Image: Laika co-founders Sam Li (left), Eva Pittas (middle), Austin Ogilvie (right)
Austin Ogilvie, co-founder and co-CEO of Laika, a unified compliance platform that automates workflows for integrated audits, infosec monitoring, and vendor due diligence in a single, collaborative space, oversees the company’s growth and product engines. Laika was founded by Austin and Sam Li, both two-time founders and Y Combinator alumni, and industry veteran Eva Pittas, who oversaw global risk and compliance functions at Citigroup for 20 years. Before Laika, Austin was CEO of Yhat, a data science company acquired by Alteryx (NYSE: AYX) in 2017.
What does “entrepreneurship” mean to you?
Austin Ogilvie: Entrepreneurship is the journey to create something new and useful in the world. A journey whose path is simultaneously determined and disciplined, yet exploratory and imaginative.
How did your company come to be?
AO: While grabbing coffee with our co-founder, Sam Li, he told me a story about how much pain and cost his old company incurred while trying to figure out the complexities of enterprise compliance. My “a-ha” moment was realizing that he could’ve easily been telling a story from my own prior startup experience. Realizing that compliance was a universal problem in startups really began then.
We were fortunate enough to be introduced to our third co-founder, Eva Pittas, who had decades of experience in enterprise compliance, and Laika was born.
How has your business changed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic?
AO: Laika was lucky. We had already invested in building a remote-first team before the pandemic.
My head of engineering, Ronald, and I have worked together for ~13 years. He’s Costa Rican and lives outside of San Jose. When he joined the team, we knew from day #1 that we would be building our engineering team largely in LATAM.
When the pandemic hit, we had established norms and traditions (culture of great written documentation, excellent video/audio setups, etc.) on the team that helped us adapt.
What is your proudest and darkest moment so far?
AO: Announcing Laika Plus, our integrated IT audit as-a-service solution, to the world definitely ranks among my very proudest moments. It took well over a year to design and build the technology and establish the organizational capacity to be able to deliver SOC 2 audits backed by technology.
The level of doubt brought about by COVID was among the low points for me. It was impossible to know at the time just what the impact would be on the team, our customers, and ultimately the business. Ambiguity is what startups are all about, but the pandemic really gave me a feeling of helplessness that was one-of-a-kind.
How is your company changing the landscape?
AO: We are finally changing the way businesses build and demonstrate compliance from a sustainable and holistic perspective. As compliance regulations increase, businesses are forced to endure painful, expensive, and manual processes to land deals with enterprises and pass IT audits. Laika is the only solution in the market that offers expert-driven, customizable compliance programs and cutting-edge IT audits powered by technology.
What do you wish you knew when you started? Is there anything you would do differently?
AO: Invest more time in building the right team than on anything else. Getting the right people around the table is the most important thing. By focusing on finding the right people, we’ve grown our team to 150 employees and can proudly say only 3 employees have chosen to pursue other opportunities in the past 1.5 years.
What advice/credo do you live by as you grow the business / what is your professional and personal mission statement?
AO: I can’t promise it’ll be easy. But it’ll be worth it.
Where do you find inspiration when faced with challenges?
AO: Time away from the keyboard is important, particularly time outside the city to clear your mind.
What does “success” look like for you? What do you think will help you achieve it?
AO: Build the largest central repository of verifiable compliance assets in the world.
Has personal or professional “success” changed for you since the COVID-19 pandemic?
AO: Laika’s mission is to help vendors and enterprise customers build trust through verifiable compliance. For example, when a big bank rolls out a new software product to its employees, Laika can help the bank verify the new vendor’s security measures adequately meet the bank’s requirements.
The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the shift from traditional in-person work to remote-first work. This means that more meetings are moving out of the conference room and onto Zoom and other platforms. This surge in demand for more SaaS tools to support remote-first work means our work at Laika is even more urgent than before.
What’s it like to work alone or with your partners? What advice do you have for fellow entrepreneurs about building and leading teams?
AO: Founding a company is hard work, and often can be lonely work. Excellent business partners that you can truly rely on is essential. My advice to anyone considering starting a new company is to find one or two co-founders who really understand you.
Great co-founders should be able to effectively debate one another and change one another’s minds. The right co-founders will be ready to make the same level of commitment as you are: no part-timers.
Choosing business partners is one of the most significant decisions you’ll make in your startup career, so finding the right balance of grit, determination, competitiveness, kindness, compassion, and all the rest is key.
Have you experienced mentorship in your career? Do you feel it was easily available to you?
AO: I am a huge believer in the power of networks and mentorship. Rarely are problems in business or technology truly unique.
It’s been my overwhelming experience that talking to other CEOs/founders leads to the best way around or over an obstacle or at a minimum help to expose the most salient variables of the situation to make creating your own solution more clear.
Who are the people who have mentored or influenced you in your life or career? How has their influence changed the trajectory of your entrepreneurial journey?
AO: Noah Breslow was CEO at OnDeck Capital when I first started my career in tech and currently a partner at Bain Capital Ventures. He has this magical ability to understand a problem and all of its moving parts seemingly instantly, and I attribute my commitment to systematic measurement and experimentation to his influence.
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