Feb. 15, 2021

Early Stage Startup Tips from Duo Security Cofounder, Dug Song

By John Brennan

Our Partner John Brennan recently sat down with Dug Song, Co-Founder and General Manager of Duo Security at Cisco, for a fireside chat, hosted in collaboration with our great partners at ICON and GGV Capital.

Open Modal

I recently sat down with Dug Song, Co-Founder and General Manager of Duo Security at Cisco, for a fireside chat, hosted in collaboration with our great partners at ICON and GGV Capital.  We discussed Dug’s journey to success with Duo, including overarching strategies and critical decisions made at different steps along the company’s path to a $2.35B exit.

Dug spoke quite a bit about the need for great people and a strong mission to drive company success. I highly recommend listening to the full discussion, which you can find here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JZvXpMene2Y – and below I’ve highlighted five key takeaways on how to achieve success as an early stage startup:

  • Hire great leaders – To guide a company through hyper-growth successfully, you must be able to attract great leaders.  You will need to sell these potential hires on your organization, similar to how you are (likely) always thinking about selling customers on the value of your product.  To attract the best people, your message will need to go beyond the value of the technology that you deliver – you will need to sell them on your leadership and on the company’s mission.
  • Prioritize branding – Think about branding early in your company’s life.  Hire a marketing team, leverage PR, and think about the impact of your brand both on your internal culture and on the external market.  Establishing a strong brand identity will improve your ability to recruit and retain talent, and is of course key for differentiating your company in a crowded market.
  • Remain customer-centric – Customer discovery is a core tenet of the YL Ventures early stage go-to-market playbook.  Given that we invest pre-product, we’re privileged to support many great entrepreneurs throughout this process, and we’ve seen its impact time and time again.  Early on, speak to as many customers you can, including the ones you think won’t like what you do – you’ll learn a tremendous amount!
  • Accept failure – Build a learning organization where failure is acceptable (and even celebrated).  Dug shared that the Duo philosophy is: “We win or we learn.”  Encouraging failure allows for risk taking and drives innovation.  A culture that accepts failure will often create a more efficient and productive work environment.
  • Create discipline – Set an overall goal for your company and stick to it.  During your journey, you will encounter short term opportunities that incentivize distracting initiatives.  Focus on the three to five most important things that your company needs to do to succeed, and constantly measure how you’re tracking against those priorities.  Staying disciplined can be hard (and you may miss out on some short term wins), but believe in your mission and commit to it.