Interview with The Zensory: Mindfulness for Cybersecurityby@jamesbore
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Interview with The Zensory: Mindfulness for Cybersecurity

by James BoreOctober 18th, 2022
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Yvonne Eskenzi is the owner of a cybersecurity PR agency in London. She and her daughters, Jasmine and Jade, are building a new app called The Zensory. The app aims to calm your fight and flight part of your brain. It stimulates the front part of the brain using your prefrontal cortex to help people focus better, be more creative, when working on their own.

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In this interview, I talk to Yvonne Eskenzi, owner of the specialist cybersecurity PR agency Eskenzi PR. We’re going to be talking about her new startup she founded with her daughters, an app called The Zensory. So, with no further ado, into the questions!

What is your company in a nutshell?

We are creating an app which bridges the gap between productivity and wellbeing.

Why is now the time for your company to exist?

I’ve worked for a cybersecurity PR agency for a long time, over 20 years. In lockdown my daughter and I were very, very aware of the fact that people struggled to focus well. People were overwhelmed, burnt out, stressed and anxious.

We started looking at what was out there to help people focus better, be more creative, when working on their own and realised that there wasn’t really anything. So, we took the absurd decision, with no experience whatsoever, to develop an app.

What we wanted originally was to create a building where you could go in, and you’d stimulate your senses, which each room dedicated to another sense. Now those things have totally mushroomed, I went to one called Dopamine Experience on Friday, and immersiveness has become very trendy.

We spoke to some 20 neuroscientists, and worked through about 200 papers on what helps people get into the right mindset to work better. It all comes down to a very simple concept, trying to calm your amygdala, the fight and flight part of your brain. You can’t think when you’re stressed.

What we’re trying to do is calm that down so that you can actually focus by stimulating the front part of your brain using your prefrontal cortex.

Certainly in cybersecurity we know that people are under-resourced. They don’t have enough staff. They’re burning out. They’ve got to be constantly on high alert for anomalies the whole time. So within our industry there’s never been a more apt time to look at how we can calm people down.

Along with the mental health side, neurodiversity is a major factor in cybersecurity. We have so many people who are neurodivergent, and that’s a great thing as people are talking about it now. And we’ve found that our app helps people get into the right mindset. Weirdly, the other apps out there tend to only concentrate on meditation, while ours aims to stimulate whichever sense you respond to, so it could be music and sound, it could be light, could be smell, could be touch, could be movement which is why it works so well if you are on the spectrum.

Some of The Zensory experiences, using movement, massage, touchpad interactions, and breathing guidance.

What do you love about your team, and why are you the ones to solve this problem?

I love this team because I started this journey with my oldest daughter, Jasmine. And then my youngest daughter Jade has joined us so it’s a mother and two daughters running this which is phenomenal. And because it’s cross-generational, we see everything from different points of view which has been fantastic.

Interestingly, we have had lots of people using the app and reviewing it, telling us they have  ADHD and it’s one of the best things they’d ever used. Then Jasmine started thinking about the symptoms people were talking about and got diagnosed, which shocked us all, and is probably why the app works the way it does as she’s been integral to its design and even wrote the binaural beats and music.

I’ve always suffered from SAD as has Jade, and just listening to the binaural beats looking at the naturescapes and touchpads has really helped me feel less anxious and calmer.

The whole app comes from a very personal space, where we’ve developed it in the hope it can help others calm down to focus well. There aren’t many people that necessarily put their money where their mouth is, and I’ve decided to do that.

If you weren’t building your startup, what would you be doing?

I’m really doing two jobs at the same time, so my daughters are building the startup and I’m advising them and spending a lot of time with them doing it. If I wasn’t doing it, I’d still be running Eskenzi PR. What would I do if I wasn’t doing either of those? I’d still carry on. I love what I do, I wouldn’t give it up for anything.

At the moment, how do you measure success? What are your metrics?

Well, we have a 4.9 star review on the App Store and 5 on the Play Store. And that’s for an MVP still being developed. Then there’s reviews from people writing to us, telling us how it’s changing their life. We were probably one of the busiest stands at a recent conference.

We’re just a tiny team, literally three of us with a few technical people helping, and we’re somehow doing really well so it’s definitely something that people need and want. We have our first paid pilot coming up with __KnowBe4__which is really exciting.

We’ve been giving it away to charities that we believe in, so there’s police using it with domestic violence survivors and some NHS wellness hubs are using it as well. At the moment, our measure of success is feedback we’re getting from users, which is phenomenally exciting and positive.

In a few sentences, what do you offer to whom?

So, as short as possible. It’s an app that uses your five senses to help you improve your mood, to focus or relax.

What’s most exciting about your traction to date?

Definitely the feedback we’re getting, people are absolutely loving it. That’s rewarding to see.

A selection of feedback from users of The Zensory

Where do you think your growth will be next year?

I think cybersecurity is our industry, it’s my industry. I’ve been in over 25 years and I think cybersecurity professionals really, really need this. It’s necessary in the industry.

It would be great to have 50 paying clients and our paid pilot successful, and becoming a really big project. I have this model in my head, kind of a Robin Hood model, where corporate customers pay us for the app for their staff, and that subsidises us to give it away to students and kids, the NHS, charities.

I’d love to think that so long as we’re self-sufficient, the rest we would use to fund support for charities who can benefit from it. That’s our vision.

Tell us about your first paying customer and revenue expectations over the next year.

We have our paid pilot with KnowBe4, which is phenomenally exciting. I’m so pleased they had the trust in us to trial it with 100 of their customers, so we’re going to work very, very hard to try it to see how it’s helping them with their training.

The idea is if you can get into a good space for your cybersecurity awareness training, you’ll more easily be able to focus and identify anomalies such as phishing attacks. While you’re doing the training you’d spend a couple of minutes doing some breath work, listening to the music, playing with the touchpad visuals, and quietening down your amygdala. Then focus while you’re going through the training.

Revenue expectations, I hope we’re self-sufficient and making money with this at this time next year.

What’s your biggest threat?

I think the meditation apps. Everyone compares us to them, but they’re very one dimensional. They only do meditation, while we do everything from breathing to touch pads, music to movement. We’ve even got our own essential oils.

The meditation apps are worth billions of dollars, and have loads of people working for them, so our biggest threat is scaling quickly and dealing with the techies and devs which is a constant demand on us. Our biggest advantage though is developing from the heart and giving it a soul that others can benefit from.

Thanks to Yvonne for speaking with me about The Zensory. I work enough in the cybersecurity industry that I’ve seen the strain it places on employees. There’s a lot of pressure to be constantly on which takes a toll and means many of the best and brightest burn out too soon. Anything that helps security professionals to focus and relax in a more deliberate way is only going to benefit the industry.

For more on ways to help survive a career in cyber security, follow me on HackerNoon. Comment below if you know of any other great tools to help with your mental health in the field.