The billion-dollar startup with a clever plan to break the web browser deadlock
The stranglehold of tech giants makes Web browser market an inhospitable place for newcomers, regardless of the quality of their product.
the latest data shows that Google Chrome is the vehicle for about 65% of all web activity, followed by Apple’s Safari (19%), leaving the rest to share the scraps.
Until steps are taken to prevent Apple and Google from exploiting their control of major operating systems to promote their own software, mounting an effective challenge will remain virtually impossible.
What may be doable, however, is to compete in a redefined category. This is the strategy of a startup called Island, which recently reached unicorn status with a $115 million Series B round just weeks after emerging from “stealth.” The billion-dollar idea: a new kind of browser designed specifically for business use.
Speaking to TechRadar Pro, Island CEO Mike Fey detailed his strategy for bringing the enterprise browser to market and why he thinks his company can succeed where others have failed.
“Previously, enterprise browser attempts focused on additional tools and small add-ons, things that could have a minor impact on productivity,” he told us. “But that’s not enough to motivate an organization to rethink its infrastructure.”
“As we played, we quickly realized the power of having full control of the browser and what it could do to revolutionize the way we think about security, computing and productivity. the company.”
A gap in the market
Although rarely thought of in these terms, web browsers are a fundamental part of every company’s software arsenal, central to the work life of nearly every office worker.
The argument made by Island is simple and convincing: traditional browsers are designed for the consumer and are therefore totally unsuitable for security-dependent business use cases.
“Consumer browsers define security, privacy, and configuration based on consumer needs, but a business has completely different requirements,” Fey said.
“Introducing a consumer-grade browser to the enterprise has created a cavalcade of complexities. Once you realize what gives you total control over the last mile, it adds so much value.
Although Island’s software is built on the same Chromium engine as many popular browsers, and therefore has a familiar interface, it imposes a number of restrictions on how employees can interact with the web.
For example, the browser limits simple features such as copy-paste, screen capture and downloads, and limits the types of extensions that can be installed and the domains visited.
Separately, the service allows business logic and robotic process automation (RPA) to be directly integrated into the browser itself, and allows IT teams to oversee all deployments to help quickly identify the source of problems.
The key differentiator, however, is Island’s ability to simplify the security stack by replacing various legacy technologies, Fey explained.
In addition to the usual web browsing functionality, the service effectively eliminates the need for virtual office infrastructure (VDI) and data loss prevention (DLP), enabling secure remote work and bring your own device (BYOD) scenarios.
“The main reason for [use VDI] in a cloud-Centric World is because you worry about data leaking from browser to foreign office. But in our case, the browser itself controls this data flow,” he said.
“We can let a contractor work with a SaaS application, but ensure that the data never leaves the application itself. Data can be moved between multiple tabs in the browser, but never lands on the desktop and never creates the risk of data loss.
Island’s ultimate goal is to provide the optimal working canvas, free of all unnecessary bells and whistles and, most importantly, safety risk.
The threat of the copier
As always, the success or failure of a new product largely depends on the timing and context of its release. On that front, Island seems to have little to worry about.
The startup was founded about two years ago, at the very beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, at a time when companies were struggling to reconfigure their infrastructure to support remote work on a scale never seen before.
The effects of the pandemic in the workplace made the need for an enterprise browser even more acute, Fey told us, as employees no longer worked within the confines of the traditional security perimeter.
Another factor that contributed to the timing of the launch was the maturation of the open-source Chromium project, which Microsoft had recently endorsed with the redesign of its new flagship browser, Edge.
“At this point, we had a standard open source project that we could leverage that would provide the same look, feel, and performance as all major browsers,” Fey explained.
Essentially, the market was well prepared for a product like Island’s, and the company has little competition at the moment.
Asked if he was concerned that the current browser leaders are moving into the enterprise niche in an effort to protect their market share, Fey ignored the question: “Google and Microsoft could do anything , if they wanted to.
The suggestion was that the US giants are no more or less likely to build an enterprise browser than any other product – and that Island’s service poses no threat to their business models in any way. But given the strategic importance of the web browser as a gateway to the internet, especially for a company like Google, we’re not so sure.
The other question that Island will face is whether companies will really be willing to pay for a freeware category that’s been around for more than two decades. On this point, Fey had a more convincing answer.
“It’s not about ‘my browser is better than yours’, because what we’re really charging for is a better way to protect workers. And companies are already paying for it in the form of vpn, web filtering, proxies, password managers and more – it’s an incredible amount of complexity,” he said.
“The reality is that we’re saving businesses money and enabling them to have a better security posture and greater efficiency.”
What is the next step ?
The proof will be in the pudding, of course, but early signs are promising for Island, which has apparently caught the eye of organizations large and small.
Fey declined to tell us how many paying customers his startup has signed up to so far, but said they include “big name names” in a range of industries, from finance and retail to pharmacy and health care.
He also said he intends to rely heavily on his personal contact book, built over a 25-year career in security and enterprise software, as well as that of Sequoia Capital. and other venture capitalists who participated in the last funding round.
“We thought it would be a lot harder to get companies to reconsider what browser they’re using, but they’ve had such limited visibility and control that it’s been a very easy conversation. We learned that the company is ready for change,” Fey explained.
“We believe Island can be one of the most significant software companies in a long time, and we don’t see anything yet that doesn’t affirm that belief.”
Like all sane leaders, Fey refused to tie himself to specific targets, but offered a loose timeline for completing the enterprise browser: “It will take us a few years, it won’t take us five or ten to get there.