Cybersecurity pioneer Wysopal on startup lessons
"A big mistake was not recognizing that you need a well-rounded leadership team to have a successful company," says Wysopal
Chris Wysopal was in his early 30s when he and his cohorts from the Boston hacker collective pals L0pht formed the early cybersecurity firm ?stake. In 2006, after Symantec bought the company, Wysopal co-founded Veracode. Last year, CA Technologies acquired his 700-employee company.
The Associated Press recently interviewed Wysopal, who is 52 and remains chief technology officer of Veracode. Questions and responses have been edited for clarity and length.
Q: You were relatively young when you formed ?stake and then co-founded VeraCode. What did you wish you knew then about managing people and running a business?
A: A big mistake was not recognizing that you need a well-rounded leadership team to have a successful company. Coming from the technical side, I initially thought, just build a great product and the sales will come. But you need a great marketing team, a great sales team, a great people team, or it doesn’t matter.
Another important thing I learned is you need to have a great company culture to attract talented people and get them to do their best. I have been fortunate enough to take some of the great culture that I was part of building at ?stake and bring it to Veracode. Employees feel empowered to do the right thing to make the business successful, to communicate across teams and put in a little extra time.
Q: What have you learned from your competitors over the years?
A: You learn about your competitors best through your prospects and customers. If they are telling you that you are deficient in an area, it is likely because they have either experienced something better from a competitor or at least have been sold a promise. Always be responsive to customer needs. The more responsive you are, the more trust you build, and the more they will tell you about their needs and what they are seeing from competitors.
Q: What advice would you have for to someone trying to launch a cybersecurity startup these days?
A: Do it! Cybersecurity is one of the fastest growing markets. Every time new tech is created, we have to figure out how to secure it. My advice is to be prepared to spend five to 10 years building your company. The problems to solve are difficult and take time, but the silver lining is you will have a competitive moat.