This week, SteelEye reaches its fifth birthday. Matt Smith reflects on the past five years, sharing what he has learned throughout his journey as a CEO and co-founder of SteelEye.
Five years ago, we started a journey to create the first data-centric platform for regulatory compliance. Today, we have over 140 clients globally and over 100 team members across our offices in London, New York, Braga (Portugal), and Bengaluru (India). Here are some of the main things I have learned on my journey.
1. Culture matters
Culture matters, but it can be hard to get it right. Culture is people - people are your most important resource. You need to decide on what will define the culture at your organization and focus on fostering that culture from day one.
That’s key to building a strong team. One bad apple can spoil the bunch, fostering negativity. This is particularly true for smaller firms, startups, and scale-ups, where there is no room to hide. Act fast and be decisive when you sense something is wrong.
But how do you know if you’re getting it right? At SteelEye, food is a big part of the culture. You can really get to know someone over a meal! I am also a big advocate of “the layover test”. If you were stuck with someone in an airport for 8 hours, how would you feel?
2.The power of partnerships
In the early days, you cannot overestimate the importance of a strong network. As the new kid on the block, associating with the right people and partners can lead to game-changing introductions, and boost your brand recognition.
I spent the first eight months networking and meeting people. And each introduction opened another door. At this point, we had no funding and no product - just a strong team, a strong idea, and a growing network of people that wanted to see that idea succeed. And so, the doors kept opening. Some of those introductions even led to us finding an early board member and an initial investor.
In the same vein, partnerships are hugely important. We were selective, and sought out large, established organizations to partner with, for our mutual benefit and to increase SteelEye’s credibility.
Failure can feel inevitable and constant. But fear not – trying and failing is important, and “failure” is not always final. You must try to celebrate the small wins, and not sweat the big things. The job of a CEO and founder can feel lonely and thankless. There is no one above you to say, “good job”, but you still must soldier on.
I encountered countless hurdles in the early days. There was a time when we were a team of just 17. We were desperate to raise funds, and we knew we were not going to be able to afford the following month’s payroll. It was 'make or break'. We reacted fast and changed the funding plan. We’d met with 240 financier firms that said no, but finally, one said yes.
I always remembered the advice of my network: Never stop moving.Don’t stand still. Hold your nerve. I so value those words and make a point of paying their advice forward. Two years later, I got a call from someone who turned us down, to say not investing in SteelEye was a regret. Now we are a global team of over 100 employees and have raised $43M to date.
4. Stay hyper-focused on purpose
Remember why you are here and keep the mission and the goals of the company at the forefront of everything you do. Keep moving towards that mission and celebrate the milestones on the journey to getting there. If you sense something is wrong, or bad for the company or its culture, you need to respond quickly, and course correct. Failing to be responsive can be damaging.
Brand and culture go hand in hand. You need to start building both from day one. The SteelEye brand has proven to be one of our greatest assets. We didn’t want to wait until SteelEye was a success to turn it into a great brand. We believed in what we were establishing. The SteelEye brand was a driver behind our success. Quality was a non-negotiable, and we wanted a recognizable symbol of that, even if it came at a premium. That’s paid off in the long term.
I am incredibly proud of what we have achieved, especially given the recent turbulent years and the challenging economic climate we are now facing. Whilst this is not the easiest time to celebrate, we take pride in our progress and are far from finished.
We have exciting growth plans ahead and look forward to what our 6th year has in store for us.
To all of team SteelEye - thank you for all your hard work, passion, and dedication - we would not be here today without you!
To our clients, stakeholders, friends, and families - thank you for your continued support and commitment to SteelEye.