Webroot CEO: Gambling on Cloud

From the Road

Anti-malware vendor Webroot has bet the company on cloud. In October 2011, Webroot stopped selling packaged software and moved to software-as-a-service (SaaS). CEO Dick Williams says the switch improves the customer service model and takes the burden of managing updates off of the end user. Williams and I talked about why he thinks the new approach will help Webroot grow in the ultra-competitive software security market.

Security Should be Easier

Cybercrime is the fastest growing industry in the world, said Williams. That means security vendors are doing something wrong, starting with the basic premise of security software: that users are responsible for deciding what to let through the firewall, and for keeping it up to date. “Most of us haven’t got a clue, you know,” Williams said. Software updates are “mammoth,” and the bad guys have figured out how to get past them anyway.

“You contact one of us within the industry, and the response is—well, you must have done something wrong, and for $100, $150, we’ll clean you up. I mean that’s a fundamentally broken model.” he said. Rather than pushing updates and relying on customers to install them and then monitor their own files using desktop resources, Webroot now does the monitoring itself from the cloud.

About three-fourths of customers who used the old packaged solution have migrated to the cloud platform. “If a customer calls with a problem associated with a pre-existing or a legacy product, rather than fixing that, we merely migrate them,” Williams said.

Consumers Influence the Enterprise

Consumers account for about 75 percent of Webroot’s business. But that’s rapidly moving to enterprise and strategic alliances, Williams said. “Our target markets today are what we call influential enthusiasts on the consumer side … and then what we call cloud committed enterprises”—small and medium enterprises that are already using SaaS applications.
There’s a lot of crossover between the groups, he said. “Increasingly, for small and medium enterprises, and even in some cases [large] enterprises, their first test will be with your consumer product. In our particular case, that’s a reasonable test because it’s a subset of the business product.”

You Have to Invest in Innovation

When Williams joined Webroot in 2009, “we weren’t a technological innovator and we didn’t have the best reputation for service-as-a-support in the industry,” he said. But in a highly-competitive industry like IT, if you don’t innovate or provide the best service, “sooner or later you’ll get overrun or you’ll deserve what you get.”
At the time, the company didn’t own much of its core intellectual property. But at the end of this year, “we’ll only be shipping our own IP.” The investment in IP, which included some acquisitions, has led to strategic partnerships that provide a growing source of business for Webroot.

Webroot also invested in in customer support, but at first the company couldn’t keep up with demand. When it introduced Webroot SecurityAnywhere, a consumer product, the company was able to reduce its call load in part because it eliminated the need for customers to call or email when they had problems. “You send us a message through the product,” Williams said. ” We capture the complete status of your endpoint, the version and release level of every piece of software on it and take a complete log, send that log to the cloud. Any one of our threat researchers or tech support reps around the world then can immediately get on that and work to analyze, diagnose and solve it for you.” Whatever the problem, “it’s fixed not just for you, it’s instantaneously fixed for every other endpoint in the marketplace. So that has fundamentally changed the customer experience.”

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