Perseverance in the face of adversity is undoubtedly a quality ingrained in many founders.
Whether it be repeated knockbacks from investors or potential clients; the need to spin several plates at once; or dealing with the ‘here and now’ while also focusing on the long-term plan, the first years of a business can be overwhelming.
CEO Shirley Salzman co-founded SeeMetrics in Israel in 2020 and has grown the cybersecurity performance management platform to 22 staff. It is already recognised as one of the leaders in its field by Gartner.
If there was any doubt that she had the stomach to grow a startup, it was put to rest when she endured a five-year legal battle at former employer Logic.
“During my employment, I found myself as the sole woman on a team consisting entirely of men,” she recounts to TechBlast. “Throughout my time at the company, I strongly suspected that the men were receiving higher pay for equal contributions. They enjoyed better terms and even had superior parking spots compared to mine.
“Unfortunately, I lacked concrete evidence to support my suspicions.”
In 2015, as the company was nearing closure, she made the bold decision to directly inquire about her peers’ salaries. “The disparity I discovered in pay was shocking,” she says. “After much contemplation, I made the difficult choice to take legal action.
“My motivation extended beyond rectifying the injustice I personally experienced: I wanted to pave the way for women to demand equal pay for equal work. It was a challenging dilemma, as it required me to confront a strong management that vehemently denied the existence of a wage gap.
“I had concerns that my decision to pursue the case would label me as a troublemaker once it became public.”
If you tolerate this…
The process of proving her case through the legal system was “arduous”, she says. “However, perseverance paid off, and I emerged victorious. I am proud to be the first woman in Israel to sue and win a court case regarding lower wages compared to male counterparts.”
She adds: “This experience reinforced my belief in the importance of justice and not turning a blind eye to injustice. I wholeheartedly embrace the famous quote: ‘If you tolerate this, then your children will be next.’”
The story behind that quote goes deeper than the famous Manic Street Preachers song: it was a wartime slogan for anti-fascist forces fighting General Francisco Franco in the Spanish Civil War.
“It serves as a reminder for us to remain steadfast and not lose sight of our pursuit for fairness in the face of inequality, which unfortunately remains prevalent in many aspects of society,” adds Salzman.
The atypical cyber CEO
The entrepreneur studied for a Masters at King’s College in London before working for global policy and strategy firms such as the German Marshall Fund of the US and the Institute for Policy and Strategy at the Interdisciplinary Center in Israel. She went on to hold commercial leadership roles at companies including Percepto and Contguard.
Her company SeeMetrics transforms the way security leaders measure, track and improve stack performance through a cockpit-like dashboard. “My journey into the cybersecurity sector may surprise some readers, as I lack a traditional cyber background,” she says.
In Israel, the majority of cyber company executives are typically men who have completed their military service in various cyber units of the Israeli army. Recent research indicates that merely 2.2% of female CEOs are leading cyber companies.
“However, I believe that my unique perspective brings strength to the table,” continues the CEO. “Drawing on my background in commercial marketing and the deep security and data expertise of my partner, we set out to address this challenge by providing security leaders with the data-driven insights they currently lack, hindering their ability to confidently collaborate with executives.”
With the average global organisation utilising 60+ security monitoring solutions, the complexity and sheer volume of data generated presents significant hurdles. “Ultimately, SeeMetrics crystallises the value of the security programs developed and maintained by CISOs and their security teams,” says Salzman.
“This value can now be easily conveyed to the broader organisation and the board of directors, as they rely on a unified source of truth enriched with historical trends, benchmarks, and key performance indicators (KPIs) aligned with business objectives.”
She found fundraising a challenge – specifically as its products do not “fit into a specific box”.
“Both VCs and customers are used to investing and procuring within a specific space or budget item,” she explains. “Ours is an emerging category that didn’t exist a few years ago.
“When establishing something that is genuinely innovative and pioneering it means there is a need to educate the investors, and mainly to prove we are indeed resolving a pain point customers will be willing to pay for.
“[Therefore] one of my proudest moments was when I completed a seed funding round of $6m.”
Advice for founders
Unsurprisingly, Salzman highlights stubbornness as a tip for aspiring entrepreneurs.
“Don’t be afraid to be stubborn, be aware of your team’s sensitivities, and actively listen to your customers,” she says.
“Being an entrepreneur, especially without the ‘ideal’ background, inherently means going against the norm. It requires stubbornness and the ability to persevere despite facing frustration and countless rejections.
“There were certainly moments when I questioned why I was persisting through rough times. However, the immeasurable satisfaction of breaking down barriers and contributing to the shattering of the glass ceiling makes it all worthwhile.”