I sat down with CEO Brennen Byrne of CLEF to talk about his start-up, life in Oakland, and tech diversity. Clef is a three person start-up based in Jack London Square that solves the frustration of having to memorize dozens of passwords and promotes privacy and safety of information. Clef puts the power of encryption into your mobile phone rather than relying on memorization of 8 characters, a smiley face, two numbers and a capital letter.

Our Q&A follows:

What are the 5 year goals for your company?

We are a privacy company, so we are all about making it safer and more private to be online, we don’t store any of your information. We don’t track you and we don’t follow you. Also, it is not our goal to be bought out.

If we are bought out by Google or Facebook they would be in their tracking realms, and  we are not interested in that. We just want to make the web a safer place.  We want to make security safer and easier, all the places that use passwords. Password pit our memory against a computer’s brute force. Computers have come a long way, our memories have not. I think that we need a better solution and I feel our phones are that solution, because a phone pits a computer against a computer. The 4 number pin is just a stopgap in case you lose your phone, really.

What are your goals for Oakland in the next five years? How do you plan on  integrating yourself into Oakland ?

We are new to this community and we are coming here from San Francisco, so we want to be as thoughtful as we can. San Francisco has no community, we were missing that sense of community we’re building here.

A lot of it is supporting local business and making sure we stay local in the events we are attending and the organizations we support. We are working with Code for America in Oakland, for example. Also with Open Oakland, a group working on an app for the city council minutes. We want to be a part of bringing neighborhoods up, and not push people out.

What is your experience with Vator Splash Oakland, the conference in May?

We were recommended by someone who works there to take part. We love Oakland and for there to be a start-up event here is very exciting. We want to use the fact that there are a lot of cool things happening in Oakland.

What are you doing to alleviate the gender gap in tech?

Our company is three men, we failed miserably!  But we do understand how important it is and the issue is bias towards women from education to funding to hiring,  We are looking towards recruiting strongly from groups like Black Girls Code, because we feel that the problem is both gender and race. We do work with WordPress and their community is very gender equal.  

Where do you feel the tech industry is with Business Insider and Wired publishing articles that we are in a big tech bubble right now  similar to the one in 1999/2000? Are people anticipating a crash? Do they hope it will keep going up?

What is happening right now is different then what happened in 1999. Business are making a lot more money now. The pre-2000 bubble was characterized by businesses who did not make any money. They would go public & sell their stock to people outside Silicon Valley, and would throw big launch parties, have an IPO, then never do anything with the money.

At the same time, there are definitely warning signs we should pay attention to. The recent acquisition of Whatsapp at a very high price– that is a bubble sign.

The way the industry is shaped is also changing compared to 2000. One of the reasons there is such a huge movement in tech right now is that the job market was dry for a whole wave of college graduates. The larger tech companies like Facebook were doing well, the Valley was a cool and hip place and that led to a lot of startups, that got a little funding, yet a lot of them did not make it. Today,  companies are dying earlier than they used to. It used to be that all you had to do was incorporate, then get an IPO.  Now it is much harder to get your company to go public.

In your time off, what Oakland events do you like to attend?

My favorite is the Tourettes without Regrets show every month at the Metro Opera House on 3rd street. I also went to the Erotic film festival at Grand Lake theater last month.


At 1:00 am,  where is the best place to get food in Oakland?

At Clef, we do a lot of home cooking. We’re in The Port and we also make dinner for the entire co-working space every Wednesday.

What other local companies can you recommend?

Shoppad, they make shopping cart software such as Shopify work on your phone.

For more info, check out Clef.