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Series B, baby! ❤️

strongDM: the first and only infrastructure access platform

Series B!

Today we announce our Series B—an incredible feat that also, if I’m being totally honest here, feels hard to celebrate in earnest, right here, right now, given what it’s taken to arrive at this very moment. 

On one hand, this round of funding means that we’re doing something right, a lot right, enough right. It means that smart people with deep pockets believe in our company, our logos, our product, our trajectory, and our growth potential. They know we’re a market leader behind which others are now playing catch-up. It means our future is bright, as bright as we can make it at this moment and time.  We are lucky that is the case, especially in light of all world events.

On the other hand, my entire job, every second of it over the last 6.5 years, has been about taking action to push forward and secure our future. This is the way it is for founders and everyone who gets in at the ground level: you put your foot on the gas and you never let up. Since Day 1, all I think about is the future. It’s an odd thing to be trained to see in only one direction and it tends to pervade one’s life beyond work hours.  

The past is a place that represents slowness, the wrong way, a step into a time-wasting labyrinth. My inclination is to write this and say, Let’s raise a glass, maybe two, and then it’s back to work. 

But for now I’ll hold back and, if you’ll allow, I’m going to use this announcement to take stock of the past and honor this moment by reflecting and breathing and writing—before the work continues, again.

The Genesis of StrongDM

Once upon a time, there were three friends: Justin, Schuyler, and Liz. Justin and I met in high school in Worcester, Mass., where we played Drug Wars on our TIs and generally loved being surrounded by like-minded humans with similar interests like Linux and Tool. Schuyler and I met when the company he was the head of marketing for acquired my last company.  

The three of us came together opportunistically, summer of 2014. We were all ready for the next thing and decided that whatever that next thing was, we were going to do it together. We sat on conference calls for an hour each week (that’s right, pre-Zoom) and brainstormed ideas.

Literally, our list of ideas.

One hit close to home: the company that Schuyler and I worked for had had a data breach. An engineer spun up a test Mongo instance that contained production data. The instance was leaking on its default port. A hacker got in, exposed 100M MAC addresses (considered PII), and not one but two FTC consent decrees later, the company was out of business.

The three of us wondered, If a Big Data company has issues securing resources, how is the rest of the world managing? And StrongDM was born.

Not our first time at the rodeo, but a better one

Tell me if you’ve heard this one before: Startups are hard. I’m not one for aphorisms, and this one is particularly groan-inducing, but it’s dead on.  

It’s hard to come up with an idea, to build something that delivers that idea, and to build something that delivers that idea that someone will actually pay at least one dollar for. Then there’s hiring, scaling, wordsmithing, the charts, the numbers, the egos, the self-doubt, the celebrations, and a billion other things you’d never think you’d ever have to become good at, work through, and learn along the way. Looking back over the past 7.5 years (6.5 of a business, 1 year of ideating), there are so many special moments that make how hard it has been worth it. Here’s how we got here.

“The three of us wondered, If a Big Data company has issues securing resources, how is the rest of the world managing? And StrongDM was born.”

Infrastructure Grows Up

Before our story began, infrastructure was simplistic: flat networks, monolithic databases, few privileged admins. It was easy to grant and revoke access because only a few folks needed to get to that Oracle box, and AD and the corporate network brokered it. As companies migrated infrastructure from racks to cloud—and exponentially more staff needed access to more resources sitting in more places—this complexity introduced a gap: we have no infrastructure for infrastructure access.

Our first dollar.

We started with databases because they are the inner sanctum. They house the crown jewels of every enterprise. Over the years, we ourselves reached for SSH, and then customers quickly drove us to RDP, VNC, Kubernetes, messaging buses, streaming databases, HTTP, CLIs for the clouds themselves, the list goes on and on. After all, it’s no good to buy a product that connects you to only one protocol. If you’re going to secure all infrastructure access, you’ve got to do it all. Otherwise customers end up buying just another point solution. 

“As companies migrated infrastructure from racks to cloud—and exponentially more staff needed access to more resources sitting in more places—this complexity introduced a gap: we have no infrastructure for infrastructure access.”

We also realized StrongDM had to do two other things: 

One, it had to collapse everything needed to secure access to infrastructure. That’s authn, authz, networking, and observability, all in one place. No small feat, but a requirement.

And two, it had to be a tool that folks loved to use. So many security products end up being shelfware and fail because of it. That’s not StrongDM. We’re beloved by end users and administrators alike. Once folks have tried it, they never go back :)

That’s how StrongDM came to be. Today, StrongDM is the first and only infrastructure access platform.

Airplane proxies!

Firsts I’ll never forget

  • Using our proxy for the very first time - to a PG DB, if memory serves
  • The first time we all queried or SSHed from an airplane!
  • Our first $1M in ARR (outside SFO in an email when the email came in!)
  • Deploying our first enterprise customer  
  • Meeting a fully distributed team for the first time in person
  • The first investor who said, Yes. Tossup as to whether it was Jerry Neumann or Jeffrey Silverman, but I’ll let them duke it out.
  • Inventing Founder cookies - for those of you in the know, you know.
  • Our first conference - thanks, Hearst, for lending us your gorgeous building.
Phil Hassey with the first StrongDM tattoo.

Gratitude, Shout-outs, and Thank Yous

To my co-founders:

Relationships, any relationship, is hard enough as-is, but the Founder one is special.  We’ve worked hard together, and worked hard to stay together. I take a tremendous amount of pride in what we’ve built together.

The founders on day 2.

To our investors

With each round of funding, we’ve been lucky enough to attract the absolute top names in venture capital.  

  • Pre-seed: Bloomberg Beta, Hearstlab, DCVC, Yair Goldfinger, Jerry Neumann, Jeffrey Silverman (and other wonderful folks who will remain anonymous).
    It’s hardest to believe, hardest to write that first check when it’s just three friends and an idea. You all showed up, sat down across from us, ready to believe. You still take every phone call we place, nights or weekends. Thank you.
  • Seed: True Ventures (Phil Black), Godfrey Sullivan. Jerry Neumann introduced us to Phil Black, and the rest is history. All True partners are fantastic, and I’m glad Phil is ours. And to Godfrey, for meeting me countless times for coffee at Buck’s in Woodside, for working patiently through every go-to-market question on the planet.
Liz Zalman with seed investor Phil Black.
  • Series A: Sequoia (Doug Leone). Sequoia has seen more companies than probably any other fund, Doug more than anyone else there. Your words are always spot on.
  • And now, for the Series B, we have the honor of adding John Curtius at Tiger Global, and Erik Nordlander of GV, to the journey. John, whom I had the good fortune to meet, who listened intently the first time we spoke, and each time since. And Erik, who listened to stories at 7am while we both hit the gym together, and now gets to listen to those same stories that much more!

To Team StrongDM: Thank you, thank you, thank you!

Go ahead and lump me in with every other CEO who says their team is amazing, because here it comes. The team is AMAZING. Whip-smart. Opinionated. Deeply caring. There’s no better combination. You make coming to work each day a delight. You are StrongDM.

The team at 5 folks strong: pun intended.

And so we turn our eyes to today, the sprint down memory lane comes to a close. Time to be obsessed about our future again.

I’m grateful to share it with two of my closest friends. I’m grateful to have a team that’s gone from 8 to 78 in two short years, and to feel their energy daily. I’m grateful to my family and friends for picking up the phone every time I was maniacally high or outrageously low over the years. You know who you are.

I’m a big fan of knowing what song you’d walk out if you were a pro wrestler. It’s got to be one that hypes you up, that lets you strut to, that pumps you up to win. I walked out to this one at our conference.

On that note: Let’s roll.

-- Liz

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