On January 11 2021, in the middle of a pandemic, I quit my very fulfilling and stable Government job to run my own company. Six months on, how do I feel about this decision. What is it like doing this?
|InfoSect founders: Silvio & Kylie|
At the start of 2021 I was a Technical Director in the Australian Government. I had worked there since 2009. My job was energising and rewarding. I certainly hadn't plateaued and I had been given remit of some really exceptional work.
In 2017, my husband Silvio and I bought a warehouse in Fyshwick and started a hackerspace called InfoSect. We were inspired by groups like the L0pht in the USA. We just wanted a place to hangout with other hackers and do cool research.
|April 2017 - purchase of InfoSect warehouse|
Silvio worked at University of NSW (UNSW) as the Director of Education, he taught in the Cyber Security Centre as well as reviewing their course content. In October 2019, Silvio decided to teach at InfoSect instead of at UNSW.
There were a lot of reasons for this but that's his story to tell. I suspect mostly a desire to focus on highly specialised, niche content drove that decision. As his training at InfoSect grew, he began to be approached to perform research as well as train.
Silvio hired two part-time staff for InfoSect to help him in 2020. At this point, almost all of my evenings and weekends were starting to be spent helping him run the business.
So I made the huge decision to give my notice and resign my full-time, rewarding career.
It was the start of 2021, I was on a new adventure. My expectations revolved mostly around freedom. I was going to be free to set my own hours, choose my own work and of course, present and publish how I wanted.
I bought myself a gym membership for 2021. I am most definitely not a morning person, but in my new job I thought I could go to the gym at 9 or 10am and then catch up hours at night. I was so used to working at night helping with the business at this point, I thought this would be easy.
I wanted to do research. So many projects waiting for me, so many things I wanted to explore.
And of course, I wanted to make a difference. I wanted to build something that filled a gap in cyber security. I wanted to leave a legacy.
Six months already?
Hopefully you're all on the edge of your seat wondering what my first 6 months of this major change was actually like.
We did so much in my first 6 months.
InfoSect was a hackerspace, we'd used it for community events and storing a lot of conference gear (particularly with the COVID19 postponement of BSides Canberra in 2020). We had a small office space downstairs and a classroom upstairs. But we knew we needed to give ourselves more space and make it more professional to work in and meet clients in.
We kicked off a sizable renovation the day after BSides Canberra 2021 (12th of April) which went for around 2 months. The major part of this rennovation was building an extra floor in the warehouse space at InfoSect, but there were so many additional parts of this fitout that Silvio coined the tongue-in-check phrase "It never ends and then you die".
Part of this journey included multiple trips to the tip, clawing old, deprecated gear out of Silvio's unwilling clutches.
|Before & After InfoSect Rennovation|
We taught so much. Since I started full-time at InfoSect we have taught 11 weeks of training in 3 different timezones. That's about 46% of our time in courses.
This business as usual continued during our 8 weeks of renovations, at which point we duplicated our online streaming training setup at home so that courses weren't interrupted by the sound of drilling, hammering and saws.
|InfoSect In-Person & Virtual Training 2021|
We did hands-on security research every chance we could
|IoT & OT Labs Built|
Our customers said, 'you're fantastic, but how can we give you work when you're so overloaded already'. So we grew.
We put in more desks. We started with a desk for me downstairs... and then electronics work benches upstairs, and then more desks... and more desks. You get the picture.
In fact, in the last 6 months I have built so many flatpacks I'm starting to think I could start a career out of doing this. I'm going to point out, that although Silvio features in all the photos below, I'd do the bulk of the building and then he'd come along for the final touches or the parts that needed two people and I'd take a quick photo.
As well as desks we assembled a new vistors couch, lectern and buffet for downstairs. We also installed a conferencing system because these are essential in current COVID times.
The new space was shaping up great, but we really needed people.
In mid-2020, after Silvio had been at InfoSect for almost a year, we sat down and had a chat together on what we wanted from InfoSect. It had morphed from hackerspace to professional training and was doing well. But at this point it was solely Silvio. It was essentially, a glorified sole-trader. And it was a lucrative business with only one person to pay.
Some professional advice we had received on the business for future and growth was along the lines, 'you are making plenty of money for a single person - this won't scale if you hire more people'. I looked at Silvio and repeated the advice, 'as individuals, we are better financially if its just you at InfoSect'. He looked at me and said, 'but I don't want to work alone. I want a posse of cool people to work with, to do cool things with'.
In the last 6 months we have hired 3 extra people with 1 more person in the pipeline. That brings our little team to 8 people.
We are really fortunate that we have cultivated a team culture that is collaborative, clever and dedicated. We're at the point that we are having our own little InfoSect mini-conferences and enjoying working with each other. I think Silvio is realising his dream of having his posse of smart people to work with.
|InfoSect Staff: Jayden, Josh, Silvio, Kylie, Sam, Josie and Di|
This is bringing me close to finalising what has happened over the last 6 months. But there is actually another huge body of work I embarked on.
Our customers said 'you need to provide security diagrams for your work systems' and 'comply with the Essential 8'
This was great actually, I had jumped the fence and had to apply all of the best practice I had been recommending in the past. So I hardened, and hardened, and hardened some more...
The last 6 months has seen a huge uplift in InfoSect's systems, governance and compliance. This is a journey every small business needs to go on and could be an entire blog post in itself. As well as founder and Manging Director, I am also InfoSect's IT Security Manager (ITSM), IT Security Administrator (ITSA) and many other roles that are keeping me busy.
I need to wind this up, I could probably add so much more from the last 6 monts - it has been really busy. In reality, building my own business and working for myself is nothing at all what I was expecting when I surrendered my pass and was escorted out of my old office. In fact I haven't had a chance to use my 2021 gym membership at all.
The highlights of running my own business includes:
- I have less time. I actually didn't think that was possible. When something needs doing for a customer, course or deadline - I'm doing it whether its Saturday, Sunday or midnight.
- The range of what I do has increased so much. I guess until we're bigger, we're all going to be pitching in to provide solutions for every component of the business.
- The buck stops with me (oh, and also Silvio I guess). It's always at the back of my mind that until we are bolstered and have gained momentum, the success and failure of InfoSect is heavily based on the commitment and work Silvio and I do in these early days. And luck - I feel like we have so much luck on our side every day.
- Working with Silvio is fantastic. He is so genuine and smart. He literally wants everyone around him to learn more and love what they're doing as much as he does. I was concerned working with my husband would have us spending too much time together, but we've fallen into an easy, fun, workable relationship.
My advice to any one else considering doing something as crazy as me in the near future.
- Do it - it's an amazing experience. Like most experiences in life, until you do it you can't really comprehend what it will be like.
- Prepare for highs and lows. Some days Silvio and I are literally dancing around celebrating a win for InfoSect, other days we are having sleepless nights worrying about something. It's more rollercoaster than any other job I've had, but definitely worth it.
- Pick your business partner well. This person is going to be sharing the best and worst times with you. You are going to be spending a lot of time together. The ability to work together, divide tasks and feel like you are both contributing equally is super important.
- Make sure you're doing something you love. I guess this is obvious. I imagine this is like when you pick your topic for your PhD. You're going to be spending a lot of time doing your business, so make sure you love it.
- Understand that you will need to be flexible in what you do. You may identify as a specialist, but the reality is - you are going to have to use all your knowledge to fill in the gaps that the business has. You will need to learn about business management, customer engagement, contracts, finance and of course, flat pack assembly. If you're open to learning new things, this can be fun.
And here is the big question. If I rewound to 6 months ago, would I do it again? The answer is a big resounding "yes".