Every leader must have patience, discipline, vision, opportunism, adaptability, calmness under pressure and steadfastness. Staying the course when the path seems difficult or unknown, but the willingness to explore and act as a pathfinder for the community. These traits are necessary for self-improvement but the most difficult job is to induce people to follow and inspire them by setting good examples. Stelios Valavanis, CEO at onShore Security, is one such proficient who is bringing changes with his extensive experience ranging from OS and development to network design.
Below is his story:
Stelios has always been interested in science and technology. He started learning to program at the age of 9 years but didn’t recognize his entrepreneurial spirit, even though his parents were entrepreneurs. In high school, he thought it would be a good idea to start a software company and identify as a technologist, rather than a businessman. After getting his physics degree, he again had that same lack of clarity for understanding ambitions towards entrepreneurship. After that he worked on several entrepreneurial ventures, as much in art and media as tech and IT. When he founded onShore as a software development company, it took landing a few larger clients to finally realize what he actually needed to focus on. Since then, he fully embraced the business world and was able to rebuild onShore as a prominent cybersecurity company.
onShore Security has its own proprietary platform, which allows for a good amount of customizability. But so much of what a particular client needs has to do with categorizing and weighing criticality for events and that’s embedded in rule-sets that the company fully manage and tune on an ongoing basis. In addition to that, there are varying compliance needs, and onShore Security offers add-ons to satisfy those.
All of the company’s clients share one thing: the desire to do what they do best, in a way that keeps their business as well as their own clients as safe and secure as possible. Beyond that, clients are a truly diverse pool of organizations and businesses. The platform was developed, in house, with this diversity in mind. The platform itself is highly customizable, but the staff must also be prepared to serve every kind of customer. In the company, the team manages and tune rule sets that are as unique as clients, as well as compliance requirements and additional services and equipment.
In the tech industry, developing good talent is a huge challenge, especially in cybersecurity. There is a large need for talent and there are many opportunities for skilled experts. Employee retention is directly tied to building culture, which can be challenging to do from the top. As a CEO, it can be a challenge to find the right balance between process and flexibility. Having a well-designed process will make it easier when flexibility is necessary, and to adapt the process to meet changing obstacles. Stelios advises emerging leaders, “not to do it unless you’re willing to make a very big commitment.” Being the CEO of a company can put undue stress on a CEO’s family. As a CEO, there is a feeling that there is always more that can be done, and doing anything not related to the company is at its expense.
Staying informed is crucial. Stelios makes sure to stay invested in education and broadening his knowledge and expertise. He still attends events such as classes, workshops, and seminars, as well as regularly reading news and developing theoretical material. He constantly stays up-to-date on fast moving topics, such as new regulations or ongoing issues in the space and also learns a great deal from his own staff and their experience. Communicating with peers and experts in other parts of the same field is also a good way to learn. According to Stelios “I’m always willing to experiment to further my own understanding of cybersecurity and we test out a lot of ideas and hypothetical solutions in-house. Many of our passion projects have informed us and become onShore Security products.”
For budding entrepreneurs Stelios advises “Before you do anything, you should know why you’re doing it. If you’re goal is to make money, stop right there. Climb the corporate ladder instead. It’s safer and easier. If you want to do something amazing, don’t think small and safe. Do something big, bold and if it fails, fail fast, learn the lessons, and move on.” Build a leadership team around by choosing carefully additional effective leaders or by finding people that can be groomed and trained for leadership roles. Most importantly, listen to everyone, but use that information to chart own course. Don’t be afraid to dilute equity if investors brings additional leadership to the table. One has to be prepared to take the good with the bad and see it all as part of a rocky, but rewarding adventure.
Stelios believes cybersecurity CEOs must absolutely have a high degree of expertise in cybersecurity and IT in general. They have to have expertise in things like risk management, and legal matters. They have to guide their organization and their clients through complex problems with many potential solutions, and make the best choices for all parties. Sometimes, it isn’t immediately clear what the best solution may be, and CEOs will need to draw on both past experience and new ideas. In many other kinds of companies, CEOs don’t have to be as much of an expert in their company’s offerings. In cybersecurity, a CEO should be well-versed in history, best practices, and tested methods, but also able and willing to explore and try new things. The problem that cybersecurity solves grows more complex every day, and it is the job of the cybersecurity CEO to simplify and solve that problem.
onShore Security leads by example. It believes that analysis and detection are the most important tools in the box, and the company has developed the capabilities in these areas to put it at the very top of the security maturity stack. To get best results, it pushes peers and competitors both so they develop their own technology, as well as their people. The company values its analysts and considers that technological development is all ultimately to serve experts and solving evolving obstacles in cybersecurity by applying experience and adapting the company’s hardware, software, and process.
onShore Security wants to continue to be part of the national cybersecurity community in a meaningful way and increase its outreach. It believes that members of a community care for each other and care for the community as a whole, and that this is a uniquely dangerous time for the community. Stelios asserts, “we, as a country, are at tremendous risk. I feel both a personal responsibility as well as a financial responsibility to my company to elevate the security posture of every single company that we can.”