Get to know a Toronto startup: TunnelBear

In a world watched by the NSA, Toronto's TunnelBear is combining Internet security and a love for bears in a way that increases consumer privacy for everyone online.

Located at Queen and Spadina, TunnelBear offers a free app that allows users to explore the internet privately on both their browser or mobile phone away from the prying eyes of advertisers and governments. Need to access Pandora or Hulu? TunnelBear also allows you to mask your location - just install their app and listen/watch for free.

While similar in premise to Toronto's SurfEasy which initially offered a paid product, TunnelBear differentiated itself by offering a free product for all devices that could be upgraded to a paid one should you want additional bandwidth or more features. With nearly a million users across the globe their pricing strategy seems to have been so successful that their competitors are following suit.

Walking into TunnelBear's office, you can immediately sense the energy. With faux bear skins and an arsenal of nerf guns, it's clear that they're building a product that consumers will like in an environment that they all love.

I recently sat down with Ryan Dochuk, TunnelBear's co-founder and CEO, who spoke passionately about his team and their vision.

What is TunnelBear and how does it work?

At TunnelBear, we think the Internet is a much better place when everyone can browse privately, and browse the same Internet as everyone else. Our apps and services provide safe-passage and privacy to an open internet. The applications work by securing your internet traffic as it leaves your computer or device and safely "tunneling" that traffic to another location of your choosing.

The user experiences the internet as if they were located in that country, avoiding censorship and blocked websites. Additionally, If unwelcome groups such as advertisers or fraudsters attempt to monitor your internet browsing, they will only see unreadable data.

What are your biggest features?

When we launched TunnelBear a couple years ago, the Virtual Private Network (VPN) market was a very different place. There were hundreds of providers, but the services were really geared towards a technical audience. You had to understand IP Addresses, Ports, TCP/IP and a bunch of technical jargon to get up and running. So our first big "feature" was really just hiding all that complexity. Our PC/Mac app has "On" and "Off" dials and that was it - we did the rest for you.

We also have completely free versions of our app. So you can download any one of our PC, Mac, Android or iOS apps and get 500MBs of free data every month. If you tweet about it, you can get an extra gigabyte. And some of the best features about TunnelBear are things we don't do. For example, we don't log or monitor our users internet traffic, we don't injects ads into the browsing experience, we don't "bundle" third party applications, etc.

We also have lots and lots of Bears.

Why might someone use your product?

Our customers use TunnelBear for a variety of different applications from: browsing securely on public WiFi networks, general private internet browsing and accessing censored or blocked websites.

In a recent example, TunnelBear became very active in Turkey after the Turkish government began blocking access to Twitter, Facebook and other social media sites, which were being used to organize anti-government protests. Tens of thousands of Turkish citizens downloaded TunnelBear to keep connected. The TunnelBear team also temporarily enabled free access to our service for tens of thousands of citizens (full Toronto Star story here).

How secure is your product?

We take security and privacy very seriously at TunnelBear and building trust with our users is really important. We have a world-class team who are dedicated to building secure, private applications and we go to great lengths to have transparent terms of service and privacy policies so our customers can have confidence in our company.

Are there any legal implications for you or your users?

Virtual Private Networks like TunnelBear are used by millions of consumers and businesses every day to browse privately and keep their data safe. If users decide to browse geographically blocked websites, they should always read and understand the Terms of Service of those websites and understand those restrictions.

When did you launch? How many employees do you have? How many users do you have now?

We launched in 2011 with two founders and a PC application. We now have applications for PC, Mac, Android and iOS, 8 employees, with nearly a million users coming from over 168 Countries.

Who are your competitors? How does pricing work and how are you different/better?

We have traditional Virtual Private Network (VPN) competitors like Hotspot Shield and Strong VPN as well as more privacy-focused competitors such as Abine, Disconnect.me and others.

Our applications are generally much easier to use, with faster networks and 300% more Bears.

Have you raised funding?

TunnelBear is proudly bootstrapped. We love the freedom to be creative and build products we are proud of.

What are your next steps?

We think the Internet has become a creepy place with widespread tracking and surveillance having become the de facto standard. TunnelBear will continue to improve our computer and mobile applications while expanding our features that support strong consumer privacy.

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