Developing Early GTM Strategies with Lisa Wallace

Lisa Wallace, CoFounder & CEO at Assemble in conversation with Nicole Jiang, Director of Product & Design at Abnormal Security.

Lisa Wallace walks us through her philosophy for establishing go to market strategies at early stage startups and her entrepreneurship journey. Common threads she’s seen among successful startups that IPO are strong founders, strong teams and large growing markets. She talks about advice she would give to an earlier version herself consisting of 3 main buckets: be a lifelong learner, have strong communication skills and ruthless prioritization.

[00:00:00] So let's get going. Welcome everybody to Abnormal Business School's first event. We are so excited to kick off this effort, it's something that the Abnormal Business School team has been working on for a few weeks. So thank you all for making time in your days to attend this event.

The goal of this event and following events is for you to meet smart and innovative business leaders, specializing in a lot of different roles and functions in their companies, as well as in different areas of business. And, and the person we have here today, whom Nicole is going to introduce soon, is no exception.

She's somebody who's really smart and accomplished and someone who I hope that we'll all have a lot to learn from. So we're very excited to have Lisa Wallace here with us,I'm going to pass it on to Nicole,to kick off the talk with Lisa.

Nimit: Welcome Lisa. And thank you. 

Nicole: Yeah, welcome Lisa. And thank you, Nimit 

for the introduction. really excited again, first of all, thanks everyone for taking the time today to tune into, this event. I will be your emcee today and [00:01:00] interview Lisa. so let me begin by just giving a very, not comprehensive, but a quick introduction of Lisa,for, so for those of you who, know Lisa, I have worked with her while she needs no introduction, but for folks who don't know her, Lisa is a co-founder of assemble.

prior to assemble, Lisa was one of the early employees here at abnormal. she helped us establish early go to market strategies. And when many of our first, and notable customers such as Xerox, prior to abnormal, Lisa was a really a good,a cybersecurity expert. She was employee number three addicts.

Nicole: Who was recently acquired by Palo Alto networks for about 800 million and established the early go to market strategy there as well today at assemble. Lisa is building the next generation compensation management tool to help create fair and equitable wages and futures for everybody. we're really excited to him by the setback, to share her experience around developing, go to market strategies for growing startups, her take on entrepreneurship and also her stories around [00:02:00] various career growth and challenges.

personally, having worked really closely with you Lisa in the past, selfishly, I'm excited to interview you for this fireside chat and also get to relive, some of our early abnormal stories and moments. So welcome, and thank you so much for your time. cool. So let me get right into it. Lisa, why don't in your own words, right?

Nicole: Tell us about your journey so far, and sh and maybe share with us one of your early abnormal story. 

Lisa: Yeah. happy to do that. I can give a quick overview of how I got into cybersecurity. I went to Stanford, undergrad, studied symbolic systems, and was always really interested in national security and was excited about cyber for that reason.

I got to know a bunch of post-docs at Stanford that were doing, DARPA research. It was really interesting to me. I worked, part-time also at Palentier over the course of that time doing like federal, federal stuff at Palentier. And I wanted to go to an early stage company. but fight bad guys too.

not enter, the intelligence community in a traditional. And I ended up joining,then called KTM now called expanse, which was a DARPA contract, really that [00:03:00] friends of mine had been using to bid on DARPA contracts while they were postdocs at Stanford, decided instead of entering the academic job market, instead, what they were going to do was try to pivot that out and turn it into a startup.

Lisa: So it's like the weirdest model for starting a company ever. I joined six months pre-seed, executing on these contracts. And then, of course we ended up raising money from founders fund and then a couple of other VCs later. and built that company out. And then how I got connected with abnormal was I had been at expanse for about four years and I had known Ashim China throughout that experience.

I met him in this series, eight res and we ran into each other at Blackhat in 2018 and he pitched me. He's for those of you who have been directly recruited to abnormal bias shame, which is probably like half the company,that he's like always recruiting. and so I ended up meeting with Evan, and then got to know each other over the course of a couple of months and eventually decided that I was really excited about, trying to do the early stage thing again at abnormal.

So I joined up normal and maybe my early abnormal story. That's funny. I remember the first time I saw a demo of, I was skeptical, honestly, what happened was saying this use of machine learning in an enterprise [00:04:00] context. And, I ended up seeing a demo of the early product and I was just like, okay, this team can execute.

It's better than, expanses, UX and expanses product after five years in the market. they're probably doing something right. And I was just really impressed by that. 

Nicole: That's awesome. Lisa, and,as a designer here at the company, I feel super flattered having seen, how that, created effects for, early members joining a company.

and I guess one, early on in the story, I will share that involved. Lisa was Ashley. I remember the first weekly. So join a, and I just remember you crushing the sales, like the sales pitch first week presented the customer and it was just any, you just killed it. It was like a really phenomenal experience to see, you just executing, right?

and, achieving really that velocity and ownership during the first week. so at least I hit you develop, several companies right early, you go to market strategies, at expense out of normal. And now at assemble again, Based on your experience, what are the skillsets in your mind that are needed to develop business strategies for early stage startups?

What is, what was the process of [00:05:00] crafting a go to market strategy, specifically for abnormal? 

Lisa: Yeah. the first time I did this, I was a new grad and I had no idea what I was doing. I would describe it as just like a lot of passion for the problem. and a high level of like shamelessness and resilience and stamina is like the most important thing and maybe like willingness to Google.

and that actually got me pretty far. I think a lot of seed stage companies, one of the, one of the things that's true of go to market is you can't hire like a Kevin Moore right out of the gate. who the heck are you guys? So you have to solve the problem and be, figure out a way to be attractive and bring in some initial revenue with the team that you have.

Lisa: And I think that the best skillset for figuring out how to do that is literally just like Googling things, trying to be systematic, not being, Easily demoralized. The entire sales team at abnormal kind of knows what I'm talking about. So it's a very important skill. And I think it's like hard to learn.

cause you're dealing with an extreme amount of uncertainty, right? At the seed stage. You're like just came up with some amount of funding. You're hoping it works. You're building a product as you're talking to customers and you need to maintain that level of, resilience while you're, while you're actually trying to recognize revenue [00:06:00] and move the company forward.

Lisa: And I think that can be like a really hot, like a really, yeah, it's just like the phase in a business that can feel demoralizing. Even if you're making a lot of progress quickly. It's what David Sachs calls the penny gap, like the space in between you formed the company. And now you're trying to like actually build it into a repeatable business motion.

So I've done that twice then of course, helped build out other parts of go to market. I guess to answer your question about being systematic, I think one of the challenging things is like figuring out how to make decisions under uncertainty when you might not have the mentorship that you need from executive.

And then, just execute on it quickly, and do the IC work while you're trying to build the function and not being too stressed out, if you totally screw something up. Cause you kinda got to keep moving forward. And I guess I'm curious, Nicole, you were building the design function, while I was doing go to market stuff.

So you've got some experience with us. You joined even earlier than I did at abnormal. what are your takeaways on building a function out of normal? 

Nicole: That's a great question. I like to interview you, but I'm also having to answer this question. I think, I've definitely thought about this as well.

Similar to, how you've repeated this over time. I think for me it's really similar. really just having to, first of all, [00:07:00] Building a design function or just building the product right. In the first place. There's just a ton of uncertainty because whatever we create today, for folks who weren't at of normal today, you, you probably know that, some of the products, some of the design, some of the product experience today that are, that are there, exists, when we first started, When, maybe, our early team put on the first stroke, not really knowing if they're going to stick around or not.

So I think there's a. conviction, we have to create in, wild facing uncertainty. So I think overall it was, for me it was a really amazing opportunity and journey, I just have to have very strong conviction on our approach. how do we, how to think like a customer, right?

Nicole: And also how to think differently and take a stance on, what we can choose to do, whether it's go to market strategy or pod design and have conviction of push forward, even if he might be wrong. and also on the other side, Be willing to be wrong, right. Be willing to iterate, to listen, to ship fast and iterate.

to help us achieve results. The other piece that I think it was just one of the easier to set, but harder to do while growing the design, the product side. I think to answer your question, like how did it feel? I think [00:08:00] in the face of uncertainty, I just, I had to give a lot of permission to myself and folks around me, To mess up, and then to do what it takes. Even it's outside of our comfort zone and still today, I think that's true. I wonder 

Lisa: if you agree, Lisa. Yeah, no, I totally agree. I, I think just like figuring out how to like mess up well, and then keep moving really matters and not being like block bugged down by it.

Like I'll remember when we, actually, I don't know if I'm supposed to say the customer name, cause I don't know if it's a public customer for you guys in case you publish this later, but there's an early customer at, at abnormal that we were really trying to close. right before we closed Xerox and Nicole had been working on a long time.

All of our early product, people are working on long time, all of our early engineers and we had a really good customer relationship. And I think everybody was afraid to ask for money. And like a lot of what was holding us back was that we just didn't ask, we literally just didn't say, would you be willing to pay for this?

and figuring out how to be selfish and shameless and self-advocate, I think is like an important, you just have to be like the Honeybadger at the seed stage company and like really figure out how to execute and keep going. And [00:09:00] that takes a lot of. 

Nicole: Yeah. Yeah, for sure. I think Lisa, I know exactly what you're talking about.

I think, can I, especially like where you're saying before, right? Like in this like in-between uncertainty phase, like I think now we have more, definitely a much more mature playbook. We know how to deal with customers, how to converse to sales. But at the beginning it was very focused on Hey, like how do we research partner with customers to, turn that into revenue and that transition, which is something that I think, felt a little uncomfortable, but then I remember just came in and you're just like, Hey, we're going to have to convert this into a paying relationship and just ask that question.

Nicole: It didn't even occur to me that you can just have that, say that to a customer. And it was amazing to see the customers just Hey, I just, I've been waiting for you to ask me this question. I'm not gonna ask to pay you. You have to ask me to pay you. it was a really cool kind of milestone 

Lisa: for us.

It's still hard. I'm literally doing this right now, my customers, and I'm like very stressed about it. And then, but then 

Nicole: hopefully over time you build a muscle and it, 

Lisa: you get that better. I [00:10:00] know what the right answer is. Intellectually. 

Nicole: Yeah, that's fair. Hey, so turning this a little bit, right around the same segment.

obviously you have been in several a really fast growing companies and you've been a super instrumental part, right? Whether it's to be a part of that or growing, critical functions there. it's one thing to talk about, the go to market strategy and what it took. but the other side.

how did the team cultures change, as the companies grew, what were some practices, right? That you witnessed or implemented that you think were most effective for managing a growing team? I ask this question, right? Because as for folks who don't know right. When Lisa joined, I think, I know I took you a little bit to join, but basically we went from single digits to double digits to now triple digits.

Nicole: So it's been really fast, normal, and I imagine it was the same ad expense. And for you now, I expense, sorry, add, assemble as well. So I'd love to hear what's your take on this part? 

Lisa: Yeah. I think this is part of what makes startups really hard, because your job is always changing and especially if you're an early employee, [00:11:00] If you're doing it right.

the company gets more successful. You can bring in more talent. And hopefully that means you can bring in more mentorship. I remember this more specifically with expanse than abnormal because I left too early at abnormal, I think, to really have this hit, but there's this period of time where you enter into a growth stage of business.

Lisa: And, if the company is successful, which normal is like incredibly successful. So I'm assuming this is happening right now. like everybody's getting leveled, right? Like your job is changing. You're handing off your job if you're doing, if you're doing it right. You're like building yourself out of a job.

and I think maybe like the thing that's true of my work experience that might not be obvious if you've never worked at an early stage company is I was constantly getting leveled. Like the entire time I was at an expanse, we'd be more and more successful than we bring in a leader over me in a particular point.

Lisa: And like things would just change that way. And I think one of the things that is. Made me successful. counterintuitively is like comfort with that. Like it's painful to grow. and it's painful to have your role change and it's painful to like constantly, maybe wonder what your value is in the company.

I think what that's, where, culture is really important. And also cultivating [00:12:00] this sense of you aligning your incentives with the business. I, it expands, this was a growing pain where,some people could handle their role changing and handle uncertainty, which is really what it takes to be successful at an early stage or fast growing company when some people couldn't handle it.

And I think that caused, some amount of issue. but people that were really successful ended up being, super low ego, really significantly contributing to the business. and part of what made us more successful. With that over time. And I'm sure this is what you know is happening. And a normal too is just a really strong sense of culture and really helping people kind of align to a common goal, understand how the business is changing over time, bring in great mentors, things like that.

So that's what I'm assuming is happening out of normal, just based on your success. It's what happens to every successful business. things that really helped me figure that out. So first, like really trying to align myself with the business, with the incentives of the business, meaning I'm successful at the businesses successful and thinking in terms of that,really welcoming mentorship and,making sure that I was really good at modifying how I was, contributing to the business over time, depending on what it needed and how I was [00:13:00] trying to grow and making sure that I was having an active conversation with my manager, managers, over the course of expanse and abnormal.

so prioritization probably really matters like managing your time and energy, not over in, uh, personalizing things or,making sure that you're, you have the right mindset for building growth, recognizing it hard. And then also like really making sure that you're thinking through how you're delegating, whether it's to a new person or a new function to people that you're bringing on underneath you.

Nicole: and then making sure that you're doing the right amount of work to such that the business is, built for redundancy and scaling in the correct way. You're not just scaling your ability to do something as one person. I was going to say, I think this sounds really interesting and I can definitely relate. I was wondering if you can give me, let's say an example that I'd say maybe you live through that you felt like, it might be uncomfortable at times how you align yourself to the business.

That I think ultimately achieved a, a good outcome, For, for everybody. 

Lisa: Yeah. at an expanse we were doing like everything. Curtis was there. We were doing everything for a really long time. And the company just got so [00:14:00] successful at a certain point that you needed to bring in layers of management over different functions.

And so one of the cool things for me at expanses is super technical product. I really liked that aspect of it, but there's a certain point where you, can't be in every engineering meeting, you can't be involved in every, sprint planning, meeting. You can't be involved in every product meeting and bringing in kind of layers of product managers.

and then creating kind of healthy tension between functions because you have someone exclusively on in customer success, exclusively owning product, exclusively owning engineering, massively valuable for the company. also like enterprise go to market, not intuitive. So like bringing in, leaders in, marketing and sales, whatever, it's just like overwhelmingly the only way to move forward in a successful and systematic way.

Lisa: And yeah, I'd at various points at expanse. I held all those roles. and then the, of course there similar experiences at, abnormal, but I also expected it, then yeah. I remember 

Nicole: the,for those of us who are, I guess back in the day, it's not super familiar with the, go to market other things, Or they busy set of things. I remembered, your job, your official job title was, to replace yourself out of a job constantly. So your job was [00:15:00] always changing and your success factor is determined by how many jobs you were able to get yourself out of. which was a very interesting way to think about.

Alliance really well with the, the type of growth That you were talking about as a company changes and, the team 


Lisa: Yeah. for what it's worth, that's everyone's job at a startup, like even in evidence, all job is to like, work themselves out of a role and really start to figure out how to scale and expand the business.

And it's a question of do you want to own 50% of a grape or, 10% of a watermelon, like obviously you want the business to grow and you want it to change. And that's a really interesting, period. I definitely do think, I guess maybe a question for you would be like, how do you think abnormals culture has helped you guys handle scaling CIOs?


Nicole: that's a great question. a couple of things that comes to mind for me is, I remember again as an early employee, not to show my age here, but, I remember one of the things that I've been in Sandra has always told us in the rest of the team, Is even when we were at like sub 10 people, we were always.

Organizing the way such that we were going to be, [00:16:00] a couple hundred people in the future, right? Like the way we, incorporate it, the way we take meeting notes, the way we do customer development, the way we do, meetings, organization, it's very much set for scale. So there was never really a question of oh, Hey, we're going to be this tiny team and do this forever.

It was always like, this is just the beginning of this really exciting future to come. So I think that kind of initial setup really prepared us for that scalable future. Although, some stuff you still learn the job. But it's good to have that mindset in the first place. I think the other piece too is, I think the steadiness of voice, as our core values, because I think it's a lot less about, Hey, like this is your role responsibility and your scope of work, but it's more like this is the attitude that you embody, To approach any problems that comes. I think this and Lisa, I think. they do remain true value wise, whether you're at a 2020 person company or at a 200, 300, even bigger company. So I think those two things have really [00:17:00] helped me personally, view growth and B be ready for it.

And I also totally agree with you. I think knowing, what's best for the business, right? And be aligning with business means aligning with your own accomplishments is something that also really spoke to me.

Cool. all right, so moving forward. one of the things right, that we're really curious about is, clearly you were part of, and also at the early stage of several really successful, early stage or just companies in general, right? some IPO, some got acquire, some are growing very fast and some are, starting to grow very fast, which is super exciting.

were there any, common threads, right? Or, did you have any secret sauce when, when it comes to, you being able to discover,these opportunities and, and these experience. 

Lisa: Yeah. So I definitely not all seats saved startups are created equal. I definitely think there are certain things that I learned from the expanse experience that helped me evaluate and then eventually join abnormal.

And then also evaluate, assemble as a business idea myself. when I was going in thinking I'm starting [00:18:00] companies, I think one of the things that's been true about normal and expanse, both there's like a few things, but like certainly one of the, one of the things that's true is that both the founding teams were like talent magnets.

And that was very clear early on. they were just able to bring together like incredibly smart people and you want that in a business just because you'll learn from other people. It sets a really high bar. and then also you can like shamelessly enlist them for free advice and help later on which I've done to 20 people, abnormal so far in my journey with expanse.

So that was definitely true. It was very clear. it was very clear that it was, that abnormal specifically was a really strong team with a really strong ability to execute, from the beginning, which I thought was impressive and relatively unique and rare. The other thing that was true is both expanse and abnormal, were part of very large markets and growing markets.

cybersecurity is obviously a growing market in general, but also, abnormals and growing kind of issue within cyber. As you have these sort of advanced attacks, that existing solutions aren't helping at an expanse, by the way, like basically found, large scale kind of [00:19:00] infrastructure on the internet continuously for businesses.

Lisa: And basically it was like, okay, If you move to the cloud and you're this large bureaucracy and you forgot about, and like random server, like a Telnet server, somewhere on prem, and it's still coming along connected to the internet that creates this big risk with your surface area. So it was latching onto this trend of people are moving to the cloud.

They have all this on prem infrastructure that doesn't manage well, it's this huge asset management problem that exists with large bureaucracies and intelligence organizations. And with the advent of like ransomware and stuff like that, that starts to be like a really big liability for the business. So it was this sort of like growing problem within cyber.

Which was also true about normal. and then there was like this big sea change that in the market that happened, cyber is increasing there's these new attack types, but also there's this move to the cloud, which I think for abnormal, changes the form factor too. So not only do you have this like good technology, but the form factor made it really interesting.

not only from a sales perspective, but from a time to value perspective, like there were just a lot of things that were going well. and I've been able to think about those based on my experiences with expanse that I'm normal and then try to apply that to [00:20:00] how I would think about the go-to-market strategy for, assemble.

can you think of any other,facets of abnormal that, That kind of identified it as a really strong company early on Nicole. Oh yeah, 

Nicole: for sure. I think just, thinking about what you just said, right? a couple of things I'm hearing is essentially strong teams, strong founders, large growing markets.

That I, obviously in this case, have a lot of experience and expertise in the security area. and also the change. Which is really the opportunity, in the market. I think these are definitely, I can totally see you, right? Like putting, various examples of companies, Who are, that are fast growing, That you can see in the market. I definitely think these things check off. I think the additional things, if I were to add onto what you're saying, Lisa is, I definitely felt that with,I think with a large, I think the question I always ask. Why abnormal, like why should abnormal be uniquely solving this problem when you know, it's chances are right.

Like a lot of smart people. If you come across, the market that, they're smart people and they see the change, they can do it too. So it's like why uniquely abnormal. So when I think about that, I think about like [00:21:00] the strong connections that abnormal was able to have super early on, Whether it's coming from Greylock or the founders or the network that we're able to have. I recall, and I think a lot of folks here probably recall, like before joining abnormal, right? what the heck is abnormal? We didn't have a website. you see these incredible documents that are created by Evan and Sandra and the early members with Jesse's on grids of customer meetings with CSOs and CIO send security experts, About why this is a problem. What's the solution. So it's almost like before we even created a product, we already had a, Like a really wealthy, rich set of resources, To push us and say abnormal is a place to do it. So I think that was the one, like I, I think that was the one unique differentiator.

that to me was my secret sauce. And building conviction. I'll why abnormal is going to be a fast growing company. 

Lisa: Yeah. Actually, that's a really, that's really interesting. That's some of the advice I actually haven't gave me recently about fundraising is it's really easy to see, like the, what the [00:22:00] vision should look like.

And it's really easy to like figure out what you should be doing initially, but like how you actually figure out the messy middle and how you can communicate to people, or at least have an idea of how you're going to not get to a hundred million in ARR, but get to one or 10, really helps.

And I agree with you, Nicole, completely that both evidence, Andre and Greylock for what it's worth and the early team had a very clear path and it was demonstrably like feasible to connect with early customers in a way that would be, hypothesis. 

Nicole: Yeah. Yeah, for sure. That's awesome. Let's switch gears a little bit.

So Lisa, we have talked about a bit about, like your past, your journey with abnormal and the way you're, thinking about go-to-market strategy, right? Whether it's before or currently at assemble, I want to talk a little bit more about entrepreneurship. now that you are, in this new startup co-founder journey, like looking back, I, what point in your career did you believe you had the skill set to make it as a, as a 

Lisa: founder? Yeah. So I think I told you I was going reject this question because I don't know that you're ever like fully ready. or that, that is [00:23:00] even like a relevant question. I think the question is do you have really high conviction about an idea and it's okay if you're not completely prepared because half of the game of being a founder anyway, is like figuring out how to.

Bring people together and accomplish an objective. So recruit successfully,play to your strengths, play to your weaknesses, compensate for your weaknesses, that kind of thing. It's something that I think obviously evidence under a really great ad, they are kind of talent McManns in that perspective or from that perspective.

yeah, I don't know that I would necessarily say I felt super pro in many ways I'm very unprepared to be a founder. but I do have really high conviction about, what we're working on and I wanted to do it. and I, I had that feeling also as an early employee, at expanse and I'm normal, where I also felt a high amount of ownership.

what was happening in the company? I don't know that there's a huge difference between being a founder and an early employee in terms of just trying to figure out how you can, be coachable, apply your skillset in a way that best suits the company and then bring other people, together to accomplish a common mission.

Things that have helped me. it really helped to see two successes before, not just to be, at [00:24:00] an early stage company that's similar, but also an early stage company that was like successful in doing things. And part of that is you want to make sure that whatever business you join, you feel like there's people there that you can learn from, there are people that are going to mentor you, et cetera.

Lisa: And I can, I can just tick off all the ways that's helped me already. Like evidence, Andrea are obviously very important, helpful peer mentors, but like veto, Kevin Wang, USIA, Nicole, Luke, Evan. there are more than, I'm not thinking of have already given me lots of, product feedback and product strategy feedback probably wouldn't want that feedback if I didn't think the team was super strong, which of course they are.

and I've had Josh and ABI and you and everyone helped me think through how do I do engineering hiring, which has been super valuable. Of course, being at a success is just the gift that keeps on giving because you have this network of really smart people to talk over ideas with, get free advice, think through things.

Lisa: So that's been very valuable for me. And then it's also helpful too, because my business is selling to businesses and expands and I'm normal, selling to businesses is helpful to walk through those motions and say, okay, this is what the movie looks like. You put this together, do this thing, pattern match, not [00:25:00] overlay, but like a little bit, that's been really helpful.

And then trying things out, as a dress rehearsal. building out an SDR team, what does that look like? What are the things that you need to see on passively seeing it from other people has been helpful too? So obviously I didn't work directly with you and Rami, but I learned a lot from you and Rami, just like watching you, which I think is held.

Nicole: Gotcha. So that's good to know you don't, there's no like hard skillsets, For you to say, Hey, I'm going to be a founder, but a lot of it does come from, do you passion? do you truly believe in,we're working on, right? what's your motivation, what's your intention.

And also, having the resources to help you, pave some of the ways, is a good way to 

Lisa: jumpstart, that venture. Yeah. I think that the reaction I'd have to that is this is a very risky thing to do, start a company. And if you're not comfortable with that level of risk and uncertainty, and you're constantly trying to be like, oh, am I prepared yet?

Then maybe you should think through is it a good idea to start a company? if you're like, yeah, I think. The mindset that you're taking a really big risk that you want to have really high conviction about something, and that you're going to compensate for your shortcomings by being just like the most coachable person that [00:26:00] exists.

And the most honest about your weaknesses and the most willing to try to spend time over and over again, recruiting a team that's better than you to do a job and aligning people on like priorities that I think is what it takes to be a founder. not necessarily be perfectly prepared for everything.

Nicole: don't feel bad. That's fair. yeah, no,but I totally get the risk part. It's almost based on what I'm hearing from you, it's almost there's maybe for some folks, There's a lot of risk in starting a business and they don't really know how to de-risk it, but it sounds like you were at the place where you, there's still a lot of risks, many ways to de-risk them and maybe face the, the risk that you haven't intended for.

But that's also part of the fun and the journey to start a. cool. with that being said, he said, tell us more about what you're doing now. what's the, how did you come up with the idea of, 

assemble? Yeah. So maybe I'll come up with, I'll tell you how I came up with the idea and then I'll, and then I can tell you a little bit more about what we do.

I came up with the idea of assemble at expanse actually. I was a first time hiring manager at expands. a couple of years out of schools, like very confusing. [00:27:00] And then I was also, it was a very technical business and we had focused a lot less on diversity hiring than an abnormal. And I think for the first, like two and a half years of the business, it was like me and an office manager that were women.

Lisa: And then everybody else was a guy. it was like a disturbingly long time that was the case. and I had thought about comp a lot as an underrepresented minority and then also, as a woman and then also as a. as a hiring manager or trying to advocate for people, I was bringing on understand how to justify calm, try to actually close talent and retain them.

and then my friend Enrique who's my co-founder, was the first finance hire at expands. And he had come just out of private equity. So we had like never worked in operations before the two of us, we didn't have HR. and so he was flexing into managing comp. That was something that he was asked to do.

Lisa: And at an early stage company, you're just trying to like close talent. I think this is overwhelmingly the case. And. Sometimes there isn't always a huge correlation in between, what you're paying someone and what their role or level or experience or performance is And so you real it, like I would say reeling that in is, is a growth function basically.

And making sure [00:28:00] that compensation is systematic. And then of course, it's also very important for,making sure that you have a fair and equitable workplace that you're consistent with your values and that also you're being, effectively strategic that you're managing, scenarios and cost and spend and things like that.

And Henry and I were just like amazed that,we Googled as anyone does when you're doing any early stage company, we Googled, to try to figure out okay, what do businesses do when it comes to compensation management, we looked up market fit and realized that it's like a massive market.

When you think just about, compensation yourself as an employee, you're thinking about, okay, what am I getting paid? You're not necessarily thinking about, okay, how is the business like systematically managing how much they're paying people and what are all the functions involved and. The more we looked into it, the more we realized, like number one, the entire compensation market, even though it's 50 to 80% of a business to spend, maybe more than that for a software business, is siloed underneath HR, despite compensation or just talent management in general being the shared responsibility across the board.

So you have like recruiters that are closing talent. You have hiring managers that are communicating the value of equity and managing merit cycles during whatever you've got finance, that's [00:29:00] budgeting and doing headcount planning, and you've got the executive team that's managing per capita. there's so many different shared kind of functions of comp that don't have anything to do with how, HR system is functioning.

and HR like under leveraged. I think by how compensation is conceived of today, it's also this massive market that's entirely consulting almost entirely. So you've got like billions and billions of recurring consulting spend every year. That just goes to compensation consulting in the United States alone and a huge amount of people that have, the title of compensation analysts, which I guess is a good proxy for the market size.

Lisa: Completely separate from the amount of productivity that, businesses are putting toward comp in order to retain, motivate, attract talent, et cetera, predict, spend whatever. so we looked into this, we were just obsessed with this idea that, it was this huge market totally underserved, and it was also growing, I think there's this move for businesses to, be more transparent with compensation, to evidence that they're being fair and equitable to minorities and women in a way that didn't exist before [00:30:00] you've got compensation being a lot more complicated.

you've got different types of roles, multiple locations, things like that just make like managing compensation with NHR harder. So we had this kind of idea. Okay,it's a really big market, it's getting bigger. and it's totally underserved by technology to the point that you could just skip level a lot of the existing HRS solutions that undervalue API APIs, et cetera, and build this really integrated platform for managing compensation and managing talent in the enterprise.

Lisa: So that's what we're building. That's very exciting. My, sorry, go on. Yeah, my, my experience that I'm normal, like really increase my conviction in this idea because I'm normally growing like twice as fast. then expanse was partially in COVID and then, across multiple locations from the beginning.

So it was already more complicated than what it was expand expanse, which really increased my, my conviction in the idea. 

Nicole: That's really cool. It's good to have a living example, to help you build that conviction throughout this. I shoot the question I wanted to follow up here is, I know you also started as business during COVID, right?

When there's just a lot of uncertainty in the market, in addition to, obviously you targeting,talking to the problem that's, [00:31:00] that has a very important use case, and market. did you feel COVID effected the way you thought about, founding a company starting this business at all?

Lisa: No. I think the thing that was harder was I had been thinking about this business for a long time. And it was clear that I was in a rocket ship. That was just about to be like hitting hypergrowth at abnormal. So it's harder for me to think through. Okay. Do I really want to start my own company?

How important is that to me? Because I also really want to see what's happening and I'm normal and stay a little bit longer. So that, I think that was like the bigger decision factor for me. COVID didn't scare me as much because I got to test it out abnormal. Like we hit COVID before I left. And also, it really mattered for assemble.

Like we could build tooling that would help people. So like the market timing, I think was actually. 

Nicole: Gotcha. That's good to know. so question for you here, Lisa. for folks who want to become entrepreneurs,I imagine there are many, folks here at the company, who, who come here for similar reasons that you have, and, who's going to, maybe one day go off to do incredible things.

do [00:32:00] you have any advice right on how to get started? and also the second or third question, Is, a lot of folks here are also, really investing our time, To become domain experts in the security area. So how transferable do you think is domain expertise when it comes to, becoming entrepreneur?

Lisa: Yeah. I think it's like very true. First of all, I think anything you're doing is like very important to go deep. and it's helpful to like, build that muscle. So it's a good idea in general, but secondly, I would say that. Expand and I'm normal. Despite being cyber company has really helped me think through how to build a business for assemble.

And there were patterns that I was learning at expanse and I'm normal that helps, think about other markets. So if you want to start a company and you're working in cyber, it's not oh, the only idea that I'm going to come up with is cyber. one parallel is we had this early customer at expanse that was a fortune 10 company, just massive bureaucracy.

And we went on site to visit the company and we were dealing with all these asset management issues, right? that was the reason they were buying expanse. And I was like, okay, massive bureaucracies have no idea how to manage or have no skills or [00:33:00] tools or whatever to manage like really complicated assets.

And the cyber guy came in and he was like, yeah, everybody works from home. Like actually the only way that we do personnel management here. Because that's obviously a component of cyber is, we just check payroll to see who's employed. And I was like, oh my God, there's 200,000 people on blood at this company.

You're checking payroll. Basically. You're figuring out who's employed in the company by virtue of it's like tautological. Like it doesn't make any sense. And so I started to realize, by working with those companies in those bureaucracies, that, okay, if asset management is an issue somatically for these large organizations, maybe people management is too.

And so that was actually really helpful. for people that I'm normal, I would say if you're interested in starting a company, just start taking notes of trends that you're seeing in the market. and the form factors, that's really valuable. One facet of abnormal. It's also really valuable. It's the use of APIs, or I'm thinking about fast time to value or onboarding or whatever.

So I think abnormals bent toward being really customer focused is really helpful for burgeoning entrepreneurs, because it helps you think through, okay, how could I build something that would be valuable to a customer. 

Nicole: [00:34:00] Gotcha. So it was a little bit less on the domain expertise, but really what are the different transferable skills, When I, when you think about problem solution, the way you market, the way you approach them, That's actually really transferable, going deep there, yeah. Help you meet 

Lisa: your future. Yeah. Sorry. That's sorry, Nicole. obviously I think founder market that's really important. you don't have to be like 10 years in comp to start a comp company.

But one thing that was helpful was, Rick and I both had like deep experience working on comp from different vantage points, which was like a level removed from the status quo or prior art will help, which helped us think through. Okay. in what ways is this? Is this market being underserved and is what ways in what ways is like comp within HR divorced from the ultimate outcome or value to the business that retaining and, hiring talented.

So that was helpful. for evidence laundry, I think like they just have the best ML experience in the business. That's true of the early team is true of abnormal. It's going to be really hard to compete with that. If your secret sauce is machine learning. another piece of that would be like,Tim and Matt, my, my founders had expanse had, really deep and a lot of the early team had really deep three letter agency experience, meaning [00:35:00] worked on NSA and CIA and things like that.

And I think that helps think through how to build a product with kind of network security that, that you wouldn't necessarily learn in the private sector. So that was like an asymmetric benefit. So yeah, I think founder market pits important, but also just if you want to start a company and just thinking through what are trends you're seeing in the market and how can you pattern match that to, areas that you're interested 

Nicole: in.

Gotcha. If I were to time this to actually one of the earlier answers you gave Lisa, it's almost like what I'm hearing is. You and Eric you'd obviously have a very strong conviction of what you do today at assemble. And a lot of that past experience or domain actually parties and all that's right.

In some ways are trans like transferred into that conviction that you're able to build and execute today. It sounds like with, Emma Sanjay's experience like Tim and Matt, a lot of ways also Hey, they're accumulating a variety of types of experience. It allows them to build that conviction and that founder market fit that you talk about today.

Cool. That's [00:36:00] awesome. Hey, we're actually approaching our last set question. I know, Luke or Sam have a Slido instance set up, so we're actually, maybe you can start sharing that because I really want folks to answer, have their questions answered as well. I see, like Anna has something here already.

so I'll ask this and then folks feel free to, open the Slido instance, putting your question of boats and then,we can switch to bat after this. So last question from me to you, Lisa is,throughout your career so far, I'm curious, what are some valuable frameworks that, you have developed around thinking about career growth in life in general?

what do you wish are some things you realized earlier, What advice would you actually give, earlier, give to an earlier version of your. 

Lisa: Yeah, so lots of thoughts. I think the thing that I've seen in other people that I really admire and also, I think I'm getting, trying to get better at it.

but I know that it really matters is like the world is changing so fast and especially early stage companies, you have to do so many different things [00:37:00] competently, like whether you are the best person to do it or not, and figuring out how to be a lifelong learner really matters. It sounds cliche, but like, how do you learn a skill quickly enough to do a thing and like really figure out how to learn new skills over time that can matter and help you be effective in your role.

the other thing I would think through. I think not discounting communication, like communication matters so much because it's, it matters for aligning people to a common mission, making sure that you're voices heard, communicating context, enabling other people like communication matters so much, even in more of a technical role.

and then I think, prioritization just really matters, especially as your roles and things that are competing for your time can be, the number of contexts between that you have to do has to, can increase, but then also the types of things that you're doing changing over time, it makes it harder for you to figure out how to be best spending your time.

Lisa: So getting better at that, I think matters a lot. And I, the best people I've worked with, you included Nicole, have been really good on it. Like all three. 

Nicole: Oh, thanks. I didn't expect the fiery, but,that's really awesome. Thank you [00:38:00] for sharing. These are, and I can totally say do you like, based on these things, right?

Like just throwing the bus for a little bit, like what, what is like an example that you think like best exemplify, this is Hey, I wish I did this early on because I would have, achieved a disproportionate, outcome today for you. 

I think maybe had, I really gotten tuned earlier on to the idea that being really successful is literally just about your ability to learn faster than everyone else and apply that matters same with like coachability and taking feedback, like the faster that you can take feedback and give it, but also take mostly take it the better off you'll be, take feedback, taking feedback, being coachable, Actively practicing, changing your mind in the face of data and being really low ego about things is going to help you get to the right decision and align other people and build trust.

Lisa: So it's like it's counter-intuitive, but just like being as coachable as possible and able to take feedback and assume that you don't know things and then actively figure out [00:39:00] how you can true up your ability to be successful based on, engaging other people on your kind of journey of what you're trying to get done.

Or even just like learning new school, learning new skills and trying to figure out how to be effective. Like I think that had, I really focused on that earlier on, I would've moved faster, but it took me a few years to figure it out. 

Nicole: But Hey, in the grand scheme of things, it seems like, you're moving super fast and you sharing these advice is really helpful for, the rest of us, to learn and to hopefully practice that to, totally echo with you. I think there, w I know we talked about a lot of, startup growing company growth is about facing uncertainty and also be willing to, to your point, Coach, improve, iterate. I can totally see that being the attitude, To get you further and more successful down, down the line. Cool. thank you so much, Lisa. I can see you. No questions here getting populated. So I'll switch into this. let's talk about, some of the, so you have a lot of questions, so you have to talk really fast, good luck.

great. first one is you can see here, what's a healthy stage, right? To say, this is your ownership at [00:40:00] a startup. How does one transition from I'll do this versus someone else should do this? we see this a lot, right? Because, I think ownership, as is one of our values here at the company.

but as we grow right, It gets ready to find all the time. what do you think is that definition 

Lisa: of healthy? Yeah, this is such a good question. It came from Anna, right? I saw that in the chat. I think this is such a good question because a lot of people can be like trying to do a good thing, like prioritize and self-advocate and then it can turn political quickly.

and I think the right way to do this is be open-minded and want to align yourself with the business, right? You want to align everybody on a common goal? Common goal is to like, make it abnormal successful, and something needs to get done. And you're either going to do it. You're going to deprioritize it and do it later, or maybe never, or someone else is going to do it.

Lisa: And so there's two things that I would focus on. The first is getting really good at prioritization. And the second is communication. you should decide based on the company goals, what are the most important priorities is how I would do it as a mental framework. What are the most important [00:41:00] priorities that you need to be working on and what you're like feasibly capable of executing on?

in a timeline you can commit to high quality work product. And if the thing doesn't fall in that, or it doesn't make sense for you to own it over time. I think that the goal is to,self-advocate with other people and say, okay, we have to get this done. Let me, over-communicate what my sense of priority is be open to feedback if it's an incorrect.

Lisa: And then, just really, over-communicate trying to align people on a common goal, what your bandwidth and priorities look like, and then make sure that everybody's aligned on priorities and figure out who the best person to do it is. So I think it all comes back to prioritization and communication.

Nicole: I would actually also add one more thing here. It's almost like a, I think in one of the best things or the things that I like the most. Working here or talking about ownership, Is it's always fluctuating, Because you're appointing me. So like you're working on a lot of us, Are working on leveling, trying to replace ourselves out of a job. But at some point you probably get to this like peak stage where you're like, oh my gosh, this is actually uncomfortable. Let me find a way to do [00:42:00] that. So I think in some ways it's also being really self-aware about what your own limitation is and making sure that, knowing that there's many ways to resolve this right.

Whether it's hire more people, a delegate on one thing, pushing another, I think that's just like a, hopefully no one gets to the point where they're like, oh my gosh, I can't breathe. But, but it's actually a really good exercise, Just to understand like how much you're able to actually create impact or delegate.

if that's not the most healthy thing 

Lisa: to do. Yeah. I think earlier in my career, what I wanted or what I thought was like a good job was, Was like doing as much as possible, like being the highest output person and also people pleasing. So if like someone needed to do something, I would just try to do it and accomplish that.

And that's actually like a failure mode. first of all, it's unfeasible that makes you unlikely to be able to like, actually reach your commitments. And maybe it's bad for the business because if someone doesn't want to do it and they wanna push it on you, maybe it's not actually a high priority thing to be doing.

I don't think it's always about doing the most, which I think is maybe like a more junior way to look at this. 

Nicole: [00:43:00] Cool. next question. So if I want to start a company three years, how can I best invest my time to learn as much as possible at a formal, 

yeah, probably two things first.

Lisa: I would just start paying attention to things that I thought were interesting. Cause it takes a few years to incubate on an idea, at least in my experience, it really did. I just started cultivating an interest in companies too, and startups and learning a lot of different things. I was like learning about abnormal and learning about expanse that made me really interested in other cybersecurity ideas.

And then I started kicking around ideas with the smartest people I can think of, even if it wasn't companies that I was thinking of starting. so did a bunch of research in a lot of different areas, which I think starts to strengthen that muscle of what's a good idea. And are companies executing and what are the facets of a good have a good team because you have a couple of years to think through oh, I thought this was a good idea.

I ended up being a good idea, ended up not being a good idea. Like you could start paying attention to different companies, as you're working. And the second thing I would say is like really pay attention to what customers are saying. try to get a sense of how whatever abnormal is doing internally is actually interfacing with the real world and [00:44:00] how our customers,reacting to it, both from a customer success perspective, but also what our sales reactions and objective objections and the way that you.

What you can learn from that is basically how people think about value and how you justify value, which is helpful and broadly transferable to other businesses. And then the third thing I would say is try to meaningfully have an impact in abnormal and learn what that feels like. So who are the really high impact people at the company?

What behaviors do they espouse? What can you steal from them? And then how can you learn how to be as flexible and coachable as possible such that you can add value over time as a company changes 

Nicole: as awesome. Thanks, Lisa. I can totally relate. I think one of the things you mentioned right, is I think, I know, like at our old office we used to sit really close to each other and I definitely like idle over you a ton of times just asking you really random questions that like, it's like outside of my job responsibilities, I'm really curious.

Cause I wanted to, know what it means to build a startup from the ground up. And I think vice versa, right? just having that kind of. being able to be immersed with, to your point, right? Like [00:45:00] high impact folks and just create impact is something that, I definitely can see that being translated well in the future.

next question, coming from Sean, while the only not anonymous person. Great. as an aspiring young founder, I worry that I won't be able to motivate people to join me. Do you have any insights on how to recruit?

Lisa: It's such a cliche, but it's so hard. First of all. Hi, Sean. Thanks for putting your name on there. yeah. Recruiting is so hard. It's literally, assemble as a HR company, But we chose the name assemble because of the two definitions of assemble. The first one is like to gather people together in a common place, which is what companies do they try to build an objective, bring people together and get them to work on a thing, which of course comp is a component of that.

But that's like literally what a founder does is just try to bring a group of people together. And I think it is really hard. one thing that I would try to do. Work on is first of all, be part of the recruiting motion in some way. So figure out what gets people to join, who are like really incredible recruiters.

Kevin Wang is an incredible recruiter. I would pay attention to him [00:46:00] and figure out how they're bringing on talent and attracting talent. What are the reasons people are leaving? How do they feel motivated and engaged. And then just from your perspective, what are ways that you can take on whether you're like managing people or not even managing people, just take on project management and try to align people around a common goal and practice that kind of project management and communication, because that's a really difficult skill.

Lisa: I'm not even very good at it, but I know it's important and I've seen people be really effective at it. 

Nicole: Gotcha. last question. Sorry. I know there's a ton of stuff, but poverty question. What challenges have you Lisa face as a female entrepreneur, if you feel 

Lisa: like you can share,I think there are a lot of challenges as an entrepreneur.

I think maybe one without being like too dark, yeah, I think women and minorities face a lot of challenges just in general, like people not taking them seriously or making ridiculous comments or being unprofessional or whatever. And I think, probably a lot of people have that, those experiences.

one thing that I think has helped me is, I think I've got, I've gotten to be [00:47:00] interested in functions and markets that are traditionally undervalued maybe because I, myself feel undervalued sometimes. so I got really interested in go to market, for example, like everybody wants to be a PM, in, in Silicon valley.

Lisa: And I actually love that role and think it's really interesting. but also distribution and go to market is incredibly important and it's discounted. And so I think I was curious about it maybe because of my own experiences and the same is true with HR like HR. sometimes discounted is also overwhelmingly, a function that's held by women and minorities in the workplace.

And I wonder if there's a correlation there. So that part, I think has helped me, customer success is the same thing. Being really focused on customers rather than really focused on the technology. I think it's just given me this perspective. That's, that's started to look for, areas that I can be helpful in areas that are under leveraged in terms of being strategic for the enterprise.

Nicole: Gotcha. In some ways you're turning some of your challenges and opportunities, which is really awesome. thank you. Hey, we're I know we're at time. Thank you so much, Lisa, for your time. I wanted to hand this back to you in the Mitt for, one last thing, but,thank you so much. It's been really fun to get to ask you and have a [00:48:00] conversation with you.

Sam: Yeah 

Nimit: Thank you. Thanks both to, Lisa and Nicole. That was, that was really great. Thank you again for taking the time. 

Lisa: Thanks guys. 

Nicole: Thanks everyone for being here. Bye. 

Key takeaways

  • Set yourself up for scale/growth with how the team works and focusing in on the customer development cycles 
  • You're never fully ready to become an entrepreneur
  • Communication and context switch matters a lot even in technical role. 
  • Immerse yourself with high impact folks and keep learning from them.
  • The faster you can give and take feedback, the better off you will be.

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