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Posts Tagged ‘start-up’

Do You Stay On The Gas With “Unlimited” Resources…?

March 20th, 2017 Comments off

     It’s been just over four months since I made the jump to start a self-imposed sabbatical to “recharge” and look to define the next chapter after 4.5 years in a hyper growth start-up. In essence, it was 4.5 years training at a redline pace that ultimately demanded a level of moderation, but at a pace that wasn’t mine to control. But what does a hyper-driven and intensely competitive individual do to “recharge” the batteries and spend some much deserved down time do? Well of course you decide to set your sights on doing one of the longest paved climbs in the world, as well as deciding on racing two of the most notable Classic races in Europe that will have no less than a combined 100 kilometers of cobbles between the two events. Those are natural next steps in getting some rest…right?

I’ve always made some pretty strong comparisons between the training for my cycling and the disciplines that have to be practiced in a Corporate environment. While some may balk at the comparison, it comes down to managing the resources you have available, using those resources in an effective manner, while accomplishing the goals or commitments you’ve made to yourself…or others. Let’s look at the very macro comparison of the resources available at a Corporate level versus Personal level. At the Corporate level, imagine having complete open access to the checking account of your favorite VC and being able to deploy those resources in any way you could to your business…ANY way. You can spend anything from $1 million…to $100 million…or more if you felt you needed it. Let’s say you settled on the amount and burned through that spend. What have you been able to accomplish with the deployment of those resources in the end? Have you built a healthy business that has a strong foundation for future growth and have you been able to establish a strong pattern of increasing performance metrics that strike the right balance between aggressive growth, establishing a healthy corporate environment, while positioning the company to deliver on your commitments? General questions, but you get the point.

Let’s talk about the Personal side though. I find myself on sabbatical and all of the sudden I basically have an “open checking account” for training time and can do whatever I want. I can train for 10 hours per week, 20 hours per week…or even 40. However, as with a Corporate environment, there is the same consideration to resources and a healthy foundation as there is for an athlete training for an event. It has to be methodical, planned, sustainable, with appropriate periods of reflection and a tempering of the pace. The attached picture is the actual chart of my training since November and the progressive peaks and subsequent tapering as I move towards my goal of leaving for Europe next week. In the chart the magenta line is the shorter term acute training load while the blue line is the longer term chronic load, which indicates a core fitness base. The yellow line is the fatigue line and the more it dips, the higher the fatigue and time and indication of need to rest. Think of the magenta line as the 200-day moving average for a stock…you can see spikes above the norm, but ultimately it’s going to come back down before hopefully making the next run up. It’s the same concept here. You can see where I’ve had the spikes, but ultimately, you taper down before making the next training push. It’s about finding the right balance, creating a healthy foundation, and continually pushing forward.

Just like the Personal level, there is an equal penalty for “overtraining” at the Corporate level. At the personal level, overtraining can lead to becoming ill, an inability to achieve peak performance, and an extended recovery time to get back to a healthy state of training. In the Corporate environment, the equivalent of “overtraining” is essentially excessive spend, excessive hiring, and a deterioration in the performance metrics of the company. At that point, there’s no choice but to move into a period of recovery to get back to a higher level of performance.

Over the last four month I’ve managed to put in over 9,200 kilometers in the saddle, climb in excess of 300,000 feet, and during that time burn almost 210,000 calories on the bike to achieve that. Again…that’s just in the last four months. Putting 210,000 calories in perspective with some of my favorite foods…

  • Roughly 2,100 packets of energy gel…
  • 131 pounds of pasta…
  • Roughly 1,750 Chobani yogurt cups
  • 1,500 cans of that nectar of the gods…Coca Cola

You get the idea…it’s all about the long game and establishing a strategic and achievable result. Imaging trying to cram all the stats above into a shorter window…say even two months. The likelihood is that you don’t have the proper foundation in place, will overtrain yourself, you’ll likely get sick…and ultimately your fall back weeks or a month…or in the case of a Corporate scenario…potentially losing Quarters due to overtraining.

Happy training my friends…

Jeff

Off To The Races & Billion Dollar Valuations…

December 13th, 2016 Comments off

With the original Cylance team established in July of 2012, the orchestra came together and at that time there as a unified vision to transform the security market and change the way that corporations were thinking about their security infrastructure. We were less than a dozen people working in the living room and bedrooms with a goal of security transformation, and in the eyes of our founder, achieving a billion dollar valuation inside of 4-5 years. When you’re starting on fold-up tables there is no blue print to getting there…only a bit of a dream. However, that’s exactly what the team was doing in those early weeks and few months…creating the blueprint on white boards and oversized post-it notes. The team was sparring on a daily basis on what approach would achieve the best commercial results. It was all about specifically identifying the value proposition behind the vision of the tech that had been decided. While we were not trying to build a new company in a high growth sector, we knew the security sector was dominated by dinosaurs and there was billions in revenue that were ripe for disruption. Cylance was going to be the disrupting force in the equation and that exactly what the team was focused and unified on accomplishing.
We also knew that we could accomplish the goal while being very surgical in our spend and that our success would be based on a breakthrough tech and not spending tens of millions on advertising campaigns, spending ridiculous amount early on trade shows, non-value add events, as well as keeping our hiring cadence under strict control. The company cash burn was extremely minimal in the early stages and it was nearly 18-months before the company received its second round of investment in February of 2014. As we continued to bolster our headcount, invest in the Services team, and gradually moved into new offices, the original $15M investment lasted that first 18-months. Again, we were extremely surgical in our spend and spent every dollar like it was our last dollar. A philosophy that managed to last the better part of almost 4-years…
While the Research team was focused on developing the product there were a host of other operational issues to address as we started to grow as a company and would need a foundation for the first few years. First on the list was to find commercial space as we would definitely need to move out of the house. While a remodel was imminent, we were also working in a space where there were water leaks, open beams with exposed nails, and all the other fun elements of a home start-up! You can imagine the response received when you’re trying to meet with The Irvine Company on a commercial lease, as a new company, no revenue, and you want to sign a 5-year lease and then have them pick up all the buildout and incorporate into the lease rate so as to minimize any immediate cash burn. On top of that…and as a start-up…you’re also asking them to have certain restrictions on competitors worked into the lease as well. Suffice to say that we had a pretty weak position and it took more than a few meetings to get them to buy into our vision and the growth we were looking at achieving. At that stage, it was a huge accomplishment to get our lease signed with The Irvine Company, in a premier location, with building top signage on both sides….and all with a minimal security deposit. Score one for Cylance!
Even with our new lease, we kept our spend to prudent levels that were consistent with our philosophy. Rather than spend six-figure amounts on furniture, we committed to a new entry level offering from Steelcase that could easily be added to as we grew…but not before staying on fold up tables for many months before getting into our new space. We all tended to joke that fold-up tables had become part of the Cylance DNA.
Next on the list was our corporate insurance portfolio. Rewind to the start-up that had no revenues, still had less than a few dozen employees, had actually been turned down by Marsh for being “too small”, but seeking coverage in the low 7-figures. I looked to a prior relationship and again found a partner that believed in our vision as well. Fast forward a few months later and securing our first few customers and we were already going back to ask for additional increases in coverage to the mid-seven figure range. This drill continued on almost a quarterly basis until a final larger customer pushed the coverage limit again…to a point that exceeded our billings on even a cumulative basis. Again, transparency and strength in our relationship got the coverage in place. While there was certainly some raised eyebrows, they believed in Cylance and continue to realize the benefits of the relationship, which now extends on a global basis. Again, it came down to relationships, communication, and a mutual respect on both sides to manage the expectations on such a hyper growth path.
Marketing? The first few shows were an absolute kick to plan being the new kid on the block. Our burn was primarily aimed at headcount support, but we also knew we needed to start getting the Cylance name out there. For the first few RSA and Blackhat shows we had the luxury of being an unknown and used it to our full advantage as the team rolled out a full guerrilla assault on the show. With everything from custom napkins dropped in bars, to rented suites to meet with potential customers, to other similar means, we made a huge impact in those early days and clearly got the Cylance name out there. Not immediately recognized post-show, but we established the open ended question of “Cylance?”. We were clearly on the radar at that point…and already starting to create discomfort with our competitors.
At this point, there was still a unified team, all engaged in the same direction, and we knew the end play we were headed for. We knew we were going to be able to achieve our objectives without putting excessive spend in place. What I appreciated at this point, which was similar to the philosophy we had in place at DC, was that we were operating in a brand first capacity. There were no decisions made in the best interests of a person, department, or other agenda…it was all about Cylance. With this philosophy politics were still being avoided and there were no silos in place. We all bled green. Along with this approach was the continued prudence in spend throughout every level in the organization. We were pacing well, the product was coming along, and all indications was that once product was commercialized in 2014 we were going to start eating our competitors lunch. What our competitors didn’t hear was the increasing sound of the Cylance war drums and their sunset turning a bright shade of green…
Thanks for reading.
Jeffrey Ishmael

“I Have This Idea I Want to Share…”

November 18th, 2016 Comments off

While I am still only a few weeks detached after deciding to leave my position with Cylance, I’ve been getting an endless flood of inquiries about the trajectory we had been on as a team, how the company had achieved some of the major milestones it had, as well as whether there were any lessons that I was taking with me and would carry with me into the next chapter. It’s true that the pace had been insane from the very beginning and that the success we had achieved as a team may never be replicated…at least not without the synergies the team had realized early on. I also know that Cylance will not be easily replaced as the experience has been nothing short of amazing. It’s not about finding a job. It’s about reflecting on what has been a life changing 4.5yrs and the desire to reflect on that experience and share with those that have been asking. I’m not sure how many “chapters” there might be, but this is certainly my attempt to kick it off..
While Stuart and I had known each other for a handful of years prior to Cylance, we never knew the depth of each others professional capabilities. I knew he was involved in Security and he know my background was in Finance….end there. What we did know about each other was the relentless nature in our personalities and the ability to suffer for extended periods of time on a bike…think more than 12 hours. Think dehydration, severe cramping, horrible weather conditions, and perhaps all at once. Situations that truly test your personality and whether you have the vision and commitment to see it through. With that said, Stuart shared his idea of a new generation of security and one that he had a team committed to solving. This new initiative was not just about the tech, but about changing the way people thought of security. Fortunately, I had a mentor of almost two decades that came from the security space and he quickly validated Stuart’s knowledge of the space and where he was headed. Combine that with two investors who had prior interactions with Stuart and I know that this was not going to be any ordinary start-up.
Start-up. That characterization that seems daunting to some and terrifying to others. You’re not coming in and inheriting a team…or for that fact, even a company. You have to build it with the team. There’s no other way around it. We had found early on that there were a number of people that were just not capable of surviving in a start-up environment. Whether vision, discipline, experience, inability to build their own client book…or whatever the element might have been, some fell victim to an ongoing exercise in Darwinism. It was truly survival of the fittest. As I had started as employee #7, or for anyone starting in the first 50-100 people, there is no place to hide. You were either getting it done…and getting it done right…or you knew it was time to move on. There was no coddling, no hugs and “it’ll be ok..”…but a relentless push for achieving the results. As I had learned and practiced at so many other prior companies, you delivered on what you promised. Period.
However, at that time in the company, there was also a deliberate avoidance, and an absolute disdain, for politics and silos. We all recognized that if we didn’t have a sense of cohesion in place, a commitment to an end goal, and the support of our respective team members, then we were going to fail. Period. It was in these early days that the support was absolute. Whether someone was getting married, selling a house, establishing new households, moving across the globe…that these conditions were supported…to ensure that we were going to be successful and that everyone was going to be along for the ride. We knew we were going to be on the gas and the pace was going to be relentless. The pace was going to have to be relentless if we wanted to establish a billion dollar company inside of a 3-5 year window. Now keep in mind, while the term “Unicorn” now is common, if not overused, it was not in existence until being coined in 2013. So in 2012 for Stuart to say that in a handful of years he wanted to establish a commercially successful company with a billion dollar valuation…he was dead serious and it wasn’t going to be a walk in the park. His vision, while aggressive, was not part of a herd mentality of wanting to be in some hyped “Unicorn Club”. His view was not about creating a tech that would get sold on the hope of establishing commercial success…NO…he wanted to establish a truly disruptive technology that would turn the security space upside down. He wanted to see the team create a tech that would just eat the lunch of first generation AV vendors. Period.
After having done a number of turnarounds, the thought of a start-up certainly was not intimidating. Considering the quality of the team we had, the wealth of experience that each of them was bringing to the table, as well as the collaborative personalities that each one of them shared, I knew that we had a very high likelihood of success in the launch of this company. The most difficult balance we were going to have to achieve was being fiscally responsible to mitigate burn, continue hiring the right individuals, and ensure we had the resources in place that would allow Stuart and the product teams to stay laser focused on their obsession to disrupt the security space. The team that had been assembled would absolutely be able to do that. There would be a further challenge in determining what the necessary resources were that should be put in place. As an example, I had just finished an SAP implementation at my prior company and clearly that was not going to be our platform of choice, but it certainly wasn’t going to be Quickbooks or some other bottom tier platform. The challenge would be to find the Goldilocks solutions for the first 12-18 months. No reason to buy the F1 race car when you couldn’t afford the pit crew and the track hadn’t been built yet…
After a number of emails, a few phone calls, and finally settling on an offer letter, it didn’t take much convincing to join this new start-up. I saw the vision, I believed in the vision, I believed in the team, and I trusted the team at the table. With that, and a few weeks later, Stuart gave me my laptop, let me know it had Quickbooks on it, and if I could get the payroll done that day. With that, as well as a payroll processed that day, I knew we were off to the races… 🙂
Looking forward to the next chapter..
Jeffrey Ishmael

How Do You Summarize 4.5yrs of Hyper-growth?

November 3rd, 2016 Comments off

For my friends & family who have been watching my pace over the last four years, that pace has been relentless, and for the most part, all consuming. The 4+ years that I have spent at Cylance where I started as employee #7 and working on fold up tables in a living room had progressed to over 700 employees. Cylance has grown from an idea our founder shared in a coffee shop to now a multi-national company with operations in 10 countries and billings in excess of 9-figures, while protecting some of the most recognized company names.
As with most chapters, there comes a time to turn the page and start a new one. I’m so incredibly proud of the team I have been able to work with, what has been accomplished, and what they will likely continue to accomplish. The next chapter is not about quickly finding a new opportunity, but reflecting on the incredible experiences & team that I had the privilege of helping to create.

I look look forward to sharing the experiences I collected at Cylance & the insane hypergrowth pace we found ourselves in. From the early stages of transient office spaces, to system decisions, preparation for modest growth levels, financing rounds, vendor relationships, as well as the cultural challenges created in such an extreme growth environment. I leave behind an amazing team and know our paths will likely cross again and will look forward to that possibility.

Thanks for reading…

Jeffrey Ishmael

Start-Ups & Shades Of Grey…

February 10th, 2013 Comments off

I’ve written a few other posts about the hiring process we all inevitably go through (continuously…) and the critical need to be honest with yourself and have an accurate assessment of your skill set, as well as the environment you might possibly be hiring into. This scenario played itself out again this week as I potentially started the interview process with a candidate. I know that this candidate had some insight on the company so the fact that they were going to be potentially joining a start-up was not a new development. However, and almost immediately out of the gate, the questions were all in the spirit of “How is process “X” defined?”. “Where do you see the company in 5-years?”. “I’m used to working with automated process so what will my budget be for “xyz” technology?”.  Already I could tell we weren’t quite getting off on the right foot and the candidate likely would have an extremely tough time adapting to the life of a start-up.

Don’t get me wrong, these are all very valid questions, but when you’re 6-months into a start-up, there are very few things that are black & white. For starters, when I’m asked how a certain process is defined & documented, there are few processes, at least at this point that are documented. Yes, we might have specific deadlines for submitting payroll, paying vendors, and we might have project timelines, but the time that the respective teams have available needs to be spent on mission critical tasks and not defining & documenting processes. From a Finance perspective, I have always had to live in the world of defined processes and reams of documentation on how something needs to be channeled through the organization to be addressed. In the world of a start-up, there has to be an implicit level of trust that your team members are working with their respective Director or VP and progressing in the completion of their deliverable. Yes, there are check-in meetings and other discussions to ensure progress…but processes and documentation…not here. Just get it done and deliver on what you promise.

Regardless of whether it’s a cyber security start-up or a small apparel firm, you’re bringing together a group of individuals with the experience to deliver and that have the requisite experience in the industry or their respective expertise. If you’re the newbie, as I am amongst my team, you’re not going to be pestering them for documentation and whether they’ve defined the process. Clearly not a value add in the very earliest stage of a start-up.

Even slightly more amusing is the question of where we’ll be in 5-years. Well, unless we deliver on what we’ve promised inside of the first 12-18 months it’s hard to think about 5-years. Don’t get me wrong, we have a wicked brilliant team and we can reasonably table that 5-year question with the talent that has been assembled, but the more valid question is “What are the immediate needs over the next 3-6 months as you navigate the critical first stages of the company?”.  It was very clear that hiring into the CFO role for a start-up meant I was going to be doing a high volume of “non-traditional” work for my role. I wasn’t looking for traditional since I had plenty of “traditional” in my career. I was looking for a true challenge and the opportunity to join in the mission of a company that I could believe in and would have a positive benefit for the customers we’d be servicing. However, assuming that same role also meant joining the uncertain world of start-ups and being comfortable living in the many shades of grey that would present themselves. What’s your comfort level when definition might be lacking?

Thanks for reading…

Jeffrey Ishmael

High growth start-ups & Working Capital

July 17th, 2008 Comments off

     Just finished meeting with a friend who has what would still be considered a start-up business that specializes in the nutrition & supplement sector.  Keep in mind that he’s not a rookie entrepreneur and that he has a background in investment banking, specifically mergers & acquisitions. However, he struggles with all of the same issues that any start-up entrepreneur does, which is the management of insufficient working capital and the need to support high-growth.  Although it might be relatively easy for him to let a piece of the business go for an infusion of cash, he’s well aware of the cost for the additional capital.

     Like the company I worked with in Florida, which was subsequently sold for 50% more than the target price we set, we’re going to start looking at the details of his forecasts, current capital levels, and begin connecting him with some of the folks in my network.  We’re going to schedule a number of meetings with some of my contacts that will help him better manage vendor relationships, will hopefully introduce some new banking contacts, as well as evaluate the analytics of how he is measuring his business.

     Fortunately, in this case, he is not a turnaround and is not bleeding capital, but at the same time he finds himself in a challenging situation.  Putting the proper management and reporting techniques into play, this early in the game, will help him through a tough economic environment and position him very well for the continued growth once we emerge into greener revenue pastures.

Thanks for reading . . .