Nothing gets Kenny Scott, CEO and Co-Founder of Paramify, more excited than solving boring, painful problems. On this episode, he’s sharing how a punk rocker like him accepted the most non-punk rock job ever, how he built Paramify, learning to abdicate rather than delegate, the importance of looking for friction, and reminds us that entrepreneurship isn’t for the faint of heart.
I am ecstatic to be joined today by Kenny Scott, founder of Paramify. Kenny, you have had such an amazing career trajectory and seemed to have done everything. It's amazing.
Currently, you’re the CEO and Co-founder of Paramify which is enterprise software that helps automate and maintain FedRAMP, StateRAMP, CMMC, and other security compliance deliverables. So what used to take just months to organize, with your platform, can now happen in a matter of hours.
It really is. I can't believe it, but it's true.
We're living in a great time.
Before starting Paramify, you actually had 16 years of experience as a startup founder and you also have consulted with several Fortune 500 companies, including Adobe, Google, Pricewaterhousecoopers.
Yes.Paramify offices with a company called RevRoad, an amazing, amazing organization that you'll know about in the future. So we're here in Provo and we're growing a team. My co-founder Tyler and I have been on an amazing journey so far.
We love it.
My picture of a startup is working insane hours, building something, no sleep, up all night, and drinking Red Bulls but you've got this massive smile on your face. I can just feel the joy and see how passionate you are for this product. What is it that drives you to keep going?
When I was younger, a bunch of us guys decided to start a punk rock band that eventually we called Drivers’s Side but then I went on a mission that changed my life. I attended BYU and took the most non-punk rock job you could possibly imagine - information security compliance.
Definitely not as sexy as being a CIA agent or, a punk rocker.
No but I love it.
I think part of my career has been a comedy of errors, honestly. You know what could go wrong, did. I really didn't like where I was at, honestly, at my first job. I gotta be honest with you.
That's what we're doing.
My first job was at PricewaterhouseCoopers, a great company with great people. I was really immature and it was really difficult for me to wrap my brain around the importance of what I was doing there.
I did eventually enjoy the role but I found myself with a pit in my stomach on Sunday nights anticipating the work week.
My lovely wife, Angie, what specifically I didn’t like about the job? And, I was like, man, that's a really good question. It's just generally hurt. So I had a little startup adventure with Spreezio and post-startup I finally started asking myself what pain could I address.
I had these technological skills and I discovered I wanted to make a specific problem better.
So that has been my journey.
It's not so much about starting a business but finding solutions to a problem and being able to work on what I think is important.
We struggle like a lot of startups but I'm so excited to see how what we're working on is changing lives. It's actually gonna be huge for the industry. We have a hundred percent belief that what we're working on. It's not just gonna be our company, but it's gonna be many companies solving the problem we’re addressing.
I feel kind of like I've already won. Money is not really the motivator so much because of the value we create. Really exciting.
Most of the entrepreneurs I talk to say money is not the motivator. They are motivated, like you, to solve problems. You figure out what the problem is and figure out how to do it better. You're looking at the greater impact the solution is gonna have on the people and companies around you.
Yeah. It's so true.
I started Paramify through consulting engagements. I almost didn't, at first, because in the beginning, I had been focused on my InfoSEC career for well over a decade working with amazing, smart people, at amazing organizations like Adobe where we architected something called the Common Controls Framework and open-sourced it.
I was done with that career and I started looking for what's next. So naturally I said, you know, I wanna start a hedge fund. I started investing in all the risks involved there but when someone offered me a decent sum of money, it didn't excite me. I began to worry and began to think that maybe I really didn’t know what I was doing.
I was really passionate about investing but what I’m good at what we're doing at Paramify.
Everybody says do what you're passionate about. I was really passionate about investing but what I’m good at what we're doing at Paramify. People started to reach out to me asking about consulting services for FedRAMP. I told them I wasn’t interested in doing that but here's somebody that can help.
Then one fall day, after losing a lot of money in the market, I got a text from someone asking about my consulting service rate and I said, okay, here's my rate. They responded with, okay, done! Taking on these clients allowed me to start thinking and working on the idea behind Paramify.
I knew I could automate it and I got to work. I already had a lot of the features built and I was just kind of fine-tuning it.
I remember the first prototypes I built were put together with duct tape. They were really embarrassing but they worked. They solved the pain.
That's what led you to where you are here right now?
That's where we are. There's been so much more pain and grind - just disappointment after excitement and euphoria and disappointment followed by more disappointment followed by faceplants, followed by, oh wait, I’m actually an entrepreneur too.
Entrepreneurship is not for the faint of heart. You can't be motivated by just financial security.
Not at all.
If someone said, I wanna be an entrepreneur because I want to make a buttload of money, I would say that is not a good reason. There has to be a bigger purpose. You know, what I think is really interesting about your story is,
I think it's brilliant that you took that consulting experience and learned from the market. That’s marketing gold.
You were hearing directly from your customers what they needed, and what they wanted. You were able to actually make money to essentially build your product, right?
You already knew that there was a product market fit. You weren't just trying to go out there and build something and think people would automatically buy it.
It seems to me that you are very much a risk taker but a very calculated risk taker.
It's still a risk. A lot can still go wrong, but I agree it's better if you have a customer that's paying you. I remember going on a jog and listening to one of Seth Godin's book, This is Marking, about the minimum viable customer set not the minimum viable product.
Think about your minimum viable customers and try to work out the product market fit with them. We're still in that phase, honestly, Nicole. It's not like we've arrived. There are all sorts of pivots that we have to make.
All the time. It's not easy.
One of my blunders was valuing my own opinion and my 15 years of experience more than customers' needs. I stopped listening to them, and their feedback. More importantly, I stopped hearing their pain.
Fortunately for Paramify and for my for my personal growth, I have a co-founder, Tyler Stevens, who is not afraid to call me out on my BS. He’s not afraid to challenge me and keep me grounded. Tyler’s kind, real, really smart, and also very objective.
He's the yin to my yang.
How did you find your co-founder? Did you always know you wanted a co-founder?
I'm not a tech. I'm infoSec, but I'm not a programmer. I don't know how to do DevOps. I don't understand or know how to run scripts. I know how to create resx files and things like that.
I recognized that I wasn't going to be able to build something amazing. It became clear I needed a partner when I ran into scalability issues. We had success with one customer, Palo Alto Networks, and then another customer, Omni - venture capital in investor intelligence.
They were asking me for different use cases. I knew I could use the processes and tools already at my disposal to figure out the use cases but I realized this would take me only so far. I also found myself onboarding the first simple, crappy prototypes to different clients and it was super embarrassing.
So I started interviewing everybody but most of the potential co-founders couldn’t take the risk or didn't wanna take the risk, they didn't have a runway where they could figure it out and just work for equity. When they wanted money, they wanted a lot of money. They also wanted a lot of equity.
I didn’t know what I was going to do but then I had the thought that there was a possibility that my BYU credentials would still work. I figured there was a Slack group of developers and I could probably find someone in there.
My credentials worked and I got in and I discovered this amazing person orchestrating all this business with all the developers. Jacob West a CS major who had done all these projects for different businesses and was highly recommended. So I reached out, “Hey Jacob, my name's Kenny do you want to do you wanna join me?”
It didn't take long to convince him and we quickly got to work.
But sadly, Jacob passed away in a tragic accident.
After losing him, I did not feel like doing it anymore.
I really loved Jacob and his memory. After losing him, I did not feel like doing it anymore.
At the same time, I was also facing lots of personal challenges but somehow I decided to keep going.
So I treated a bunch of developers to pizza and pitched to them. I didn't find anybody but they did put me in touch with Nate Hood who introduced me to Tyler at this awesome incubator called RevRoad.
He agreed to work with me on a part-time basis and so here we are kicking butt now. Thanks Tyler!
Your story shows how important it is to network and build connections wherever you can so that you can get yourself in a position where you find the right people. That's amazing. You're really intentional too about identifying where your weaknesses are. It takes a lot of humility to say I need someone to be able to do this.
How long have you actively been working on Paramify and building the software itself?
Pieces of it came in spurts.
Initially, I was going to build another governance risk and compliance tool but simplified. But the first paying customer wasn’t interested in it.
We listened to the customer’s feedback and pivoted. Your product is never going to have all the features that your customer wants, maybe it will but we decided to follow Seth Godin’s advice about the minimum viable customer and prioritized the actual pain.
Cuz there's no way to build a finished product on your first time. It’s gonna be very embarrassing. That's the expectation and it should be embarrassing. If it's not, then you waited too long to launch. You need to just go out there …
Start solving the first pain.
I'm so thrilled for you and what you are building.
What I really admire about you is your willingness to take risks. As an entrepreneur, you have to be willing to accept uncertainty and actually enjoy it.
I wanna hear a little bit about teams.
On another podcast recently you say something about teams that stopped me in my tracks. You were talking about delegation versus abdication, and I've never heard that before.
As business leaders and owners, we talk a lot about delegating. What do you see as the difference between delegating and abdicating?
I don't think it's really anything super profound, but it's just a big problem in business and especially in security. It's ambiguous.
I mean, you just have to think through the unknowable scenarios. It's about risk, right? Which is unknown. Security is not usually a revenue enabler. It's usually absolutely a revenue blocker for my customers but it's like doing the dishes.
You need people.
Changing the oil on your car, you gotta do it.
When it's something you don't wanna do, but you know, it's so critically important what is the tendency? The tendency is to find someone who can take it off your plate.
Who can I give this to? So you'll give it to a consulting firm or software that will automate everything so you don't have to do anything.
It's an easy button.
If you do that, I think, like, like I always say, you get the mediocre result that you deserve. If you abidcate something, you need to have a really good idea of what it looks like.
I think in the podcast, you referenced, I was talking about the book Becoming Steve Jobs and there's that little nugget in there that talks about why was he so good at delegating. Steve was really clear on where he was going. He was a visionary, but he was also able to describe what success look like to the awesome person he was asking.
And so doing this really empowers people. It allows you to say, okay, I really trust this person and I know that they're much better than me at this thing but I have a good idea of what success looks like. So now I can just basically watch it happen.
Business is hard.
You need help. You need people.
To abdicate something, you have to know things will just go bad.
I love what you said about making sure that you spell out what success looks like. It sets the expectation for them rather than just letting them decide how to do it. You have to set the tone.
Boring is so good. Painful, so good. Stinks, so good.
What advice would you give to anyone who's out there wanting to start a business? Words of Wisdom from Kenny Scott, come on.
The advice I give to people is to go get a job and experience pain.
When you're young, like in college or you're just in high school, the only pain you know about is just what's in front of you. But when you go get a job, you're going to immediately run into friction. Write down the areas of friction you encounter. If you can solve enough pain and there's a big enough market, then you have a really awesome opportunity but you have to be willing to solve it.
It's not for everybody, but entrepreneurs that are successful really solve for pain points in big markets. When something sucks really bad, it should get you really excited because that's where the opportunity is.
Ooh, I love that. People have this idea that it's gotta be a really cool, hip problem to solve, right?
But that's not always the case. Some of the biggest problems are ones that nobody pays attention to because they're not cool, like security compliance.
Yeah. Everybody avoids me in the lunchroom. Uh oh,, there's Kenny.
Sometimes it’s the problem in front of you, the most boring idea of all that really needs to be solved.
That's right. In fact, one of the first things Tyler said to me was, “Kenny, this seems like a super boring business. I'm in.” Tyler had a lot of experience launching startups. He's done like 19 or so, he knows which ones succeed and which ones don't.
Boring is so good. Painful, so good. Stinks, so good. These are the keywords.
Things that suck. Those are the key.
I love it.
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Kenny Scott is a seasoned startup founder with 16 years of experience. His impressive career also includes consulting services to major corporations such as Adobe, Google, and Pricewaterhousecoopers. Today, Kenny and Tyler Stevens, co-founders of Paramify, are leading the charge in empowering organizations to efficiently build and maintain their enterprise security programs.
Despite his busy professional life, Kenny prioritizes his role as a devoted husband and father to his five children. He enjoys spending time with his family and indulging in his passion for surfing, even though he lives in Utah.