It was around this time last year that Sean and I finally decided to start our own company. We had talked about it for years, and, as I often joke, we both found ourselves
unemployed strategically available at the same time. The sound of our beers clanking after a commemorative cheers is still in my head. We had just made a big decision to start a company. To say that I have learned a lot over the last year is an understatement. The goal of this post is to hopefully get to share some of the ups and downs of our first year in business.
Keep Secure started off with one client. Well, technically, this was a client from the Clyfar Solutions days (ie: my days as a contractor). From that first contract, we have grown in a word-of-mouth fashion, and are now in directly at 7 clients.
Our clients are generally on the smaller side (think startups) but we have done work for a couple of larger clients. From an industry perspective, interestingly enough, most of our clients are in the fintech space.
Keep Secure has not restricted itself to direct clients. Instead of focusing on building an internal sales capability, we believe that the security services we provide act as a easy complimentary solution to many other consulting companies. From a partner perspective, we have 4 primary partners that we meet with regularly. The interesting thing about this space is that there is lots of interest by larger consulting firms to grow cyber security capabilities in the western Canada market.
When Sean and I initially started the business last year, hiring employees was the last thing on our mind. Sure, we had talked about what a future growth plan could look like, but it seemed distant and far out. We had a lot of capacity (just between the two of us) and a large group of contractors to pull from should the need arise.
Hiring James was a bit of an opportunistic move on our part. As Sean likes to put it, we had a lot of balls in the air, and if they all landed, we’d be in trouble. I had known James from a previous life, and I knew he’d be a good fit. I see a tendency in the consulting space for employers to treat employees almost like contractors (just at lower wages). They refuse to have them sitting on the bench for any length of time, and are slow/scared to pull the trigger on resources that will help them scale the business later on. We decided to take on the risk before we had set work for him. It has luckily all worked out for us, but, suffice to say, hiring our first employee was quite the move. Keep Secure definitely felt more real after that, now that we had the liability of 3 months of wages :D
We rounded out the year by hiring Conner. As Sean puts it, Conner is the young pup that reminds us old dogs what it’s like to really love IT. Maybe we loved it back then too, maybe we still love it now, but we are all too cynical to admit it.
As a private company, reporting numbers in any fashion is a funny exercise. On the one hand, I don’t want anyone to judge my company performance on numbers alone. We are not a numbers only shop, so it only tells one side of the story. On the other hand, I think it’s important to share this type of information with others. Talking about our experiences allows us all to get a better understanding of the challenges involved in running a business.
Over the last 365 days, Keep Secure has grossed about 450K. I don’t think that is too bad for the first year in business, especially when you consider the amount of time we have spent in business development (a necessary evil). Our farm is much healthier at this stage then it was when we started, and we hope to capitalize on that (and our partnerships) more in year 2. At a standard 11 times forward earnings, I value our company at 1 trillion dollars (just kidding).
Many consulting businesses are built off of the notion that customers like to trade dollars for hours. A lot of our focus over this first year has been converting services from hourly based delivery to packages tied to business value either as a fixed bid engagement or as a retainer service.
At the start of the year, we had one packaged offering, which was our Application Security Assessment. Quickly we found that there are a few common problems that all of our customers suffered from (which were exposed in the application security assessment). This prompted us to grow our portfolio. While we can help with a lot more then the below, this a list of our current packaged offerings:
We should likely come up with cooler names for the above. I’ll slot that in as a Q2 deliverable. We see the above packages as a roadmap for our customers to create an effective security program and ensure that it is effective in to the future. We will likely flush out more offerings this year.
I think it would be fun to share some of the lessons we’ve learned over our first year of business.
But rather a loose set of business tasks.
I think the main thing one needs in starting a business is a direction. The plan should be firm enough to allow for effective decision making, but loose enough to allow for flexibility. Opportunities come and go, and you need to spend some time looking at all of them. I’m surprised with how many times our business vision comes up in meetings. Honestly, I’m not sure… we will see where it goes!
The security industry is riddled with snake-oil salesmen who, frankly, ruin the potential. One thing Keep Secure is deeply focused on is ensuring that our delivery is of high quality, and puts security first. This principle has resonated with our clients, allowing us to grow organically by word of mouth. We have a near 100% conversion rate with this method, and it is operating a pace that we can handle comfortably.
I was told by someone that VCs like investing in companies that have two founders. Two is always better than one, or something like that. I think it is important to find a partner that balances you. Sean and I really compliment each other in this area. Between us, we can cover a lot of breadth of the security space (mostly because we don’t overlap a ton). From a business perspective, Sean is really good with the marketing/design and I’ve been working on developing/defining our package offerings. There is an amazing variety of things that a business needs to do, finding someone with talents in other areas helps immeasurably.
We are excited about year two. There are lots of opportunities on the radar as we expand our operations. Year one was focused on getting an initial client base and building up a war chest so we can continue to grow. Now our focus will turn to expanding into other markets/verticals, expanding our partners (and gaining some deeper integration with them), and on cultivating a slightly different strategy (which you might hear about at some point in the future). Year two, here we come.
Shamir is a Microsoft Most Valuable Professional (MVP – Azure) and has extensive experience building solutions in the cloud, from strategy to deployment to automation