Back in 2016, Paul was the Head of IT at Grab. While he was there, he noticed something peculiar about the regional cybersecurity space.
In his attempt to source for vendors who understood Grab’s cloud security problem, he realized that there weren’t any regional service providers that could help him. He had to approach US companies.
This talent gap was the opportunity Paul seized to build something that could help SMEs with their cloud security challenges. He proceeded to found Horangi Cyber Security with his Co-Founder Lee Sult.
And they’re doing really well! In 2017, they received funding of US$3.1 million from Monk’s Hill Ventures. Earlier this year, they even raised another US$20 million in a Series B round led by Provident Growth.
In this exclusive interview, our CEO and co-founder JJ Huang sat down with Paul to learn more about Horangi’s growth and his view on the future of cybersecurity.
Both Paul and Lee have worked with cloud-first companies throughout their entire careers and went on to co-found a cloud-first company.
This alone already sent a signal to all businesses out there that they knew what they were doing. They were starting to create a trustworthy brand image for themselves.
This gave Horangi an advantage when it came to acquiring customers. Some of them include leading tech companies like Go-Jek, MoneySmart, PropertyGuru, and StashAway.
According to Paul, it is important to have well-known customers on board because it contributes to the building of a trustworthy brand image.
“In any B2B business, you’re selling trust,” Paul added. In fact, research findings suggest that 50% of customers around the world claim that they make a purchase deal based on a company’s brand image.
This has helped Horangi even during the COVID-19 pandemic.
While the impact of the outbreak devastated many businesses, companies continue to approach Horangi because of its established image as a trustworthy brand.
As Horangi’s image as a trustworthy brand strengthened, the frequency of them being mentioned in casual conversations increased as well.
This helped further strengthen Horangi’s brand image through word-of-mouth (WOM).
The value of building a credible brand image through WOM can not be overlooked.
“Much of our growth comes from word-of-mouth,” Paul said while discussing the growth drivers for Horangi.
Paul spent a lot of time making himself and Horangi prominent. Not only did he speak at several events, he even conducted interviews with influential people in the industry. This helped Horangi build thought leadership.
Putting himself out there frequently enough can result in Horangi being mentioned on blog articles, webpages, and even videos. Executives and security experts then end up viewing these pieces of content.
Naturally, people will start talking about Horangi more often. “It adds credibility over time,” Paul added on the importance of putting Horangi’s name out there to get people to talk about it. The increased number of people believing in the company will lead to Horangi’s growth in the long run.
Whether you are serving the B2B or B2C market, you are still interacting with people at the end of the day. And this is why it is essential to create a great customer experience
According to Paul, one of the core values of Horangi is “customer focus”. They always try to find the best ways to serve their customers before anything else.
It’s about performing well after getting the deals.
It’s about quickly fixing the problem when you mess up.
But most importantly, it’s about making sure the customer is happy.
Your customers are one of the biggest reasons why your company can do well. Without paying customers, you probably will not be where you are today.
Nonetheless, it is essential that you do not reduce your customers to mere statistics. It is important to have empathy when they share their problems with you.
When word that your company is a customer-centric one gets out, people will naturally come to you.
Forming meaningful partnerships was instrumental in Horangi’s growth.
In a way, building partnerships create a “network effect” in which companies refer their customers to their partners and vice versa. This is important as the different companies can bring value to the customers in different ways. This ensures that the customers’ needs are being taken care of holistically.
Paul’s experience and familiarity with using Amazon Web Services (AWS) prior to co-founding Horangi was a big reason why he built Horangi’s first product on it.
While working closely with AWS, Paul recognized several programs at AWS that helped the startups grow and he seized the opportunity. During the entire process, he forged a better relationship with the AWS team.
The relationship started small and informal where AWS would simply introduce Horangi to other startups to help them with their cybersecurity issues. This eventually grew into a more formal partnership, Amazon’s Independent Software Vendors (ISV) Workload Mitigation Program.
As part of this partnership, not only were documents formalized, but Horangi was able to train people at AWS to help them get more customers. AWS staff would refer their customers to utilize Horangi in their AWS platform.
Meanwhile, Horangi complemented AWS by providing the required cybersecurity services to the companies built on the AWS platform. It was a win-win situation.
When Horangi and AWS collaborated to launch a new product, Horangi Warden, on the AWS Marketplace in 2019, it further strengthened their relationship.
Paul added that it was better to form fewer but longer-term partners. “You’ll get a lot more out of it in the long run if you invest time in the right one”.
Working in partnership with a company with misaligned primary interests might lead to a conflict of values. This risks driving a wedge between the companies and may contribute to the death of the agreement.
It’s an understatement to say that businesses were hit hard when the COVID-19 pandemic hit several months ago. If the outbreak devastated large MNCs, SMEs were hit even harder.
Yet, according to Paul, Horangi didn’t experience a lot of change
In the COVID-19-stricken world, many companies have had to adjust to new conditions. They need to adhere to constantly-changing government regulations and changing consumer behavior. Dealing with COVID-19 has dominated the consciousness of the cybersecurity industry in the marketplace.
That being said, security spend tends to remain flat even in an economic downturn.
The cybersecurity industry is dependent on two factors: regulations and fear. “People are more fearful in a time of distress and regulation isn’t going away” he added. This drive continued spending on cybersecurity services.
Furthermore, larger SMEs and large companies tend to have fixed cybersecurity budgets. They will continue to spend on such services.
While earnings weren’t really affected, COVID-19 forced Horangi to transform the way they work. They had to focus more on ROI rather than experiments with new ideas.
Horangi shifted its focus on making the company stronger and fixing the problems and stopped the growth plans they had for this year.
On the topic of the future of the industry, Paul mentioned that he made several observations.
Firstly, he said that there are exciting developments in areas of application programming interface (API) and fuzz testing.
Meanwhile, with most of the new companies coming out in the cybersecurity space being cloud-focused, the tech industry is already heading towards the cloud.
“There will also be some level of automation,” he added. For example, efforts to automate pen tests, source port scanning, and invulnerability assessments are underway.
Automation will play an important role in the growth of cybersecurity to make things easier for humans to recognize.
While this technology seems to be getting closer to becoming fully automated, Paul believes that humans will still be involved in the foreseeable future.
In October 2020, Horangi will launch a security and compliance service for the Google Cloud Platform (GCP). Additionally, Horangi is planning to launch an Alibaba analyzer sometime soon.
Paul is looking forward to helping multi-cloud companies with their cybersecurity.
He believes, in the future, a lot of the bigger companies are going to be built for the multi-cloud. Even some of the smaller ones will be heading there due to data and regulatory requirements across the region.
Horangi wants to ultimately build safe cyberspace for innovation without any fear.
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