Member Profile: Max Buchan, Co-founder, Valarian


From bootstrapped billion-dollar growth to building a secure communication solution that’s already raised over $11 million: A Conversation with GBxer Max Buchan

Max started his career in a multinational financial services organisation, helping the company reach over $2 billion in assets under management and achieve a public listing. This experience exposed Max to the challenges that companies operating in a highly-regulated environment face.

Chief amongst these challenges were the security and compliance issues associated with using popular business collaboration tools – such as Microsoft Teams and Whatsapp – to communicate with clients and colleagues across multiple jurisdictions. Max started Valarian to solve this problem and empower multinational organisations to use the platforms they already have in place without sacrificing privacy, regulatory compliance and user experience.

Valarian are on a mission to help enterprises ensure their communication tools are secure, compliant and efficient.


The beginning…

In 2017, fresh out of university, I became the first employee at an innovative fintech startup, CoinShares, reporting directly to the co-founder & CEO. Witnessing the rapid ascent of the company was truly transformative: we achieved over $50 million in revenue within 18 months and subsequently went public, all with zero external funding. 

This journey exposed me to the challenges of navigating the intricacies of a heavily regulated landscape, especially in the context of ensuring security and compliance when using business productivity tools for cross-border communication with clients and colleagues.

Our initial concept for Valarian (formerly “Worldr”) was to create a secure messenger solution addressing existing challenges in cross-border communication. Although numerous secure messaging platforms existed globally at the project’s outset, we soon realised they weren’t particularly effective because they were attempting to alter people’s behaviours. Even if you develop a flawless, highly compliant messaging tool, individuals will continue to default to familiar platforms like Slack, Microsoft Teams, or WhatsApp. Encouraging companies to transition from their established systems to something fresh out of development seemed nearly impossible.

So, we opted for a different approach. Instead of launching a new platform, we developed an essential compliance and data protection layer seamlessly integrating with organisations’ existing collaboration platforms. Enterprises can now ensure data security and compliance with global data sovereignty laws without compromising user experience.


Overcoming hurdles…

The greatest hurdle in our scaling journey has undeniably been the task of assembling a world-class team. The evolution of our mission, product and positioning have helped draw in exceptional talent from globally recognised tech giants, such as Palantir and Robinhood, including our COO Josh McLaughlin and CMO Noah Smith, both bringing invaluable expertise to the table.

The ongoing expansion of the team will continue to be a pivotal element in steering Valarian into its next phase of growth and wider reach. 


The milestones…

For me, the most significant milestone so far has been the discovery of Valarian’s genuine product-market fit, leading us to a place where our sales cycle is repeatable and scalable and our product effectively addresses our customers’ pain points. However, this didn’t happen overnight and was rather the result of an ongoing process of refinement and fine-tuning. Here are the key steps that helped us get where we are today:

  • Consistently honing our product messaging to resonate with our target audience.
  • Focusing on quantifiable metrics, such as the length of the sales cycle, enabled us to identify genuinely effective strategies.
  • Ensuring that our process and messaging resonated with diverse organisations across key industries and geographies.
  • Going through a cycle of iteration, tweaking, validation, and potential pivots from the initial thesis. 
  • Embracing change based on customer feedback.

Our recent rebrand and repositioning as Valarian was the crystallisation of this process. From a design standpoint, our new aesthetic embodies a crucial aspect of our product’s uniqueness: Valarian serves as a transparent, seamless layer of security and compliance over our clients’ existing infrastructure.


Looking forward…

Since Valarian’s early days, my role as CEO has undergone a significant transformation. The shift from establishing a small early team to now guiding a group of over 20 individuals represents a substantial leap. The current stage strikes a balance, feeling like the sweet spot where the organisation is compact enough for decisions to swiftly impact the entire team, yet still equipped with more resources to achieve our big goals.

Valarian is now entering a pivotal and thrilling phase, and I am confident that I’ll wake up in 3 years having built a fantastic company.


Advice for early-stage founders?

It’s important to get into it with the understanding that the role is dynamic and will evolve throughout the lifecycle of a business, with the early days often proving to be the most challenging. Taking an idea from zero to one is incredibly tough. As the founder & CEO, you will find yourself wearing numerous hats — handling marketing, sales, development, and more. 

As a founder, your primary task will be to persuade individuals who excel beyond your capabilities to join your team, assuming the roles and responsibilities you once managed. We’ve achieved significant success in this aspect, attracting talent from the likes of Palantir and Robinhood and infusing our business with invaluable experience from successful startups.

Your second crucial role as a founder will be fundraising. In the early stages, breaking into the venture scene feels like a challenging endeavour, with cold emails yielding little response. However, once you gain traction and capture the attention of influential funds, the landscape changes. Funds that were initially unresponsive now reach out, seeking conversations. While it never becomes effortless, securing that initial institutional round significantly eases the process of establishing connections with investors.


Sources of inspiration…

I don’t really read business books or listen to podcasts to get inspiration. My key source of insight comes from tapping into the expertise of others. I’ve benefitted hugely from those who are always at the other end of a phone call when needed — certain people who have built and run successful businesses themselves. Their advice can be very helpful for both gaining a macro perspective on running a business and addressing the intricate details of day-to-day operations. 


Words by Max Buchan

Introduction and edits by Chiara Benn