The Founding of Crosswire as Told by Its Values
Crosswire is building the future of enterprise identity in new and exciting ways. Just conversing with Co-Founders Johnny Wang and Nick Wong is refreshing in and of itself. There’s an endless sea of startups and founders who invoke buzzwords and hackneyed phrases around values and missions, but few who go beyond that to truly be driven by their values. What sets Crosswire apart is that they’re not just producing value-driven but value-ingrained security tech, for the story of Crosswire wouldn’t even exist without the values and first principles that drive the company today.
Now presenting, The Founding of Crosswire as Told by Its Values:
We give a shit
Apparently, the more adept you are at simulating cybersecurity threats and getting into the mind of a ‘hacker,’ the more Google wants to hire you. Such was the case for Johnny Wang, who was working as a Security Engineer on Google’s Red Team when he received an email from Product Manager Nick Wong. Nick was also at Google, where his passion for security had led him to try rotating onto the Red Team. He emailed the whole team alias, and while he had conversations with multiple people on the team, one conversation stood out from the rest.
“I really appreciated that Johnny took the time to talk with me,” writes Nick Wong in response to my question about Crosswire’s founding. “It became obvious that he cared about people and his work. It wouldn’t be enough for him just to be paid well; he also needed to work on problems he believed in and with people he liked. Plus, he cared enough about learning and exploring to take a meeting with me, random PM.”
Their initial meeting quickly turned into talking outside of work every day. They bounced ideas off of each other around security identity and eventually realized a significant gap in how enterprises governed their identities. They also discovered that they held the shared value of ‘giving a shit,’ of caring enough about security, people, and their roles regarding both to continue exploring information security and the IAM space. They started talking to security experts, other folks in the field, and anyone who, like them, gave a shit.
“[Nick] is someone who deeply cares about everything he does,” writes Johnny Wang when I ask him about his co-founding with Nick. “He would not hesitate to speak up and challenge your assumptions. He’s also highly creative, comes up with great new product ideas, and is very receptive to feedback.”
Iterate incrementally and continuously
Once they entered the brainstorming phase, the two of them met almost every day, constantly shifting through ideas and dedicating themselves to perpetually improving them.
“I think we worked through 50 different concepts of state machines, access impersonation visibility tools, and giant graphs,” Nick writes. “Elements of these are present in the product that we’re building today, but we’re constantly trying to iterate on what we’re building. It was more important to us that we were having discussions and brainstorming than that we had settled on something ‘correct.’”
Not only is perfection the enemy of progress, but it’s also the enemy of iterating incrementally and continuously in a fast-paced startup environment. This value informs every part of Crosswire now as it did then, from guiding initial timeline tradeoffs to the fact that Crosswire has evolved so continuously that the initial codebase no longer exists in its original form. While still respecting the effort and discovery that mistakes and previous iterations represent, the key to this value for Nick and Johnny was (and still is) the ability to tell each other when things aren’t going well and how to improve, regardless of how small the increment of change is.
“Mistakes and iterating incrementally and continuously go hand in hand,” writes Johnny. “Mistakes are a blessing — you can only learn if you make mistakes. We value getting prototypes created quickly, getting early customers to hop on a Zoom and look at our prototype (it could still be on Figma or Terminal), and then iterate from there. Only through iterating incrementally and continuously can we get the early feedback that enables us to build exactly what our customers need. If we were to avoid mistakes at all times, we would have missed out on most of the learning that comes from the journey.”
Build with curiosity and velocity
While a valuable tool to organize the founding story, you can see how these values bleed into and inform each other. Curiosity led Nick to Google’s Red Team, Johnny to take that introductory call with Nick, and the two of them to investigate security authorization and leave Google, taking the leap of faith that was starting Crosswire in October 2021. Curiosity is fundamental to Crosswire’s beginnings, and velocity is crucial to its continuation.
“We know that we need to keep moving forward,” writes Nick, “if we’re building something for a future that doesn’t even exist, then our work may not matter, so we care about the little wins and incremental improvements. Plus, if you’re building up velocity and iterating continuously, you set yourself up for this powerful sort of compounding effect that really skyrockets over time.”
Crucial to Crosswire’s founding was asking questions like “we want to see if this works and we’re open to trying almost anything/enlisting the help of almost anyone to do it — so we need to do ___, who do you know and who do I know that can help?” Even on an individual employee level, the initial scope for folks at the company moves quickly from “help us build this feature” to “what do you think the most important problem for you to solve is?” Projects at Crosswire don’t run without involving every team member’s curiosity and broadening their scope with velocity.
Have each other’s backs
Even before they had scaled the team, much of their teamwork involved taking the extra time to help each other understand the reasoning behind their ideas and actions. Early on, they prioritized having difficult conversations because they didn’t want to let things fester, which led to them prioritizing transparent collaboration and having each other’s backs as a core value.
“We tried our best to be complementary and reciprocal,” Nick writes. “An email that I forgot? Johnny had it. An investor chat that Johnny couldn’t make? No problem for me. It felt (and still feels) like there’s no issue if one of us is struggling because the other has their back and will do it without question.”
Within months of Crosswire’s inception, their customers ranged from leading fintech companies to innovative startups looking for best-in-class security. While the pressures of a rapidly expanding startup could have sent anyone into a tailspin, the foundational values they established early on provided the structure they needed to delegate and maintain level heads.
“In a busy space like security, everything can be very tricky, and it’s only made trickier when you avoid difficult conversations,” writes Johnny. “Take for example product roadmap prioritization. Through difficult conversations, we can distill our product roadmap to what delivers the most value to our customers and then build them in the most effective way possible. This is how Crosswire is able to achieve extremely high customer satisfaction scores across all sectors we serve.”
In a remote, high-stakes environment, transparency and trust are some of Crosswire’s most significant advantages. It allows everyone to be more able to act on each other’s behalf and continues to fuel Crosswire as they soar to new heights, as well as keep perspective when weathering difficult days together.
Remember what matters
“We lean a ton on our values in how we make decisions,” writes Nick. “We use them to guide different tradeoffs, like whether to spend more time designing or just ship a smaller version to get it in front of customers today (hint: it’s the latter because we iterate continuously and we build with velocity). Our values also drive our communication. When I receive a Slack message saying: ‘I don’t really agree with this approach; I think we should consider these factors….’ I know how to interpret it because we give a shit, so this person comes from a place of caring about our work.”
Today, the founding and the values that informed it culminate in the Co-Founders tackling everything they’re needed for. From sales to standups to Slack messages to bug bashes, there’s no part of Crosswire that Johnny and Nick don’t care about deeply. This results in a company that cares deeply about maintaining and evolving its culture, no matter where the journey takes them or what comes up on the horizon.
“The hardest thing to scale within a company is its culture, and one of the most effective ways to scale culture is to use the company’s values in every single decision made,” Johnny writes. “Whenever I need to make a decision, I always use these values as guiding principles. We spent considerable time debating and codifying our core values at the company’s beginning, and we’ve since aggressively screened for those values in our interviewing process.”
These values live on in the fabric of company culture and the product itself, which vastly simplifies the complexity of employee permissions lifecycles and provides easy-to-use features for requesting and managing access. In the spirit of continuous iteration and building with velocity, Crosswire is currently expanding its engineering team and building on top of its established policy engine.
What began as a small group of builders, thinkers, and hackers is continuously growing. To become a part of a great team that believes in its mission and culture, explore our career opportunities here and stay updated with our latest news by following our blog below.
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