28 Oct, 2014

nVisium: The First Five Years

by Jack Mannino

Today, we hit the five year mark as a company. Five years in startup land feels like an eternity, to be honest. The first five years of building a business is intense. It requires a ton of sacrifice, often spending late nights, weekends, and sometimes holidays working on difficult projects. It requires a careful balance of doing the right things for the future (what you are really trying to achieve) and fulfilling your short term needs (having enough cash to run your business). Many of the decisions made early on have a significant impact on the quality, culture, and operations of your company as it continues to grow in size and complexity.

Businesses typically start out bootstrapped or with some upfront investments or capitalization. We have been 100% bootstrapped to date. What this really means is that we’ve worked hard, we’ve been creative, and we’ve had a lot of fun along the way. We’ve also made a lot of mistakes while learning the ropes of our industry. Fortunately, the upside to mistakes is learning from them. While we share the story of our first five years, it’s important to share both the ups and downs of it all.

Before reading our story, I’d like to share a few tips that I believe have been important in helping shape our culture and helped pave the way for the awesome work done by our team. If you have the itch to start a company, please keep these things in mind as you prepare your business plan and find your niche:

  1. Focus. You’ll be mediocre at everything if you don’t.

  2. Expect shit to hit the fan, often. Your plans will always have unexpected twists and turns, so build padding into your timelines and numbers to reflect reality.

  3. Treat smart, talented people like smart, talented people. Be good to the people who take care of you (your team) and challenge them to continuously improve the status quo and they’ll reward you with high quality, creative results.

  4. Understand what you’re passionate about. Does that passion require a huge team or does it cater to a “lifestyle” type of business? Be realistic about what you want and how you’ll get there.

  5. If you’re already thinking about your exit, stop. Focus on the problems you’ll solve that will make you a compelling acquisition target. When you provide value and push the bar forward, money often follows.

Why Not Cushy 9-5 Jobs?

Because that’s boring. No one says you need to be a workaholic to run a successful company. But at the same time, you should enjoy what you do enough to occasionally forget how long you’ve been doing it that day. My wife Lenore and I originally met while stationed together on the USS Enterprise. Since our Navy days, we always enjoyed technology and messing around with it together, so starting a business sounded like a great idea. The two of us knew it would be a lot of work and a lot of risk, but we were up for the challenge. Like most would-be entrepreneurs, we totally underestimated how much work was ahead of us.

Ultimately, working hard for something rewarding is more enjoyable than laboring over something mundane and blatantly ineffective. nVisium has applied this mindset to both the customers we approach as well as the companies we continue to work with. We encourage our team to focus on solutions, not just pointing out the obvious (that security problems exist). Doing something you believe in makes it much easier to get out of bed in the morning for work.

Our Way

The nVisium team is a remarkable crew. They’re passionate. They’re intelligent. And they’re easy to work with. When we hire new team members, we look for more than just intelligence or degrees from good colleges. We look for people who share our same excitement for learning new things or taking things apart. Surrounding yourself with high quality, motivated people seems like a no-brainer, but I can’t stress enough how important chemistry is. Happy, satisfied members of your team are much more productive than frustrated, exhausted members of your team.

We’ve been fortunate to have had the privilege of doing things our way. We have been able to pursue solutions to problems we found interesting instead of purely based on where the dollars are. We have been able to explore opportunities in a range of sectors, giving us serious insight into how application security issues pop up throughout development. Our focus has been and will always remain helping our clients build secure software. We believe that being really good at our “thing” is much better than being average or mediocre at everything.

Many of the relationships that brought the nVisium team together can be traced back to several places, including the Navy, LivingSocial, application security consultancies, and software development shops. Lenore and I met in the Navy, which is where I also met nVisium’s CTO, Ken Johnson. In fact, Ken and I met on the first day of boot camp on March 5, 2002, and have been great friends ever since. As the company continued to grow, we began to hire our “dream team” of highly talented friends and colleagues we met over the years. We have been extremely fortunate to assemble such a fantastic team.

In The Beginning

nVisium started out like many tech companies: in the founder’s home office. As the company began to grow and the team’s geographic footprint began to expand, it was finally time to take the plunge and lease an office. nVisium’s first “real” office was a small, 200 square foot space:

However, as the company continued to grow quickly, it became clear that it was time to move again. Our next office gave us tons of room, a kitchen, an awesome conference room, and an open layout built for collaboration. It gave us the ability to host hackathons, parties, and gave us a great place to hang out to code and hack on projects until the wee hours. We had an awesome moving in party, and the team assembled furniture for hours and hours.

And the aftermath of it all.

Of course, we outgrew our beloved new office within a few months. The current home of nVisium gives us even more room to continue expanding our team and also lets us host bigger and better hackathons as well as events within the local technology scene.

Our team is also spread between Washington DC, Virginia, Maryland, California, Utah, South Carolina, Kentucky, and Maine.

The Next Five Years

As companies grow and mature, the challenge is to maintain their magic and what made them special. Just because a company grows, doesn’t mean it’s an excuse to stop sharing information with your peers or collaborating to push the bar forward. When the things that made a company great go away, often this is because of shifting thoughts on monetization or because new hires played a role in modifying the core culture. 

We won’t let that happen. Our team loves to contribute to open source initiatives, and we love encouraging them and mentoring them to make it happen. We love to present our original research at conferences across the world. We love to build solutions that make security scalable and more effective. We won’t accept anything less than that. Why would we? What’s the point? 

We are excited at the possibilities for the next 5 years and the fun we’ll have making it happen.