Today I am pleased to announce that one of my earliest advisers Michael Callahan has joined the board of Cyral as an independent board member.
A lot has been written on how to set up the right board and the role of independents. Among the people I read regularly, Mark Suster has a great compendium of articles here, and Dave Kellogg has written some great articles on CEO / founder / board dynamic. This one is a particular favorite!
After nearly 8 years as a first-time founder/CEO, when I decided to do it again, I took all of this advice and distilled it into what it specifically meant for Cyral. It came down to two traits that I wanted all Cyral board members to have:
Be aligned with the values and priorities for the company
One of the most important determinants of success at a startup is hiring the right exec team, for them to then hire the right team for themselves, and so on. Every seasoned startup exec wants to meet the board before joining, and wants to, on an ongoing basis, seek their validation. If the board values bravado and heroism, the exec team morphs into a group of gladiators. If the board values analytics and precisions, you end up with a team of watchmakers. If the board loves to debate sales commissions, that’s where the CFO spends all his time inside the company with a razor. If the board wants to dive deep into health of customers, that’s where the CRO spends a lot of his energy institutionalizing processes and getting good metrics.
While ultimately the values of the company must come from the founders, having alignment with board on values, especially in the very early days, can be huge source of leverage or friction. I wanted to make sure that at each stage we’re aligned on what is important to the business and personally to the board members.
Ability to give good advice at critical junctures of the company
To execute well in a startup, you have to stay close to as many facts as possible. What are buyers looking for? Where are they looking? How do users impact their decision making? What do they think about our features? How do they compare it with alternatives? What kind of new skills do I need to bring to the team to resolve my biggest bottlenecks? What compromises do I have to make on the candidate to realistically hire someone in time? What is really going on in the team’s mind?
In many respects, all this can be overwhelming for anyone to stay abreast with. But more importantly, sometimes there are critical board decisions that must be made in a space of 2 hours and there is no time to get into all these details. The management team doesn’t always have adequate time to craft a sufficiently valuable high-level overview and catch everyone up on it.
This is where having an instinctive familiarity with the not just the business but also the space, the trends, the customers, etc. helps improve the quality of such decision making.
Michael is an exemplar of these values, traits, and abilities. I am thrilled to welcome him to our board. I won’t waste time regurgitating his resume, but needless to say all his experience, especially at Awake and Datadog, have made him exceptionally well suited to understanding the data security as code product we are pioneering.
In September 2020, it will have been 9 years since I was first introduced to Michael. What started as an offer of a few hours of advice a week to help us sharpen the series A pitch deck for my previous company, grew into him becoming a critical adviser to and investor in that company.
He was always there to help at critical junctures of the company, with strategy, introductions, recruiting, etc. and was one of my first phone calls when I started Cyral with Srini. After our first meeting with him, Srini and I knew we wanted to involve him in building Cyral. From my long personal experience of leaning on him as an adviser, I know that he brings exactly the right kind of values on which we want to build Cyral. Indeed, every time I meet him to discuss Cyral, the two things he wants to quickly get to are “how are the customers doing” and “how is the team doing”, before we discuss anything else. He is truly someone who can help us build a culture of “obligation before opportunity” and lay the foundation for building a business for the long term.