Let’s face it, 2020 has been an odd one. It’s been simultaneously the shortest and longest year of my life. I find it astonishing that we have again reached 24th August and SafeStack’s birthday.
Today we are 6 and those 6 years have been a lifetime packed into the blink of an eye. I somehow now have an almost 2 year old child, an almost 8 year old and an awkward 6 year old company middle child.
For those of you in early stage or growth companies, our pathway will be familiar. The ups and downs we experience as founders are now well trodden in the Medium posts of others. It doesn’t make it any less challenging though.
Companies resemble their founders
I will be the first to admit that the chaos of the early SafeStack years mirrored my personal chaos. An uncertainty echoed from me to the company and amplified. As I grow older and understand myself and my limits more, the chaos is fading and what is left is simpler. Perhaps I just stopped caring so much, or perhaps I just started to believe in myself a little more…. What I can say is that after 6 years, SafeStack is growing up and I can’t wait to see what she is capable of.
As with previous years, I want to share some of the things I have learned in the past year and set a tone or theme for the next 12 months.
Six lessons from six years
- Ultimately, SafeStack is all about its team and its people
This year has been challenging for businesses big and small. I have such gratitude for my little team during these times. Sitting on a video call when New Zealand first went into Level 4 lockdown, we faced tough choices that would shape our future. While anxiety was high and the world was uncertain, we came together, supported one another and made a plan. Without my team, SafeStack would be a very different place, with very different stories to tell.
- Building up again is hard but the past does not predict the future
We haven’t always succeeded (I haven’t always succeeded) and over the years we have had our share of hard learned lessons. But we are not ruled by these stories and events. We have learned from them and grown. I am grateful that we have a culture of sharing mistakes, working together and becoming stronger because of them. I/we will never be perfect but we will always try hard to be better.
- Use experts, ask for help and reach outside your bubble
It’s very tempting to grow a company of people you know, who look and sound like you. People from your circles or bubbles. Taking a step into the unknown with people has been scary but exactly what we needed to do. We have welcomed 7 new people to the team in the past year and all but 2 are new to security, new to the company and new to my contacts and circles. We have also added an advisory board to help with leadership and strategy, again from unexpected places.
Diversity isn’t just the functions we measure like gender and ethnicity, but the communities we reach and draw from. This change to breaking out of our bubble has brought a set of amazing skills, viewpoints and approaches we couldn’t have found by keeping to what and who we already knew.
- Launching things is scary (but not as scary as you believe it is)
We’ve launched 3 products this year as part of SafeStack Academy and they are a credit to the team. Everyone has worked hard and pushed themselves to build the right product, with the resources we have at hand. We have all sat with butterflies the nights before launches, scared of what the day will bring. It’s taken a while for us to realise that launch is the start of the hard work, not the end, and we can take a breath.
- Stepping back is hard (but the best thing I can do for my company)
Promoting Erica to COO and letting go of a lot of my operational responsibilities is essential to SafeStack’s ambitions for the next few years. It’s easy to say and hard to do. Letting go of something I’ve been so deeply involved is the hardest and most worthwhile personal change I’ve made this year. It has freed me to be the leader I need to be, not the jack-of-all-trades that the early years required.
- Accept who you are as a person and a company
I have an awkwardness as a founder, an insecurity that comes from not sounding or thinking like a lot of my peers. I don’t mean this in a “I’m special” way, just that I don’t fit into the conventions of security (or start-ups) very neatly. SafeStack is the same. In previous years a lot of time was wasted trying to fix what we were, to be closer to convention. This year has been the year of accepting and valuing our differences and finding ways to use them as a superpower.
Theme for the next year: Commitment
If I could set the tone for the year to come, it would be commitment.
- Commitment to our mission of making security for everyone – through our actions as a company and our products. Even when those missions are big or the actions make us feel vulnerable.
- Commitment to ourselves as people and teammates to stay happy and healthy in challenging circumstances (and committing to the activities and choices that enable that to happen).
- Commitment to the path we have set and the growth we want to achieve. Executing on a product and migrating from a pure services company to a hybrid is going to be challenging and will require commitment and perseverance but we can do it.
Wherever you are right now and whatever brings you to this article, I hope that you remain safe as this year continues and that you find moments to reflect as I have done today.
To the friends, family and people who continue to support me and the wider SafeStack team. This one is for you.