Volker Birk of p≡p tells us about leading the way into the next generation of cybersecurity.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Volker Birk: I’m feeling for all those who’re not as lucky as my family and myself are. I already got sick from COVID-19 myself, but It was months ago. My family is doing well. And I’m happy not to experience the long Covid effect but only had mild symptoms. I hope you and your family are safe, too.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded or joined this company.
Volker Birk: Working as a software architect since the 1990s, I’m culturally rooted in the German hackers’ community. Don’t get this wrong: it’s totally not about criminality but about white hat hacking only. More and more, it was clear that IT security is still lacking easy solutions for keeping people private and safe on the internet. This has two aspects: it is servicing the public to provide safe infrastructure. And it can be an amazing business if people, companies and public offices can buy products, which keep their communication safe and protected in a very easy way.
For a long I had the idea to implement Privacy by Default: provide technology and products, making it the default that your communication is protected. It was clear from the beginning that this will be done in a way, which is following what the NIST now calls Zero Trust Architecture. Today, after Solarwinds, we got confirmation that p≡p made a wise decision. Now, most security product vendors are trying to change and follow the new paradigm. And p≡p has products market-ready, which all are 100% ZTA.
How does your company innovate?
Volker Birk: p≡p is innovating in many ways. Network protocols get designed, tested, and implemented. UX concepts are being designed. Products are being designed and implemented, which are based on such technology. As a technology provider, p≡p is all about innovation.
We’ve world-class experts in all fields we’re exploring. And p≡p is maintaining a sophisticated IP management concept. We completely own the IP. p≡p is an IP generation machine.
How does the coronavirus pandemic affect your business finances?
Volker Birk: It affects us by the problems our customers have. p≡p is in the luxury situation that we had the infrastructure for distributed working from the beginning. All are working with independent Laptops anyway, and we have our internal servers in data centres. p≡p’s products are all peer-to-peer, client-only, and are requiring zero central infrastructure. If you’re working for p≡p, going to the office always was one of your options, and many were working in the home office already before the crisis.
But our customers hit Corona hard. And therefore, we have a huge delay in sales. Projects are moved, others, which are already running, are delayed. The disadvantage of being so innovative is that your customers have problems keeping up when their daily business will be a problem for them. It is totally understandable that they’re waiting with the innovation and first fix the most necessary until they feel safe again.
With the promotion of Zero Trust Architecture by the NIST, this is now changing. After the criminality shown in the Solarwinds case, people are rethinking priorities. I don’t wish anyone anything bad – I’m a defender. But I cannot omit that this development is a remarkable boost for p≡p. NIST just started an RFP together with MITRE, and what they want to develop we can deliver today. I’m sure you can imagine the game-changing experience we now make.
Did you have to make difficult choices regarding human resources, and what are the lessons learned?
Volker Birk: Yes, we had. When you get a delay in sales during market entry, your investors want to reduce costs. Fortunately, we have smart money, which led to the situation that we had the chance to find a way that cost reduction did not require decisions that are socially harmful or are harming the project too much.
Mostly we could reduce staff without firing people by just not extending completing projects. But we had to release a few people who didn’t want to release. All are experts in their fields, and I believe no one will have too big problem finding a new job. We did not fire people whose income is feeding their families.
We learned that even in tough times, it is possible to keep cool and try to act responsibly. But to be honest, this was only possible because our investors saw the exceptional situation and decided to support p≡p.
How did your customer relationship management evolve? Do you use any specific tools to be efficient?
Volker Birk: We’re using CRM. Our marketing team is still small, and we’re extending it now. For p≡p, most leads are coming from a personal relationship. Of course, this will change with the growing business. But we’re hoping to find partners who can support us in sales. p≡p is an ISV, and we’re IBM partners. There’s a lot of brilliant VARs and consulting companies out there. And the market demand for ZTA is huge, and this is a market opening phase. All customers heard it, all are asking for it, and most are not aware already what ZTA will mean for their business. This is the beginning of one of the hugest growths in the history of IT security. p≡p is ahead of the curve.
Did you benefit from any government grants, and did that help keep your business afloat?
Volker Birk: Yes and no. “Benefit” means it makes sense, doesn’t it? So for Switzerland, I can say: oh, yes. Luxembourg? Yes! It is really great and impressive to experience how these governments support their economy in such “interesting times,” as a Chinese curse says. I only can say thank you when talking about these countries.
In Spain, we did not have such a good experience, unfortunately. In this country, where most of our application developers are based, we saw the public offices all willing to help, but the system is so crazy that we would not apply again for any of the offered support. It ended up with p≡p replacing the expected support for the employee, so people don’t go into serious trouble. Germany, where we’re developing p≡p for Financial Messages, rejected all applications because we’re not a German company but only based in the EU.
Your final thoughts?
Volker Birk: All crisis includes a huge chance. It is all about change. I wish other founders the luck I had in such a difficult time. We need more people founding startups, taking the risk but opening the future for all of us, including the chance for them to find happiness.
These words will not help the families of the people we lost. Nothing can do that, and I’m with the mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, sons and daughters who had to take a severe blow by losing loved ones.
Corona is a tough one. But it is not the end of humanity, and when we look back to these times in the future, then we should be proud of how we managed to deal with the hassle and still make the best out of it, still shaping the future for the better.
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