As I started building my new cybersecurity company, through staff hires and client and vendor engagement, there was one question I was asked repeatedly: “Carlo, how will you start from nothing, with no customers, no revenue, and convince customers to trust you?”
The concept seemed a complete mystery to every single person I spoke with. To me, however, the answer was simple and involved six key elements executed in the following order:
- Conceive and build a product or a service that’s better and cheaper than anything else available in the market.
- Make it simple to demo, and offer customers the ability to try before they buy.
- Give something away for free that proves your value proposition. Ideally, this should be something you can produce once and give away many times.
- Next, you need to offer a low-cost product or ‘gateway’ service that allows people to spend money with you.
- Single out your buyer and focus squarely on them. Forget everyone else.
- Identify your route-to-market and do not get distracted by all the other options and noise.
Now, to give the concept some real-world context, let me show you how we do it:
- We knew the market gaps before going in — in fact, it was the gaps that we were trying to solve for. The result is that when we entered the market we were confident that no one was doing what we were doing. Sure, there were some companies that offer some limited aspects of what we do, but even then, their pricing model is exponentially higher than ours and they lack the proprietary intellectual capital that underpins us. So, solve for the gaps and build proprietary IP and hard-to-duplicate structures that solve real problems for people and enterprises.
- We deliver demonstrations, show customers the outcomes they can expect to receive, charge no setup fees, have no lock-in contracts and offer a 30-day free trial.
- We underscore and share our market expertise. We offer our white papers, research, threat reports, eBooks, security awareness training, executive and board education for free which allows us to sell through education. Many people are afraid of giving away too much lest they devalue their offer or are copied. As long as you have point 1 covered (i.e. a proprietary ‘secret sauce’) then you shouldn’t worry too much. That said, I’m not talking sharing the nuts and bolts here. The rationale for our free educational offerings is to a) show goodwill (strengthen the market by addressing an issue that affects everyone); b) display your authority and leadership in the space; and c) underscore your difference by bringing people up to speed on what counts. While some people may be able to take a portion of what you offer through education and try to implement, they will never have the whole and if they are true prospects will naturally gravitate to you for the complete solution.
- Not only does this ‘gateway’ show you they are committed, it also enables you to provide value that they perceive to be many times higher than they paid. Once you do so, they will want to know what else you can offer them. We deliver cost-effective risk assessments and deep and dark web exposure analysis to demonstrate the state of insecurity within customer networks. When customers see what hackers may have on them, it’s amazing how they find the money to fix it.
- In my business, it’s generally the IT Manager, Security Manager, or CSO. In most cases, they might not hold the keys to the budget but they are a key influencer in the budgeting process.
- My route-to-market is through the channel and through direct education of the end customer. I see many in the channel wasting money on large conference booths, magazine adverts, google ads, and resorting to spamming customers – none of these methods work for an enterprise model. They are a total waste of time and company resources. Trust me, I have tried them all!
So, if you’re thinking of starting a business, then the six steps above shouldn’t be too difficult to follow if you know your game and your business. If not, then you should keep your day job – entrepreneurship is not for you.
About the author
Carlo Minassian is the founder of Gartner-leading managed security service provider (MSSP), earthwave, which was acquired by Dimension Data in 2013 for a reported tens of millions of dollars and then globalized. He recently returned with cybersecurity platform LMNTRIX. Minassian’s earthwave gained visibility for defending high-value government and private-sector targets, including 90% of NSW’s water supply, because of its commitment to a high-intensity, highly technical approach to network defense. His model was later studied and adopted in Asia, the United States and Europe.