The Necessary Agony of product Development: Startup Stories from san Francisco, Part Six


Nick Ellsmore, co-founder of cybersecurity startup Security Colony

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 Six

 I hate Security Colony. I love Security Colony.

Call it doublethink, but both those statements, at various times, are true. Such is the despair of product development. The product never feels quite right. You know what you want it to be, but there’s always something that needs ‘fixing’, and every new set of eyes sees something “obvious”.

Obvious, that is, except to me – the person who looks at the product with your own eyes day in and day out… it is so easy to be blinded by familiarity.

I regularly comment on the fact that the path of least resistance in sales, is to sell something that’s already a line item in an organisation’s budget. You’re going to spend $50K on stationery next year? Great. I’m sure I have some stationery to sell you.

Despite knowing this, we’ve built a product that requires an evolution in how people think about cybersecurity and collaboration. Note my careful avoidance of the word ‘disrupt’. I’m sure we’ve all had enough of everyone ‘disrupting’ everything. We operate in a strange part of the market whereby we have no direct competitors, and yet a near-infinite pool of alternatives.

What it is, ultimately, is a library. But even that description has been questioned; “libraries are boring”, “shouldn’t it be something more dynamic than a library?”

Regardless, at our core we’re a business built on knowledge and expertise, and over thousands of years humans have made knowledge and expertise available in libraries. You may find your school library boring, but the Royal Library of Alexandria was the pinnacle of intellectual institutions for centuries.

That said, still I question it.

In a couple of weeks, we will be rolling out a major change to one of our features. In short, we will be changing the heart of the scoring algorithm that underpins whether we say someone has an “A” for security, or a “D”. The net result of the change will see most organisations’ scores go down, in some cases, by quite a lot. Some people are going to hate this change.

But we believe it is the right thing to do. It is the right thing for the product. It makes Security Colony better. Fundamentally, that is what we need to do every day – every day we make the product better is another day closer to a product the market will find irresistible.

And so I hate Security Colony. I hate it because I love it… because I know how important it is.

I know how great it should be, so it’s frustrating when it’s close – oh so close – but not quite there.

But every day it gets better, and my time in San Francisco has rapidly accelerated that process. We have assembled a team of product experts to help bridge the gap between the product as it is now, and the product as it needs to be.

We probably could have done the same thing in Sydney, but I don’t think we would have. In many ways that is what the Landing Pad is providing us: an opportunity to get outside our comfort zone, to challenge all our preconceptions, and really embrace change as it relates to the system we’re building.

As exciting as I’m finding the US, in many ways I am most looking forward to bringing the new Security Colony back to Australia after RSA (I’ll be presenting on the sidelines of the conference along with the other members of DFAT’s Landing Pad program – if you’ll be at the event, come by and say hello).

Regardless of what happens between now and my final day in SF, I know the product, and the company, has grown a lot through this experience.

It’s a love-hate relationship, but one I wouldn’t trade for the world.


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.