Farewell, Segasec! Here’s what I learned while being your VP Marketing

It’s not easy letting go of Segasec, a cybersecurity startup acquired by Mimecast after only two and a half years of existence. I’m thrilled for the founders, Elad and Gad, but for me it’s mixed feelings – it’s time to say goodbye.

For the past year, I served as Segasec’s VP marketing in a part-time position, a service we at Forabilis provide to startups. There are only few startups I can handle in this position. The level of involvement and responsibility it requires makes me very picky about where I choose to place my effort. Putting my face on a startup’s website as VP marketing makes it about me rather than about a service my agency provides. It is totally personal.

The funny thing is that if I do my job well enough, I can count on being replaced – either by a full-time, in-house VP marketing, or by an acquiring company with its own marketing leadership. Which is what happened in the case of Segasec. And while this is the business model that we created and it’s working well – it is still making me sad. Because for me it’s all about the people, the personal connections, and the cool things I get to do and learn. Earning the stripes of “it ended with an exit” is just a bonus.

It’s been a short and sweet ride. Here’s a bit of what I learned while leading marketing in a cybersecurity startup that had a fast exit:

  • It’s a play of “from nothing to something” – it needs to be good enough, not perfect. Marketing has a certain pace, even when it moves fast. As a marketing leader, you are constantly going to be pushed and sometimes compared to the competition, expected to perform as well as they are. You can’t, because they’ve been around for eight years and you’re around for a year, and you’re small. So focus on creating and executing as much as possible, even if the results are not perfect. Get something out and then optimize.
  • Marketing leaders must get close to the product, because no one will do product marketing aside from you at the beginning. It will be painful. There will be endless revisions for each collateral, hours spent with the product people (in my case Elad Schulman, the CEO). And at the beginning, no one can do it but the marketing leader. Bringing in a writer is a waste of time at this point – save it for later.
  • To be fully accountable, marketing leaders must own the marketing budget. I owned the marketing plan and the marketing budget. It may sound obvious, but it doesn’t always work like this, and founders have a hard time letting go – even after approving the overall marketing budget. The result is that marketing needs budget approval on every activity that requires a spend. The fact that I could build a plan that ties different channels and campaigns, and move the budget around without constantly seeking approval, made me think broader, be more strategic, and more accountable for the results.
  • Startups don’t really need a full time VP Marketing in the first two years. At the beginning, startups need fractions of different marketing skills. The first hire should be not a VP marketing but a full-stack marketing manager (and if you’re lucky enough you get someone amazing as Orly Bar-Lev).
  • Marketing’s top priority in the beginning is to provide sales with what they need in order to sell. It’s that simple, and in marketing we don’t like hearing it. Because as marketers we think about our goals in a different way, and there is a tendency to spread across too many different efforts. Sales need tools, and marketing should provide them before attending to other tasks.
  • The “Aha!” moment. Marketing can be very generic, there’s a playbook and it can be followed and be somewhat successful. For marketing to be both exciting and effective, you need to crack the code of the specific product and company. I felt we cracked it at Segasec when we learned how to utilize the product to generate data we can use for marketing, which turned into valuable content marketing and press opportunities. Having only one year, we only scratched the surface of what can be done with it.
  • “Not enough leads”. Really, are there ever enough? Never. There’s so much to write about this constant complaint from sales, but I am going to try to be quick about it: Marketing can create “workarounds” to bring leads fast, just to take the pressure off. But the chance that these “fast leads” are ready to buy is close to zero, and warming them takes time. The ways to bring qualified leads that are ready to buy before there’s a fully-running marketing machine is either through direct sales outreach, or through conferences’ sponsorships and speaking opportunities. This may sound a bit depressing, but there is really no magic way to do this. We have only started seeing marketing leads become qualified and move down the funnel in the last month or so, after about 4-5 months of lead nurture. How I wish I had 6 more months to really be able to optimize the lead nurture process.
  • Differentiation is tough, especially in cybersecurity, and as a result, the messaging suffers. So much competition, so many products. Everyone sounds just about the same. Once sales got in front of a potential customer, it was easy to show value. But what works well in a sales pitch, doesn’t necessarily translate into a marketing message. And while our messaging did change and improve, I must say that I feel we were far from done. My plan was to do a serious branding process this coming year to really make a leap in the messaging.

There is so much more to think about, such as – what’s the right timing to start marketing (hint: as soon as possible, no need to wait until there’s a working product), when is the right time to bring PR into the mix, what’s the role of social media in the cybersecurity space and when do you decide to pay the big bucks for Gartner.

There were so many things that were on the marketing plan for 2020 that I never did before – and was looking forward to experiment with Segasec in the coming year. I am really grateful for all that I learned this past year, and the trust of Segasec founders, Elad and Gad, for letting me hop in and join their awesome ride. I am sure this is not the last time we share a journey. Farewell, Segasec!