Just two years out of the gate, SDVOSB Aquia, focused on making a measurable impact with its partners, is growing and winning with a vision to bring talent from the public and private sector, including Silicon Valley commercial tech, to the nation’s most challenging problems. Here we speak with CEO David Maskeroni to learn their recipe for success.

Vision for a Different Kind of Government Contractor

The three founders of Aquia, David Maskeroni, John Sasser, and Chris Hughes, each bring to the table a distinct perspective gained from both government and industry work experience, and from that, a shared goal to create a company based on what they had taken away from experiences across each; a company in which people from commercial tech would be incentivized to support government missions.

There were already small pockets of disruption — innovators who were heads down taking on the herculean task of moving the needle for the sake of national security. Aquia set out to find, recruit, and retain those innovators. “We were determined to bring our nation’s top talent to our government’s toughest cybersecurity challenges, and to prove that we can do better for both our people and our government — ‘or’ has no place in that equation.”

A People-First Business Model

“We share a DNA with other digital services companies that see services as implying people, not products. That means we ensure our people are taken care of. Coming from CMS, I wanted healthcare to be at the forefront so, from day one, 100 percent employer-sponsored healthcare was built into our financial model. We also wanted to ensure people felt they were part of and driving the company’s success, so a significant portion of the company has been designated as an employee stock option pool.”

A professional development program ensures people have the opportunity to continually upskill and build their own resumes. “No one will be loyal to one company forever. Some will move on when their values or mission no longer align with the company, or when there is an opportunity for greater growth elsewhere. At the end of the day, we want people to move on better than when they came to us. We see this as a stop on their journey where they can upskill while doing work that matters.”

To that end, the company offers a bounty-based exam program to remove barriers, ensuring people feel they can take on challenging exams to upskill without fear of failing. Aquia then pays them the exam cost — plus a bounty when they pass it — in addition to time off.

Guided by a leadership structure that is driven by mentors rather than managers, personal and professional development is a key component of the company’s culture — so much so that it is tied to performance management. “There are three dimensions to growth that we measure within the professional development framework. The first and most important to us is how did you prioritize your growth in both personal and professional development? Second to that is how did you provide service to your customer and, the last dimension, how did you provide service to the company? Focusing on these priorities in this order ensures that the people of Aquia are at the center of what we do.”

Scaling Company Culture

Hitting milestones it had anticipated for year three, Aquia has made a concerted effort to ensure its culture remains intact as it grows, prioritizing the employee experience and promoting from within whenever possible. “We created a hiring team comprised of people passionate across different practice areas that is responsible for ensuring the people we hire will support the culture and work environment that already exists. It’s because of the efforts of this network of like-minded individuals that we can continue to grow a team of people with shared values and goals.”

Speaking with a recent hire who had honest conversations with many before coming on board, words such as collaboration, kindness, willingness to help, genuine respect, and celebrating the successes of others came as common themes throughout. “A strong sense of community has come through for me, even in the interview process,” said Ashling Knight, Director of Communications. “It’s inspiring to work alongside people who are so talented and yet so humble. To have an entire team of people like that is truly extraordinary — I’m honored to be a part of it.”

From the very beginning, the founders wanted to ensure a culture that cared about the people around them, that was focused on being humans and treating each other with respect and empathy.

The fact that there are three unique but complimentary voices on the founding team has benefited the company in other ways as well, ensuring decisions that are made are more centric than if they had been made by any one person.

The founders have also consciously committed to a goal of transparency and trust. “These are core tenants of who John, Chris, and I are as people. Transparency is easy when it is the right thing to do.”

A Fully Remote Workforce

As a company born from the post-pandemic workforce, Aquia prides itself on being able to maintain a culture of connected, collaborative humans despite their geographic locations. “We are all responsible individuals and we operate from that place of empathy and trust from day one. When bringing together people who are mission-oriented and understand what we are trying to accomplish, it just clicks. We want everyone to do their best work here, and feel that when they close their laptop at the end of the day, they know that they did something for the greater good.”

Activities to ensure the team stays connected include monthly all-hands meetings, game night happy hours, lunch and learn sessions (where the team is currently experimenting with actually eating virtually together), and company-wide offsites where they all come together. “Last fall, our offsite included a scavenger hunt where the winning team was each given the opportunity to contribute to the charity of their choice. Of course, they also got bragging rights and medals, because what’s a competition without knowing who won?”

Partnering With Like-Minded Organizations

Aquia is focused on partnering with other companies that also have a “people-first” philosophy and a passion for transformative work. Earlier this year, it joined the Digital Services Coalition, a collection of companies focused on making the government better through digital change.

In its day-to-day supporting clients like the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the team aims to also serve as a trusted advisor. “As a cybersecurity-focused company, it is easy for us to embed into a lot of teams and to add value from day one. We go into most business development calls from that view — how can we help you, how can we be a value add to your mission, how can we leverage our expertise to move the needle even further?”

Giving Back

Beyond supporting and developing its internal team, Aquia recently launched Aquia Accelerator, a cybersecurity training program focused on supporting underserved communities and individuals looking to make a career transition into the cybersecurity industry.

“It can be very hard for people to break into the field but it is easier to learn the skills when you have the right tools and a support structure looking out for your best interests. The Accelerator program is focused on individuals who are mid-career or are from underserved populations looking for a new start. It’s an opportunity to bridge the gap between talented people and the industry-wide need for cyber experts, especially as the threat landscape continues to evolve.”

About Aquia

Aquia Inc. is a developer-centric company passionate about the intersection of security and velocity. We maintain a strong bias towards transformational work that disrupts the status quo — delivering elegant, modern solutions to cutting-edge cyber security problems. Our team has decades of experience driving transformational change across the public sector, enterprise businesses, and top-tier technology companies, empowering innovators to stay at the forefront of an ever-changing threat landscape. We value trust, accountability, transparency, diversity, and continuous learning; and we’ve built these tenants into the DNA of our company.

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