By Laird Wilton
Companies will lose $400 billion to hackers this year.
On top of the financial costs, companies can lose intellectual property, personal data, hours of productivity, and consumer trust. What’s worse, companies often don’t even think about cybersecurity until it’s too late.
Not taking a proactive and thorough approach to securing your data and systems early in your startup journey could cause you to lose contracts and stall your growth. If you want to scale a B2B SaaS company quickly, you can’t afford to trip over data security issues. Otherwise, you’re preventing growth and leaving money on the table when big prospects dismiss you as “too risky.”
Startups are an especially vulnerable target, as they may think they’re too small to be attacked (they aren’t) or they don’t prioritize security, leaving their data at risk. Founders often don’t have security on their radar until after a breach happens or when a customer or prospect asks about it.
Even then, they may think they’re covered because they maintain a spreadsheet of policies, use the cloud, or aren’t storing PII or confidential information. But this mindset creates gaps that can open doors for hackers looking for easy access to sensitive data, no matter how big or small the company. Fortunately, there are actions you can take now to protect your business.
1. Think about security from the start
Companies, especially B2B SaaS startups looking to sell their software, need to think about application security from the start. It may not seem like a priority when there’s funding to secure and products to get to the market. But implementing security controls into the base code at the very beginning will save you an incredible amount of money and time as your company begins to scale. Have your developers use OWASP (Open Web Application Security Project), which focuses on software security to build protection and safety into your foundation.
2. Document everything related to security
As you begin focusing on security and are creating plans for your company’s data management, document everything you do. Keep a record of your standards and policies, methods you have used, your implementation plan, and any tweaks—and do all of this before a breach or issue forces you to.
Having documentation of your security procedures will allow you to not only scale faster, but will also give you an advantage when selling to enterprise companies, as you’ll be able to quickly and easily answer customer security questions. Once you have buyers or auditors looking at your security controls, they will want to see your policies and procedures, and it will not look good if you don’t have any. Having this information will also help you break into more highly-regulated regions like the EU, or into industries with high privacy compliance like health care.
3. Define your team’s roles and responsibilities
It’s not enough to know that someone in the C-suite is “good at security stuff.” If you don’t already have a security team, put one in place. Also, don’t leave security responsibilities solely to the CTO. Make sure everyone understands their role in keeping data private and systems secure.
Hold security meetings with your team and train everyone on security awareness, even if it’s only providing people with free resources. Get this done during the early days of your company, so that you have a culture of security from the start, and you’re not scrambling to form a team when it suddenly becomes necessary.
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4. Know your standards and regulations
Do you know which regional or industry-specific frameworks, standards, or regulations your company needs to follow? For example, do you need to comply with SOC 2, ISO 2700, GDPR, or HIPAA? Knowing what standards you’ll need to tailor your security practices to early on will not only help you adhere to the right protocols, but when questions come up later in contracts or vendor questionnaires, you’ll know how to answer them.
If you’re not sure, consider implementing CIS Critical Security Controls (CSC) from the Center for Internet Security, which is a set of baseline standards designed to cover top cybersecurity issues for many types of businesses. The last thing you want is your startup to catch the attention of a regulator because you’re not compliant.
5. Robust security leads to healthy growth
Inadequate or non-security implementation will harm your growing startup. Enterprise companies prefer working with vendors that they know are security-minded and won’t be a liability in the future. Inadequate security can prevent you from entering various markets and regions, and may also flag you to regulators.
However, a commitment to security early on will build trust with companies wanting to do business with you. This can become a differentiator for your business, which could lead to sales with bigger and more successful companies.
6. It’ll be harder to do later on—so don’t wait
It will only prove more difficult and more expensive if you wait until you scale to implement security compliance, training, and protocols. With more customers, more employees, more assets, and more technology, trying to retrofit your systems to adhere to security frameworks—or worse, having to rewrite source code—will cost you time, money, resources, and even the trust of your partners and customers. You don’t want to discover the company culture and habits you’ve set from the beginning are clashing with the security procedures necessary to land enterprise clients and increase revenue. A little bit of work at the beginning goes a long way.
Enterprise companies that hold vendors accountable to security practices will only benefit the industry, as more and more companies protect themselves against the constant threats of hackers. Startups should not only put plans in place to protect customer data, but can grow their businesses by adopting a security mindset.
As you scale your startup, be deliberate in creating a culture of security awareness and implementation, which means recognizing the value of protecting any data your company collects. It’s never too early to start the process, but there may come a time when it’s too late.
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