From $8.3B to $150-200M: The Stunning Collapse of Cybersecurity Unicorn Lacework

6 mn read

In the fast-paced, high-stakes world of tech startups, success stories often dominate the headlines. However, the tale of cybersecurity startup Lacework serves as a stark reminder that even the most promising companies can experience a dramatic fall from grace. In just 2.5 years, Lacework has seen its valuation plummet from a staggering $8.3 billion to a mere $150-200 million, leaving industry experts and observers scratching their heads. As rumors circulate about a potential acquisition by fellow cybersecurity unicorn Wiz, it’s worth examining the factors that led to Lacework’s stunning collapse and the lessons that can be learned from its rise and fall.

The Founders

Mike Speiser

Lacework’s story begins in 2015 when venture capitalist Mike Speiser teamed up with Indian entrepreneurs Sanjay Kalra and Vikram Kapoor to launch the cloud security startup. Speiser, a well-known figure in the tech world, brought a wealth of experience to the table. Ranked 13th on Forbes’ Midas List in 2022, Speiser had previously served as the CEO of Snowflake from 2012 to 2014 and was a managing partner at Sutter Hill Ventures. His track record of success and keen eye for promising startups lent credibility to Lacework’s mission and helped attract early investors.

Sanjay Kalra

Sanjay Kalra, one of Lacework’s co-founders, served as the company’s Chief Strategy Officer in the early years. His strategic vision and expertise in the cybersecurity space were instrumental in shaping Lacework’s direction and growth. However, in 2019, Kalra made the decision to step away from his role at Lacework to launch another cybersecurity startup, which he successfully sold in 2022. Despite his departure, Kalra’s contributions during the company’s formative years played a significant role in establishing Lacework as a player to watch in the cloud security market.

Vikram Kapoor

Vikram Kapoor, the third co-founder of Lacework, has remained with the company since its inception, serving as its Chief Technology Officer (CTO). Kapoor’s technical expertise and leadership have been crucial in developing and refining Lacework’s cloud security solutions. As the company navigated the challenges of rapid growth and market shifts, Kapoor’s steady presence in the CTO role provided a sense of continuity and stability within the organization.

The Rise

Lacework’s early years were marked by impressive growth and a string of successful funding rounds. The company’s mission to protect cloud services resonated with investors and customers alike, as businesses increasingly shifted their operations to the cloud. In its first four years, Lacework raised an impressive $74 million across three funding rounds, with Sutter Hill Ventures leading the charge as the primary investor.

However, it was the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 that truly propelled Lacework to new heights. As companies around the world rapidly adopted remote work policies and accelerated their digital transformations, the demand for robust cloud security solutions skyrocketed. Lacework found itself perfectly positioned to capitalize on this trend, and the company’s growth trajectory began to look increasingly promising.

The $525 Million Round

In January 2021, Lacework made headlines when it announced a massive $525 million funding round. The round attracted a host of big-name investors, including Coatue, Snowflake Ventures, and Tiger Global, who were eager to get in on the action. Speiser, ever the optimist, touted Lacework as the most important and promising project in his fund’s portfolio. He cited the company’s impressive 300% increase in revenue and drew comparisons to the success of Snowflake, which had recently gone public to great fanfare. The $525 million injection of capital seemed to validate Lacework’s approach and positioned the company for even greater success in the months and years to come.

The $1.3 Billion Round

Less than a year after its blockbuster $525 million funding round, Lacework once again made waves with an even more staggering achievement. In November 2021, the company announced that it had raised $1.3 billion at an eye-popping $8.3 billion valuation. The round brought Lacework’s total funding to over $1.8 billion in just one year, a testament to the company’s incredible momentum and the confidence of its investors.

New investors like Morgan Stanley and General Catalyst eagerly joined the fray, betting big on Lacework’s potential to dominate the cloud security market. The company’s leadership team was understandably bullish, pointing to the tripling of revenue year-over-year and a 3.5x increase in new customers as evidence of Lacework’s unstoppable growth. It seemed that nothing could stand in the way of Lacework’s ascent to the top of the cybersecurity industry.

The Fall

Despite the incredible highs of 2021, Lacework’s fairy tale was about to take a dark turn. The company’s rapid growth and sky-high valuation masked underlying issues that would soon come to the surface, leading to a series of setbacks and ultimately, a stunning collapse.

Layoffs and Leadership Changes

The first signs of trouble emerged in May 2022, when Lacework announced that it would be laying off 20% of its workforce. The company cited “seismic shifts” in the financial markets and the need to make changes to ensure long-term success as the primary reasons for the layoffs. However, the move came as a shock to many, given Lacework’s recent funding successes and the apparent strength of its business.

Upon closer examination, it became clear that Lacework’s rapid expansion had come at a cost. The company had grown from just 92 employees in early 2020 to a staggering 1,174 at the time of the layoffs – a hiring spree fueled by the $1.8 billion in funding it had raised. While growth is often seen as a positive sign in the startup world, Lacework’s case highlighted the dangers of prioritizing headcount over sustainable business practices.

The layoffs were just the beginning of Lacework’s troubles. In the months that followed, the company experienced a series of high-profile leadership departures. Andy Byron, Lacework’s President and Chief Revenue Officer, and a key figure in the company’s success, announced his departure. The loss of Byron, who had played a crucial role in driving Lacework’s sales and revenue growth, was a significant blow to the organization.

In an effort to steady the ship, Lacework appointed David Hatfield, who had joined the company in 2021, and Jay Parikh, a former Facebook (now Meta) executive, as co-CEOs. The move was intended to provide stability and direction during a tumultuous time, but the arrangement proved short-lived. In October 2022, just months after taking on the co-CEO role, Hatfield abruptly left the company. Parikh, now the sole CEO, stated that it was time to unite the company under a single leader, but the damage had been done. The revolving door of leadership and the lack of a clear, consistent vision had taken its toll on Lacework’s once-promising future.

The Aftermath

As Lacework’s valuation plummeted and whispers of a potential acquisition by Wiz began to circulate, industry experts and observers were left to ponder what had gone wrong. How could a company that had raised over $1.8 billion and achieved a valuation of $8.3 billion in such a short time find itself in such dire straits?

Wiz Team Photo Avishag Shaar Yashuv

Some pointed to Lacework’s rapid expansion and hiring practices as a key factor in its downfall. The company had prioritized growth at all costs, without fully considering the long-term implications of such an approach. Others cited the increasingly competitive landscape of the cybersecurity industry, with new players emerging and established giants like Palo Alto Networks and CrowdStrike vying for market share. Lacework, despite its early promise and significant funding, may have simply been outpaced and outmaneuvered by its rivals.

Regardless of the specific reasons behind Lacework’s collapse, its story serves as a cautionary tale for the tech startup world. The allure of rapid growth, sky-high valuations, and seemingly endless funding can be intoxicating, but it can also lead companies down a path of unsustainable practices and misplaced priorities. Lacework’s journey from unicorn darling to acquisition target is a stark reminder that even the most promising startups are not immune to the risks and challenges of the industry.

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As the dust settles on Lacework’s stunning rise and fall, the tech world will undoubtedly be watching closely to see what lessons can be learned from its experience. For aspiring entrepreneurs and established players alike, the story of Lacework is a powerful reminder of the importance of building a strong foundation, maintaining a clear vision, and prioritizing sustainable growth over short-term gains. Only by heeding these lessons can the next generation of startups hope to avoid the pitfalls that led to Lacework’s demise and instead chart a course towards long-term success in the ever-evolving landscape of the tech industry.

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Pavel Afonin
PAVEL AFONIN COO Zerocoder https://www.linkedin.com/in/pavel-afonin-075050215/ We are adding millions of USD in value in your business pipeline!

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