The End of the World as We Knew It
As we open new calendars to a fresh new page and optimistically turn from the ordeals of 2020 with hope for a better year in 2021, I am also closing out my second year at Ericom – a good time to look back, review, and consider what’s in store ahead.
Of course, I’d be hard pressed to find anyone who could’ve anticipated the way the 365 days of the first year of the 2020’s unfolded. The events impacted virtually everyone, worldwide, not only at a macro level, but at the community and personal level as well.
We entered 2020 with limited news about the emerging COVID-19 virus, which was initially reported primarily as a regional event that was perhaps a little more serious than the traditional flu. But by March, the sobering facts became clear, and life, work, the way we engage with one another, and just about everything else was massively disrupted.
New concerns and behaviors, along with a new vocabulary to describe them, became part of our daily lives: COVID-19, coronavirus, social distancing, masks, quarantine, six feet apart, lockdown, hand sanitizer, curfews and even toilet paper shortages became common themes in our daily lives. We began working remotely from home, often with Zoom sessions, and stopped almost all long-distance travel. While the change was initially a new and intriguing challenge, it rapidly evolved into the new normal. And many of us settled into an always-on/always-accessible routine that soon became a fatiguing daily grind – but which was, nonetheless, a slight inconvenience when compared to the high-stakes, high-stress and dangerous battles waged by courageous and dedicated healthcare workers.
Dining at a restaurant, working from the office, having a drink with a colleague after work, or visiting friends, parents or loved ones became fond memories. Politicians debated shutting down venues, unemployment spiked, small businesses folded, family traditions and holidays were put on hold or vastly downscaled. While an exact timeline is yet to be determined, there is hope that the COVID-19 vaccines which were delivered in record time, and are now being administered, could restore some degree of normalcy – such as it is – in 2021.
At Ericom, we chose to be cautious. We shut down our four offices early in 2020 and joined the growing roster of people remote working from home #WFH. We have since been living the life of our customers, using Ericom solutions to remain connected, productive and secure.
Of course, as if one dangerous outbreak wasn’t enough, the cybersecurity world experienced a series of sobering blows throughout the year. Ransomware and phishing attacks spiked, with cybercriminals showing no mercy by placing hospitals, vaccine research institutes, schools, and other critical service providers in their crosshairs. Topping it off, recent news that advanced persistent threats (APTs) delivered through supply chain attacks have circumvented security controls in numerous companies and governments, has sent shockwaves through the industry. The true impact of this event is unlikely to be fully grasped for years to come.
… And We Feel Fine?
As Mike Tyson famously said, “Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.” On most levels, 2020 was that punch. But a scan of the headlines on any given day also revealed inspiring examples of people coming together to care for each other and accomplish amazing things. The record-breaking timeline in which not one, but multiple effective vaccines for COVID-19 were delivered comes immediately to mind. But so many people, communities and companies overcame huge obstacles this year to accomplish remarkable personal and professional goals, as well. I’m proud to say that Ericom is a case in point.
As a company, Ericom has been significantly affected by the pandemic. Similar to many companies, limitations on our ability to engage directly with customers, partners and colleagues had an impact. Throughout the first half of 2020, as the world scrambled to grasp new realities and acclimate to an uncertain business climate, flat was the new growth, breakeven was the new burn, and cash, as always, remained king.
What made this period especially challenging for Ericom is that we have never taken institutional funding. The company is an organic, employee-owned enterprise, a responsible and adult company. We operate within the bounds of real budget consequences, and as a result, better than most in our field, we understand the discipline of staying lean, efficient and creative. And while the pandemic threw a spanner into our ambitious growth targets early in 2020, it was tolerable.
Like many in the rest of the world, Ericom hitched its wagon to Zoom to communicate, empowered the individuals in our workforce with the freedom and responsibility to balance between home and work life. We maintained personal connections through weekly CEO video updates, virtual happy hours, town halls, and #fun_Ericom and #1Ericom Slack channels to keep team spirit high. Our business imperative was to ensure that as a company, we remained connected and supportive of each other, and fully committed to the #OneEricom culture. This not only helped us weather the storm and prioritize everyone’s safety and health, but made us stronger individually, and collectively a stronger team.
As someone who has been a member of United Airlines Global Services for 12 years, not setting foot on an airplane for the past 10 months (and counting) wasn’t as bad as I expected it to be (sorry, airlines). And in many ways, the virtual setup helped the company become more efficient as we adapted, and our confidence grew every day that we not only managed, but thrived.
Managing Newly Distributed Organizations
Many organizations spent the first half of 2020 responding to COVID-19 by mobilizing their employees to work remotely and maintain operational productivity. In many cases, these types of initiatives weren’t strictly in response to the pandemic but rather accelerated digital transformation initiatives and cloud service adoption that were already in process. Many offices are still vacant, essentially becoming large (and expensive) storage facilities.
Organizations came under siege from cybersecurity threats targeting vulnerabilities created by relocating workforces beyond the scope of traditional office and network perimeters, where consumer-grade WFH security created massive cybersecurity risk exposure. As cyber criminals sought to exploit the chaos created by the pandemic, there was a huge surge in zero-day malware, ransomware, and phishing attacks. These cyberattacks continue today at unprecedented levels, compelling organizations to examine and reassess cybersecurity measures.
At Ericom, we believe the new normal requires a new and different cybersecurity operating model. Picture it as a 2×2 matrix representing a simplified service framework which supports work from anywhere (WFA): On one axis are users who need access to enterprise resources from wherever they are, either within the physical office (in) or remote (out). On the other, are the enterprise computing resources, which might be within the perimeter (in) or on public or private clouds, or SaaS services (out). With users essentially functioning as the new perimeter, resources must be seamlessly accessible — meaning that wherever users are, they can securely connect to any resources they need, via a unified, coherent process: From in to out or out to in, via an always-on and seamless-attach cloud service.
The solution for many of our customers was to adopt the Ericom Global Cloud cybersecurity service, a globally distributed interconnection of federated points of presence (PoPs) delivering Ericom’s security solutions. Our business and government customers simply connect to this platform to consume our Zero Trust security services, designed to seamlessly isolate their users, endpoint devices, networks, the web, sensitive data, and private and SaaS apps from security threats, without installing any software or hardware.
Thriving in Challenging Times
In 2020, the market came to us. As a result, our cybersecurity business more than doubled year-over-year, thanks to record sales in our third and fourth quarters. With this momentum, Ericom set a high-water mark for annual sales, despite the strong headwinds in early 2020. Customer adoption of Ericom solutions has been strong worldwide, with all geographic regions taking full advantage of the Ericom Global Cloud.
The Ericom-Forcepoint relationship formalized in 2020 – a complementary partnership between Ericom’s isolation service and Forcepoint’s secure access service edge (SASE) offering – had meaningful impact on our mutual customers. The new customer acquisition rate via the partnership continues to ramp at an impressive pace.
Ericom customer loyalty as measured by our annual year-end net promoter score (NPS) survey hit 50, a sizeable increase over our already strong score of 40 in 2019. As the industry benchmarks NPS, a score of 50 and above is considered excellent. While there’s always more work to be done and we’re never complacent, we are pleased that customer feedback indicates that Ericom products and services are reliable and exceeded expectations in supporting their mission critical cyber initiatives.
When you boil it all down, companies really do two things: they build products and sell products. One of my favorite Naval Ravikant sayings is “Learn to sell. Learn to build. If you can do both, you will be unstoppable.” We can verify that during our two-year journey together at Ericom, we have made tremendous strides at both building and selling, as demonstrated by the ease with which the Ericom Global Cloud is adopted, and objective metrics like our cybersecurity sales growth and NPS score.
This kind of journey doesn’t happen without the right people, culture, and strategy. We are fortunate that that Ericom professionals share common #OneEricom traits – clarity of purpose (our “why”) and energy — what Satya Nadella looks for before hiring anyone: We find our Spark, act on our Curiosity, we behave with a sense of Urgency and we Drive whatever we prioritize to its conclusion.
The Ericom leadership team is hand-picked – a dream-team if you will. Some are relatively new but have worked and won with each other in past professional lives. Some helped guide Ericom prior to my arrival and have committed themselves to the new journey we are on. Regardless of their starting point, they all share a passion for our culture and corporate values and culture. Our leaders know that Ericom’s success lies in the enablement of our exceptional group of individual contributors. As such, we have aligned around a servant leadership approach – flipping the traditional organogram upside down – to dependably empower and reward Ericom front-line workers, who operate at the coalface of where meaningful work gets done with our customers, partners, suppliers, and each other. Amazing contributions, ideas and innovations come from every part of the organization. I am proud of many things at Ericom, but none more so than this servant leadership model, that acts as our true north.
Here’s to Better Times…
Our secular growth and momentum will continue in 2021, driven by the role of our solutions in enabling digital transformation, secure adoption of cloud services, and elimination of legacy network architectures that limit employee collaboration and effectiveness. Expect to see from Ericom #KillTheVPN, #KillTheLAN, #KillTheNetwork, #KillOnPrem to eradicate aged-out models, complexity and costs. We will continue to innovate and invest in the Ericom Global Cloud, add more PoPs and cybersecurity services, and partner with the cybersecurity ecosystem. Our vision continues to be to help organizations consume cloud cybersecurity services efficiently, while minimizing end-user intrusion and maintaining a natural user experience.
We remain committed to rallying around the Ericom Mission of keeping organizations connected, productive and secure.
Ericom’s business priorities and imperatives for 2021:
- Customers first (shout out to Josh James Startup Rule #13)
- Another year of double-digit cybersecurity growth
- Channel-first and channel-only business model
- Technology alliances and ecosystem partnerships remain key route to market
- Enhancements to the Ericom Global Platform as the only way to consume Zero Trust security services, from the edge
We will seek to recruit world-class professionals, fine-tune our servant leadership model and exercise flexibility with Ericom workers, as we (optimistically) seek to emerge from the pandemic to some level of familiarity and normalcy. We will not deviate from performance-based and growth-based focus, an “all-in” attitude, consistent employee engagement and internal communications, and holding each other accountable. We will root out additional inefficiencies and celebrate change.
These are staples of our Ericom operating model – pandemic or otherwise. The end goal is for happy employees to translate to happy customers, which in turn translates to happy shareholders. We are in the people business, full stop.
In closing, along with everyone else at Ericom, I’ve been working — and continue to work — hard to cope with the impact of the pandemic. I am not only an Ericom worker, but also a husband, father, son, brother and nephew. The blurring of work and business life is real, and our worry list can get awfully long. But I steadfastly believe that we will get through this challenging period by applying unwavering optimism, confidence and energy. And when we do, we will all be stronger and more durable as a result.
This moment is a pivotal crossroad, the intersection of the past year’s pain and a well-grounded belief that the future will soon be brighter. F. Scott Fitzgerald brilliantly characterized the feeling at the brink of great change in his description of the tumultuous Roaring Twenties, now a full century ago: “I was within and without, simultaneously enchanted and repelled by the inexhaustible variety of life.”
As we close out 2020, green shoots are sprouting and I am upbeat and excited about our year ahead, and its prospects for much more enchantment and considerably less pain.
Meanwhile, please, do look after yourselves and your loved ones, and be always mindful of keeping safe.