HR & Leadership

Talk Clearly, Proclaim Leadership, and Grow Fast: Advice for Standing Out in a Crowded Market

April 22, 2021

When you’re a newcomer into a fast-changing and competitive space, evolving from startup to front runner requires some extra hustle.

Data security startup Cyral knows this all too well. A platform designed to enable development teams to do more with their data without sacrificing security, Cyral entered the market with tons of potential. The challenge: There were literally hundreds of other startups in data security looking to take the lead in the emerging space.

Luckily for Cyral, they had Andrea Swaney on their side as their Head of Go-to-Market. With years of startup and late-stage experience in business development, strategic partnerships, account management, sales, marketing, and pretty much any other area of expertise you can name, Andrea brought a lot of real-world skills to Cyral’s fight to get out in front of the competition.

I had the chance to speak with Andrea for our BUILDing To Boss podcast series. We covered everything from her philosophy on problem solving to the future of data security.

Listen to the episode below, or scroll down to read the three key insights she shared about her success as a go-to-market (GTM) leader in the data security space.

Challenge #1: Carving out your space

When your product is new, it’s important to get precise about exactly what it does and exactly who it serves. If you don’t do this, you run the risk of either being wrongly associated with traditional types of solutions (which may carry negative connotations), or failing to provide your buyers with relevant context (if your product is part of a new category).

For example, when Andrea was with Signal Sciences, a web application security company, they initially identified themselves as the “anti-WAF” (Web Application Firewall). They eventually gave in to the fact that they were competing in the WAF market.

Cyral faced an arguably tougher challenge because they’re creating a category—a combination of IAM (Identity and Access Management) with data activity monitoring and data loss prevention. Because Cyral’s solution is new and unique, there’s no direct comparison that prospective buyers can use easily and quickly frame their initial perception and assessment of the product.

Bottom line: Get crystal clear about what your product does—and who it’s for. Those details matter when you take your message to market.

Challenge #2: Standing out in the crowd

Once you’ve defined what you are and who you’re for, turn your attention to the competition.

As one of Andrea’s mentors at Cyral says, “The key to success at a startup is talk clearly, proclaim leadership, and grow fast.” And one of the only ways to live up to that directive is to have strong messaging that can be distilled down to memorable sound bites.

“The key to success at a startup is talk clearly, proclaim leadership, and grow fast.”

“The security industry has a great network and community,” Andrea says. “But one of the specific challenges we all face is the general crappiness of marketing messages. It’s really hard to stand out in a crowd. Everyone is saying the same things and using the same buzz words. You need to figure out how to separate yourself from all that noise.”

Bottom line: Don’t go with the flow when crafting your marketing message. It’s not enough to know what your product does and who it’s for. You must articulate why they should want it in unique terms that won’t get lost in the avalanche of other marketing messages out there.

Challenge #3: Building a team to sell to your specific buyers

Everyone gives a lot of lip service to being “customer centric,” but to surge ahead in a competitive market, you need to get serious about actually doing the work. Cyral’s primary audience is security engineers, a notoriously tricky group to sell to.

Related read: I Asked 50+ Developers How They Buy Software. Here’s What I Learned.

Over the years, Andrea has employed multiple strategies to make sure her team is truly plugged into the buyer’s mindset. “At Signal Sciences, I made Gene Kim’s Phoenix Project required reading because it was a great way to get inside the head of our buyer,” she explains. “My team also developed a good interview strategy that helps assess a candidate’s technical acumen. We need to know our people can carry on a conversation with a security engineer. Being super eager isn’t enough—you need someone who actually wants to understand the product. That’s really important even early on.”

Andrea also recommends building a team by hiring the person who can help you solve today’s problem rather than basing your choice on what you think you might need down the road. “I never ask hypothetical questions in interviews because everyone can paint a lovely picture,” she says. “I want to know what they’ve done and whether they’ve been in the situation I’m in right now. I want to make sure they have actual relevant experience.”

Bottom line: Hire people with the right experience and drive.

More wisdom from Andrea

Listen to this episode of BUILDing To Boss for more details on these concepts—plus Andrea’s thoughts on how to prioritize GTM initiatives, how the data infrastructure and data security landscape is changing, and what a best-in-class data security strategy looks like in 2021.

Vice President at OpenView

Kaitlyn is responsible for identifying, evaluating and executing on investment opportunities. She also manages OpenView’s diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives. Prior to joining OpenView, Kaitlyn worked at Amazon across multiple growth and business development roles. Most recently, she was a senior financial analyst for Amazon’s machine learning group, where she oversaw Amazon’s consumer engagement ML projects worldwide. She has also served as an advisor to early-stage technical founders through her work at the Cal Poly Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, an accelerator in Central California.