James Henderson

The rules of the game? Stay in the game

Just remember, the objective is not to win – the objective is to keep playing.

No clearly defined beginning or end exists, the players can be known or unknown and the rules are changeable. Except one rule… stay in the game.

The Infinite Game is a concept and approach to business originated by academic, James P. Carse – author of Finite and Infinite Games – and popularised by visionary thinker, Simon Sinek – author of The Infinite Game.

At the heart is an understanding that no winners or losers exist in an infinite game – there is only ahead and behind. In business, that creates boundless possibilities.

“Just hold on, always hold on,” advised Noel Allnutt, CEO of Sekuro.

Noel Allnutt (Sekuro)

Allnutt speaks with authority on this subject, having lived and breathed the infinite game for almost three years (and counting) as an internal player shaping company strategy and an external advocate challenging conventional thinking.

“I don’t try and look back too much, we have to consistently move forward,” he said, aligned with the game’s core principles of continued progression.

Looking back for the purpose of this interview however, Allnutt paused with a smile and recalled the path to the promised land of Sekuro.

A product of four combined companies – CXO Security, Naviro, Privasec and Solista – this was a business built with the mandate of redefining the cyber security market in Australia.

Since officially coming together in October 2021, the organisation has scaled at pace to more than double revenue and headcount. From $68 million to north of $150 million and from 90 employees to more than 200.

“All within two years,” Allnutt noted. “There’s not a lot I would change because any mistake just hardened our business. Those calluses and wounds have made us stronger.”

As demonstrated by Allnutt, an infinite mindset allows for long-term thinking, a refusal to be dictated by the clock or limited by pre-defined outcomes. Best summarised by Sinek, this spans:

  1. Just Cause
  2. Trusting Teams
  3. Worthy Rival
  4. Existential Flexibility
  5. Courage to Lead

Sekuro is still playing that game, both in business and in market.

Combining four companies, co-creating change

Before the mega-merger, Allnutt was co-founder and CEO of Solista – launched to disrupt the storage and back-up market in 2013. This was a business on the move, recognised as the 3rd fastest growing company in Australia by BRW Fast Starters, now known as Financial Review Fast Starters.

After reaching the 40-50 people mark, the Sydney-based start-up reached an inevitable crossroads – be acquired or scale organically.

“We had offers every week but we just had too much fire in our bellies,” Allnutt recalled. “We were motivated to achieve something bigger and it just so happened that the right founders were put in the right room at the right time.”

The rest, as they say, is history.

By conventional wisdom, most mergers are conducted with sizeable cash on the table. But in this instance, not a single dollar was transacted.

“No money, all founder-led,” Allnutt said. “Everyone brought their qualities and left their egos at the door. We all could have sold out at that point in time but we wanted to chase a purpose above and beyond our bank accounts.”

The financial reward comes as a by-product of exceptional work – not the first ambition.

But let’s play that back… four standalone companies – shaped by headstrong entrepreneurs with tried and trusted views on what success looks like – all joining forces in a ‘kum ba yah’ moment to advance the Australian cause?

“It had to be egoless, otherwise it would never have worked,” Allnutt acknowledged. “Honestly, that is difficult when you’ve been a founder because you’re used to basically doing whatever you want to do.”

So, how do you achieve that?

  • Build your brand
  • Build your service catalogue
  • Build your sales culture
  • Build your resilience
  • Build your competitive differentiation
  • Build your future

Build your brand

Sitting in a coffee shop outside a bustling Central Station in Sydney, Allnutt articulated the importance of identity… that crucial first step capable of swinging the ship either en-route or off-course.

  • What do we want to be?
  • What do we not want to be?

“That second question was crucial,” Allnutt said. “We didn’t want to be a ‘house of brands’, it was never our intention to be ‘a Sekuro company’ or divided in any manner.”

Referencing acquisitive companies in market, Allnutt said a concerted and immediate effort was made to move away from labels such as ‘a CyberCX company’ or ‘a Tesserent company’.

With a full appreciation of the horsepower required to integrate four businesses effectively, Allnutt acknowledged why the “house of brands” approach could be appealing – “but it’s not for us”.

The combined businesses launching Sekuro in October 2021

By defining the company as a collective brand without delay, the combined entity “ripped the band-aid off” and became Sekuro. Four company names consigned to the annals of cyber security history.

“This was incredibly important for the people in our company, that identity,” Allnutt confirmed. “We levelled that immediately and made everyone part of the same business – nobody was more involved or important than the other. We democratised the whole hierarchy.”

This was a process completed during the height of COVID-19 with the business bouncing in and out of lockdown periods while attempting to roll-out a unified brand strategy.

“When we came out of COVID-19, we got everyone together with a new office space and a new light above the door,” Allnutt said. “We shared our one strategy for the one business and told the team, ‘okay, this is it now’.”

And then, the cavalry arrived – leading influential figures who have done this before. Whether a CFO in Trent Jerome from SafetyCulture and AAPT or a CMO in Nick Flude from F5 Networks and Optus – now was the time to complement a high-performing base with leaders capable of scaling the organisation.

With Ian Buddery as Chair of the Board, the company’s executive leadership team extends to fellow co-founders Dan Fuller, Daniel Barratt, Romain Rallu, Prashant Haldankar and Karan Khosla. This is in addition to James Vercillo, Jeff Sheard and Shamane Tan.

“It was the harder way but it’s the only way you get buy-in,” Allnutt said. “We’ve had less than 3% voluntary turnover since the merger which is a phenomenal achievement.”

On reflection, Allnutt advocated the power of communication. Be transparent about the good, be transparent about the bad.

“You can always be better at telling the story so consistently tell it,” he advised. “It’s difficult because sometimes you’re creating the story as you’re telling it but bring everyone on that journey.”

Build your service catalogue

What helped smooth the process – in addition to an honourable lack of self-importance at executive level – was a complementary services portfolio. Aligned to the belief of “let’s do something better, together”, this protection puzzle came together at speed and scale.

“This was all complementary and designed to make a harmonious service catalogue supported by high-quality sales activity,” Allnutt added. “It’s important that we deliver meaningful outcomes and do so on a consistent basis.

“The consistent element is the quality of our sales activity and work while the meaning comes from what we have on the back of the truck. That’s our ethos.”

The combined entity incorporated the best of all businesses – chiefly the strong repertoire of technology vendors from Solista, wrapped up in professional services. Privasec and CXO Group as “standout leaders” in offensive security and Naviro as team augmentation specialists.

“It all made sense,” Allnutt explained. “We jumped on a whiteboard and visualised the service catalogue very quickly and then aligned our experts to deliver.

“But that was the problem, it looked great on a whiteboard. You just assume that because you have an end-to-end portfolio, customers want all of your offerings. That takes time.”

The assumption that any governance, risk and compliance (GRC) work in an account would naturally spawn a product opportunity, followed by a managed services contract, was sharp countered by market realities.

“You’ve got to build trust and get into the loop of when customers are buying,” Allnutt advised. “At the start some loved us for GRC but they had other partners doing the rest of the portfolio.”

Building trust is a long-game and since the merger, Sekuro has not only more than doubled revenue but also acquired 30% new customers.

“We’re now at the nirvana of having a portfolio sell into multiple customers,” Allnutt updated. “The right businesses came together and many CISOs and CIOs have since said, ‘that was a merger that made sense’ which is strong validation.”

Portfolio nirvana wasn’t achieved by good fortune however. In addition to trust, the blended business built an advisory board – housing executives from Macquarie, Tyro Payments, NASDAQ and AGL – to “bounce ideas” off the top decision makers in the country.

This was supported by a community approach to service catalogue creation. Don’t overthink this, just ask the market.

“The easy thing would have been to just mash everything together and think we’re amazing but we listened to the community and reacted accordingly,” Allnutt said. “Unless you’re offering end-to-end capabilities, you’re creating risk for your client rather than reducing it.

“That’s not to say the customer should blindly choose you for every part but you should at least have a lens on the bigger picture.”

The collated service catalogue spins up to large-scale enterprise roll-outs and scales down to mid-market through recurring revenue.

Enterprise-grade organisations require “meaningful project work” which is powered by a market-leading line up of cyber security vendors – chiefly CrowdStrike as the APJ Partner of the Year in 2023.

Notably, Sekuro increased footprint across every segment of the CrowdStrike business, exceeding its plan by more than 500% through the early adoption of Falcon Cloud Security.

“We’re all-in on CrowdStrike and very strong around their next-generation ecosystem,” Allnutt said. “We’re now at the size and scale in which we only care about being number one partner for our key strategic vendors.”

Sekuro crowned as CrowdStrike APJ Partner of the Year in 2023

The portfolio also extends to vendors such as Tenable, Zscaler Netskope, Okta, Mimecast and Abnormal Security, in addition to ransomware resilience players like Rubrik and Cohesity.

“If there’s a key attack vendor, then we either have the number one or the emerging solution in that space,” Allnutt outlined.

Meanwhile, mid-market businesses are seeking an all-hands partner to manage compliance on a monthly basis – essentially a managed service for consulting work, retainer-like in approach compared to a traditional managed security service provider (MSSP) offering.

“Just ensure compliance lights are always green, not amber,” Allnutt explained.

Build your sales culture

Prior to the merger, each company was “competing for a dollar” but not with the same service. Upon assessing key accounts, crossover was identified and tackled with transparency.

The process was simple. After opening up all accounts – and requesting complete honesty from all parties – two key questions were asked:

  • Who’s running this account the best?
  • Who’s got the deepest relationships?

“There were maybe a handful of accounts in which both sales reps were doing very well so we had an open conversation,” Allnutt outlined. “For the following six months, both drove the account before a second assessment. And it just naturally petered out and found a resolution.”

Throughout the process, culture was a critical concern. Culture from a commercial excellence standpoint but also dovetailed into excellence in service delivery culture.

“That’s the secret sauce,” Allnutt said. “Salespeople want to know that you actually have a strong sales culture but so do technical specialists – they want to know that you care about the technology and you care about consulting. You need people that live and breathe this stuff.”

The path to such “dynamic harmony” is not without challenge however.

“It wasn’t going to be for everyone and that’s okay,” Allnutt added. “Don’t lie to yourself and think that everyone is going to come on that journey because some people are just better aligned to boutique businesses. Yes, we kept that boutique feel but it was scaled – we took people on that journey.”

Despite merging the front of house and shop window from day one, the new-look company took longer to combine back-office operations, chiefly the consolidation of four customer relationship management (CRM) systems.

“You wouldn’t believe how much work goes into bringing CRMs together,” Allnutt acknowledged. “It’s a complete pain but huge credit to the people in our business who delivered that.

“That allowed me as a sales focused CEO to press ahead. We worked on the belief that, we’ll keep on selling with implied trust behind the sale – we hoped everyone was doing their stuff and they absolutely were.”

As outlined by Allnutt, the core business of Sekuro is centred around in-market consultants delivering “high quality work”.

“That is where the company smarts lie, through the effective execution of our consulting business,” he affirmed.

Build your resilience

As with any merger transaction, the bulk of the effort lies in the paperwork and Sekuro was no different.

Whether compiling the unified strategy document or building an end-to-end service catalogue, project management represented one of the “hardest parts” of the process. This was a classic case of building the engine while the plane is flying – speed was everything but not to the detriment of quality.

“You could argue that COVID-19 made that easier,” Allnutt qualified. “If you think about how much time we all had then working from home, we could get things done at pace. It was obviously an unhealthy amount of time but it allowed us to progress. Sometimes you’ve just got to roll your sleeves up and get on with it.”

Naturally, the cultural element wasn’t as straightforward without the ability to bring salespeople and consultants into one room but Allnutt credited his fellow co-founders and leaders for powering on and building resilience regardless.

This was a script-for-script merger – “it was on us so we just made it happen”.

Phase one of the deal involved bringing the businesses together and executing a co-created brand, followed by plans to launch an initial public offering (IPO) in the Australian market.

“We had a timescale for IPO and it’s amazing what fear can do in relation to getting stuff done,” recalled Allnutt, armed with a wry smile.

But then the technology market plummeted and the business held off, instead committing to becoming a “happy, healthy and profitable” private firm with the optionality of going public in the future.

“We did all the groundwork for IPO which was a blessing because it’s just good corporate governance,” Allnutt added.

Noel Allnutt (Sekuro) speaking at SekuroKon ’23 in Sydney

During the process, Allnutt learned to master the art of listening, enhanced by an ability to gauge when to make decisions methodically or quickly.

“Always listen,” he shared. “Take your time to make a decision and be considered in that process but keep a solid pace so you don’t slow down momentum.

“Know when to make decisions quickly with a narrow influence team or more broadly with a wider group. That’s key – knowing when to switch between the two.”

Build your competitive differentiation

Sekuro is mastering the art of navigating a top end of town market filled with Big Four players such as Deloitte, KPMG, EY and PwC – plus Accenture and roll-up merger firms like CyberCX.

While the competition is clearly defined and highly visible, Allnutt is meandering the business around and away from the predictable enterprise approach of selling cyber security.

“We have a boutique and bespoke outlook in the enterprise,” he said. “We’re big enough to play but small enough to care. The balance is finite.”

With customisation forever the Achilles’ heel of all global system integrators (GSI), Sekuro is setting up shop somewhere in-between. Leveraging unique IP, the company goes to market aligned to four core principles:

  • Clear: Don’t confuse, just articulate the outcome
  • Realistic: Challenge the status quo but don’t recommend ‘pipe dreams’
  • Beneficial: Customise the approach, don’t just follow market practice
  • Actionable: Trigger real action to drive change

“Customers could go with the Big Four but whatever they deliver to one bank, they’ll deliver the same to another bank,” Allnutt challenged. “Businesses need something systematic to themselves – it has to be bespoke and aligned to a strategy.”

Central to such efforts is The Infinite Game – a concept tailored for cyber security and designed to tackle a perennial problem facing organisations in Australia.

“The problem with cyber is that most businesses think there’s a beginning and an end,” Allnutt observed. “The rules of the game? Stay in the game. That’s the only goal and the only outcome.”

The traditional approach usually involves a standard three-year strategy – typical IT project work in nature.

  • Refresh cycle? Tick
  • Consulting work? Tick
  • ISO certification? Tick
  • Compliance test? Tick

“New threats emerge all of the time, as does new compliance,” Allnutt cautioned. “So if you’re trying to play a game that’s on a one, two or three-year cycle, you’re just kidding yourself.”

Upon interaction with the market, Allnutt reported a “refreshing” response from CISOs and CIOs forever challenged to invest more money and resources into cyber security.

But the ‘throw enough cash at the problem’ mantra is waning in the enterprise – instead, the mindset of a platform approach without a defined lifecycle is resonating. Examples of this in action include Canva, University of Wollongong and Charles Sturt University.

“It’s not about spending more money,” Allnutt clarified. “It’s about being realistic that working on a transactional basis will only perpetuate the problem. There’s no silver bullet here so we’re in the trenches as well, battling away.”

Removing the temptation to capture low-hanging fruit through selling point products, Sekuro is building an identity in complete contrast to the models of Salesforce and Facebook – titans of technology advocating a ‘run fast and break things’ philosophy.

“You can’t run fast when you’re constantly getting hit in the face,” Allnutt said. “Cyber is different in that you don’t want anything broken because you can’t innovate on uneven foundations.”

Build your future

As the ink dries and the dust settles on a whirlwind few years for Sekuro, Allnutt offered a healthy dose of perspective when quizzed on future plans – don’t forget to stop and smell the roses, sometimes.

“We’re actually enjoying the stability and foundation that we’ve built – never underestimate that,” he said. “Of course, growth is key but not growth at all costs.”

That translates into a commitment to expand the quality of work delivered through the quality of people in the company. This is evident by the creation of roles such as Chief of Staff (Alicia Valderrama) and CTO (Jason Trampevski), plus Director positions across all functions – assumed by young leaders who were consultants or salespeople from the legacy brands.

In short, people will be key to achieving organic growth for Sekuro in 2024 and beyond, both at home and overseas.

Locally, a new office in Adelaide has opened with Canberra set to follow while Brisbane and Perth continue to expand at pace. Also powering away is a fully integrated Singapore business – formerly Privasec Asia – and the opening of offices in the UK, Malaysia and Philippines.

“We’re confident of achieving growth organically,” Allnutt advised. “We’ve got the right leadership team to achieve that and the right momentum in market.”

In the infinite game, all Sekuro can do is keep playing.


Inform your opinion with executive guidance, in-depth analysis and business commentary.