How to Incorporate Cybersecurity into Your Framework
When you strike upon a viable idea for a business, Cybersecurity might be the last thing on your mind. Even in industries like healthcare and eCommerce where cybersecurity is a vital component, it’s often addressed on the backend. The problem with that approach is that it forces your security team to work retroactively through your architecture to incorporate security as part of your basic infrastructure, like tearing out your home’s foundation to lay plumbing, and it hinders your ability to lay the groundwork for success in each stage of business growth. Often in the early phases of planning and development, startups don’t have the budget to bring in a CISO, so it’s important to familiarize yourself with basic security milestones that you should be hitting in each phase. The following framework was developed by Head of Growth at Qualaroo and GrowthHackers, Morgan Brown, and we’ve outlined the cybersecurity phases that correspond with each stage. While frameworks like this provide invaluable guidance, it’s important to remember that there will be variations and you should be able to adjust your focus depending on what your business needs at any point in your trajectory.
Developing Your Solution
The first and invariably most important factor in startup success is whether your product or service solves a problem, so the first step in your business plan should be to develop your solution. Define a target user and conduct interviews to discuss the problem and their existing solutions. Create a blueprint for your MVP (see phase two) and iterate your solution as you gather more information until you have a solid product that’s ready for testing. During this phase, start researching cybersecurity as it will apply to your business. Learn the standards that will be required for your solution to fully meet the needs of your target users. Study best practices and privacy regulations for your application. Gathering this information now will enable you to incorporate the necessary measures into your business plan.
Minimum Viable Product (MVP)
You’ve developed your solution and your target user, so now you need to test it and identify any weaknesses or areas of opportunity. Because it’s still so early, it’s not a good idea to invest everything you have into launching and testing at this stage. That’s what the MVP is for. Test your problem/solution fit with as little investment as possible. Discover which channels are the most responsive and measure retention to get a good idea of your solution’s potential. This is where you’ll need to start designing your cybersecurity and privacy structure. Gather specific requirements from your internal and external stakeholders and start shaping your security around those needs. This structure will be a key part of your product, so it needs to be designed early enough to include in your MVP testing.
Check Your Market
Once your product gains some exposure, start surveying users. Measure your retention rate and get a net promoter score (How likely are you to recommend us?). This information will tell you if you’re testing your product in the right market. Brown suggests including language, channel, and funnel optimization in this stage as well. What style of communication does your target market respond best to? What channels are the most responsive? What works for your users and what needs to be changed? By this time, your startup should be gaining a solid footing. Perform penetration tests and risk assessments to confirm the reliability of your security structure and determine what aspects need to be improved. Ensure you’re surpassing all relevant compliance requirements, standards, and regulations, as well as your stakeholders’ expectations. Being borderline is risky and can result in delayed sales cycles. Bring in a vCISO or a CISO to manage and improve security throughout your system. Optimizing your security before you attempt to scale is crucial to achieving the highest possible returns.
Scaling Your Business
When you’re in the right market with a solution that works and security that your stakeholders and customers can rely on, it’s time to maximize your strong points. Pour resources into the channels that perform well. Develop detailed playbooks and bring in specialists with extensive knowledge and experience for each channel. Prepare for channel saturation by grooming less successful channels for future growth. As your business grows, stay aware of evolving security needs. Maintain compliance and be open to new security feature requests and rising standards in your industry. A growing startup needs to be able to show dedication to maintaining high-level cybersecurity practices to continue attracting your audience.
At this stage, you might have reached saturation in your primary channels and begun to level off in your growth chart, but a startup is never actually finished growing. The top companies in the world are still investing in new growth plans. Actively seek out expansion and acquisition opportunities at home and overseas. Look for products that serve the same audience you have now or consider architectural innovations that will connect a new market to your solution. Continue to manage and improve your cybersecurity to maintain a competitive edge that drives sales. Prepare for the possibility of mergers and acquisitions by completing cybersecurity due diligence. Review your posture, consider the current landscape, and identify the laws and regulations that might interest a company into which you’ll merge.
Again, this framework is a flexible guide that will have to be modified to fit the needs of your unique startup, but it can help develop a complete business plan and budget that includes cybersecurity as an essential part of your infrastructure.
If you’re still unsure of how to navigate the security of your business or if your time would be better spent managing the more front-of-house aspects, contact a compliance consultant who can get your startup up to snuff quickly and cost-effectively.
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