First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Marc Mackenbach: Thank you for asking. We’re doing pretty well. Of course, we’re in a lockdown, and everyone is working from home. But overall, our business is doing well.
I visit my grandmothers more often in their retirement homes, and I call them once a week. I have noticed that they really appreciate it when I call!
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded SecretHub?
Marc Mackenbach: The idea of starting the company came to our mind in 2016 while at the TU Delft University library. Initially, we were building an end-to-end encrypted Dropbox. To keep the lights on, we did a couple of custom security gigs for government institutions. As we were doing those, we ran into the same problem repeatedly, which is: how do you securely manage all the passwords and API keys your software relies on?
We figured that we had already built the underlying technology for a tool that could solve this problem, but it was currently geared at a more generic use case of sharing files. So we adapted it and made it extremely good at managing passwords, keys and making it easy for software developers to load them into applications.
Fortunately, our take on this problem was well received by the developer community. We’ve seen an increase in demand for the simple but secure secrets management tool in the last 2 years, especially during the pandemic. We’re currently with about 15 people on the team, and it’s going great!
How does SecretHub innovate?
Marc Mackenbach: After running into the secrets management problem ourselves repeatedly, we truly understand the pains of developers and security teams, and we know what a good solution should look like.
We’ve narrowed it down to these three values: simplicity (not just for the most senior staff), being a universal solution that works for every technology stack and the entire stack, and last but not least: security.
So with every new feature we build, we hold ourselves to these principles. Is it still easy to use? Does the feature make SecretHub a more universal solution? Are we not sacrificing security in any way? And if we notice during the building process that a proposal doesn’t pass this test, it won’t see a release until that’s resolved.
By doing this, we’ve built something that we’re proud of ourselves and that many organizations are using now to deliver safer software to production faster.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Marc Mackenbach: Obviously, we started to work from home. We do all meetings and brainstorms online. Luckily, we already had a bit of a remote culture in place before the pandemic, which made the working-from-home transition easier.
Plus, our product is entirely digital, and our customers are mostly tech companies. And with the entire industry now all of a sudden working remotely, governance of secrets becomes a more pressing issue than it was before.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Marc Mackenbach: We’re fortunate to have enough funding, and our prospects are promising. This puts us in a position where we can keep the team intact. In fact, we actually hired five people during the pandemic.
Speaking of lessons learned, there are many adjustments regarding the new way of working that I had to learn, especially when it comes to team spirit. During these uncertain times, we cannot be at the office anymore, which means many communication cues that used to be there are missing. You need to stay connected with everyone on the team. And you need to allocate time to do that!
The key ingredient here is to keep the morale high and to connect with the team as much as possible. Sometimes even the smallest things can make a big difference. For example, we still do our weekly Friday Drinks with some fun games or a pub quiz, but now virtually. Strictly non-work-related conversations, to cope with the fact that the usual water cooler chats are not happening anymore.
Another challenge that I found to keep the team productive is to ensure that my team is healthy. To tackle this, I encourage them to do small things, such as opening their window to get some oxygen and giving tips on morning routines, etc. Lately, I’ve been doing short walks with each team member so we can catch up about work stuff, but in a light manner. It’s very nice to see each other again, and I feel the connection is restored.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety?
Marc Mackenbach: The well-being of my team, physically and mentally, is important to me. But you also have to remember about your own well-being. Because you can’t help others if you’re not healthy yourself or if your mind is not in the right place, I try to accept the situation as much as possible and to keep a lighthearted attitude as much as I can, even though we’re all locked in at home now.
I also encourage my team to be flexible with their working hours. By giving them some space to do their jobs at their own tempo, it turns out we’re increasing the team’s overall productivity.
Lastly, you need to give yourself a break. I found lately that meditating is very useful to keep myself calm and to increase my focus. I also mute my notifications after 9 PM and avoid interacting with my phone. I treat myself better by cooking and eating healthier food with high-quality ingredients. Now that we’re not commuting anymore, the lunch break becomes a little bit longer. So why not use that extra bit of time cooking something nice for yourself?
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Marc Mackenbach: Our main competitors would be HashiCorp Vault and the built-in secrets stores with other tools like cloud providers. On how to stay in the game? Being user-centric is key. We’re here to make people’s lives easier and to save engineering teams some precious time. So we focus a lot on the UX to make engineers happy, as they’ll be the ones actually using it, and they have to love it.
Marc Mackenbach: During crises like these, companies and leaders show their true faces. It’s up to leaders to take care of their teams. And it’s up to us young people to take care of the more vulnerable ones. So let’s be kind and understanding, give each other some space and connect with people. And also don’t forget to take care of yourself.