Ragnar Sigurdsson, CEO of AwareGO tells us about finding a better and more positive method to train people in cybersecurity.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Ragnar Sigurdsson: Not too bad; luckily, no one in my immediate family has been infected. Because Iceland is an island of just over 350 thousand, the pandemic can be controlled to an extent when everyone sticks together, wears a mask, and practices social distancing in public. In the first two weeks of March, there were only 7 infections here; most of them were already quarantined.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded AwareGO.
Ragnar Sigurdsson: I founded AwareGO with my wife Helga Bjorg Steinthorsdottir. I am a Certified Ethical Hacker, and she is an experienced HR specialist. In my penetration work, I discovered that people were often the weakest link, that all the technical solutions such as firewalls and anti-virus software were not working as they should because the people were falling for phishing emails or disabling security features. Dedicated lectures on the subject did little to fix the problem. This led to the founding of AwareGO. We wanted to find a better and more positive method to train people in cybersecurity as well as create a good workplace with great people to work with.
How does AwareGO innovate?
Ragnar Sigurdsson: By creating an inclusive culture at the workplace and giving everyone a voice and a chance to pitch ideas. We have gathered an incredible group of experts in six countries, Iceland, USA, Czech Republic, Croatia, UK, and France, all in all, 26 people, each more innovative than the next. We are also in constant dialogue with our partners and customers, and when they have an idea or a problem that needs solving, we listen.
How does the coronavirus pandemic affect your business finances?
Ragnar Sigurdsson: The coronavirus pandemic affected our finances in a positive way as it fast-tracked the digital revolution by several years. Working from home opens the door for all kinds of security challenges as people, in general, are not as well guarded at home as within their company’s firewalls and other security measures. This led to an increased interest in our services from multiple organizations that realized that they needed a way to keep their employees safe and educate them to help safeguard important data. Cybersecurity is not IT’s problem; it is everyone’s responsibility.
What also happened is that as the world was working from home, so did we. We participated in tenders to Fortune 500 companies and potential partners from our living rooms. The only thing that mattered was what we had to offer. None of the prospects could travel to meet with these organizations or court them by other means. We believe that this leveled the playing field between us and larger players in the market. The product became the only focus, and we won every tender we participated in this way.
Did you have to make difficult choices regarding human resources, and what are the lessons learned?
Ragnar Sigurdsson: Luckily, we did not have to make any such choices. On the contrary, our company has grown over 40% since the beginning of the pandemic. But we’ve learnt valuable lessons from growing. We created our own onboarding procedures to make sure that new people are welcomed and immersed in our culture from day one, as well as made to feel included and valued.
How did your customer relationship management evolve? Do you use any specific tools to be efficient?
Ragnar Sigurdsson: Being in Iceland means that we have always had to meet most of our clients and partners online; this has not changed. We use Hubspot for our CRM and have been doing a lot of content marketing and outreach in the past year. One of the first outreach we did after the pandemic started was a WFH awareness training program that we gave away as a free trial (still available here). We wanted to help anyone who was potentially struggling to keep a newly remote workforce safe.
Did you benefit from any government grants, and did that help keep your business afloat?
Ragnar Sigurdsson: We did not apply for any government grants. We had a record year of growth in 2020, and we have strong financial backing from international investment company Eyrir Ventures (evm.com). We are currently preparing Series A funding in collaboration with Icelandic bank Kvika.
Your final thoughts?
Ragnar Sigurdsson: I think that the most valuable lesson learnt in all of this upheaval during the pandemic is the importance of culture within the workplace. I’m not just talking about security culture but a strong and inclusive culture of collaboration in general. Our team really came together during unusual circumstances throughout this pandemic, especially when it came to our tenders. Everyone pitched in, everyone helped out, and everyone worked together as one. This is a testament to the culture we’ve built here at AwareGO, and it wouldn’t have worked so well if we didn’t have it and seek measures to actively maintain it.
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