My name is Nathan Shea. I founded my company in 2008 called SecureStrux to provide Information Assurance (now called cybersecurity) services. SecureStrux provides cyber compliance services predominantly to Defense Agencies and Industry Contractors. SecureStrux has a team of 35 employees that provides Risk and Vulnerability assessments to clients all over the US. We have offices in Crystal City, VA, and Lancaster, PA.
One of our Flagship services that we provide to our clients is preparing them for Command Cyber Readiness Inspections (CCRI) that US Cyber Command requires for anyone connecting to the DoDIN. We started providing this service in 2013 and we're the only company providing this service and seven years later are looked to as the leading experts and provider of this service.
It is our dedication to quality and attention to client satisfaction that we continue to grow within the industry. From early on, we attracted some of the most seasoned and knowledgeable experts in the industry. It is in large part, because of our team, that our brand is trusted and we have a strong and growing client base.
What's your backstory and how did you get into entrepreneurship?
While completing my Masters of Information Security, I had the opportunity, as part of one of my courses, to start my own company. I had always wanted to do something like this and even though I had little idea on what services I could provide, I took up the challenge.
From 2008-13, I ran a few side projects through the company, while working full-time in the field for a small defense contractor serving the Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA). The work we did for this agency, few others were doing at the time and any time I would tell others about what I did, they would just scratch their head, and say something to the effect that they were glad security didn’t effect them. Cybersecurity 10-15 years ago was still very much in its infancy and not much of a priority across the board in most industries.
For the first four or five years, I made several excuses for not going all in. First, the cybersecurity market was much smaller, I had a young and growing family, and I was nervous (scared) to jump out on my own. I knew very little about how to run a business or to market what I did.
In 2013, the market was a more ripe, I had a better understanding of the business, and I had saved some money to make the jump. As many who have boot-strapped a company might attest, it is not easy - especially in the DoD. It can take a long time to get paid by the government and it was not until six months after I started doing the work, that I got my first paycheck. Those first nine months to a year were quite a ride and I was super stingy with money.
There are also so many requirements to do work with the government from facility clearances to certain ways of doing accounting and bookkeeping. As a small company, the bar is set pretty high. The government wants to do work with companies that are not fly by night. Many companies usually start in the commercial space and get their street cred there before they jump into the DoD.
I had some good relationships and partnerships with other companies early on and owe a lot to these relationships, to having reliable work early on.
Take us through your entrepreneurial journey. How did you go from day 1 to today?
As I mentioned, doing business with the government and the DoD has some added burdens early on. Because I did not have the savviness or past performance that was needed, I had to be subcontractor for most of the contracts that we had. Also, when I first started my company it was important to have a facility clearance (the ability to hold/maintain employee clearances). In order for this to take place, I had to have a sponsor. I was fortunate enough to have HP as one of my early clients and they were generous enough to sponsor me. Without that first lift, it would have been very hard for me to grow like I was able to early on.
Good working relationships are always important to have, but it was especially important early on as I was growing out of the company. There were several partnerships that I was blessed to have and to this day look back as critical stepping stones in helping me get off to a good start and helping me stabilize.
As a services company, your product are your people and I have learned that early on, as you grow, it is critical that you bring in very seasoned, capable team members. It is important that you take good care of them and do your very best by them, so to retain them for the long haul. I am privileged to still have many of our original team members from early on when I started the company. We continually reevaluate how we can do good by our staff so that they continue to remain challenged and have the opportunity for career advancement.
One thing that we continue to work hard at, is staying focused on our core services and what we do well. This is hard at times, where there are so many great opportunities to chase, but especially important to stay focused early on. Trying to do too much too soon, oftentimes lead to defects (poor service), which has a downward, cyclical effect. Early on we stayed super focused on our core services and it has only been recently that we have started to pivot into other lines of business.
Once we were able to do so and as we grew, we found it was necessary to start building out our Leadership Team. We were pretty clumsy at first in doing this and fumbled around trying to get the right people in the right seats and team members that were a good fit for the culture. This is always a work in process, but we are getting better at this and hiring, promoting, and sometimes “graduating” employees based on our core values.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
Every year SecureStrux has been profitable. Some years have been better than others, but early on, we ran a pretty tight ship and I wore a lot of hats. We had very few internal resources and relied on a lot of outside short-term contractual help. Much of our business early on was relationship-based and I did not rely on our website for business. We had a website, but the site did not drive our business. It was much more for information to learn about what we did. It was rare to get client interaction from the site. Much of our work came from word of mouth or through partnerships with other companies. That is quite different today. We rely on our website and use a variety of advertising techniques to drive traffic to our website. We have been very successful at converting that business to sales. Our work is pretty niche and there are plenty of clients that need our services, but without good advertising and them not knowing we exist, the connection and sale would not be made.
Today our internal operations have been built out substantially. We have a sales team, a full-time accountant, Human Resources, Marketing, and an Operations team to manage the client experience and employee management.
SecureStrux continues to expand its footprint and services. In 2017, SecureStrux had around a dozen active clients. Today, we have well over 50 active clients, many with long-term contracts in place. Our short-term goal is to expand our client base both regionally and within other industries. We are in the process of completing several new offerings and have begun taking on clients for our Manage Security Service Provider (MSSP) services to compliment our other offerings.
Over the next year and a half, SecureStrux plans to open offices to Alabama and Florida to serve our growing clientele in those regions.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
Looking back there were plenty of mistakes made. There is no way around it, mistakes are inevitable and early on they were bountiful. The important thing that I have learned is not to dwell on them. Learn from the mistakes and move on quickly. Whether it be a personality conflict or employee relationship that needs to be realigned or a marketing misstep or assumption made that is not correct, the important thing is to learn and pivot quickly.
One lesson I learned, which took longer than I would like to admit, is bringing on help. I tried to do everything to keep the margins strong and was very concerned about not having enough to meet payroll, etc. I got very close to burn-out on several occasions but learned that there are really smart people out there that can do what I am trying to do a whole lot better. One thing I would have done differently, is bringing in a strong sales team earlier and someone to help operate the business.
It also took me a long time to get the right people in the right seats. This is common challenge, but it is super important that once you start growing, to get teams aligned and everyone rowing in the right direction. There are just a few of the things that I have learned, but most importantly getting team members that met our core values and would help nurture the culture of the company. This is a constant battle as a CEO to ensure that the culture and leadership team is healthy and are all working together for the good of the company.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
Over the years we have adopted several tools to help make our lives a little easier and the company more efficient. Two tools in particular that we rely heavily on is Asana for our project management and HubSpot for our CRM. Both of these tools have been invaluable in keeping our projects on track and in touch with our clients more often.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
Several books that I have found myself reading over the past few months are many of the books written by Geno Wickman, Traction and Rocket Fuel are two that I recommend. I also read and listen to a lot of John Maxwell material. Leadershift is one of his more recent books that I have read. I have read most of Patrick Lencioni’s books, most recently Five Dysfunctions of a Team. Leaders Eat Last, Simon Sinek; and Jim Collins, Good to Great and Turning the Flywheel.
I also enjoy listening to Tim Ferriss’ Podcast. If there is anyone that moves fast, fails, and recovers quickly it is Tim and many of the folks he interviews. Many long runs and bike rides listening to his guests.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
My advice to others who want to get started is to just do it! Don't wait for the stars to perfectly align...they rarely ever do. Though you will need to know the industry you are about to start your business in, you should have a good idea of your service or product you are offering and who you are offering it to. Even if you have to moonlight it for a little, get a plan together and start the process.
Stay very focused on your core service/product. Learn the why of your client. Why are they really buying your service/product? Not why you think they would want to buy it, but why they would want to buy it.
As early as you can, bring in someone that can help you sell. You can scale faster with a good sales team. Also, as soon as you can, bring in someone that can help with your operations. This will free you up to do what you do best. Many entrepreneurs are slowed down by the day-to-day operations and are at their best when they are freed up to look out and communicate their vision and help build the strategy of the company.
Where can we go to learn more?
I can be found:
Hey! 👋 I'm Pat Walls, the founder of Starter Story.
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