The importance of trust in leading a market transition
As I wrote in my book Connecting the Dots, trust is one of a company’s two most important assets (the other is information). For a company looking to lead a market transition, establishing trust is a bit like the old chicken and egg dilemma: The company can’t earn trust without customer validation, yet they can’t get customers without first establishing trust. This is exactly why the hardest customer to land is always the first – and why, at the end of the day, successfully navigating the delicate balance of trust becomes vital to survival.
As a cybersecurity company first and foremost, Privoro’s initial customers are security-conscious organizations within the federal government. That’s why it’s so impressive that the company is not only leading a market transition by essentially creating an entirely new product category but is doing so while meeting an incredible standard of trust. In my opinion, Privoro is a wonderful example of the rigor and patience required to continually build trust and break down the challenges of serving real customers.
As with any business, the chain of trust at Privoro starts with the CEO. Mike Fong started Privoro because, like every great CEO I know, he wanted to create a great company that could change the world. To build a great company requires building a great team, and building a great team, of course, requires trust on all sides. It’s no surprise that many of Mike’s earliest employees were people he knew (and trusted) from previous working experiences, or people who were highly recommended by others he trusts.
Mike has also been able to set the tone of Privoro’s culture by earning the trust of employees through always operating with integrity, transparency, and respect. Trust is fluid and needs to be maintained over time. It must be a cornerstone of any culture, and culture always starts at the top. The CEO can also build a trusting relationship with employees by providing them the freedom to do their jobs as they best see fit. Mike has done a remarkable job of building a culture where employees can personalize their jobs to their skills, interests, and working styles. This culture has kept the team motivated and energized through the peaks and valleys of developing new products and bringing them to market.
Earning the trust of outsiders is another key piece of the puzzle for the CEO. As a key investor in Privoro through JC2 Ventures, I’ve built a personal relationship with Mike – and now I trust him to carry out his bold vision. Mike has the qualities I look for in a CEO: an insatiable curiosity, the ability to connect different concepts, and a desire to shake up the status quo. On the other hand, I also look for CEOs who are coachable. I can more effectively help Mike and the Privoro team as they scale, grow, and lead this market transition when they trust my feedback and counsel.
And I’m not the only outsider Privoro has built a foundation with; I’m just one of a handful of key partners the company has. World Wide Technology (WWT), a key contracting partner to Privoro, has contributed greatly to the company making inroads into government sales by adding the legitimacy (and trust) that comes from earning over $11 billion in annual revenue and having existing relationships with governments around the globe. This particular marriage is based on – you guessed it – previously established, trusted relationships on each side. Not every union between a smaller player and a larger player makes sense, but WWT has demonstrated to Privoro through its generous use of resources that it’s invested in the company’s success.
Other key partners to focus on building trust with might include “early adopters,” such as initial customers or simply evangelists within a large target organization. The best way for a company to instill trust in early adopters is to simply demonstrate that they understand and genuinely care about the end-customers’ problems. Privoro has spent a huge amount of time both learning about the pain points of mobile users within the federal government and engineering an extraordinarily deep and secure set of capabilities to solve those problems, thereby gaining the trust of inherently skeptical security personnel. In turn, Privoro has earned advocates within the federal government who are willing to help them navigate the seemingly endless hurdles involved in working with the government, including contract negotiations, policy changes, and product certifications.
With a clear, strong foundation of trust in place, Privoro has been able to secure multiple high-impact government contracts such as those with the Air Force and the Defense Information System Agency (DISA). These contracts serve as opportunities for the company to solidify its earned trust by hitting milestones, acting with integrity, and demonstrating that they deeply care about outcomes for their partners, employees, and other stakeholders. The follow-on effect includes increased interest from other government agencies who trust the Air Force and DISA as gatekeepers.
Privoro’s job now is to keep executing with initial customers, which will instill trust in more customers and create a virtuous cycle where Privoro is seen as a trusted partner by security-conscious organizations everywhere. I’m excited for the future of this company because I personally trust Mike and his entire extended team to do exactly that.