How to thrive through year one of your startup journey

Avertro just turned one. Here’s how we successfully got through the year in spite of a global pandemic.

Like many early-stage startups, there were times in the first months of our existence where we questioned if we would survive beyond the first year. When the global pandemic hit, we didn’t know if we’d make it past June.

Yet here we are, one year on from Avertro’s genesis. The pandemic isn’t over, but I no longer lie awake every night working through all the permutations on how to keep us alive.

Today, we are well and truly breathing, with an extremely healthy runway. However, we remain grounded in reality, as there’s still a summit ascent to prepare for.

Photo by Joshua Earle on Unsplash

Michael Jordan famously said…

Jordan is one of my childhood heroes, so it’s an apt reference to explain our belief that we will get there; we simply need the time.

Photo by George Fitzmaurice on Unsplash

Reflecting on year one, here are the reasons we not only survived, but thrived.

Culture

We have a team that is twice the size compared to a year ago. This has given us the ability to ramp up our product build, which benefits our customers, and accelerates our ability to deliver value.

More importantly, we have a great team that is aligned with our values:

  1. No a**holes.
  2. Transparency in everything that we do.
  3. Think outside-in, be curious.
  4. Do what is right for the customer.
  5. Be problem-driven.

We have a daily start and end of day standup meeting. This keeps us aligned, collaborative, and connected. And we truly believe that we’re working on something that matters, together.

Nigel Hedges, Head of Information Security at CPA Australia is one of our customers. He recently said in a fantastic article on partnerships:

“One of the best experience(s) I have had recently is with Avertro with Ian Yip and his team. A local evolving Australian success story, they have a really great product with a super charged roadmap. I’m not only excited for them as a customer, but also for what I think they are going to do for many organisations…”

There is no better testament to a great culture and team than this kind of endorsement.

Grit

In the words of the poets better known as Chumbawamba (sing it, you know you want to):

“I get knocked down, but I get up again. You are never gonna keep me down.”

We’re living through a global pandemic. It’s not over yet, and there remains much uncertainty of how things will eventually turn out.

One thing is certain: the “normal’ we knew is gone. We truly live in an age of volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity, better known in management circles as VUCA. I’ve been taught in many management classes and real-life situations to lead with this in mind. It has served us well during the past year.

We expected the first year of our startup journey to be difficult. Even without a global pandemic to contend with, we didn’t know what we were in for and drove forward with this as our mindset. We expected to have to grind our way through everything.

While it wasn’t ideal, when we were hit with yet another hurdle to manage (i.e. COVID), we took stock, stayed focused, and kept going because it’s what we expected. The journey we chose is supposed to knock you down. So, get up. Go again.

Adaptability

“Pivoting” is an over-used term in the world of startups. As the world was changing before us in the first half of 2020, every piece of advice we were given said to consider “pivoting”.

Like any good business in uncertain times, we analysed options and paths to success. In the end, we decided not to pivot because it wasn’t the right move. Instead, we outlined the adjustments we had to make to be successful.

The clarity we arrived at through the exercise, was liberating. By doubling down on the mission at hand, we knew we were working on solving the right problems.

Ultimately, we knew we had to adjust our priorities and approach to a few things: product roadmap, pricing model, go-to-market timelines, and financial projections.

The most important thing for us was to analyse quickly and logically, then commit to what we believed the right path was. We did not want to procrastinate and over-analyse ourselves into paralysis.

That done, we focused on execution. Being forced to do this actually made us go faster than we’d originally planned.

Courage

Our immediate reflex at the start of the pandemic was to slow down like everyone advised. Once past the initial shock however, we took a breath, and tried to determine the smartest route to take.

We realised that our mission didn’t change. The world would be different, but we still had a set of industry problems to address that remained extremely relevant in a post-COVID world.

So, we decided to move faster. But to do it, we had to raise an investment round, another thing the world was telling us would be impossible to do during the pandemic.

We had the courage to reject conventional wisdom because it made sense to us. Was there a chance we were making the wrong decision? Yes, but our instinct and deep understanding of the cybersecurity industry gave us the confidence to back ourselves.

As some of you know, we did successfully raise a round of investment during the pandemic, which gave us the ability to scale our team and build faster. This decision is starting to pay dividends as we speak and I’m thrilled we had the courage to do what we did.

Support

Your network is critical in any situation. But it is particularly important during the early stages of a startup’s existence. Throw a global pandemic into the mix, and it becomes the main thing that keeps you sane.

The ability for us to lean on the support pillars of Antler, CyRise, our customers, our investors, the cybersecurity industry, and the startup ecosystem, was critical in allowing us to maintain our team culture, be gritty, adapt, and have courage.

Thank you to all our supporters; there have been so many of you. Having you there is the foundation that allows us to thrive, and to take a few steps forward every single day, even when we don’t feel like getting back up.

Ian Yip is the CEO of Avertro, a venture-backed cybersecurity software company. Avertro CyberHQ is the strategic cybersecurity headquarters that helps leaders manage the business of cyber, explain cybersecurity to executives, forecast outcomes, right-size spend, and validate strategy so leaders can optimise the use of external assistance and prove they are doing cyber right.

Cyber Risk. Cybersecurity. Business. Tech. Entrepreneur. CEO at Avertro. Former CTO at McAfee Asia Pacific.