A flash of genius followed by the sales grind: Startup stories from San Francisco, part five


Security Colony was one of six cybersecurity companies selected by Austrade & AustCyber to take part in the Federal Government’s Landing Pad program in San Francisco. In this exclusive series for Dynamic Business, Nick Ellsmore, co-founder of Security Colony shares his journey as he builds his second business (the first sold to BAE Systems) and introduces an Australian-built cybersecurity solution into the global market against the backdrop of the Californian startup and investment scene.

Diary Entry Five

In one of our earliest briefings in the Landing Pad, we were told things move faster in San Francisco. If you have a discussion that requires a follow-up, that follow-up should happen within hours, not days…

They were right.

In Silicon Valley, every week feels like a month. We’re trying to innovate the product, sharpen the messaging, re-build the marketing technology stack, raise our profile (I’ve presented in 3 different states in the last 7 days), and sign up users – all while trying to maintain a degree of stability and purpose about the changes that are being made, and ensuring we don’t give our existing subscribers or our team whiplash from the speed of it all.

The sense of progress, though, is a powerful drug. There is no question in my mind that we would never have pushed this hard, on all fronts, back in Australia. While part of this is due to the sense of urgency from the 90-day set-period we have in DFAT’s Landing Pad, now that we’re on this trajectory we are laser focused on getting everything locked down, and into an operational process of execution in the next 6-8 weeks. It’s an exciting time.

While in Seattle for one of my presentations, I re-read my favourite business article, Invention is a Flower, Innovation is a Weed, by Bob Metcalfe. In it, he talks about the grind of the sales process in building up his company 3Com.

It was maybe 2 or 3 degrees Celsius outside, so getting to my room, I was thrilled to find the heater was turned off, the room was cold, and when turned on, the heater had the enthusiasm of an American Idol contestant singing us to the break after just being told they had no future beyond a hamburger chain.

The hotel’s website, their guest ‘folio’ and everything else I could find clearly said that the hotel restaurant closed at 10pm each night. At 8.30pm, I wandered down there to find the doors closed and a staff member explaining that tonight they decided to close at 8pm – perhaps this is the hospitality industry’s version of being ‘agile’.

Clinging to sanity, I attempted to use the coffee machine in my room, but it too was broken. This was probably for the best as the non-milk-derived milk-replacement (made primarily of high fructose corn syrup and powdered tears) didn’t really seem like it would do the job. Ah, the glamour of travel.

As Metcalfe says in his article, if you keep doing this, day in, day out, for years on end, you will succeed. Most of the time it’s not the flash of genius that does it; it’s the grind of the sales process – and it’s not always pretty.

Fortunately though, the Internet was fine. And if the Internet is fine, then so am I. I throw on some extra jumpers, walk through the freezing sleet for half a mile to grab some nachos, then back again to get back to work.

While the Landing Pad’s advice is to not try to cover Australian business hours, it’s almost unavoidable – the time zone is simply too convenient. Being 19 hours behind, which effectively means 5 hours ahead and a day behind, the SF morning is peaceful and calm with only the residual email from Australia’s yesterday to deal with. At about 1pm in SF, it ticks over 8am in Australia, and things start warming up. Emails, Slack, Phone calls, SMSs – everything starts pinging. This doesn’t stop until about 11pm, when its 6pm back in Australia.

So, covering both time zones effectively means working from about 8am (to get a few hours of productive time before Australia comes online) through to about 11pm. Fridays are a “half day” in that 8am to 5pm is generally OK (since Australia is on the weekend), but then Sundays usually require a few hours of work as Australia is awake and kicking off the new week from lunchtime onwards.

Building companies is not for the faint-hearted, but it’s also enormously rewarding. Right here, right now, with a sleep cycle attuned somewhere between Sydney and San Francisco, I wouldn’t have it any other way.


About the author

Nick Ellsmore is the co-founder of free-to-join cybersecurity resource Security Colony. He is also the co-founder of cybersecurity consulting firm Hivint, the winner of the 2017 Telstra Business Award “Business of the Year” in Victoria.