Friday, October 21, 2011

My Top 5 Tips for "Cyber" Startups

1. Pick a hard problem and throw yourself into solving it. In 2005 I was inspired by the InfoSec Research Council's Hard Problems List (.pdf) while I was at Microsoft even though it had little to do with my actual job there. You need to find a problem that you can get passionate about or you'll never survive the difficult road ahead of you.

2. Start a blog about the problem that you've selected. Once I found what I thought would be a solution for one of the problems on that list, I presented it to Microsoft's Greenhouse. When they rejected it, I started a blog ( - no longer active) as a way of continuing my research and building a network of like-minded folks who were interested in the same sorts of things that I was.

3. Get Published. You don't have to write a book, although that's a great experience to have but you do need to create a body of work that can be reviewed and critiqued by your peers. Submitting papers for conferences is one of the best ways to do this. Go to as many conferences as a presenter as you can. That's key. Go as a presenter, not as an attendee. As a presenter, you'll get your expenses covered while meeting decision makers who may become customers, mentors, employees, or partners later on.

4. Build a Network. There's a reason why predators thrive in pack environments rather than on their own. You won't make it as a one-man show. In fact, if you've done the first three things on this list, you'll already have a collection of business cards and LinkedIn contacts for people who either want to help you or use you. You'll figure out which is which soon enough.

5. Find a Mentor. Or hopefully, more than one, to help get you past some of the hurdles you'll encounter in starting a new business. For example, I used to think that I could start a company which offered a product or service that the government needed and which no one else offered and I'd be in business! After a year of failing, it took a mentor to educate me about the fact that it takes a startup company 3 years on average to win its first government contract. I also used to think that I could go after an Army or Air Force SBIR grant and that my application would stand an equal chance at getting selected. After three rejections, it took a mentor to tell me that the Army already knows the company that it plans to award the SBIR grant to beforehand. Both of those experiences, among others, helped me understand that I don't want the government as a customer; that I should focus instead on providing a product or service needed by corporations.

These 5 things helped me leave Microsoft and start my own company (Taia Global, Inc.) with no money at the height of the financial crisis in 2009. It was and remains an arduous journey but it has been the best experience of my life and my company is doing better than ever. I'm confident that if you can find your passion in trying to solve some of the hard challenges that governments and companies face today, that you'll have the same end result that I've had - experiencing daily joy in building a company that makes a difference in peoples' lives. It doesn't get any better than that.


  1. Sometimes, like reading this blog, I am wondering why there are not much more comments. This blog is really interesting! And this is because of author who writes it. Let me to expand this practical list with a key issue: a scientific (personal or professional) interest which in time may become an useful trance (for example, think on Russian mathematician Grigory Perelman who refused $1 million prize for solving Poincaré conjecture, or on famous Serbian scientist Nikola Tesla, who invented almost everything on modern electricity. Both of them refused money and prizes for self satisfaction on their work. Scientific (or any other kind of) interest is alpha and omega of any work and hereby essence of any business. Maybe it is not a payroll, but makes work and life to be in much amusing manner. Moments I've spend in thinking during inventing something (new idea, or problem solving) are almost the best moments in my life.

  2. Thanks, Dragan. I appreciate your kind words and having you share your own experiences. Best of luck.