2018 NEVYs Spotlight Series: GreatHorn Inc.

The NEVCA is proud to share the stories of our 2018 NEVY Awards nominees through their own words. Hear their experiences of success, failure, and everything in between — most importantly, what has driven them forward to build and grow their vision, starting with the very first spark of inspiration.

The Road to the NEVYs

Written by Kevin O’Brien, CEO, GreatHorn

By our very natures, those of us in high-growth companies tend to look at what has yet to be done rather than what has already been accomplished. Being nominated for the “Cybersecurity Company of the Year” NEVY Award gives us a great chance to reflect and see how far we’ve come in just a few short years. There are many moments — large, small and strange — that define a company’s culture and ability to execute on its mission.

Here are a few of the most notable moments in GreatHorn history.

Differentiation in a Stale Market

When Ray Wallace (my co-founder and GreatHorn’s CTO) and I started GreatHorn three years ago, we started with a vision for fundamentally changing the way security and communication were connected. Having worked in cybersecurity for almost the entirety of our careers, we began building the company with the premise that social engineering attacks and, by extension, phishing, fraud, and business email compromise, were both the most persistent and most pernicious threat that traditional perimeter-based solutions could not effectively address.

At GreatHorn, we provide continuous protection that gives our customers a sense of assurance that even in a cloud-enabled email environment, they are protected from the most highly targeted and carefully crafted attacks. We aren’t just solving a single problem, however: we are a different kind of security company, and we’re rewriting the playbook for an industry that has been stagnant even in the face of ever more sophisticated attacks.

That difference is about more than our technical innovation — it’s also about the character and type of company we’re building. The security industry relies too heavily on FUD and functionality overload to scare people into buying their solutions. Good security isn’t about delivering a binary good/bad point solution — it’s a continuously evolving business process. That’s why we see ourselves as a calm, pragmatic partner for Fortune 500 companies rather than another alarmist vendor contributing to the noise. This approach has resonated well with our customers because it genuinely reflects our company’s core values and has served as a valuable filter for all of our major decisions, such as hiring, product roadmap and more.

Inverting the Model

Cybersecurity is an extremely competitive market, both locally and around the world.

Email security alone is characterized by well-resourced and often deeply entrenched companies. We knew early on that we would need to think differently about the nature of threat that individuals face when they encounter these kinds of attacks; the concept of a “bad guy” who can be “blocked” is not only outdated, it’s ineffective, especially in a time when as a society we have shifted increasingly towards mobile devices over monolithic email clients, towards being available around the clock rather than only at the office.

Securing against threats that play on the dual challenges of being overscheduled and overly stressed required a mindset shift — from that of bouncer at the organization’s gate (hence “gateway” solutions that the current vendors typify) to one more akin to a security-conscious companion, continually helping identify and avoid dangers as they arise.

This concept of focusing on identification and communication are core to the fabric of our product. Rather than engaging in a line-item, feature-by-feature fight with other email security companies over increasingly commoditized functionality, we partner with companies that believe that security should be an enabling function for their employees, and who take that responsibility for finding a balance between trust and safety seriously.

Pulling Ourselves Along by our Bootstraps

In the earliest days of the business, Ray and I bootstrapped operations from our personal savings. While we’ve been fortunate, we both have families to consider, mortgages and bills to pay, and the usual set of concerns that any “normal” person would.

We knew, however, that what we wanted to do was important and disruptive. However, while the cybersecurity market may be overheated, we knew that we would face skepticism from the traditional investment community around what we were doing when we first started. I believe that big ideas often look insane at the outset — it takes a certain kind of chutzpah to think that a couple of guys in a budget office with a credit card can take on some of the industry’s most established players.

By not taking funding initially, we were forced to make hard decisions about what to focus on. We spent an enormous part of our first year talking to prospects and customers, understanding the nature of their problems, and refining our approach. That neonatal exploration took us down some unexpected pathways — at one point, we even entertained the idea of building a Windows Server security product for IIS! — but it also proved to be advantageous when we did decide to raise outside capital, because we had clear and referenceable feedback that showed that we were on the right path.

Creating Buy-In for Your Business

By the end of 2015, we were fortunate enough to be introduced to Alex Iskold, the managing director for Techstars NYC. Alex got it immediately: he saw what we were doing, he saw the market opportunity, and he believed in us despite the obvious challenges we faced.

Naturally, when he offered us a spot in the Fall 2015 Techstars NYC class, we turned him down.

Thankfully, he was also persistent, and he gave us 24 hours to recognize that what Techstars represented wasn’t just a bit of seed capital, but also an immensely valuable network through which we could build an impactful and important company. More importantly, as we came to understand, Techstars was a family: willing to deliver hard truths, but there for us when we needed them most, helping us grow the business and scale rapidly. Today, we’re proud to not only count them amongst our investors, but also amongst our friends as entrepreneurs.

When building a new company, there is no single roadmap to work from. GreatHorn’s team has used a mixture of resourcefulness, timeliness and hard work to capitalize on the market opportunity we have identified. We have high hopes for the future and hope we can add a NEVY award to our list of great moments in GreatHorn’s history.

Every nominee is a winner in our eyes, but be sure to nab your NEVYs tickets now — and bring your team — to see who takes home the ultimate prize.

Follow GreatHorn Inc. on Twitter: @greathorn

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