May 14, 2021 | Company Building

Congratulations Kenna Security – Reflections on Company and Category Building

Written by

Jim Wilson

Any board member is proud when a company they’re supporting achieves a good exit. And I’m thrilled to offer my congratulations to Kenna Security. Kenna is now part of the Cisco Security team, where they will enhance Cisco’s XDR strategy with their world-class, risk-based vulnerability management platform. 

I’d also like to recognize the Kenna team. Karim, Ed, Jeff and the entire executive team will bring their incredible depth of experience and dedication to help Cisco create, and ultimately dominate, the vulnerability management space. It’s a great move for both Kenna and Cisco; I can’t wait to see all that will result from this powerhouse partnership.

From a product perspective, there’s a lot to be said about the technical benefits, the value-add for enterprise customers, and the strategy behind the acquisition. But I’d like to reflect on the lessons of category building from Kenna’s journey in hopes of helping others who are similarly excited and determined to create something new like Kenna did.

The importance of partnerships and ecosystems 

Very early on, Kenna correctly assessed that its unique value proposition hinged on a broader ecosystem of solutions that made the concept of risk-based vulnerability management powerful. The team focused on developing partnerships that filled several niches:

  • Reselling the solution
  • Expanding Kenna’s platform with value-added services
  • Building technical integrations to analyze more endpoint data and assess risk

As a result of that early work — which really centered on identifying the best way to add differentiating capability and reach more customers — Kenna was able to partner with some excellent companies. For instance, their last partnership — with VMWare — helped companies find, prioritize and risk-rank vulnerabilities. Today, the integration with Cisco’s XDR platform means that Kenna risk-scoring will be extended to thousands of Cisco customers. 

The key takeaway: start building your own solutions ecosystem out early — and make a concerted effort to build multiple partnership types to enhance the customer experience and optionality.

Making the founder to CEO transition work 

When Ed Bellis, Kenna’s founder and first CEO, brought on Karim Toubba to take the helm as CEO, it was thrilling to see the immediate partnership between the two. Ed stepped into the CTO role, where he oversees the strategic product direction, serves as an evangelist for the vulnerability management space, and often speaks to CISOs and other security executives to get market feedback.

Ed is the calm, collected and confident foil to Karim’s energetic, selfless, intellectual personality. As CEO, Karim understands the space, the product, and the problems Kenna solves to a remarkable degree, which enables him to lead and sell effectively. Together, they’re the perfect pair, complementing each other’s strengths and addressing each other’s blind spots. 

As we all know, it doesn’t always happen that way when you bring on a non-CEO founder — and the impact on the culture can be really significant in cases where it doesn’t work. Fortunately, Ed understood when it was time to bring on a complementary skill set to take the company to the next level and Karim appreciated the enormous value Ed brings as founder and CTO. 

As true partners who respect each other, they set out building an executive team — Terry Murphy, Lora Rodstein,  Rick Kramer, Caroline Japic, Charles Coaxum, Jason Rolleston and David LaFrance — who would honor and execute on the culture of transparency, respect, efficiency and accountability Ed and Karim envisioned. This is how at Kenna, “team” continues to come before “self” — because it’s consistently modeled from the top.

Key takeaway: look for people who complement what you bring to the table and share your views on the culture you’re building. Go deep in conversation on values and try to get insight on how you might tackle hard problems together as they arise; the answers you get will be very useful. Culture matters from the CEO and Founder on down.

Building multiple routes to market

Kenna has a larger direct sales team to help handle large multi-stakeholder deals with a technical product. But wisely, Kenna paired this direct sales motion with both a partner play and an inbound process managed by marketing and SDRs.

At its early stage, Kenna sold a simpler product at a lower cost, leveraging a high velocity sales motion with a simplified buying process to deliver the volume of deals required to hit revenue targets. But then Kenna expanded its platform beyond its departmental focus to one that was more valuable as an enterprise solution, core to companies’ strategic efforts to reduce cyber and application security risk. This product evolution meant Kenna could successfully expand from a high velocity sales motion to one that was partner led, and finally to a full-blown enterprise sales push.

Through building these multiple routes to market, Rick Kramer and the Kenna sales team are equally able to sell large, multi-million dollar contracts to Fortune 100 companies as they are to smaller mid-market companies. You can expect this approach to be optimized even more as they integrate with Cisco’s sales team.

Building a start-up is hard enough. Creating a market on top of that is exponentially more difficult. Today’s acquisition will allow Kenna to become the enterprise standard for risk-based vulnerability management as the company further extends the platform’s capabilities to Cisco’s XDR strategy. For the Kenna organization, I’m confident we’ll continue to see their amazing work inside of a world-class company like Cisco. Thank you, Kenna, and good luck on your next journey as part of Cisco!


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