Choosing a startup. PHOTO: Cybercrime Magazine

5 Criteria Young Professionals Should Use To Choose A Cybersecurity Startup

Approach your job search like an investor and pick a winner

Steve Kahan

Washington, D.C. – Feb. 7, 2019

Most every Cybersecurity Startup CEO has a great story about how their company is going to change the world and achieve breakthrough success. While the startup boom is well underway and opportunities abound, you’ve got to keep in mind that only the strongest survive. Current calculations show that about seventy-five percent of all venture-backed startups fail. Don’t let this stop you. Be savvy enough to pick a winner. Approach the decision like an investor would, because going to work for a startup means you will be investing your time, energy, and talent. As an investor, you want to be sure the company you work for is the right fit. I’ve been blessed to work for several successful cybersecurity startups over 30 years. Here are five criteria to look for.

1.  Quality People Who Share Your Values.

The people reflect the company culture. If you don’t think you can respect, trust, and admire the people involved, then move on to another option. You want a solid team of leaders who rock your world.

Read the company’s mission and values statements, and see how they make you feel. Make sure they align with your ideal company’s mission and values and your personal values. Research the CEO and other leaders. Watch their interviews and read their blog posts. Look into their backgrounds, goals, and their ability to influence and inspire.

Every CEO has a great story to tell, and if it includes a past failure, find out how he or she overcame it. Nothing influences winning more than surrounding yourself with A+ talent. Look for people who might become your mentors, who may be more knowledgeable or experienced than you and who can help you become your best as you grow with the company.

2. Concept Fills a Big Market Need.

Startup investors don’t spend money on nice-to-solve problems; they spend money on must-solve problems, so make sure this company fills a massive market need.

Research the company and read what influencers have to say about its ability to provide a unique value that sets it apart from its competitors. Don’t worry too much about the big boy competition. Worry if there’s no competition. Competition means there’s a market. Find the company’s growth plans and evaluate whether they are ambitious with a strategy to manage anticipated growth. Look for evidence that the startup has every chance for success in what they offer and how they are structured.

3. Great Product You Believe In.

Research a detailed description of the product or service the company is offering, and decide if it resonates with you. Do you believe in it? Would you purchase, use, or recommend it? You want to choose a startup where you can go to work every day with a passion for what the company creates and your role in creating it. If you can’t get behind it with enthusiasm, move on.

Before you form an opinion, if possible, go to one of the company’s marketing events and assess the reaction in the room. Talk with current employees for insights. Find out how well the product or service delivers on its core value proposition.

4. There’s an Important Role You Can Fill.

This may sound obvious, but look at the company’s job postings and see if they have needs that truly match your interests and your areas of expertise. They may have opportunities that are not posted, so a little networking can go a long way toward finding out what they actually need, and how you can jump in to help. Don’t settle, but do be open-minded when it comes to roles. You want your current skill set to be a match for their needs, but that doesn’t mean you have to stay in the exact same role you’ve filled in the past. Startups are small and agile, so every employee can add value in various ways and contribute to the company’s success.

5. The Startup is Well-funded.

Naturally, you want to choose a startup that has a long enough runway to get off the ground. That means there’s enough money to design its brilliant product or service, market the hell out of it, provide an engaging work structure and location, and pay its people well. Before you send an inquiry regarding a job, find out how the company is funded, and make sure they are properly capitalized so you have the best chance for growth and stability.


About the Author

– Steve Kahan has successfully helped to grow six startup companies from early-stage development to going public or being sold, resulting in a total value of more than $2.5 billion.

Bringing passion and positive energy, Steve inspires teams and their organizations to take on the impossible and succeed. He is best known for his ability to plan marketing strategy and execute it, so that companies can accelerate revenue, grow market share, and consistently deliver superior returns for shareholders.

In his current position as Thycotic’s Chief Marketing Officer, he has helped take the company from $10M to $60M+ in the first three years. It’s been a similar story with the other companies where he’s brought his talents over the past three decades, including KnowledgeWare, PentaSafe, Postini, Quest Software, and The Planet.

In a rare move, Gartner Group recognized Thycotic in their 2018 PAM Magic Quadrant as having superior marketing in its peer group. He also has been featured as “the ideal CMO” by a recruiting firm that used Steve as a model to help its clients hire the best CMO for their startups.

Steve attended college at Illinois State University where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Speech Communication. He’s an avid paddle boarder, and he taught himself to play the guitar. He and his wife of thirty years live in Texas. They have two children and one grandchild.



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