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Managing Your Roadmap in Times of Crisis

Every technology company in the world is now dealing with the impacts of coronavirus. The importance of focus and reaffirming the core value you deliver is now incredibly critical. At HUMAN, we took a few immediate steps to react to coronavirus and made some changes to our product, R&D, marketing and services efforts to adapt to the new reality. This blog covers the steps we took, the different stakeholders in each step, and what we have done and are still doing to make sure that HUMAN continues to develop the best possible application security products.

During this time, it is also critical to maintain our forward momentum and innovation. We are aiming to continue pushing forward quickly while also reprioritizing to better align with what our customers need, and which segments of the market are likely to maintain activity in the face of this crisis. I hope this blog will be helpful for other product teams and serve as guidance as they go through the same challenges we face.

Step One: Keep Your Customers Happy

During hectic times, customers are less focused on the richness of your roadmap, and care much more about the core value your product provides. They are also much more attuned to immediate pains and concerns, and have less interest in trying new things or making big changes. You should anticipate, as well, that acquiring new customers may turn out to be much harder as the crisis evolves - so preventing churn is critical.

Key stakeholders involved: Executive Management, Product, R&D, Services

Main objectives: Identifying the main immediate pains, concerns, risks and potential challenges our customers experience due to the crisis and the immediate steps to address them

How does it translate to actual steps?

We identified the key product lines and features that would highlight our value to existing customers. We also looked at which features and product areas could drive larger business impact. Prior to the Coronavirus pandemic, our efforts were directed towards a combination of immediate and longer term items. When Coronavirus struck we narrowed this scope down to focus on more immediate needs and our most important product lines, and built on our capabilities around our existing strengths.

As e-commerce volumes continued to increase, we knew that the need for protection against and mitigation of account takeover, credential stuffing, carding, and Magecart-driven PII theft would also increase. Likewise, we were seeing increases in web content scraping as shoppers jammed the web looking to buy and retailers sought better intelligence on what their competitors actually had in stock.

Step Two: Focus On Core Value

As stated above, it is always a good practice to focus on your core value and slowly evolve your products to extend the value organically and in a healthy way. Crisis times give you no choice other than to go back to the basics: who you are as a company and what value you and your products provide to your customers.

Key stakeholders involved: Executive Management, Product, R&D, Services, Sales

Main objectives: Map and prioritize the KPIs and features your customers mainly rely on, and the main reasons your customers are using your products

How does it translate to actual steps?

We then restacked our list of KPIs and features based on which features and focus areas would drive the most immediate core value to our customers. Features that we judged to be most immediate were prioritized for the fastest delivery. This meant fast-tracking product features to help with emergent problems like Magecart attacks and growing sophistication in bot attacks on e-commerce. It also meant making enhancements to our existing features - like upgrading algorithms and pattern-matching engines to even further reduce the risk of false positives. This is something we knew would help every digital business improve conversions and not turn away good customers.

We also deprioritized work on new products or new feature launches that weren’t deemed critical or capable of driving immediate customer value. We realized that now was not the time to introduce new things into the market, and we knew there would be a time to restart these efforts down the road. In addition, we recognized that big launches would probably be hard to land and overly expensive during a time of uncertainty when many companies are conserving cash.

Even as we put new products and big feature launches for new verticals on hold for the near term, we continued to listen carefully to the market to identify emerging customer needs and to maintain our ability to quickly launch those products as we see real signs of demand. This flexibility can ensure that we will not miss any big opportunities or market needs that appear. It also allows us to execute quick turn-arounds, keeping agility and flexibility in our plans.

Step Three: Evaluate and Assess the Market

The first thing we did was evaluate the market and verticals in light of the new reality, and how they responded, and map them to identify the following:

  1. General traffic and threat trends and effects of the crisis
  2. Verticals impacted by the crisis that we needed to shift marketing efforts towards
  3. New and existing use-cases and verticals we should focus on to highlight our core value
  4. Areas that will suffer immediately but should rebound quickly as this crisis passes

Key stakeholders involved: Executive Management, Product, Finance, Marketing, Sales

Main objectives: Identifying the main immediate changes and shifts in the market as a result of the crisis that can affect your core verticals or immediate value

How does it translate to actual steps?

In a thorough market analysis involving all stakeholders, we reevaluated our positioning and original plans for 2020. We came up with an immediate short and mid-term go-to-market pivot. This pivot took some time to properly form and define. It was also done in parallel with continuing the steps required to make sure PerimeterX addressed challenges arising from this crisis across the board.

We targeted verticals showing significant usage increases for enhanced marketing and lead-generation campaigns. We had observed increased security risks in specific verticals, with the rise in account takeover (ATO) attacks and scammers trying to take advantage of the record high traffic volumes. In the marketing campaigns and lead-gen efforts, we emphasized our best-in-class platform and our long experience in solving these types of problems for e-commerce companies.

At the same time, our product team put a priority on features and capabilities that would be useful to e-commerce companies.

The e-commerce vertical, such as the food delivery segment for example, is enjoying a massive usage boom with sales and traffic volumes soaring as more people shop online. This means that e-commerce website operators’ need for security is actually increasing as more cybercriminals refocused their own efforts to follow the money. Failing to address these problems could translate into a diminished customer experience and damaging financial losses as operations, security and customer support teams would be forced to respond to attacks. This would also reduce staff time available to help the company deal with unprecedented traffic and support requests from real customers.

Step Four: Boost Operational Efficiencies

Crisis times tend to be chaotic in nature. It is almost impossible to determine how things will turn out in the short and mid-term, let alone the longer term. Using these times to improve operational efficiency and learn how to do more with less is key. This will assist your company to be ready and prepared for what may come and your products to be set up to run smoothly, no matter what.

Using a clear decision map of leading indicators and required steps (such as budget shifts, operational cost cuts, or activity changes in certain markets) and relying on models related to your main target markets will increase your readiness for any turn of events.

Key stakeholders involved: Executive Management, Finance, Product, R&D, Services

Main objectives: Identifying key areas for operational efficiency boosts and generating a clear plan to follow based on leading indicators in your business and in the market

How does it translate to actual steps?

We looked at how we could improve our infrastructure to reduce costs while improving resiliency. And we looked at whether we could improve the product in ways that would allow us to train our machine learning systems with less data and store or move less data in our product architecture. This would allow us to deliver value to customers and improve our performance more quickly while saving on infrastructure, transport, storage costs and manual efforts across the board.

It is important to note that we looked for operational efficiencies that would be useful during normal times, as well as during the crisis itself, expediting their value during the crisis.

Alongside the above efforts, finance and executive management prepared clear budgetary plans that took into account a few alternative futures. These plans helped us align our priorities and efforts for the future, keeping us on track as this crisis evolves. Experienced navigation experts know that when planning a journey, one must be ready with more than one plan. More often than not, this is the key to making it through. In planning a technology company’s navigation through challenging waters, the same is true. It is essential to have thought through plans and communicated those plans effectively to the team so they can understand the journey and the choices they will need to make.

Step Five: Stay Engaged and Plan for the Rebound

Race car drivers are intimately familiar with the importance of the line they take going into a curve. The line is important partly so that you don’t crash or spin out of control, but also because it determines your trajectory and speed when you come out of the curve. Maintaining the right line requires keeping the correct speed, actively slowing down sometimes and pressing the gas pedal at other times.

To make sure we had a good line out of the curve, we drafted a plan to position ourselves strongly for the inevitable recovery. With this plan, we would pivot towards more growth opportunities, new verticals, new product avenues and other targets that should expand our sales and product footprint. We want to keep one eye on the future because getting ahead of the curve in application security is crucial to building innovations and products that match market demand at the right time. This is a key ingredient for driving strong adoption.

We are mindful of the gravity of the current situation but also optimistic that this pandemic reinforces trends that work in our favor over the long-haul: wider adoption of online life. And we look forward to continuing to play a key role in making online life safer and more secure for everyone.