Choosing a startup. PHOTO: Cybercrime Magazine

5 Leadership Traits of Successful Cybersecurity Entrepreneurs

What’s different about high growth companies

Steve Kahan

Washington, D.C. – Feb. 8, 2019

I’ve been blessed to work at some of the world’s best cybersecurity startup companies. I’ve done extensive research on what successful cybersecurity entrepreneurs do, how they think and the attitudes they have. I’ve learned what separates these people from the herd. Armed with this knowledge, I’ve identified five leadership traits that remove the mystery for how the best cybersecurity entrepreneurs succeed at the highest level.

Leadership trait #1: Figure out that everything can’t be a high priority

Many people have goals and work hard, yet only a subset of them are killing it. The primary reason for this is that all goals aren’t created equal. Sheryl Sandberg advises her teams to use ruthless prioritization to let go of good ideas and make room for great ideas.

If you’re overwhelmed by too many goals and working incredibly hard, but don’t seem to be making sufficient progress, you have not prioritized your goals to focus your attention on the critically important and impactful items. So, Prioritizing your goals to focus your attention is a key to success

Leadership trait #2: Regularly challenge the status quo

We have all heard the old sayings, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” and “that’s the way we’ve always done things around here.” The status quo is strong. It represents a bias that can permeate the culture of a company for keeping in place the current state of affairs. It’s comfortable, predictable and perceived as less risky. But, growth requires change.

Most every person and organization that wants to become great at some point had to challenge the status quo. The pace of change is incredible. But, our ability to keep up with it isn’t. You simply can’t achieve and build on success if you continue to do the same things.

Leadership trait #3: Discover the critical importance of differentiation

Differentiation is about standing out in a compelling way and helping target audiences understand why you’re superior to competitors. The goal of differentiation is to create the perception that there is no better alternative on the market.

How differentiated are your products and services? Go ahead, ask 5 random people to explain your critical point of difference. Ask 5 customers the same question. You might not like what you hear. That’s because, real differentiation is tough to achieve — especially in highly competitive marketplaces where differentiation can be razor thin.

If you can’t sufficiently differentiate, you will end up competing on price, which is a race to the bottom. Conversely, high growth companies tend to have a strong differentiator — which indicates the potential to charge a premium price.

Leadership trait #4: Find success in the nitty-gritty

I’m sure you have heard the phrase, the devil is in the details. In business, this phrase means that mistakes are made when people ignore or don’t pay enough attention to small details.

I’ve found that too many people don’t pay enough attention to what they perceive to be small things — the nitty-gritty details. Why do the details go unexamined? The details can be complicated. Getting into the details takes time and often requires a little extra effort. The details are where the problems often exist and go unnoticed. People mistakenly think that getting into the details is a waste of time. But, every big project depends on the success of smaller components.

The details are important. Paying more attention to them will actually improve efficiency, minimize the risk of errors and are often how you turn a good result into a great result.

Getting into the details is not about splitting hairs or micromanaging. It’s about making sure that seemingly small components are proactively managed because collectively, they add up and contribute to big results.

Leadership trait #5: Consistently ask difficult questions

We live in an answer-centric world. Everyone wants answers and they want them now. The best leaders ask the right questions. They realize how much they actually don’t know and are curious to learn more. They actually enjoy the questioning journey. The search for answers. Leadership is all about being able to get the information required to make the best decisions. This is why the right questions are so important. Asking the right questions improves knowledge, results in better decision making and demonstrates that you’re interested and you care. Questions help build trust and can inspire people to achieve great outcomes.


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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