How a Father’s Love Reimagined Internet Safety

FathersDay

Father’s Day offers a moment to pause and honor the dad in your life. Dads can feel like the unsung heroes in the family. Dads work with their partner in family plans and parenting guidelines. Dads encourage kids to get up, dust off, and try again. And of course, dads live and breathe to protect their children night and day.

Ensuring children’s safety can feel paramount to fathers. Whether snapping on bike helmets or buckling up seat belts, Dads move through their days with children’s safety always in the back of their minds. It’s this fierce paternal instinct to protect his then-newborn son that inspired Securly co-founder and CEO Vinay Mahadik to find a way to make the internet a safer environment for all kids.

To commemorate Father’s Day, we spoke with Mahadik as he discussed the concept behind Securly, the importance of internet safety, and what it means to be a parent in the tech age.

Parental Protection Fueled by Entrepreneurial Passion

A year before co-founding Securly in 2012, Mahadik was a senior R&D manager at McAfee. He shared an entrepreneurial spirit with his colleague Bharath Madhusudan, and the two connected on what to build on their own. Venturing in underserved enterprise security arenas resonated with them, as they came from this sector.

Mahadik and Madhusudan aspired to create a solution and team that would deliver a long-lasting impact on society, and researched different avenues. “I wanted to build something that wasn’t just another flavor of the year app or website to attract a bunch of eyeballs and then disappear the next year,” explained Mahadik.

Around the same time, Mahadik’s first born Ayaan arrived on the scene. Like any new parent, Mahadik was concerned with his son’s safety—in all contexts. And while Madhusudan was not yet a father at the time (he just became one six months ago), he was instinctively motivated to help kids and parents find safer methods to navigate the internet. Mahadik’s innate desire to protect Ayaan, coupled with his and Madhusudan’s expertise in enterprise security, compelled the two to explore children’s online safety in schools and homes.

Securly Learns and Grows

Although the co-founders initially approached both parents and schools, they found schools more receptive. They kicked off with a school focus, with an eye to revisit homes down the line.

As newcomers to EdTech, Mahadik and Madhusudan began with the foundational need in children’s internet safety—blocking inappropriate content. However, a year into their work, the duo discovered the dangers children face online are far more complicated.

“Kids needed help. There’s a lot of mental health issues, there’s a lot of anxiety from all sorts of sources—from socio-economic anxiety and relationships, to mental health issues,” Mahadik explained. “We felt compelled to build solutions to allow schools to have visibility in not just which websites kids are visiting, not just blocking inappropriate websites, but also allowing schools to see what kids were searching for, and what they were saying on social media.”

Interweaving this discovery with their enterprise security experience in, Mahadik and Madhusudan spent the next several years designing a full suite of solutions to transform the school online safety industry.

FilterSecurly’s flagship product, allows school districts to block inappropriate content and alert parents when bullying or self-harm references are detected.

Auditor analyzes the sentiment in emails and Google docs for references to self-harm, suicidal thoughts, and bullying.

Tipline allows anyone to send anonymous tips regarding situations like self-harm and bullying, monitors emails and social media, and weeds out false alerts.

24 offers monitoring 24/7 by human analysts trained to spot alarming content and support intervention through the school as needed.

SecurlyHOME mobile app lets parents manage and monitor their child’s school-owned device anywhere.

Hub by Securly allows parents to manage and monitor school and all personal devices on their home network.

Chrometools and SchoolMDM manage Chromebooks and Apple devices respectively, in schools. They were created by TechPilotLabs, which was acquired by Securly early this year.

The Next Generation in Student Safety

Although there were already a few student safety companies in the market before Securly’s inception, Mahadik noticed Securly had compelling advantages. First, many of these companies built products and software not specifically designed for schools. Some features were bells and whistles schools didn’t need, while others were sorely missed. Securly’s products have been built with a singular focus on serving children in their school—and now home—environments.

Second, other companies used bulky, complicated appliances requiring as long as two months to set up, while Securly’s cloud-based solutions came online within 15 minutes.

Finally, Securly uses an approach where many products and services across schools and homes collaborate to provide a comprehensive and unified platform for safety and engagement—bringing in admins and educators at one end, to parents and guardians at the other—to collectively shape children’s lives.

The Sobering Truth About Keeping Kids Safe Online

Building Securly over the last seven years has allowed Mahadik to look at children’s safety from a unique perspective. “I grew up as an introverted kid, and don’t have the best of memories from my childhood as I struggled to find my identity in the universe.” Mahadik reflected. “I look back now and wonder—how many other kids are similarly struggling to find their identity?”

“I have watched my extremely extroverted son on the other hand now, and seen him getting surrounded by kids on a playground and told he ‘sucked’ at soccer—and I couldn’t help wonder how much of this must be happening when parents aren’t around to help these kids know how to handle such criticism,” he added.

When Securly recently considered running a nationwide campaign to offer schools a free student safety audit, some Securly leadership members wondered if these audits would be ineffective in finding anything actionable or interesting. However, Mahadik stressed that based on his experience, every school district has at least a few students who need help, and that these reports will almost always be actionable.

“This is something we should all feel collectively saddened by—that the CEO of a student safety company can feel so confident that a typical school district in the U.S. will have a fairly disturbing scorecard for student safety,” he mused. “I also realized that the problem is now 10 times worse than when I grew up because of the many problems associated with access to social media and social networks.”

From One Parent to Another

When asked how parents can work towards keeping their kids safe online, Mahadik had a few words of advice.

“I am not an expert on parenting myself, but given my experiences, I feel parents should help raise kids with a strong emotional backbone on handling the toughest problems life sends them and knowing how to respond. Be it bullying in school, self confidence, achievement scores, test results, relationships, etc,” he said.

“I also feel parents should speak to their kids about the dangers of viral challenges, chatting with strangers on online games, and generally staying away from the dark alleys of the internet. Finally, most kids under 13 are usually not looking for trouble online, so parents should try to build some sort of a walled garden for them to explore the internet safely,” Mahadik noted.

Having a parenting partner who is on the same page in terms of online child safety is tantamount to success. Mahadik’s wife Nikita feels just as strongly as he in keeping Ayaan safe online, and the two collaborate in maintaining a child-friendly internet at home. Nikita is particularly worried about the effects of excessive screen time on Ayaan’s ability to finish tasks that require extended periods of focus and patience.

Just a Dad

When he’s not burning the candle on both ends with the Securly team to keep millions of children safe online, Mahadik is like any dad who loves being a parent. The best part of being Ayaan’s dad? “Bedtime stories, dad jokes, and constantly being reminded by my son on how AI is so far behind a human’s ability to learn and adapt,” Mahadik said. This Father’s Day, he looks forward to a relaxing day of possibly having a picnic in the park or a barbecue by the pool with his family.

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