Meet Joni Klippert, Founder and CEO of StackHawk, Inc., a software company that makes it easy for developers to find and fix application security bugs. Joni is a Colorado native and a CU Boulder alumna.
After graduating from CU Boulder in December 2004, she worked for a company called Work Options Group that managed a network of childcare centers and in-home care agencies, providing supplemental child and home care for their customer’s workforce. Work Options Group eventually grew to compete with on-site childcare centers, and the business became the target of an acquisition. Joni was able to work directly for the CEO, who she described as a “force of nature.” As the business went through the process of acquisition she quickly “caught a bug” for business M&A and decided to pursue her MBA career.
Joni enrolled in the Leeds School of Business MBA program in 2008. She prioritized taking entrepreneurial finance and other classes to grow her knowledge in mergers and acquisitions with startups and other companies. She also connected with The Foundry Group, a venture capitalist group in Boulder and was beginning to see her future in tech.
During her time in the MBA program, a group of students reintroduced the Deming Center Venture Fund, a small seed fund where they could place small investments into entrepreneurs in the Boulder community to fund their startups. Joni was a part of a class involved in doing diligence, listening to pitches from the entrepreneurs, and discussing the merits of their idea or business.
This gave Joni insight into a lot of different entrepreneurs in the Boulder ecosystem and different tech companies that were emerging. She stressed the importance of involving herself in community activities such as the Boulder Open Coffee Club. Immersing herself in an open community where they could discuss the latest in tech, job openings, etc. gave her valuable insight!
Before starting her own company, Joni joined a highly technical team at Standing Cloud where she eventually became Head of Customer Development. She loved the challenge of learning about cloud applications and other technology-based systems. She was also a VP of Product at VictorOps, Inc. from the early stages of bringing the product to market, through acquisition by Splunk in 2018. Eventually, she decided to shift into creating her own company.
In doing a lot of research on automating application security and contacting a lot of CTOs, VPs of engineering, and others that could help her learn, Joni and her co-founder, Scott Gerlach, used their decades of combined experience to create StackHawk, a company designed to help find and fix application security bugs before they even hit production.
Advice to Current Students
Joni shared three pieces of advice:
“1. I think there's a lot of stress around, “Should I follow my dreams? Should I follow my passion?” But I think it's more important to work with people that inspire you. Take a job where you get paid to do something that you have no business getting paid to do, which means learning. You will learn so much about yourself and what value you bring to the world. Honing your skill set and experimenting the correct way will help you make the biggest impact.
2. There’s always a temptation to look for jobs and just say, “I have an MBA, I can do anything!” but researching and networking to solve a very specific problem for that person or company, and showing them what you can do, is much more effective.
3. Send thoughtful follow-ups. Find a way to be of service or help. Follow-ups can go so far and will help tremendously as you look for jobs.”