Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Lessons from CoreStreet

CoreStreet is the most recent security company fire sale – selling to ActivIdentity for “approximately” $20 million. Usually this means that the investors get some money back, the founders get some candy so they’ll bring their next idea back to the VC’s, and everyone else gets new business cards. CoreStreet gave it a good go – they had sharp mathematicians and a new idea for authentication, but could not find a sustainable and repeatable business. There are at least 2 things that other struggling security companies may be able to learn from CoreStreet:

Keep your messaging simple. CoreStreet is in the “distributed credential validation solutions” segment. You cannot expect a security team to evaluate, recommend or buy a product that they do not fully understand or have an expressed need for. When I first talked with them, CoreStreet described proofs and math models to authenticate signatures when a certificate authority was unavailable. I was in over my head in about 30 seconds, and I like to think I’m pretty good at authentication and math. If you are looking to increase sales traction, make sure your messaging is easily understood and directly addresses an important business need.

Try to diversify from government dominated customer base. When it comes to security, government agencies often have unique solution requirements that do not translate well into the commercial world. You can make a business serving the federal government if your company reaches a critical mass, but if you are not cash flow positive you need to have alternatives. While CoreStreet attracted business from defense-oriented agencies, it couldn’t translate its technology to the commercial sector. The company had no options and no place to grow, except perhaps by acquisition to a vendor that can service outstanding government contracts.

There is a tough year coming up and we will see more security vendors like CoreStreet with tired investors and shuttered doors in 2010.

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