Transforming a traditional company into a cloud company that delivers its products as SaaS is never easy, and there is no single blueprint for success. Nico Fischbach is Global CTO and VP of SASE Engineering of Forcepoint and also a member of ENG, the peer network of CTOs and VPEs from leading SaaS companies. Nico was hired into Forcepoint four years ago as CTO for cloud. The company had been selling on-prem solutions for decades, but had limited experience with cloud and no SaaS solutions. His mandate was to create a successful strategy and offering and help ensure the company could execute in the market, and he shared his story on Scalying New Heights.

A big part of Nico’s career has been in the large-scale telco and security space before joining Forcepoint. Nico knew the CEO of Forcepoint, was attracted to the cybersecurity and data protection vendor arena, and interested in helping them on the journey to create a successful SaaS offering.  That journey was made more difficult because Forcepoint had grown through a series of mergers and acquisitions.  They had many on-prem offerings ranging from network security to DLP to insider threat, and a cloud offering that was focused on cloud security. The goal wasn’t only to become SaaS “native” and move from point products to platform-based solutions but also to be the first company to make human-centric cybersecurity real by delivering behavior-based risk-adaptive security.

Pushing themselves to take things to the next level led to what Nico describes as the transformational moment in their journey. “The company’s management realized that we needed to go beyond just looking at this through a product and engineering lens. We had an opportunity to change the whole company. We kicked off a project called Phoenix.” 

How do you create a second birth out of very strong assets?

Phoenix would mean looking across every aspect of the company. As Nico explains it, this meant figuring out “a very strong product offering, a different go-to-market approach, and a different way to build, deliver and operate products.” Their journey encompassed “a new technology stack, the best of breed in security and data protection, taking it to the cloud, and modifying the whole journey from customer success, customer experience, onboarding, in-life management, financials, and success metrics. The metrics in the SaaS world are different, the billing and entitlements are different.” Basically, everything was different. And so the whole company had to be on board with the transformation and contribute to success. 

The challenges on this journey were not just technical, they were cultural. “How do you take people on the journey, how do you convince them that this needs to happen? It’s beyond just technology. It’s about finding the right talent. You start from the product and you build everything around the products, across the whole journey. How do you change the mindset in your sales organization? I’m a network engineer by trade, and I learned a lot of the process and enjoyed it. It was sometimes painful but it was a journey of learning for me as well.”

This points to a trend that I see over and over again across the ENG community. The CTOs and VPEs within SaaS companies have to operate more like General Managers than technical leaders. They have a direct impact on strategy, messaging, customer interactions, ROI trade offs and so forth. You can’t reach the executive ranks without being smart and capable, and many engineering leaders thrive in this broader role, eagerly seeking to round out their skills. Nico is a great example. “When I was hired, the role was twofold. One, the internal facing role, included strategy, technology, driving innovation, working with engineering, coming up with the architecture, the platform, looking at execution, partnering with product management, building the offering, and expanding into product marketing, the sales organizations and so on. The other one is the external facing side, like a field CTO, where you are providing thought leadership, representing the company, taking the voice of the customer back into the organization, and being a trusted adviser to clients and prospects.”

As a buyer for years, Nico brought a buyer mindset into his customer interactions. “It’s not just about pitching something to somebody.” The trick is to find those opportunities that are core to what the company does, so you maintain focus and trust over time. “Never over-sell. Be truthful, be proud of what you’ve built.”

When asked what he would do differently on the transformation journey with the benefit of hindsight, Nico starts with the basic things you hear over and over. He pointed to speed of execution and decision velocity, getting people on board more quickly, filling out new skill sets, and on-boarding new talent. Then he pointed to a key learning. They realized the initial undertaking — the definition of success as originally defined — may have been too big and radical. Moving to the new world wasn’t black and white. The world is heterogeneous and their path forward needed to embrace old and new.  

You need the best of both worlds.

“You maintain the existing, and move parts to a sustaining mode, and build SaaS as a greenfield offering from the ground up. You see more of an integration between current stack with new stack rather than something more radical like a full transition.” One part of the strategy was to create a whole new category of offering, and they have been working to influence others. Eventually they saw positive reinforcement of the category from other companies and leading analysts. Category creation takes company transformation to a new and higher level, because you’re also trying to change the whole industry you serve and the way buyers think and behave.

You’re trying to transform the way the world operates.

About the Author

Christine Heckart is CEO of Scalyr, which provides a log analytics SaaS offering and an Event Data Cloud, which delivers analytics as a service for event data and can be integrated with existing dashboards, user interfaces, and custom applications. Scalyr also curates a peer-network of VPEs, CTOs, and top technical executives at leading SaaS companies called ENG (Engage, Network, Grow). To learn more about Scalyr or to join ENG, visit www.scalyr.com.

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