‘Get yourself a good team’ and 3 other lessons for startup founders in cyber security

We chatted to CyRise mentor and CEO at Forticode, Tony Smales, about his experience as a startup founder. Tony created Forticode when he recognised the world was becoming more connected, more technology dependent and thoroughly compromised. The flagship product is Cipherise, a mobile-first identity verification product, allowing individuals to be in control of their credentials instead of the businesses they use or work for.

Cipherise, the flagship product from Forticode.

In his 8 years of being the sole founder, Tony has learnt a lot. Realising that his technology-rich solution wasn’t user-friendly, he binned 1 million lines of code and pivoted to create a new version of the product. That was 2 years ago. The success of that move saw Forticode secure over a million in funding and the first flagship customer. Tony generously shared his biggest learnings below.

1. Get yourself a good team

Recognise early that one person can not possibly cover all bases. Ask yourself: what don’t I know and who don’t I know? Seek cofounders with complementary skill sets and new networks. If that’s not possible, hire a team to fill the gaps and bring on directors to widen your network. Experience and connectivity is vitally important for startup success.

2. Understand how you’re going to fund your growth

Be conscious of the long term viability. Understand how you’re going to fund your business past an accelerator program. A grant is incredibly helpful, but consider it a short-term solution for building out your technology. A grant doesn’t help you fund a business, so put a plan in place.

3. Build your technology around a real need

Focus on getting one or two customers on board from day one, and build something they will use. Your technology needs to be designed to be user-friendly — and this will be different to how you’d design it in isolation. Can’t get anyone to trial your solution? Ask yourself ‘Why won’t they?’. A ‘no’ is still important information if you can truly understand what is stopping them from using it.

4. Solve a problem that’s high on the priority list

Yes, you might be solving a problem. And yes, potential customers might think your solution is one they need. But is it in the top 10 of their priorities? If not, it’ll be difficult to convert them into a paying customer. Understand what’s high on their list of needs and ensure your solution fits.

Above all, if you’ve got the gumption to take action and have a shot, then by all means have a shot. Australia has great talent. If this is an area of passion for you, then the most important thing is to back yourself.


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Tony Smales, CEO at Forticode.

Tony Smales is the CEO and driving force behind Forticode, a Melbourne-based cyber security startup. He’s a great advocate for Australian talent in the cyber security sector, and believes homegrown security solutions can have a big impact both locally and globally.