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From Cyber Start-Up to Cyber Scale-Up: The Challenges Faced in Expansion

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Our next scoop delves into the many challenges commercial teams face in today's market, especially within the start-up arena.

Our recent Trident Talks provided insight into the current practices in place to forge a successful business within cyber security and covered the importance of sales leadership, what's required to build a team to drive sales, what investors look for in a start-up and the lack of diversity within the industry.

This article presents existing strategies to improve business procedures, lessons learnt from experts in cyber security, and our overall thoughts on how to achieve maximum success for a cyber security start-up.

Challenges to scale revenue within a start-up

Over the last couple of years, it's been fascinating to see that the challenge to scale revenue is relatively consistent with many start-ups dealing with the "Founder Conundrum".

Although they have a minimum viable product, product-market fit and initially succeeded in generating revenue via founder-led sales. The challenge comes when taking the next step to a repeatable sales process.

Founders who do not possess a sales background find it difficult to execute this next phase of their business. The first challenge a start-up will come across is using the black-box model sales, a method to transform a solution/data into an investment strategy.

A start-up will hire a sales leader and put full responsibility on this role to generate sales and building out the team. However, the challenge is attracting the best sales professionals due to the significant risk of working for a start-up. Suppose a sales leader enters a business within its early stage. The sales leader will need to roll their sleeves up and execute deals whilst undertaking leadership, and that's not for everyone, so not recruiting the right salesperson can result in a high cost and considerable risk to the business.

The second challenge is sales leaders finding success in closing deals and delivering revenue via a certain formula that they then impose upon new salespeople they hire. The dilemma found in this method is that salespeople can come in without a procedure in place and lack understanding of all the use cases; therefore, the sales leader needs to take time to create those processes and provide the right tools to their team to best equip them for success.

Sales professionals need direction, and if it's inaccessible, they will feel under pressure quite quickly and will resign from their position. As a result, many founders will see approximately 5-6 people leave the company within a year of employment.

Investing in a start-up

There are four critical questions a start-up must address to run a successful business:

  1. What's the problem you're trying to solve?

  2. How are you solving it?

  3. Why are you different?

  4. Where's your proof?

Ultimately, customers want to be able to quickly understand the problem you're trying to solve. Secondly, the new approach and solution you provide and what makes you stand out from your competitors. Finally, what tangible evidence can you offer that demonstrates your business and service/ product is effective. Unfortunately, the latter is the aspect most start-ups fail to deliver upon.

That is always the way to analyse a start-up - whether they can answer those four questions, and if they can, the customer will stay loyal as their interests lie in advancing their agenda.

These 4 key points are addressed and expanded upon internally when creating an effective go-to-market plan.


Many start-ups adopt an overused business exercise called the product-market fit, which is the ability to identify their product strengths and find an opportunity to capitalise on these within the industry. However, the challenge for most start-ups is the ability to effectively execute a go-to-market strategy for this product.

Can you instantly onboard a sales team and give them the recipe for success?

No one wants to join a start-up that has the potential to fail, hence why addressing those four questions should be the first port of call. If a business can find a solution for a customer, then the go-to-market becomes easy to execute and build out a team in the process. A start-up needs customer validation to proceed into the next phase, from trying to survive in the market to learning how to win.

Adam Winter has encountered many start-ups early on in their journey and has advised these businesses to answer these questions: Did your product/ service solve the problem at hand; what were the business outcomes? The most common solution a start-up looks to solve is cyber risk reduction; did you get the risk reduction you were looking for; would you be willing to recommend it to your network?

You'd be amazed at how many businesses do not ask these questions to their customers.

Final thoughts

Becoming a successful start-up is challenging. It takes a lot of patience, plenty of luck, and years of hard work. I spoke with Dean Munslow from Islantilla and Adam Winter from Safe Security about start-ups, investment and how to scale. They both have experience working with security start-ups.

Dean Munslow has worked in some well-known start-ups where he has been part of the journey to IPO, and Adam has been on the ground with early-stage companies where he has invested his own money in what he feels could be a successful business. The product must be exciting, there must be a vision, and the message must be clear for the business to succeed - we all agreed on these points.

What was evident and what we felt was important was that founders of start-ups had to learn how to trust employees to help carry the business forward. If you are the CEO of a start-up and three years into your journey, you are still the only person making decisions and bringing in business, then it's likely you will fail.

But why? When an idea of a business is put into reality, your audience may be relative to you, but as you grow and the product evolves, you will need to target a wider audience. It's vital that as an organisation reaches this stage, detailed processes are put into place, and teams are built to help scale revenue.

We see start-ups get to a point where they are close to an early stage of funding, and they are still very much founder-led. Whilst this is positive in some respects, it will affect the growth and revenue. Often founders are the most suitable personnel to sell their product - After all, they created this concept and understand the products solution inside out - but to be successful and grow there will come a time when the founder needs to choose whether to focus on the sales or operational side of the business.

We often see founders focus on the operational side and hire a team to concentrate on revenue. This is a business structure deployed successfully at Islantilla (founded by Dean Munslow). They now help start-ups build these teams and put processes in place to give them the best chance of success.

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