How Did She Do It? A Q&A with Tina D’Agostin, CEO of Alcatraz AI

By Gwen Edwards and Lara Kometz, Managing Directors at Golden Seeds and Alcatraz AI deal leads.

September 16, 2022

Safety and security have never been more critical to businesses, and Tina D’Agostin can testify to that. She’s spent her career making organizations safer through technology, which has led to her current role as CEO of Alcatraz AI. Its flagship product, the Rock, combines artificial intelligence (AI) and 3D sensing to enable highly secure, frictionless entry into privileged locations. Tina recently met with Gwen Edwards and Lara Kometz, Managing Directors of Golden Seeds, who were the Lead Investors on this investment. They discussed Alcatraz AI, offering insights that can help other entrepreneurs build their own businesses.

 GE and LK: Tell us about the origins of your company.

TA: Vince Gaydarzhiev, founder and president of Alcatraz AI, got the inspiration six years ago while heading a prototype engineering team at Apple. Even in Apple’s innovative offices, he noticed that access control was inefficient, relying on badges and guards, with heavy human interaction or manual turnstiles. Vince believed facial authentication would be perfect in the physical security world to provide a more secure and touchless access control solution that allowed people to move more efficiently and effectively, while giving the security team greater confidence.

In 2016, Vince left Apple and founded Alcatraz AI with the goal of making spaces safer. I joined the company as Chief Revenue Officer in 2020 and last year became CEO. As CEO, I am laser-focused on accelerating our high-performing team and creating the operational foundation for hypergrowth to continue the momentum of Alcatraz’s go-to-market strategy and global expansion. 

Our flagship product is the Alcatraz Rock, an AI-driven facial authentication access solution that replaces or works with existing key-card/badge reader systems and provides autonomous, private and impenetrable access control. Built and designed in the United States, the Rock instantly detects unauthorized access giving you complete security at every door, making spaces safer. Our vision is to revolutionize the access control experience using the unique power of the human face.

GE and LK: What market needs are you solving, and how is your approach different from the way others have addressed this need?

TA: Access control systems continue to be a large capital investment for companies with advanced security software and hardware to protect their people and assets. At the same time, they have not solved some of the most difficult challenges to creating and maintaining safe spaces; particularly tailgating, or having unauthorized people follow authorized people into a secure area. Maintaining security from external bad actors seeking to disrupt companies’ operations or harm their people, and doing it in a way that does not impact the people who are supposed to be there as efficiently as possible, is top of mind for many security leaders who are now employing a “Zero Trust” security philosophy to protect at every access point. The changes in work environments such as hybrid and remote, as well as changes in employee behaviors have changed forever the staffing and technology needed to secure facilities.  Delivering a touchless but secure way to protect people and property is more critical than ever.

About 90% of businesses today still use proximity cards, which is a 30-year-old technology. Badges can be lost, stolen, shared, or replicated. The security industry  is adopting biometric solutions rapidly. Using the power of machine learning, Alcatraz AI provides a touchless and autonomous access control solution that lets authorized users enter secured spaces quickly and prevents those that don’t belong from gaining access.  With advanced tailgating detection, no integration needed to existing access control systems, multiple user enrollment options and video events at the door, turnstile, or elevator – Alcatraz has transformed the access control experience. Your face becomes your credential, eliminating ID fraud involving lost or stolen badges.

GE and LK: What challenges have you encountered along the way? How have you overcome them?

TA: For every startup, finding investors willing to invest in your sector and business model is the first step. We’ve been fortunate to find amazing investors like Golden Seeds, who are extremely supportive. Next up is having the right team to take a company vision and make it a reality. You must have people around you with the depth you need and the ability to augment any gaps you may have. We’ve been able to assemble a stellar team who can help us drive growth and scale rapidly which is critical. This investment and the insight from our investment partners will accelerate our growth, enable our ability to scale and shape our future success. 

 GE and LK: What’s coming up next for your company? Any big milestones on the horizon?

TA: We just hit a milestone with the closing of our Series A round, during which we met Golden Seeds. We are excited to enter the next phase of our company’s growth by partnering with our investors with a strong track record scaling companies globally that deliver next generation technology. We’ve started to expand internationally, and to support this growth, we’ll add more people. We’ll continue investing in our hardware and software technology. We’ll expand our sales and marketing teams to make sure people know the value of Alcatraz AI in helping solve their security challenges.

 GE and LK: What advice do you have for early-stage founders about raising money, growing a team, fostering company culture or other issues you’ve had to address?

TA: New CEOs who haven’t raised financing before will underestimate the sheer number of hours it demands. It becomes all-consuming, diluting your ability to focus on many other things you need to do in running the business. Be prepared to make decisions and act very quickly, because every day is critical.

 You need a clear, compelling vision and engaged employees who share your values. You are there to inspire the team, but they are the ones who will provide you with inspiration and give you the ability to accomplish what you need to do. Hire great people and develop open and frequent communication with them. Too many leaders under-estimate the role that creating a strong culture can and will have on your future success. Lastly, focus on customer-centricity. Every customer is important, and their experience needs to always be a 10. 

GE and LK: Tell us about your experience with Golden Seeds. How has the Golden Seeds network been helpful to you?  

TA: Golden Seeds has been a great partner, and we appreciate their involvement and belief in Alcatraz AI‘s mission. When we learned that Golden Seeds invests in female founders and CEOs with vision and purpose, Alcatraz AI made a series of presentations to the New York and Silicon Valley teams. We realized there was a good fit and began to see interest among their members in our Series A round. All of this was made possible by the two of you, who took the lead on due diligence and worked closely with us. 

I love the mission of Golden Seeds – it reminds me of one of my favorite quotes from author Kate Hodges: “Behind every woman is another great woman.” I think we’ve just begun to scratch the surface of what we can do together.

For more wisdom like this from other incredible female leaders, read more on Golden Seeds’ blog.