Eden Data Update: How We Grew Our Team From 4 To 20 Staff

Published: February 18th, 2022
Taylor Hersom
Founder, Eden Data
Eden Data
from Austin
started March 2020
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Hello again! Remind us who you are and what business you started.

My name is Taylor Hersom, and I’m the founder and CEO of Eden Data (the OG Adam to the Garden, so-to-speak). Since I realize you’re reading this article for what was built not who built it, which is far more interesting anyway, I’ll start with my pitch- Eden Data is a subscription-based cybersecurity consulting firm focused on helping startups build security, compliance, & data privacy programs that are as innovative and disruptive as the company themselves. Leveraging the client’s unique differentiators and tech stack, we help enable them to:

  • Win more sales while adhering to new regulatory standards
  • Attract clients/investors with data privacy assurance
  • Attain long term scalability by building programs that are SaaS and automation-first
  • Breach mitigation through continuous compliance optimization
  • ... and most importantly, free your resources to focus on your business

How I came about creating this business concept is a classic story: boy gets a job at a global consulting firm, the boy has a knack for it, the boy thinks there’s a better way to conduct the business and markets left unserved, boy builds a company that can do it better. It’s not memoir-worthy, but you get the gist. Before starting Eden Data, I had the great fortune of working for Deloitte, a global consulting firm that offered its employees fantastic experience-building opportunities, but their model of consulting can’t scale to [what I humbly and unbiasedly think is] the most exciting market for innovation: startups. I also strongly felt there was a quality gap in the market between the consulting firm's enterprise organizations that can afford to hire and firms that serve SMB’s. After taking a position as Chief Information Security Officer (CISO) at a different firm, I realized I would never be truly satisfied until I built something that was genuinely mine and that was capable of fulfilling the passion I’d developed for solving this gap.

And thus on the 10,950th day (because I was 30yrs old), Eden Data was born. True to my vision, we have defied the outdated model of consulting that builds a dependency on consulting services, and instead it is our core belief that we should continuously prove our value through our leadership, evolving knowledge, & agile programs.

New Branding

Tell us about what you’ve been up to! Has the business been growing?

In true startup fashion, what we’ve been up to could occupy the space of this entire article (and it would be completely different tomorrow), but here are some highlights:

Humble brag- we’ve been growing like CRAZY! The team we’ve been fortunate to build has been crushing their projects, which has led to tremendous organic growth through referrals, partners, and our network. We actually have a waitlist of clients (we already have the neon lights as part of our brand image, so all we’re missing is a bouncer).

Along with that growth and thanks to the market we serve, we’ve had the opportunity to strategically build and be a part of many unique environments and challenges - adding to our repertoire of experience. And most importantly, we’ve supported our clients in obtaining hundreds of millions in new funding (north of $500M), rapidly expanding to new markets, and landing some epic customers. Speaking of epic customers: we have also supported multiple clients in obtaining ‘unicorn’ status startups...Turns out these mythical creatures are real!

As part of our growth, we’ve been in a position to make exciting new decisions about our growth strategy. Currently, we are solely a service-based consulting firm. And while this strategy has been successful for us thus far, we now have the resources and finances to consider scaling in more diverse directions such as re-selling other software, building our own software, and/or partnering with a wider array of complementary technologies. From a valuation perspective, we’d be best served by incorporating a scalable software component to our business practices.

Near and dear to my heart has been the growth of our team, aka the Eden Data Cyber Squad. The first time we were featured on Starter Story, we were a small firm of 4 team members. Since then, we’ve grown to 16 folks on the payroll, we have multiple departments rather than a single team of multi hat wearers, and we are actively looking to add more professionals to the team. I can officially say we are well on our way to being a “Texas Sized” startup!

What have been your biggest lessons learned in the last year?

Before starting Eden Data, the most distressing financial decisions I had to make were whether or not to splurge on grossly overpriced holiday decorations each year to make our house the winter wonderland of my dreams (side note- they were definitely #WorthIt). But nothing, even the wrath of my fiancé, compares to the pressure of making decisions that stand to affect my employees and their families. For that reason, my instinct has been to spend very conservatively, waiting for Eden Data to meet very specific financial metrics before embarking on big spends like hiring. As a result, we lost out on some talented candidates despite meeting those financial metrics shortly after.

In retrospect, and as a strategy moving forward, I believe there is greater potential for business impact to hire rock stars as we identify them rather than waiting to meet financial and client metrics. Now, as a caveat, that doesn’t mean throwing caution to the wind with no concern for the bottom line. But as long as our company is experiencing healthy, consistent growth and is on track to achieve financial projections, we plan to move forward much more quickly with hires to be more proactive rather than reactive.

This leads perfectly to our second lesson- once we have those rockstars onboard, a huge lesson I’ve learned is investing more heavily in the people on our rocketship. I certainly believe we have done a good job of building competitive compensation plans and benefits based on where we were at as a company. But to retain the talent we’ve acquired, and to compete in the hot market, I’d like to refine creative, additional ways we invest in them. We have rolled out some cool perks (I’m biased) more recently, such as paying 100% for health insurance, adding a wellness stipend, and hooking new employees up with weekend vacations. We have also rolled out bonuses based on performance and a cool top-secret model called the “Above and Beyond Framework”. But going forward, I’d like to do even more: some of the things we are working on include profit sharing, equity/shadow stock options, and commissions on new business ventures.

Don’t get so consumed with the idea of fast growth that you forget to focus and invest in what you have now.

And finally, a lesson that gives me a whole new appreciation for obnoxious jingles that will never leave my brain like, “the best part of waking up is Folgers in your cup”, or better yet, “I’m A Big Kid Now!”. Brand strategy is hard, y’all! Over the course of the last year, I’ve looked at enough logo mockups, color palettes, website designs, slogans, and other branding elements to last a lifetime. And we’ve had to pivot more than once. We’ve spent countless (literally, I’ve tried) hours refining the brand all to come to the realization it’s more important to relentlessly drive forward toward our target demographic focused on our core principles rather than branding. For us, by focusing on exceptional customer deliverables and experiences, we have been able to maintain our growth while taking our time on how we market it.

What’s in the plans for the upcoming year, and the next 5 years?

One of the biggest takeaways I had from my experience with large consulting firms was the lack of genuine focus on the customer experience. As a service-based organization, I believe it’s not enough to merely offer our clients successful project completions (although, don’t get me wrong, that’s critical). We want the takeaway for our clients to be that their EXPERIENCE with Eden Data was exceptional, bar none. With that core principal in mind, we plan to invest significantly in the near term on building more comprehensive and scalable practices around our customer experience. We’re evaluating everything from adding customer success managers, to creating a more expansive library of resources, to building a project management tool to keep our consultants and clients more aligned and interactive.

Equally as vital to our client experience is our employee experience. I always knew I wanted to become an entrepreneur when the right timing presented itself, so like a good eternal student of business, I spent years reading every business book I could get my hands on and asking advice from every mentor that would tolerate my interrogations. And while I see this as one of our biggest areas of continuous evolution, there are a few ways we’d like to expand our employee investment. From a fundamental perspective, we’ll continue to refine our individualized compensation plan and career trajectory around what drives the individual versus the group; whether their drive and incentive come from money, career progression, and/or recognition. We also want to offer employees career flexibility within their jobs, since we understand that startups tend to attract entrepreneurial-minded individuals. Whether it’s giving them the opportunity to propose new business endeavors, or offering the opportunity for Eden Data to fund net new company developments, we want to encourage their spirit of growth rather than stifle it to fit our business model or their role.

Looking down the road at the next few years, we have lofty goals for our growth projections, highlighted by the loftiest goal of our strategy: changing the way companies view the “necessity” for cybersecurity. Yep, we are trying to change the way an entire market segment thinks, no biggie. Right now, the sentiment around cybersecurity and data privacy is that it’s a necessity for enterprises to avoid eminent brand damage from breaches, it’s a nice-to-have for midsize organizations to protect consumer data from a trusted perspective, and it’s a relatively optional endeavor for early-stage startups even though they house substantive sensitive information. We want to make cybersecurity a foundational building block for organizations of ALL sizes, not just for the obvious purpose of avoiding ominous cyber criminal behavior, but to leverage it as a competitive differentiator and driver of sales. We want to make cybersecurity a business driver, and we want to be the ones driving the conversation and the go-to company startups think of when they want to transform their programs.

Have you read any good books in the last year?

The earliest memories I have of my childhood were at the age of 5, spending my weekends at my Aunt’s house, curled up next to her on the couch with hot chocolate (instead of coffee, like her) in one hand and a stack of children's books in the other. I’ve gotten a little taller since then and have my own family to spend weekends with now, but at any given time I can still be found with one or multiple books. Some game changers for me lately have been:

  1. Bad Blood: this is a great book to read about how NOT to run a company!
  2. The Laws of Human Nature: what better way to figure out how to better interact with people than look back in history?
  3. Principles: Ray Dalio is an unexpected hero of mine, as I had no idea who he was until I read his book. This is a book I read every year since it’s THAT good!

Advice for other entrepreneurs who might be struggling to grow their business?

Don’t get so consumed with the idea of fast growth that you forget to focus and invest in what you have now. I was fortunate enough to learn this mistake from others that seemed to endlessly blow through employees and clients because they were too fixated on where they were going to appreciate what had gotten them to where they were currently (dang, I should make that a Pinterest quote). And believe me, it’s harder than it sounds! You’ll always be surrounded by people that seem to be growing faster or receiving more funding, and as a founder, it can feel like you’re getting left behind, but I can attest that Eden Data weathered many storms and is poised for tremendous scale because I ruthlessly focused on building trust and loyalty with employees/clients at every stage of the company. Transparency is KEY, so fight the urge to hide everything from your staff, both the good and the bad. They deserve to revel in your company’s accomplishments, and also to know when something detrimental has happened, as their livelihoods are on the line just as much as yours.

ANOTHA ONE (... “DJ Khaled”): Tread cautiously when considering funding. As a startup amongst startups, I may get burned at the stake for this advice because it seems EVERYONE is chasing funding. And sure, sometimes it takes money to make money, or you’re embarking on a market with a high cost of admission, but I learned a lot from our funding consideration and ultimate decision not to pursue it. For me, part of the allure of being an entrepreneur is the freedom to make my own decisions about the growth, trajectory, and culture of Eden Data. Receiving funding would have meant accepting rigorous sales metrics, high-pressured growth, and an army of money people to keep appeased. Not to mention the chunk of equity it gobbles up, leaving you with less flexibility in the future. Ultimately, we decided that taking on investment wasn’t the right move for us right now, and I and the team have been really satisfied with that decision.

Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?

Absolutely, and always for our security professionals. While we value diversity of experience within our organization, we see tremendous role and culture fit from individuals with cybersecurity, audit and/or compliance experience at large consulting firms that are accustomed to managing multiple clients across a variety of environments. From there we look for the 3 H’s: Hungry, humble, and happy.

Hungry: Eden Data offers its employees the freedom to create their own career destiny, affording the opportunity to propel their career far faster than a career track at a traditional organization, but they need to be hungry. Not just a light appetite, but ravenous for success. We also want folks that want to build their brand and make an impression on the world.

Humble: As cybersecurity continues to evolve, so must we as professionals. Eden Data looks for humble people that have an ongoing commitment to learning and growing and never think they know it all. We have a close-knit team with a wide background of experience, which means that we lean on each other in areas where we aren’t strong. A negative Ego is the enemy at Eden Data!

Happy: And finally, happy (did anyone else automatically start humming Pharrell Williams’s tune?). Our culture at Eden Data is driven by positive vibes only. We believe it’s the foundation for employee satisfaction, customer satisfaction, and exceptional company culture. Plus we read somewhere that your attitude dictates your reality, so there’s that scientific nugget.

We’re on a rocketship to the moon, and we’re always looking for people with talent that’s out of this world.

Where can we go to learn more?