Anil Karmel was a curious kid. It wasn’t enough for him to press the buttons in the car or mess around with the knobs on the new stereo; he wanted to take anything technological apart and figure out how it worked. One day his father came home with an Atari 2600 for him, one of the first video game console systems on the market replete with a wood grain finish. Playing it was fun, but immediately he knew what he really wanted to do: disassemble it.
Right away, without letting his parents know, he began experimenting with the device, removing pieces until he could rebuild it from the ground up. Technology fascinated him; he also had a natural talent for learning the inner workings of machines. He never let his parents know that he’d rebuilt the Atari.
Anil’s father was interested in technology, too. At a time when most people knew very little about personal computers, few suspected the impact they would make over the decades to come. Anil’s father was constantly bringing home new tech — or, as Anil saw them, new toys — to play with. One day, he came home with a Commodore Vic 20, which Anil describes as the predecessor to the Commodore 64 — itself the predecessor to the IBM PC.
“I’m reading books about this, and I start programming these simple, BASIC games,” Anil recalls. “This was life-changing to me. You’re in a room, which way do you turn? Left, right, forward, press this key to go this way. I’m programming these little, early games and saving them to tape. That curiosity really set the foundation for my life.”
Anil’s father continued to bring home every iteration of the new IBM PCs, which he needed for his business. Though they were for work, Anil was present every step of the way, looking over his shoulder or even taking the wheel. He wasn’t only learning programming; he was continuing to learn how to build more and more complex machines and exploring their full capabilities. “With early PCs, they were actually designed to be assembled at home,” explains Anil. “So, we built them together; it was a major bonding activity between my dad and I. Back in the day there was a magazine called Computer Shopper; we would buy a motherboard, a big tube of memory, a video card, a sound card and a modem. You put it all together, and you turn it on, and you hope the thing works! I’d be like, ’Wow, it turned on; it didn’t blow up!’”
Anil and his father got so good at building these early PC systems, they began building them for other people and charging money for the service. Anil was only nine years old, but already his technical expertise was bringing in customers.
It’s hardly a surprise then, that today Anil is the Co-Founder and CEO of RegScale, a cutting-edge compliance automation company that simplifies and automates regulatory compliance for both the federal government and commercial companies via its software. “We serve our clients by solving the problem no one wants to do, everyone hates to do and when said, brings on a full-fledged shudder….compliance,” describes Anil. “RegScale integrates companies’ existing security and compliance technologies to deliver continuous compliance against multiple regulations at scale. Our headquarters is right here in Northern Virginia, and research & development is in Knoxville, Tennessee.”
RegScale was spun out of C2 Labs, which Anil also co-founded to deliver Continuously Compliant (C2) solutions to heavily Regulated industries. RegScale grew out of what Anil recognized as major inefficiencies in the compliance space in the federal sector. During the decade prior, Anil had been working at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico. He started there as a Lotus Notes Administrator, but quickly saw opportunities to move upward. He began working on virtualization, moving physical boxes onto individual virtual machines. Virtualization was new, and people either didn’t know about it or didn’t understand its potential. “When you think about virtualization, think about what everyone uses today,” Anil elaborates. “Amazon Web Service, Microsoft Azure. We built an automated way to provision servers back in 2009 before those really were anything. It was on premises and self-service within our environment. What we built would be called a private cloud. You go through a self-service portal, click a button and 30 minutes later you’re set — we called it Infrastructure on Demand.”
Anil knew he was on to something. He’d seen the inefficiencies that came along with manually provisioning servers. As the digital age continued to develop, having to manually track and manage everything became more and more anachronistic. However, it wasn’t until a couple of years into the private cloud journey that he really understood how revolutionary the tech could be. Around 2010, he was invited to speak at a major conference. The audience was over 700 people. Anil was sweating bullets, nervous because he’d never given a presentation to that size of a crowd before. “After I got past my nerves, I spoke and got the confidence I needed,” Anil remembers. “When I was done, 50 or so people came up afterward to ask for my business card. I realized at that time that this thing is actually, really different, and it’s actually a big deal. I hadn’t quite realized that before because I was always in the confines of a lab with my colleagues. That was what set the course for the rest of my career, everything from that point on built to what we’re doing now.”
Meanwhile, Anil’s fellow co-founder and RegScale’s future CTO, Travis Howerton, was employed with the federal government. He was working for the Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA). The NNSA comprises about half the Department of Energy, with over sixty thousand employees. The two men met at a conference and immediately hit it off. Travis was very interested in Anil’s work, and when he got the call to become CTO of the entire weapon’s program, brought Anil in as his Deputy CTO. It was then that Anil made the move from New Mexico to DC.
“Travis was leading a program to drive transformation across the weapons complex and pulled me in as Chief Architect,” Anil relates. “After I became Deputy CTO, our project got a lot of attention in this town. What we realized as we went through that journey was, standing up the infrastructure was great, but you have to build all the compliance documentation to ensure the systems are compliant with federal compliance standards and frameworks. All of this was still done with Word documents, spreadsheets and PDFs that are instantly out of date the moment they’re created. We both knew that there had to be a better way. We needed to figure out how to drive digital transformation to serve customers and see if there’s a compliance software platform there to make all this real.”
Eight years ago, C2 Labs (C2) launched with a mission of serving customers across heavily regulated industries to drive their digital transformation and understand their compliance challenges along the way. About four years ago, Travis joined C2 to lead the research and development division, and since that time they developed their software product, Atlasity. Originally called ‘Project Atlas’ to invoke the idea of mapping out your compliance journey, they knew they needed a more original name to go to market. It was actually Anil’s beloved fiancé, Amanda, who came up with the interim launch name as the two had dinner in a Chinese restaurant. “We’ve got Fortune 100 companies using it now,” says Anil. “We have government agencies, large government contractors and others in the commercial space using it, as well. It launched in February of 2021, and it’s already making a difference.”
The partnership between Travis and Anil is a wonderful one; Anil can hardly sing Travis’ praises enough. “He’s a hardcore engineer, incredibly technical and the smartest guy I know, and I’m also happy to also call him my best friend,” Anil smiles. “We’re 50/50 founders of the company. We’re both competitive, and that’s where this synergy comes in. He’s very technical, he’s driven to solve customer problems, and he loves coding, developing and mentoring folks. He’s also good at the business side; he could run the company if he so desired. But his happy place is working amongst his team or sitting at home coding. I’m the exact opposite. I like talking to people. I like speaking and sharing ideas and collaborating with folks, so it makes sense that he focuses on product development and I focus externally on growing our company.”
Today, the company has secured its’ first round of investment and is rapidly scaling up its workforce. Atlasity (now RegScale) was bootstrapped in C2 Labs. “This first round of funding will allow us to begin taking our product to the broader market. We used our own developers to build the software internally at C2 Labs and are excited to solve this compliance problem on a global scale.”
Anil never considered himself a natural leader and wasn’t always such an extrovert. In fact, as a kid, he describes himself as shy and withdrawn, always with his head in some machine or other. Anil was born in New York to two Indian-immigrant parents, the older of two with a sister four years younger. When Anil was five years old, the family relocated to the Chicago suburbs.
School was never a problem for Anil; he and his sister did well academically. He quotes back the advice he received from his mother with a laugh. She bought a video for us entitled, “Where there’s a will, there’s an ‘A.’” High grades were an expectation in the household. He also found great joy in his tinkering after school, his music lessons and his church community. Anil’s family was heavily involved in a local Indian Christian church.
However, it wasn’t all smooth sailing. Anil recalls that his school in the Chicago suburbs was about 98 percent white, and being different in any way made you a target for bullying and teasing. It was in school, he notes, that he became withdrawn. He figured the safest bet was to keep his head down and focus on school, but the lack of acceptance would hurt his confidence for years to come. “I was really a product of two cultures,” he reflects. “I ended up growing a very thick skin, because I was picked on. I knew I couldn’t rely on folks at school so I tried to rely on my own culture. But as a second-generation immigrant, I didn’t always fit in there either. A lot of my childhood was learning, ‘Where do I fit in?’”
Fortunately, Anil had two very supportive and loving parents behind him. His father was an accountant who initially worked at a Big Four accounting firm when Anil was young and later decided to hang out his own shingle. Anil credits this act with inspiring his own entrepreneurialism over the years. His mother was a superwoman; working as both an ICU nurse and taking care of the kids. “From my father, I got my curiosity, my need to understand and my desire to continually learn,” Anil states. “My mom, she’s the sweetest person you will ever know. She is selfless beyond measure; she will literally put her life on the line to take care of anybody that needs it.”
Although engineering and tech might’ve seemed the natural career path for the kid who couldn’t stop building computers, that’s not what Anil assumed he’d end up doing. As he entered high school and went on the college, he’d decided on studying biology with an eye to going into medicine. The dissection of a fetal pig wasn’t, to him, so different from dissecting his devices back home, and he found the human body fascinating. He went to the University of Illinois as a pre-med student and began to work as an EMT during his time there. His degree is a Bachelor of Science in Cellular and Structural Biology. Fate, however, intervened.
Anil had kept up his interest in technology by joining the computer clubs at college. He still considered it more of a hobby than a possible job. But one day, a friend instructed him to go down to the computer lab and grab a floppy disk from a fellow student named Marc. Anil didn’t know Marc; he was a friend of a friend. “A tall gentleman, about 6’3,’’ hands me this floppy. I go home, plug it into my 486 computer and fire up NCSA Mosaic, the world’s first internet browser,” Anil describes. “It turns out that tall gentleman in the hallway was Marc Andreessen.” Andreessen is now famous worldwide for being the co-author of Mosaic and the later co-founder of Netscape.
“I started playing with it and was fascinated,” smiles Anil. “I was now faced with a major decision: Do I go on to medical school and become a doctor, or am I going to go down the path of technology? To me, it was clear; technology was the future.”
After school, Anil got a job doing some sales work, then moved on to consulting on a Y2K project for a firm called OAG. OAG, or the Official Airline Guide, was the book you used if you missed your flight to find the next available option before the internet. In the meantime, Anil was already indulging his entrepreneurial side. Though he kept a day job, right after college he launched his first business, Karmel DIRECT. He built custom machines for his customers, a concierge service where the computer was built specifically to their specifications, and then he continued to offer training and technical support on the machines as needed. Though it never made a ton of money, it was a profitable business and Anil was able to hire some friends to help out.
Anil still holds on to an old, broken hard drive from the laptop of one of OAG’s senior executives. He was working at OAG, and his boss came to him in a panic over a broken laptop. No matter what the team tried, the thing would simply not turn on, the firm desperately needed information off the machine. “I thought for a second and, I don’t know what possessed me, but I just balled up my fist and hit it hard on top of that hard drive,” laughs Anil. “Sure enough, it fired right up. We immediately pulled all the data off it, and it never turned on again. I kept that hard drive because it’s a reminder — when people come to you with a problem that seems impossible, sometimes you have to come up with a different solution. That’s why our company exists; to solve impossible problems.”
In terms of leadership style, Anil describes himself as a servant leader. “You teach folks by doing, but you also empower them to do it themselves,” he asserts. “Empowering people through servant leadership is the definition of putting those two things together. Because you can teach somebody to do something, but if you don’t empower them to do it to be successful themselves, they’ll never grow.”
To young people entering the working world today, Anil is broad yet definitive. “Ask yourself, what’s the one thing you’re going to do in your life to make a difference? In somebody else’s life, or in this world? Every person needs to answer that in their own way. Every person needs to think about it and answer it differently for themselves. If you provide too much direction to young people, you can start leading them toward your own answer, but everybody’s answer is going to be different, and it should be. That’s what drives change.”