to get us there. Google is going to be a large part of that. Google is where most people start their search to buying any product and we want to be the number one position in Google and over the last six months we’ve moved up tremendously.
Michael Gargiulo: But for us, if you can capture the 17 to 20 million people a month searching for a VPN across the globe, or at least be that top result and be VPN.com.
Jim Fitzpatrick: That helps in a big way.
Michael Gargiulo: That helps in a big way, no matter what industry you’re in. But for our industry, with the economics of everything, $100 million a year is very attainable with the vision that we have, the resources that we have and most importantly, the domain and property.
Jim Fitzpatrick: Why would an individual or a company not use your service?
Michael Gargiulo: Well, I mean-
Jim Fitzpatrick: It sounds like a no-brainer.
Michael Gargiulo: There’s a lot of people who are intimidated, there may be like, I don’t know what a VPN is and some people ultimately they still need to do some research and that’s okay. We’ve studied a thousand different VPNs and we’d have all that research on our website for people to use and go through. But the intimidation factor is a big one for businesses.
Jim Fitzpatrick: They should get over that though. For their own security.
Michael Gargiulo: I tell people it’s like wearing your seatbelt. It wasn’t until the 1960s when Ferrari raced around and they were killing people because they weren’t strapped in, that the seatbelt really proliferated. It was invented in the 1890s so it took 60 years for the seatbelt to really grab a hold and now it’s in every car manufactured in America. So it’s growing through that infancy of what VPNs are, how people use them, and over the next 20 years it’s going to be the de facto way you connect to the internet.
Jim Fitzpatrick: Sure. Well you’re a young entrepreneur and a successful one at that. What advice do you have for others that are watching you right now? They go, I want to be Michael.
Michael Gargiulo: Stay humble, have something bigger that you believe in. I’m a man of faith. I love God. He has guided me and my family in many ways. There are going to be bumps. Having something bigger than your business, bigger than your work is very important. And then lastly, have an idea, have a company that can stand the test of time. I tell entrepreneurs, stand back and look at your company. Where do you see it in 10 years? Are you still doing this in 10 years? If you can’t really come up with a good answer there, it’s likely you’re going to float into something else. And if you’re just jumping from idea to idea over the course of your entrepreneurial career and you never really fully commit and consolidate everything you’re working on into one project, it’s going to be hard for you to get to 100 million, much less a billion or 10 billion.
Michael Gargiulo: And I believe a lot of ups and downs taught me that. But over time I realize if you can consolidate, have the best property, buy great domain names and be in a market that’s exploding, you’ve got the right mix.
Jim Fitzpatrick: Yeah. What other Atlanta-based entrepreneurs, specifically tech or otherwise, do you follow or mentors to you that you look up to?
Michael Gargiulo: Well, there’s certainly some great entrepreneurs here doing great things in Atlanta. The last five years I think has been great for the city. There’s a handful though that have been really good influences on just my trajectory as an entrepreneur. Cliff Oxford over at Cliffco, he sold his company for $200 million and has done very well. It’s taught me a lot about growing through the stages from an early startup to, oh you’ve got something now.
Michael Gargiulo: Gary– at Total Service Solutions. His company just raised $35 million and they’re doing wonderful things. He hosts some of the biggest VPN providers in the world. So there’s some very unique synergies there that we get to share. And of course my my father, my mother too, but my father showed me the ropes of business and without him I could never be where I am today.
Jim Fitzpatrick: Is he in the company now?
Michael Gargiuo: He is, he has a small piece, he’s got some silent money in when I raised that to 1,500,000 to put everything in together.
Jim Fitzpatrick: He believes in you. That’s good.
Michael Gargiulo: Yeah. No, it’s important. It’s helped–.
Jim Fitzpatrick: Yeah. No question. How can viewers get in touch with you and read new content that you release? I know that it keeps coming out.
Michael Gargiulo: Yeah, absolutely. Well, we are VPN.com. If our viewers want a 14-day free trial to one of the best visit business VPNs, you can go to VPN.com/atlanta. They’ll get 14 days free to our best business VPN. But I’m on LinkedIn and you can shoot me an email personally, firstname.lastname@example.org. Very simple. So connect with me on LinkedIn or drop me an email. I’ll be happy to help you whether you need VPNs and we’ve got the best or premium domain names. If you’ve got $50,000 or more and you want to acquire premium domain, we can definitely get you pointed in the right direction.
Jim Fitzpatrick: Awesome. Awesome. And for those of you that are listening to us today, take Michael’s offer on that. I mean if you have 14-day trial, this is something that you definitely want to focus on. Whether you’ve been in business for a while and you’ve not paid any attention to this or you’re about to jump into business, you want to make sure that you have security on your side and it sounds like it’s a click of a mouse and this is done and you’re taking care of. So reach out to Michael and take him up on his offer, because what have you got to lose to try it? You have everything to lose if you don’t try it. So this is not something you want to screw around with. Right. So Michael, I want to thank you so much for joining us here on the Atlanta Small Business Show. This is exactly what our viewers are looking for. So thank you so much and continued success, man. I want to do a followup with you.
Michael Gargiulo: I appreciate it.
Jim Fitzpatrick: See how things are going.
Michael Gargiulo: And thank you to your team for helping us arrange all this. Very appreciative of this and look forward to the followup.
Jim Fitzpatrick: Great. Thanks.
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