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From leading troops in Afghanistan to co-founding a fast-growth data analytics specialist, Jason Crabtree has always been on a mission
Jason Crabtree didn’t expect to start his business. A West Point graduate and First Captain of the US Military Academy’s Corps of Cadets, he always planned to serve his country in a military career. Deeply moved by the 9/11 attacks, he elected to study civil engineering at the US Military Academy. He was commissioned into the infantry and saw decorated service in Afghanistan, before being summoned to work for the Commanding General of US Army Cyber Command.
Mr Crabtree’s expertise centres on the role that cybersecurity plays in critical infrastructure: for example, power grids, banking systems, and other platforms and resources that support our communities. He always thought he would focus on this work through his military service. However, he began to realise that he couldn’t achieve what he wanted within existing institutions – military or otherwise.
Luckily, he wasn’t alone. His future co-founder and close friend from the University of Oxford, Dr Andrew Sellers – a US Air Force (USAF) veteran who served in Iraq and became chief technology officer at the USAF Academy – found himself in much the same impasse.
“I actually didn’t anticipate leaving military service. In fact, sometimes I’m still surprised that it happened,” Mr Crabtree says. “But Andrew and I got to the point where we didn’t think that we could ever build what was missing inside the institutions that we were a part of.”
So what was their ambition? Nothing less than conceiving and building the tools to secure complex modern enterprises and empower them to scalably interact with diverse sources of data.
Data is more prized than ever, but it can be used for good or ill. Preventing a cyberattack on a global bank? Great. Election manipulation? Downright scary. The pair’s aim, according to Mr Crabtree, was developing “a source of truth to figure out individual risk and systemic risk associated with these different systems which comprise our modern world”.
We live in the age of “surveillance capitalism”, where social media giants draw in billions of people with free services but monitor their behaviour, often without their explicit consent. As Professor Shoshana Zuboff writes in her book, The Age of Surveillance Capitalism, this “claims human experience as raw free material for translation into behavioural data”.
Against this backdrop, Mr Crabtree and Dr Sellers are determined to democratise the murky business of data aggregation and analytics, helping organisations transform themselves and bring about positive change. It was his deep commitment to this mission that motivated Mr Crabtree to co-found QOMPLX, a unified enterprise analytics-as-a-service platform that uses data science and artificial intelligence (AI) to solve complex, real-world problems at scale. The founding was a kind of response to “an allergic reaction to being confronted with the lack of tools to reason about our really complex and interconnected world”, Mr Crabtree says.
QOMPLX is best known for its work in cybersecurity, helping clients like global technology firms, investment banks and law practices to prevent ransomware and security breaches and to analyse their defence data. The company, with teams across the US and the UK, also operates cyber insurance managing general agents, who leverage QOMPLX technology and expertise to provide insurance against challenging perils, such as cybersecurity attacks and terrorism.
QOMPLX has secured $78.6 million in equity investment since its founding in 2015, led by well-known financial services-focused institutional investors Cannae Holdings and Motive Partners. The company has amassed a team of 200 people, with offices in Virginia, London, Denver, New York and Montevideo.
Mr Crabtree’s vision is clear. “QOMPLX is really about how we actually help organisations thrive via superior risk management and transfer in the face of tremendous complexity.”
Serving in the battlefield in Afghanistan and representing Army Cyber Command in its work with intelligence agencies and other services helped shape his approach to problem solving in the world of big data, Mr Crabtree adds.
“When we started thinking about the root problems that we had, every organisation was really facing the same basic challenge,” he explains. “We’ve all got a bunch of messy data of dubious quality and origin, and we wanted to try and figure out how to make the best operational decisions with it. A big part of our approach was that simulations, not just overhyped machine learning and deep learning, needed to be a part of any lasting solution.”
Mr Crabtree was interviewed for a Dun & Bradstreet-produced podcast, The Power of Data, in late 2019. “We’re an infrastructure provider – we’re an enabler,” he told listeners.
For Mr Crabtree, analytics and data should be both ennobling and enabling.
“We didn’t start this company to go try and sell it,” he says. “We started it because we believe there is a tremendous technology and service quality gap in the market.”