We’re excited to share the second installment of our ongoing founder profile series with you. This month we profile Adam Markowitz, Co-Founder & CEO of Drata, a company tackling the complicated problem of continuous SOC 2 compliance. We hope you’ll enjoy learning a bit about Adam’s journey as a founder and what he and team are building at Drata!
Name: Adam Markowitz
Hometown: Westlake Village, CA
Role: Co-Founder & CEO
Company Location: San Diego, CA
Year Founded: 2020
A bit about Drata: Drata is a security and compliance automation platform that continuously monitors and collects evidence of a company’s security controls, while streamlining compliance workflows end-to-end to ensure audit readiness.
Founding & Mentorship
Q: When did you realize there was a need for your product/service? What was the impetus for starting your company?
A: My co-founders and I previously started Portfolium, an edtech platform for students to showcase evidence of their skills within academic ePortfolios. Over a period of two and a half years, we sold the software into 360+ higher education institutions across the globe, resulting in over 5M students showcasing their work across the network. Over that same period, we noticed that we were being asked more frequently for our SOC 2 report to serve as evidence of our security posture ahead of final buying approval.
With massive data breaches happening more often, it felt as though a magnifying glass was being rightfully placed over data privacy and security, which meant companies like ours were going to need to prove early and often that they prioritize the security of their customers’ data. While that proof comes in the form of a clean SOC 2 report, achieving and maintaining SOC 2 compliance is a colossal task, taking companies hundreds of hours each year on average. And for those that have never done it before, the time, effort, and expense is colossal — and it only grows more so every year.
Portfolium was acquired by Instructure (NYSE:INST) in 2019, which is when we realized even larger enterprises struggle with an ever more complex compliance program over time. Existing solutions in the market were cumbersome, services-first models, or checklist-style products — making the market quite ripe for a new, automation-first approach to security and compliance. We jumped head-first to solve a massive problem that we ourselves had experienced first-hand and saw a clear path to scale with Drata.
Q: How does your original business plan differ from what you’re working on today?
A: We lived and breathed the customer pain points ourselves before we ever decided to go down the path of automating compliance. The business plan that we started with is exactly what we are working on today. The goal was to understand the problem intimately before we started to build. The business plan will continue to evolve based on customer feedback and as we address a larger spectrum of opportunities to deliver value upmarket.
Q: Was there a pivotal moment that felt like “failure” at the time, but actually helped to propel your company forward?
A: It’s a bit too early in the incarnation of the company to have had such moments. Our team in the past however has experienced its fair share of “moments that felt like failure” and we persevered together, which has forged such a strong, tight-knit team that prides itself on its core values of trust, competitive fire, integrity, and diversity.
Q: When you’re feeling stuck on a problem or idea, what helps you to progress?
A: We’ve made a conscious effort to attract a diverse group of advisors, investors, partners, and most importantly team. I never face a problem alone. Everyone brings a specialized skillset to the table, complementing one another to help us overcome the most difficult of challenges.
Q: Any advice you’d give yourself when you were starting?
A: Trust your gut. Be customer-obsessive. Be relentless. Build a world-class team with a strong, shared sense of purpose. Mamba mentality.
Q: What’s a really difficult part about being a founder that no one talks about?
A: Working hard and making sacrifices is actually quite easy when there’s a direct correlation between the amount of hard work or sacrifice and a successful outcome. To work just as hard and sacrifice just as much, knowing full well that there’s a less than 10% chance of success takes a completely different kind of mental fortitude. It’s tough for people that haven’t lived it to truly empathize with and I think one of the reasons founders enjoy connecting with other founders.
Q: Do you have any thoughts about supporting other founders?
A: One of the most rewarding aspects of Drata so far has been the fact that many of our customers are startup founders themselves. Knowing that our software is helping them stand up a strong security and compliance posture early in their journey and allowing them to scale more rapidly and securely is why we built Drata. Frankly, founders really benefit from supporting each other at their most difficult times and I strive to be one of those founders that continues to give back to my peers.
Q: Did/do you have a mentor and how were they most helpful?
A: I’ve been fortunate to connect with and be surrounded by incredible mentors that helped us stay two steps ahead and most importantly, see around corners by sharing lessons from their own experiences. We truly learn the most from our failures, but even better if we can learn from others’ failures or mistakes instead of having to make them all ourselves (we still make plenty and learn plenty from them). I always strive to surround myself with individuals who can help me continue to challenge myself and ask the toughest of questions.
Q: Who or what were/are the best sources for support and advice as you develop(ed) your business?
A: We talked to many subject matter experts in the industry and selected a couple of design partners that helped us define the most concentrated customer pain points and what was missing in the market. That feedback loop only continues now with hundreds of customer voices sharing their feedback and ideas.
Q: Was there an unexpected piece of advice, or something you heard or read, that stuck with you or reframed your thinking as you built your company?
A: While building our last company, I learned more than I ever thought possible — including a lot about myself. One thing that stands out still was the lesson that everyone is motivated differently. I learned that it wasn’t my job to motivate everyone the same way because that was impossible. My job was to learn what made each individual spark, and then help draw the line between that spark and the ultimate vision of what the company was trying to achieve. When we find purpose and meaning in our work, it doesn’t quite feel like work.
Q: Were there any important lessons learned during your fundraising process(es)?
A: Our team didn’t start a company with the goal of fundraising — the goal is to build something incredible that solves really big problems for massive markets. As Scott Belsky said, “fundraising is a tactic, not a goal.” Startups aren’t straight lines, and they’re not always hockey sticks — they’re more often a roller coaster, so it’s important to work with experienced partners that have strong conviction in what you’re building so that when things inevitably get rough, they’ll continue to support you while finding ways of being even more helpful.
Q: Why did you choose to partner with SVA?
A: SVA provided really thoughtful feedback, had an efficient, streamlined process, and such a well respected network.
Team & Culture
Q: What are your company’s top three core values?
A: Our culture is defined by the values we embody every day. It’s never static, but it’s always within our own control. Our absolute core values are trust, integrity, and competitive fire.
Q: Can you share any valuable lessons about recruiting and scaling a world-class team?
A: Every person you hire should elevate you and your team.
Everyone of us has weaknesses that we can work on, but we don’t tackle problems alone — the goal is to build a world class TEAM. That team should be made up of individuals with complementary skills and experience and they should then be given the opportunity and autonomy to triple down on their strengths while leaning on their teammates for their weaknesses.
Q: What are your go-to tools for productivity?
A: Clubhouse, Slack, Zoom, Gong, Google
Q: How has Covid-19 affected your company? How are you supporting company culture and employee engagement through the pandemic/remote working?
A: We wrote the first lines of code at Drata in July 2020, so we’ve been fully remote since day 1. I used to always say that the culture of our company has nothing to do with an office space, and in this new world of not being able to have one we’re proving that true. We’re leveraging technology to bridge the distance and stay connected. COVID has helped all of us reflect on just how fortunate we are to be in a position to do what we’re doing. It’s a privilege and one we don’t take for granted.
Is there a social cause or organization that you’re particularly passionate about? How do you think about integrating philanthropy into your company’s culture?
A: “There is no better measure of your values than how you spend your time.” (Scott Belsky)
This is true for individuals and for organizations. Our values define our culture, and giving back in all forms is a measure of those values, and therefore our culture.
Q: What are you reading, listening to, or watching for inspiration right now?
Q: As we move toward some return to normalcy following an unprecedented year, what are you looking forward to doing or seeing the most?
A: I’m personally looking forward to seeing (and hugging!) more of my family that I’ve been unable to see this past year. I’m also looking forward to meeting so many of the new members of our team at Drata for the first time in person!
Q: Anything else you’d like to share about yourself or your company?
A: Drata is hiring across multiple departments, please feel free to learn more about our culture and team at https://drata.com/about. We’d love the opportunity to meet you!