What a privilege
Approximately 10 years ago, I started working with a little-known start-up in the North of England called Avecto, who were playing in the 'Privileged Access Management' space. I knew the leadership team from my time working with them at Appsense. When they asked me to help them find their first Presales Engineer, Andrew Avanessian was the obvious choice.
After their recent acquisition by Bomgar, I caught up with Andrew who later became COO at Avecto, to find out some of the secrets to his success, which I thought you might enjoy:
Why was Avecto an interesting opportunity?
A "It was interesting because it was unusual to find a software start-up in Manchester and I was attracted by the opportunity to build an exciting business. It was apparent that although there was a product, there was no real strategy and no customers.....it hadn't been implemented anywhere.
I realised there was an opportunity to grow something. Paul and Mark (founding members) sold the opportunity and there was a good connection between us."
What was your role and why was it a fit?
A "When I joined, I was the 4th employee and I started in a Presales role. But working for a start-up, you have to get involved in everything. I had already worked for a small company, (50 people growing to 150 during my time there) and I have a problem-solving mindset as well as being a self-starter. I'd also managed the IT department in my previous role so I understood the issues from the client's perspective because I had had the challenge of balancing security with freedom."
What were the initial challenges of joining a small start-up?
A "Nothing was in place. We had a product and a will to succeed but that was it. I had to fill in the gaps. I put in a sales methodology, built an implementation methodology, did all the presales and implementations and built a 24 x 7 support desk, implemented best practices, and deployed 3 million licences out of the 9 million sold over the 10 years. If you are not prepared to roll your sleeves up a start-up is not for you."
What do you think are the qualities that have made you successful?
A "I'm a very focused individual. I structure my days....high priority tasks get done in the morning, low priority at lunch time and medium late in the day. I'm fastidious about planning and this helps me to manage other people's expectations. I'm strict when it comes to understanding the business goals and keeping to them. That way, if someone throws me a curveball, I can work out what is more important, based on what we've already agreed. If you haven't defined the vision, the strategy and the business plan then you can't establish the priorities and end up getting distracted."
What was the hardest part of your job at Avecto and what advice would you give to other start-ups?
A "Finding good people and filtering out the s***. During my time at Avecto, I hired in excess of 200 people. There are lots of plodders out there so you have to weed them out by asking questions about where they've improved business processes, solved problems etc. There's too much reliance on technical skills when it comes to finding people, rather than drive and willingness to learn which was what I was more interested in. I believe in helping people grow. But individuals need to be able to drive themselves and not expect to be spoon fed."
Was there a specific point when you knew Avecto was going to be special?
A "When we sold our first hundred thousand seats to Morgan Stanley."
Did you ever feel like leaving and if so, what stopped you?
A "About one year in. I had already been offered a Professional Services consultant role at Fujitsu at the same time I was offered Avecto . It was before we'd really sold anything and within that first year, I got another phone call off Fujitsu for a more senior role, and I handed in my resignation. I had no equity at that point and when it was offered to keep me, I decided to stay."
How did you stop your most valuable people leaving?
A "I had designed a motivation questionnaire so I could understand what drove my people - money, relationships, manager, career progression etc. You need to understand what kind of person you are working with. We also did Myers Briggs profiling so we had a picture of the person and could give them tasks to meet their motivations. I like to put people's career progression in their own hands. All their experience is documented...if it gets ticked off, then they progress. It's always clear what they need to do to progress. The highest churn was in the teams where this was less defined and my teams had the least churn and equated to 65% of the business."
What have your learned about yourself during your time with Avecto?
A "That I'm very task focused and therefore not necessarily the person to go to if you need a cuddle LOL. I'm not very driven by emotions so I need to recruit more 'people-focused' people to balance this out. I also need to ensure I carve time out so people have the chance for open general chats rather than purely task based discussion."
A "Ideally a CEO role at an early stage start-up where I can use my experience to rapidly grow and take the business through to an exit. I can massively help with things like formulating vision, strategy, go-to-market, processes and frameworks, root cause analysis and crucially getting people bought into the goal. I'm deeply technical and enjoy getting into the detail."
If you think Andrew could have the answers to some of your challenges and you would like to talk to him about a potential role with your organisation, please get in touch here so we can make arrangements for you.
Until next time,