By Sagi Gidali
Sitting in a dinky little diner in San Francisco’s Union Square, about to take a bite of a greasy cheeseburger, I scrolled through my phone. A press release had just gone live announcing that our company, Perimeter 81, had secured $100 million in funding to bump our valuation to $1 billion.
What I dreamt about for several years was finally true: I built a unicorn.
I saw all the media coverage we had received, all the kind, congratulatory messages hitting my inbox, and the life-changing moment I was waiting for never came. This is a major milestone I had worked for since I became an entrepreneur. Don’t get me wrong, it was exciting, but I realized that the achievement wasn’t an end goal that made me a different person. The hard work was only beginning.
You might expect the founder of a unicorn to be throwing a lavish party or having brunch in the lobby restaurant of a five-star hotel. I was sitting at a booth in a hole-in-the-wall diner feeling pressure and responsibility to lead us to the next milestone. The perception of a unicorn is that the growth doesn’t stop, so I had to make sure we kept our collective foot on the gas pedal.
With each milestone you pass, there’s increased expectations from the board and investors to continue innovating and scaling your company. Employees are also looking for increased leadership, and to understand what the company’s growth means for their own careers and futures. You need to lead by example and reward their efforts so your company can maintain its growth plan.
Our next goal isn’t directly monetary—it’s to disrupt the cybersecurity industry. We are on a mission to simplify the way we consume cybersecurity and are well-positioned to do so since the world has changed drastically in the last couple of years. Getting to this point was a nine-year journey. That journey is far from over, but I’ve learned enough that I can share some helpful tips that may make your entrepreneurial journey that much easier.
How to build a unicorn startup
Take risks and be bold
In 2013, my cofounder and I
started our first company. We certainly weren’t perfect, but we learned from each other and from what didn’t work. We found that you need to assess a combination of things, from the landscape of the market you’re looking to enter, to your own hunch about what you’re looking to bring to the table, to customer needs, and many data points.
With that first company, SaferVPN, we compiled tons of data points by talking with customers, collecting and analyzing feedback, showing insights, talking with industry analysts, and seeing what competitors were doing. When you combine all those data points, you can make better tactical and strategic decisions.
In 2019, we took the biggest risk and stopped the company. We used our infrastructure and intellectual property as inspiration for Perimeter 81. We had a B2C solution and started building a B2B tool in parallel, but the resources began cannibalizing each other and we were starting to lose focus. It was a big struggle at the time, but we decided we couldn’t keep them both.
The B2C was profitable, but we didn’t see a sustainable future. Perimeter 81 was nothing more than our assumption of trends. We foresaw the shift to the cloud, and that remote work would be the way of the future (of course, we had no way of knowing that a global pandemic would accelerate adoption). We sold SaferVPN because we saw a huge opportunity. It was also a huge risk. Our bet paid off.
Build strong management
I have a great relationship with my cofounder, Amit Bareket—after all, I started two companies with him. But it’s more than just maintaining that one relationship. You should surround yourself with strong people who are experts in their field, and let them help you.
Learn to delegate and understand that you can’t do everything, which is tempting when you’re building your own company from scratch. Just lead the way, be the sherpa for the people in your company, and trust them to do what you
hired your employees to do.
That manpower may not always be the same. Economic conditions may determine who is right for your company at any given point. People that you really like, who were very good from the beginning, might not be able to match expectations and deliver what’s required at a certain point of growth for your company. It’s a painful change, but a sign of strong management if you can make the right decisions.
I’m proud that Perimeter 81 didn’t change when it became a unicorn. If I were driven by ego instead of my genuine desire to see our company change the cybersecurity landscape, perhaps things would be different. The way I see it, our success hasn’t changed our culture. I’m not secluded in a corner office, shut off from the rest of the team. I sit with our valued employees during my workday and initiate conversations with them.
If Perimeter 81 were the kind of company to blow millions on a celebration, it would affect the talent, employee retention, and create a different
company culture than the values we’ve prided ourselves on. Humble leadership is required for growth. You’ll need to develop other skill sets along the way, of course, but remaining steadfast in how you behave sets the course for your future growth and keeps your focus on the task at hand.
Until, that is, you enjoy a quick cheeseburger before attending a major conference. Then you find a new goal and keep grinding.