What do cybersec professionals need to know to build a cyber-business? Guidance from one of the UK's leading cyber-security accelerators.
A caveat upfront: I'm not a cyber-entrepreneur. Nor do I have any technical expertise relevant to the field of information security. In fact, I have a background in government (diplomatic branch), so you'd be forgiven for wondering what insights I could possibly offer to a cyber entrepreneur.
Well, hopefully CyLon's experience establishing and running an accelerator programme which focuses solely on supporting cyber-entrepreneurs has given us a unique perspective on what it takes to get a cyber-business off the ground, and I thought I would share some observations we've made along the way.
1. Fix a problem that matters
I don't care if you've developed the most incredible piece of tech or code mankind has ever seen. If it doesn't address a real-world challenge, and offer the prospect of solving that challenge for users or security professionals, then you haven't got a business. An accelerator like ours might help you refine your proposition, and orient it correctly, but if no one needs it, I am afraid you've got a hobby, not a startup. Security is an incredibly hard sector to break into, and security professionals have enough problems already; they need solutions.
2. Tell your story
The most successful startups have a great product and an even better story. Critically, they can articulate what they do and why it matters, but they also build a narrative around themselves and their journey which makes them stand out from the ninety-nine other businesses striving for the limited attention span of a customer or partner. In recent times, no one has done this better in cyber than Darktrace and the ‘enterprise immune system'. Is anyone surprised they've reached a huge valuation? And the next team in line? I'd watch out for Tessian (full disclosure: a CyLon alum), reinventing enterprise communications security, starting with misaddressed emails. They've got a great story, and see point 1 above.
3. Build strategic relationships
Your network matters. It won't just help you raise capital and find customers, but it will help you avoid damaging mistakes, which can include taking money from an angel investor with a bad reputation, or hiring the wrong person to lead your sales and marketing. If networking isn't your thing, that's got to change. The founders of the most successful CyLon startups all have this in common: a knack for building and instrumentalising strategic relationships.
4. Don't sit still
That thing you're building? It probably won't be the thing that makes your company the next Sophos. It will certainly get you on the way, but it will need to change out of recognition by the time it is ready for enterprise integrations and the needs of sophisticated customers. So by all means build a great product, but listen to mentors, to investors, to customers and to your team, and adapt as you go. Have you built the feature that your new client needs? Maybe not. Are you building it next? Damn right you are.
5. Sell, sell, sell
You are going to have to get used to hearing your sales mantra, which will feature the problem you're solving (point 1) and the story behind it (point 2), repeated until you know it by heart and you hear it in your sleep. All our best teams have or develop the knack for selling their product and their company to real world customers. Ultimately there's just no substitute. We are proud to have worked with some truly fabulous entrepreneurs and innovators over the past three years, but the best among them knew the importance of and mastered the skills and discipline of sales. It is hard to reach, let alone persuade a busy security manager that he or she needs your technology.
Contributed by Jonathan Luff, co-founder of CyLon.
*Note: The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of SC Media UK or Haymarket Media.