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And then we were three

Musings and retrospectives for SafeStack’s 3rd Birthday

One of the most nerve wracking parts of founding a company in those early years is the constant stream of armchair critics keen to tell you that 85% of companies fail and only a small number make it.

Back in the UK (place of my birth and family) these stories would be shared with the grim smile of someone commiserating with you before the inevitable failure. Often this would be accompanied by alcohol.

In New Zealand, while the alcohol is normally still somewhere nearby, that message is a call to arms to be one of the survivors and to beat the odds where others have not. Down here the message comes with an offer of hope and of help. It makes all the difference.

Happy Birthday SafeStack

Today my company turns 3 and today I get to raise my glass to that victory and to the milestones that we should not have met (at least if you listen to my kin).

Each year at about this time I sit back and reflect on the last 12 months, on SafeStack and on myself. Using the exact same format as the retrospective one-to-ones I do with my staff each month, I sit and I take stock.

Then I write.

As I write this my team are blowing up balloons for our birthday celebrations tomorrow, the sound of laughter and balloon engineering the soundtrack to my post.

SafeStack Year 3 — Restrospective

Three years feels like a long time to me now. The scrappy beginnings of SafeStack in a collaboration space in central Auckland are a distant memory.

We have emerged from our fragile beginnings and are really embracing what we are. We are definitely different to most security companies and I am finally beginning to appreciate this as strength rather than novelty.

What has gone well?

This year is the first year we have truly felt like a team. There are 10 of us now. This time last year we were just 6 and were just starting to feel out the edges of what our structure would need to be.

SafeStack HQ 3.0

We moved offices.

Our boardroom sized palace, once huge with just a chair and a desk in it was bursting at the seams when we finally took our jump and found a grown up office. Our move to dedicated space gave us room to communicate and collaborate like never before.

We have grown financially. Despite some challenges along the way, SafeStack has shown healthy figures in all the right places. We sorted our processes and found a rhythm.

We invested in research and development.

We diversified.

We launched an e-learning platform that is gaining strength as a solution to the growing need to scale security in large organisations. We launched Dfend and started our mission to automate tedious security tasks and let busy security teams do “More Security, Less Work”

Side note: We read a lot about branding and in the words of our technical lead, Robert… it was time to “RTFM marketing”.

We continued to be grateful for each other, to help the community and be inclusive in our operations and hiring.

In some ways I feel like we started this year as a chaotic startup and ended it as something else, something more resilient, more authentic and more … well, us.

What has not gone so well?

We learned that communication is hard and that is amplified when your leadership travels a lot. I learned the cost of being absent from the team is high, even when the trip was for business.

We fell over. We made mistakes, all of us, especially me.

We each learned lessons. We learned to manage stress and pressure. We learned the differences between us that make us strong also make it hard to understand each other.

We saw what happens when we don’t take care of ourselves. We learned about burnout and how to avoid it. We took steps and had honest conversations.

We learned that being a diverse and inclusive organisation is harder than the rainbow laden blog posts would have us believe. We felt vulnerable, we cried, we helped each other and we tried to change. I feel like this is a mission we will continue to fight hard for.

We learned the pain of being a bootstrapped company that scales: the dark days of sitting in dorm rooms in foreign cities (because the business hotels were out of reach financially), the $10 a day travel budget and the long lonely nights of managing time zones when away are all vivid memories from the past 12 months.

We said No when we should have said Yes.

We said Yes when we should have said No.

We learned the differences between advisory companies and product companies and we are still learning how to balance the two side by side.

We learned that hiring is very hard when you’re small and that good people are hard to find.

We… I… SafeStack… you can substitute and mix the 3…

This year was about understanding who we really are and what it takes to grow from nothing to something special — some of those lessons were harder earned than others.

What do I want for the next 12 months?

So what of the year to come? Well for me I think year 4 will be the year of building upon our foundation and making it easier for us to grow further.

The word that resonates for me here is “sustainable”.

This will be the year of automation, of simplification and pragmatism as we try to get the most from the investments we have made in partnerships, products and research.

This year will be the year you hear from even more of my team. We will push more talks and research out into the world and then listen to the stories that others share with us in return.

We will continue to grow headcount and I will personally fight hard to continue our history of hiring a diverse and inclusive group.

With Dean Carter’s imminent move to Australia in pursuit of love, I have no doubt that SafeStack will become more global and bring an even richer set of approaches and people together as a result.

Finally, I’m also hoping this is a year of balance and of healthy choices.

It’s no coincidence that in the same year my daughter will turn 5 and start school, I will be encouraging my staff to find their own balance, to manage their health, wellbeing and time well. I know that this will be important to me in the coming months as she makes her epic transition into childhood and the great world beyond.

Finally, to SafeStack’s friends

Our crazy company is supported by an entire supporting cast of friends and family.

From the people we hold nearest and dearest, to those who, like comets, only come into our orbits from time to time and leave us a little better for the experience.

Thank you to all those who have supported us so far.

To our customers, advisors, friends, partners and everyone else in between, you are all amazing people, the vivid heroes of your own adventures and yet… you spared some time to be there and help us.

So to all those people, remember you always have a friend here at SafeStack. We wouldn’t be turning 3 without you.