Tamer Hassan was on his second tour of duty in Afghanistan (his fourth overall in the Middle East) in the fall of 2012. He was a pilot in the Air Force running search and rescue missions. He slept in a tent next to the helicopters, ready to fly at a moment’s notice.
In his downtime—and when he had an internet connection—he was also leading White Ops, the company he co-founded in January of that year while on standby duty.
White Ops, a cybersecurity company that tackles ad fraud and bot detection, has held weekly all-hands meetings since its inception. Hassan used a satellite phone, which is usually used during missions, to join the call while on base.
“I would get on a [satellite] phone and dial in, and [co-founder, president] Michael [Tiffany] would just yell, because there’s a lot of wind in Afghanistan, ‘Somebody’s not muting,’” Hassan recalled. “I don’t even know where the mute button is on a sat phone, and so I would have to get into the back of [a plane] just to get out of the wind when they’re parked on the tarmac to do these weekly calls.”
Hassan always wanted to be an engineer, inspired by his two architect parents. His Coptic Orthodox mother and his Muslim father had to leave their home country of Egypt as political refugees. Hassan called his mom a talented, abstract thinker who’d get written up for wearing jeans and hard hats to construction sites.
“Needless to say, my dad fell for her there,” Hassan said.
Hassan bounced around a bit as a kid. He grew up mostly in California but moved at 16 to finish his last two years of high school in Southern Alabama. His dad was the architect of the school.
Now Hassan is the CEO of a global company of roughly 150 employees. The firm first drew buzz after uncovering Methbot, a $3 million per day digital ad fraud scheme, in 2016. A couple of years later, White Ops gained notoriety from outside the ad industry when it helped law enforcement end a $30 million scheme that saw eight people indicted.
“For years, I was caught in this mindset that we all need to be working in an office together,” said Hassan. “At the time, I had just left the Air Force, where proximity can mean life or death. When I look back, my mistake wasn’t just hiring too slowly; it’s that I wasn’t looking in all the right places for talent.”
Today, White Ops employs 150 staffers across five countries, including offices in Buenos Aires and British Columbia.
“Now we go where the talent is and build around them. There’s no 10-square-mile ring around our talent, and that’s made all the difference,” he said.
How He Got the Gig
Hassan co-founded White Ops as chief technology officer, but the board of directors asked him to step into the CEO role last April to lead the company’s next phase of growth.
“If you’ve seen the movie Doctor Strange, there’s a scene where the characters enter a mirror world where the sky becomes the ground and buildings suddenly turn sideways. That’s working in cybersecurity,” said Hassan. “My advice is [to] learn how to break an ill-defined problem down to its component parts and come to a solution from first principles.”