The single most important aspect of a startup's success is the team behind the idea. Sure, there are other essential factors like product, market variables, etc., but none of that matters if the team isn't right. From the start of Traceable’s journey, my Co-Founder, Jyoti Bansal, and I were laser-focused on bringing a world-class team together. This idea of a team includes our investment partners and we knew from the beginning that we were looking for investors who could offer us more than a check.
Though we have an “in” with Unusual (Jyoti is also a Co-Founder of the firm), it was very clear from the beginning of our conversations that John understood how our vision to rethink cloud native application security by bringing in observability into application security could be a game changer. John also brought a lot to the table in terms of his background and insights into the security market and after a few conversations, we decided Unusual was the right VC partner for Traceable.
Typically, once founders—especially technical first-time founders—close funding, they try to take on everything without realizing that stretching themselves will make areas that are their core competency (i.e. building product) suffer. In our case, Traceable was not our first rodeo and we learned from making this mistake in the past. Jyoti and I also recognized that we wanted to focus on customer and product building, so we needed help in other core areas like marketing, sales, and recruiting. This means that once the ink dried with Unusual, we very quickly engaged with Unusual’s Get Ahead Platform (GAP) Team—Unusual’s team of world class operators from companies like MongoDB, Okta, LaunchDarkly, Segment, AppDynamics, and more—who embed within a portfolio company's organization as contributing, tactical team members, producing deliverables and results.
We kicked off our engagement with the marketing arm of the GAP Team and our conversation was pretty straightforward, “Tell me everything about your vision, where you’re going, and what you are building.” They intently listened to us and were able to help us position what a true Go-To-Market (GTM) strategy should look like. Based on this approach, we started to define what our initial customer decks would look like and were introduced to the concept of “The Three Whys”: Why buy anything, why buy now, and why buy you? This was very important for us because “The Three Whys” forced us to take a step back and ask, “What has shifted? Has there been a fundamental shift in terms of the product need itself? Why is the product needed that way?” This enabled us to not only understand our customers better, but better frame our differentiators in our pitch/customer deck.
Once we completed this exercise, we engaged with the sales arm of the GAP Team to help us further enhance our Ideal Customer Profile (ICP) and how we think about the overall market itself. GAP’s sales team put together a target list of customers that we could go after, in addition to formulating messaging for us. Since we were still in stealth mode—and stayed in stealth for 18 months up until our launch—we couldn’t publicly speak about what we were doing. However, the GAP Team helped us position the product to many of our initial design partners. Since the GAP Team acted as our first sales hire, they also led those initial conversations about what we do, why companies should be buying our product, and qualified those leads for us. What does this mean for us as founders? We were kept out of many of these conversations where it was not a fit, saving us time to focus on the product.
As momentum picked up, we started to gear up for our official launch. We engaged with another member of the GAP Marketing team six months prior to launch. He acted as our Head of Marketing and owned building content, our website with an external agency, and engaging with a PR agency for all of our launch needs. In July of 2020, we officially launched and I can tell you, without the Unusual GAP Team’s support, our launch would have looked very different. People saw our launch and said, “This looks like a launch of a Series B company.” As a startup, you get one opportunity to launch with a bang and get people to pay attention. It’s so much more than a pretty website. It’s all about messaging and the overall content, which creates a pipeline. Many companies would need to recruit a head of marketing and sales to achieve the results of our launch. As an early-stage company, it’s not easy—or affordable—to recruit quality leaders to make the kind of impact we were looking for with our launch. Fortunately, the GAP Team filled in these gaps for us.
Once we launched, it was time to recruit the right team to bring the product to the next level. Jyoti and I have a strong network, but we recognized we couldn’t just rely on our connections. We engaged with the recruiting side of the GAP Team and it was very important for them to be aligned with our goals, the type of engineers we were expecting, the talent bar we were looking for, and our approach to the interview and hiring process. The GAP Team set up a framework and further refined our hiring process, which enabled us to recruit our founding engineers.
As an early-stage founder, there’s a lot to think about and to be honest, it can be overwhelming. Though Jyoti and I have been through the startup grind before, every startup is new and presents its own challenges. The difference with the Unusual GAP Team was that I always knew there was a partner I could rely on to help us navigate whatever difficulties were thrown at us. Money obviously matters when it comes to finding investment partners, but money is not hard to come by these days. Who will actually help you form the company and be in the trenches with you? The GAP Team helped us accelerate Traceable through the various frameworks they put in place for marketing, sales, and recruiting. These frameworks became the basis of our company and we continue to build on them today. The Unusual Team also helped facilitate introductions to our executive leadership and not only set them up for success, but helped ramp them up to avoid skipping a beat.
Unusual Ventures has proven to be a different kind of partner for us. They helped us build the foundation of our company. By setting a base, they enabled us to take Traceable to the next level—both through a partnership and references to build out our team. As I reflect on our engagement with the GAP Team and our continued partnership with Team Unusual, it’s safe to say they have helped us become an actual company.