On the power of generalists and the future of security with Christina Cacioppo, CEO and founder of VantaFeatured

I spoke with @christina, CEO and founder of Vanta, which automates security and compliance. Vanta has helped hundreds of hundreds of SaaS companies grow their businesses by getting SOC 2 compliant. Prior to founding Vanta, Christina worked on Dropbox Paper, a Google Docs-like tool that was brought into Dropbox through an acquisition. As the first product manager, she was working on ways to distribute the product to mid market startups. But when her team connected with the Dropbox legal team, they realized that their product did not yet meet all the security standards that Dropbox as a whole is held to. They faced the challenging decision of either spending a year or more getting to SOC 2 compliance or narrowing down their target market significantly by only selling to non-paying Dropbox users. This experience led Christina to explore security more deeply, where she found a deep incentive problem. Within companies, it is paradoxically both difficult and crucial to prioritize security and compliance. So often companies see security as downside protection but in reality, as Christina’s experience at Dropbox shows, security can open new markets and be a key enabler of company growth. Christina shared her advice and insight around leadership, company building, and learning new skill sets. Tie cross-functional work into a coherent story. Christina’s time at Dropbox helped shape her understanding of how to run a company. She learned how different teams work together, how department specific work ties together via company strategy, and how competing priorities are aligned. She has since brought these learnings to building and running Vanta. Doing the best learning. After Christina’s time in venture capital, she realized that she had met with hundreds of founders building software companies but had limited personal experience actually creating software herself. So, she took the bonus from her job and lived off of it for a year. She worked out of a friend’s office and built web apps for 2 years. Although none of these companies took off, the experience of just being fully immersed and hands on in the software development world was instrumental for Christina in building her technical skills. Empower employees to make their projects their own. As a founder, Christina has often had to become a jane of all trades until she finds someone more competent than herself in each particular domain to join. Afterwards, these new leaders run with their respective departments and can take them in directions quite different from the one Christina initiated. As a founder, you have to be comfortable with the notion that the old processes may not work or be the most effective, and you have to trust and enable your team members to build something better than what you gave them, even if it means you are frequently operating without the granular context. Be comfortable with discomfort. Throughout Christina’s career, she has worked in a wide range of roles from venture capital to teaching to product. While each transition has presented its own challenges, through collecting a diverse array of experiences, Christina has learned how to learn, developed a wide range of cross-functional skills, and learned to be comfortable with discomfort. All of this has been incredibly helpful in preparing Christina as a founder where her role is constantly evolving.