HelpSystems’ Steph Charbonneau Discusses Data Security, Corporate Culture, and More

Data Security Podcast

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Automating vital IT processes to protect people and organizations from potentially harmful mistakes was just one topic covered during a recent conversation between Steph Charbonneau, Senior Director of Product Strategy and Data Security at HelpSystems, and Joel Beasley, host of the ModernCTO podcast. Other highlights covered: why investing in company culture pays off, and the advantages of keeping organizational hierarchies as flat as possible. You can listen to the episode below or read through our quick recap.  

Protecting Your People from Making Costly Errors 

HelpSystems acquired Titus’ data classification software a year ago to help round out its data security portfolio. This means HelpSystems can now offer customers the critical ability to apply classification and encryption to sensitive data before the data is ever shared – to help protect people from their own errors.  

“People make mistakes,” said Charbonneau, a co-founder at Titus. “We want to be that security buddy on your shoulder as you’re working, helping you and watching what you are doing to stop you from doing the wrong thing as you work through daily tasks.” The ROI in stopping just one executive’s email from going to the wrong place, he noted, is substantial.  

Charbonneau shared that the data security team at HelpSystems wants to help users more easily work with protective safeguards. He shared an analogy of how the data classification software works like today’s spell checking. Instead of the old process of initiating the process, then tediously and manually fixing the grammar step by step, now it just happens in the background with classification tags applied to data to automatically stop inadvertent and inappropriate sharing.  

“You need to know what the data is. Once you know what the data is, you can start minding the gap for the sensitive, private personal data regulatory bodies worry about, and how to trigger those things to help users along,” said Charbonneau. 

You Don’t Have to Solve Everything; Sometimes Simple is Better 

While software developers often want to solve everything for customers, “sometimes simple is better,” said Charbonneau. “The data security journey can be as simple as a customer wanting a little label applied to data to get started on the journey. We’ll build on that,” he noted.  

Data classification helps identify, classify, and automatically apply security solutions to ensure regulatory compliance and control over data – serving as a foundation of a robust data security strategy. Charbonneau also talked about the importance of doing what is needed to help customers solve today’s problem with an eye on the future, such as scaling up and addressing the different needs of enterprise-scale customers.  

Culture Matters  

According to Charbonneau, software company acquisitions at HelpSystems are more than a simple code grab. “They want to solve data security issues by bringing good technology together to solve problems and getting them to play well together,” he said. “As IT leaders, it’s important to remember, ‘I don’t have to solve everything.’ It’s important to give everyone an opportunity to have a voice and not overpower them. We want to give that junior engineer more power and leverage and a good work experience and do so by keeping the hierarchy as flat as possible and check power levels at the door.” 

Charbonneau also touched on the importance of integration of corporate culture with the recent acquisition by HelpSystems. “They are very people-oriented, and that was important to us,” he noted. “We put a lot of focus on culture training to help people better themselves and as founders we needed to understand when to pull back and hire the right people to keep creativity in mind.” He noted that this culture has continued with HelpSystems as everyone works to put customers first always as they mesh as a larger organization.

 

Speaker 1:
Hello my friends. Today, Joel is talking to Steph, the senior director of product strategy and data security at HelpSystems. And they discuss how HelpSystems allows you to securely automate many of your IT processes. How investing in your company culture pays dividends many times over, and why it's beneficial to keep organizational hierarchies as flat as possible. All of this right here, right now on the Modern CTO Podcast.

Speaker 1:
This is the Modern CTO Podcast.

Steph Charbonneau:
Funny story, I went through university, I went to Waterloo for computer science. And a lot of good minds have gone through that, and Microsoft has scooped up a lot of them. A lot of my peers were actually part of the team that wrote NT back in the day, Windows NT. But I remember sitting on a crypto course way back then and just happy to get through it because I'll never see this again and this was never, ever going to do anything to do with crypto, I just got through the exam. And the first job I got out of university went to this just consulting work with Microsoft and some other folks. And then I got into teaching PKI of all things, Public Key Infrastructure, crypto to the world. So went out there, traveled the world, teaching how keys work and how do you encrypt things and got to some very complicated stuff fairly quickly.

Steph Charbonneau:
It's just funny as you go through and things to trip on, you just never dismiss that because you never know where it's going to end up and what value you can bring with that, because it's all part of the toolkit, you bring with yourself as you get to your next gig or your next opportunity working through that process. It's been a fun journey for sure so far.

Joel Beasley:
Is that where you are today? Is it like automation, cyber security, keys?

Steph Charbonneau:
I switched over. I started off with the crypto piece, from an education perspective, teaching people that, but then I get into consulting and got into similar, maybe a little bit of your beginnings, got into consulting work with the government around Y2K. So they had to migrate a bunch of stuff from a Unix environment to Microsoft-based email system. And so I got into the process of writing some code to help migrate some technology, worked through that process. And then from that learned a lot about security. I was always intrigued by security at the very beginning, how the phone systems work, and from an ethical hacker, what are possible things to do and just play with it because it was fun. It's a game, it's real life game, do no harm, but just to learn through that process.

Steph Charbonneau:
But as I got really good at security understanding and bringing it to the customers and help them locking down their environments to understand what are the vulnerabilities, work through that process. And then I got into the PKI teachings, know how do I encrypt things? How do I protect things? And then I quickly went from... What wasn't interesting for me is more of the infrastructure piece like routers and Cisco and those types of devices, but really around the data, and people write files and they emails and they get transmitted around, I always thought there was a lot of lack in that space. They had some crypto at the end, it had users who had to figure out when to apply that secret button to say, "Okay, go protect it now." They didn't understand when to apply that. So there's a lot of gaps in that technology.

Steph Charbonneau:
So I'd focus a lot on... We started a little consulting gig on creating a software that would just tell you what that sensitivity of the email was. And then have it slowly over time, start building these security measures. So automatically apply encryption if you wanted to, or if you're sending stuff outside of the... And at that point it would have been for government department, if you're sending out to the public, maybe you should warn them, "Hey, you're sending something on the outside, are you sure you want to do that?" And really try to bridge that gap between the user experience and getting into security. And then as I transitioned through that, what was interesting is that a lot of specialty software out there just solve the pieces of the puzzle for data security.

Steph Charbonneau:
I've got really good crypto, I've got DLP technology, I've got all these other things to help protect, but what was missing in all the frameworks started off with talking around, you need to know what the data is. Once you know what the data is, then you can start building the logic around that. So I spent a lot of time working on understanding how all these other technologies work, what were the gaps, and how can I tie the data identity to all these different pieces of software. So how does DLP recognize, "Hey, this is something I need to block, warn?" Work with the user and to do it in a way that's actually easy for the user to understand, work through the process.

Steph Charbonneau:
And we were very manual at the very beginning, Joel, we started working through on foursome user doing all this stuff. But now with advancement of technology, gotten to the point where I can try to automate as much as possible. So if I'm pretty sure the stuff you're sending, it looks like it's sensitive and it's going outside, or today's people worrying around privacy information, is your personal data in there? Is there address? Beyond the simple credit cards, I figured people had figured out the credit card piece, the things around my personal identity and my address and other things that regulatory bodies are worried about today, how do I automatically trigger those things to help that user along?

Steph Charbonneau:
And one of the analogies I do typically around that is explain spell checking. Now, you'll probably remember back in the early days, you'd create a document and you'd have to go through a whole process to spell check and you'd start the process, you'd spend a couple of hours fixing the grammar and working through, that where today nobody thinks that, that just happens in the background and goes through. And so we're bringing that experience back to the data identity to make that as easy as possible so that now we can get back to protecting data. So that's where I spend a lot of my time is try to automate as much as possible and move us towards other data security solutions as well.

Joel Beasley:
Help me understand the difference between Titus and HelpSystems.

Steph Charbonneau:
You bet. Titus, we started back in '95, we created a software company. Before that it was a consulting company around security products and working with the government, military and banks, whether it be crypto, just securing their environment or training them on security, but a consulting firm there. And then Titus, we started up a data classification software, again, talking to the government customer who wanted to label things very simply so that the downstream technology could block it or warn it. So we went through that process to build that. And 2005, we created the software business at that point. And then we kept working on the data identity. So that's Titus, and then went through.

Steph Charbonneau:
And then HelpSystems, last year, so it's been a year now in June of 2020, they acquired Data Classification and Boldon James, two data classification solutions around the first stage of data security. So I want to be able to label and classify and protect information. And then HelpSystems itself had started off around 35 years ago focusing on IBM automated type security, but the last number of years, they focused on providing security products. And they saw the value of being able to identify the data, to be able to then play in the DLP space or in file transfer technology, or even on automating technology. Having a bigger player in cybersecurity to be able to provide data security suites to customers is something that was important to them.

Steph Charbonneau:
And the thing that really attracted to us as we were looking for a home for our data classification bit was to understand what company are they? How do they engage with customers? It was very important for us, that one, our employees are very happy with the process and they're very people oriented type of organization, much more than some of the other strategics we might've looked at where it might've been a code grab for the technology. So that was very important for them for the people, but also what were they trying to solve? And they were trying to solve data security is very important for them. They're bringing a lot of good technologies together to solve that challenge without looking at just building feature sets.

Steph Charbonneau:
If you're looking at building a feature with an application, just keep growing it, you have to keep evolving these new wings of what you're building, whereas HelpSystems has acquired a bunch of little companies, now we're working on making these things play well together. And Titus, it was the starting of that journey of identifying tagging information so that the rest of the environment understood what to do with it, whether it's file transfer. They just acquired DRM Technology as well to play that, a bigger player within the data security space.

Joel Beasley:
But you were one of the founders of Titus, correct?

Steph Charbonneau:
I was, yeah. I guess I missed that piece. I was one of the co-founders back in Titus. So we'd started off this process to build software. What was interesting for me through the process is because I did the security consulting before, and I thought the hard stuff is what we had to do and figure out, how does all this technology looped together? I had missed the opportunity beginning to realize that sometimes simple is better, to get through and bring through the process... I had these visions of very complicated technology coming together to solve these challenges, whereas a customer's like, "No, we just want something that's a little label, a little dropdown, something to start. Get me started on my journey and we will iterate and build on that."

Steph Charbonneau:
And that's something I learned through starting that organization with the other co-founders as well is bringing it through the process.

Joel Beasley:
Who did you start that with?

Steph Charbonneau:
Other founders would be Tim Upton from Ottawa, and Charlie Pulfer. They've both since retired and enjoying what they've done and worked at. They're a little bit older than I am and they're in a good place. I'm still part of the journey. I think the things we're trying to solve today still need to be done, so I'm not done.

Joel Beasley:
What were their expertise?

Steph Charbonneau:
Tim would have been visionary energy you'd have felt from the guy, walk into the room and just knew that there's something to solve and you're just happy to be there and challenge the norm to go through that process. I call crap on that activity, I think we could do a better way. We need something simple and converting our basic principles around what we're trying to do so that it related to the business buyer. As an example, he would have done something like, "Hey, we're doing data classification." "That's not very sexy. If you just talk about technology, that's sounds kind of lame, you're just labeling stuff. And then you hope the technology downstream works." "No, no, we're like the driver in a car. So we're in the car with the Volvo." "You like driving a Volvo, why?" "It's safe, it's protected."

Steph Charbonneau:
But then the car is going to beep at you and automation is coming in to warn around the policy. You're about to crash, put brakes on for you. And so try to find a way to bring what we did from a very simple perspective to what people can relate to from a day-to-day perspective. And so that was what he brought to the table. He had a business degree driving through that and try to get that energy. Charlie Pulfer on the other side, he spent some time at Microsoft and his focus around marketing. So he was looking at, I think we have a product here, here's how we package it. Here's how we get together from making it palatable for customers. How do we move from a government-focus business to something that we can now scale at? Let's get to commercial, let's get the finance, let's get to these other things. With these tweaks, we can change the product to address there.

Steph Charbonneau:
So he was more on marketing side, so then we got Tim on the business side, really driving the ideation. Now, I was just there to make sure the technology made sense and the things we spend our time on are going to help solve through these two ideas coming from these folks.

Joel Beasley:
I like that.

Steph Charbonneau:
And we also had great programmers too. So it's not just a three-person team, but we'd started off with a small team, but grew to about just under 200 people by the time we got acquired last year.

Joel Beasley:
I think you nailed it though, the way you described that. It's not just about the three people, but kind of is, because those are like the three foundational people to which everything else stems from because this behavior within an organization is contagious. So you being the foundation, and that's why I was really interested to understand what their strengths were and the three of you fitting together. You have a visionary, you have somebody that can market it and do the communication of it, and then you have someone who can execute, which is you, you can execute and bring the vision to life. But they're all required, you have to have the vision, you have to have the marketing to get the customers to drive the dollars, and then you have to have the product to actually deliver it to the customers.

Steph Charbonneau:
Absolutely. And it's been a great journey. I had a lot of great fun and we had a lot of cool experiences with the company going through and bringing those ideas to life. It's humbling. So you go through, you start the process as an idea, and you take the chance. I could have been an employee somewhere else. Tim, that's a lot of great thinking, but no, why should I take a chance? I got a family, we're just about to start, what's different about us that another company can't already do? And just stepping out of your comfort zone to be able to push yourselves and then have employees that get anxious by that, see that and believe in that idea. And then being smart about how you grow that, not super-fast.

Steph Charbonneau:
One thing we never did is we never took that outside investment, with the exception near the end, was in the last four or five years, we started looking to how do we scale this organization to be something a lot bigger than what it started out to be?

Joel Beasley:
Yes, yes. Well, you took it when it was right. The business changes and grows and evolves and it needs different things as an infant versus a toddler, versus a teenage, right?

Steph Charbonneau:
Yeah. And as you're building it, the one thing I've also learned is you look at what the technologies out there, it comes back to what I talked about simplifying our expectations what the technology should do, and not always go for the most complicated thing and try to figure out because the simple things might actually win the day. And as I look at certain pivot points along our journey, I look at, at what point could we have crashed? You could have gone and started a business and then make a wrong move at the beginning and then you might as well start with a new idea and try something different, move on. So it's one of your pivot points to go through that.

Steph Charbonneau:
There's two pieces to that, one is understanding of what the customers are really are emotional about what you're trying solve, do they have to solve that today? And then can I do that very simple way? And then try to think of where they need to be in the next few years. It's going to take you some time to get there, and if you can see a path between what I can sell today and then understand where that can evolve to, but always talk to your customer in between these stages, because you might need to pivot and end up somewhere slightly different than you saw it.

Steph Charbonneau:
And then unless you've got some really trusted, close customers to work with you through that process, it's a guessing game and it can be a little unnerving as you started a business to make sure.. lots of little mini pivots that you make along the way. But talking to customers, do whatever you need to do to get that customer happy work with them, solve the problems that they need to be solving today. And typically they're very understanding that it may not be perfect at first, but you can still evolve that solution to something they need tomorrow, work through that. And they get involved and they get emotional part of the process as well, those early adopters customers through the process.

Steph Charbonneau:
And then now we're at the point where we're doing a lot more enterprise type customers and they got slightly different things that you have to have your A-game on by the time you started hitting like the large American banks. And then you're talking about 100,000 of seats and people working with different demands and to scale up to that is slightly different than as you start off a brand new organization, when you're looking at customers, maybe two, 300 seats to start off with to get things right. But those foundations really helped us evolve to something that we could solve.

Joel Beasley:
Was this your first business that you founded?

Steph Charbonneau:
It was, it is. And I guess you can call me a lifer through this process. To switch over from consulting into getting well-founded in technologies, I had a really good breadth into different technologies around the security space. And I picked the one thing that was hard around data. There's two things people don't like, people have a hard time working with data and how do I make sure it stays relevant? Or if I encrypt it, how do I make sure all my downstream technologies work with it? So if I encrypt it, does it become garbage now? Unless you're talking to the right vendor to unlock that then it becomes harder to work with.

Steph Charbonneau:
And the other area was working with the users. Very few people like to write end-point software because you've got the Mac, you've got all these different platforms you need to write for. And that seems to be evolving over times. And now you can do Java stuff, you could do more web-based technologies to cover off, but trying to simplify that and cover where the customers need to be is something I spent a lot of time trying to solve. So those two areas have been very focal from my perspective, but the one that we founded, spent all our time and energy on and it got us to where we ended up.

Joel Beasley:
Can you walk me through, I have no understanding of your business, walk me through an actual use case of how someone would use the technology, like a real legitimate example.

Steph Charbonneau:
Right. Joel, you're going to send me a message or there's someone else within Modern CTO, you talked about your producers, your team, you have a different staff hanging around. So you're going to start sending some information and you're going to put some credit card information, "Hey, I've got this great gig coming up." And send some information and you fill out an email. Email is very helpful because it'll go through and it says, "Oh, you sent the stuff before, let me auto-fill that for you." And it's going to go off to some other stuff that's either someone on the outside or myself to a different organization. And so we can actually walk through and it sees a credit card or sees an attachment you put on it, maybe it's a resume, maybe it's something else that should be protected.

Steph Charbonneau:
And so our client software will sit there and just say, "Hey, you're sending it to the wrong person. Are you sure you meant to do that?" And there's so much caviar, but to situations where the return on investment on having that one executive blocks at one email going to the wrong person on the outside, where that could be very costly for an organization. That's the simplest use case.

Joel Beasley:
Well, that's pretty neat.

Steph Charbonneau:
Yeah. We call that protect from stupid sometimes. So people will make mistakes, not because they're stupid, we don't give them a hard time, but more around the idea that people are busy, people are pushed really hard. And we just want to be that security buddy on your shoulder as you're working, helping you, watching what you're doing and helping you if you're doing something that's obviously not the right thing, work through that daily task that you're working on.

Joel Beasley:
Yeah. Because in the email protocol, there's no confirmation concept in the actual email underlying protocols, so you can be a layer on top of that. That's pretty neat.

Steph Charbonneau:
Yep. Now you're part of the process. So, if you think about... And I came back to the driving Volvo scenario where you've got alerts happening as you're driving, you're about to hit someone and it just automatically stops. So now we should look at DLP, some of that stuff is there as well, but that's typically after it's left you or it's gone to the network and you're sending email through and you're hoping something down the road is going to pick this up. And then if it's bad and if it's able to figure it out without the help of the user, it'll send it back to you. But if it didn't, it will go off and then off it goes and we can't call it back.

Steph Charbonneau:
But if I can save that step of sending it to something else and just do it as I hit send right now, solve the problem before it actually becomes a problem, then that's helpful in real time. And we focus on the real-time. Now, we also do other stuff from after the fact your data rest, your repository, you've got stuff that's being stored in your servers, whether it be cloud or on-prem that has consequences to organizations, we can help there as well. But I think the most powerful one is the stuff that's happening live to the CEO, because they, again comes back to the emotion factor to that person who says you just saved a bridge right now, it was happening real time.

Joel Beasley:
Now, do you guys get into, I had this friend that I met and he had, it was like a Mac type tray application where you could take screenshots and send them over. And he ended up, I think one of the lines of business that his company grew into was preventing data from leaving the organization, I think, but through screenshots. So like if I took a screenshot of something and it had like my customer social security number in it or it could scan through like your Amazon storage, it could help you basically not leak personal identification information. Do you guys get into that type of world?

Steph Charbonneau:
We definitely get into that world. If it's just in the email body, you can go scan that and take a look at that. And we actually use machine learning to look at stuff that's beyond just a number. So is it a credit card with other things that help support the strength of that? So you're reducing the false positives through that. The screen capture, one is again, it comes back to my security background. So can we go through and block screen sharing? Well, you might have some digital rights management software that helps prevent that at the OS layer to be able to protect that. So from our policy pieces, if we see that information and then we can tell the OS to stop walking that piece.

Steph Charbonneau:
Now, within HelpSystems, they've acquired DRM Solutions, so we can automatically encrypt that thing using that technology from HelpSystems via the product they acquired through that. So they can go through and protect data itself, whether it's an attachment or whether it's an email, but from a scanning environment for stuff that's at risk, so if I'm a bank environment or if I'm just a regular business and I have a bunch of PCI credit card information and personal information sitting in my network storage, I need to know about that. Because the auditor can come check for that and it could be fines grow through that. So we'll help scan to look for that information.

Steph Charbonneau:
Now, the data loss prevention, keeping that go out there... We have technologies that can play in that space as well, but you can also educate those other technologies what is the value of the asset that's coming through or the data coming through there. So if I can look for a label on it says, "This has PCI information, this has sensitive information. This is internal use only. This is intended for project ABC," and it's going to someone who's not part of project ABC. So either we're at the data processing stage, or if you have something downstream that's going to move that later, it can know that just by understanding the asset, the tags that are on there, the identity of the data, that it doesn't have to guess at the value of that asset.

Steph Charbonneau:
So that's where we focus on and helps us and was going to help round off the rest of that piece of the puzzle, but not only from HelpSystems whether or not your friends got some technology there. If they can look at our tags, then they can already benefit from that, working with user, bring that part in or automatically applying that, then telling that downstream technology to do something with it.

Joel Beasley:
When you wake up and go to work, do you feel like you're going to work at Titus or HelpSystems?

Steph Charbonneau:
It's a good question. I look at the journey from understanding data to then security. I've always been data security focused, and I understand the digital rights management. Microsoft has got some rights management software they've had from way back in there since the very beginning. And we helped create their own training software to understand that. And I explain that only because from when I start, I think about how do we protect people's data? And so we started that journey with Titus and then we started venturing into that whole DRM technology, whether we cooperate partner or build that process. And then it came to realization, "Listen, I can't solve this journey on our own. We need to work with someone else." This is why we went through the process of trying to be part of a bigger solution set.

Steph Charbonneau:
So, when I wake up in the morning, I start the case still about data, but now it's part of the bigger puzzle. And my role as a product strategist within the data security portfolio, so how does all this stuff come together? So I've transitioned over to being part of a bigger solution, because I think there's more value in that and then understanding how these things come together. Now, when I started off this journey, I was hoping they get the attention of these other vendors, "Hey, we've got this tags, we've got the stuff you can use. We want to work with your technology, it makes a lot of sense." And we played with the McAfee's and semantics and all these other big players, and we've worked really well together, but you don't have a lot of influence on to what their roadmap may look like.

Steph Charbonneau:
Now, we can actually build something very excited. Now, we've got a reign of these different products. We can come together and build something better, one plus one equals three adage on. So that's what I switched over. Still, very close to people that we came through this journey from a past perspective, but building something bigger and better is important for me.

Joel Beasley:
When HelpSystems started buying these other products and bringing these teams together, did they make sure that these other companies had similar culture so it was a smooth transition?

Steph Charbonneau:
Yeah. They're very much people oriented. So one of the things they look at is who's there... they've got a really good layer as far as working from a strategy perspective, how do these things roughly fit together without solving the entire problem? Because we want the people that are coming part of the organization to help get to the finishing line, because each of these products have a journey and they've had roadmaps. They have certain reasons they ended up where they are, and they need to be part of that discussion and how to move forward. Otherwise, you're blocked. Otherwise, you're just told you're buying technology for the sake of buying technology. That's not always the best thing. So yes.

Joel Beasley:
Tell me about the culture. At least I know HelpSystems, I looked at the notes, you guys have like 700, 800 employees. I don't know if that's the official number that you produce, but that's what I think we got from LinkedIn. That's a lot of people. And so you can't have a personal relationship with all of them, but how would you describe the culture within your teams or the people that you interact with? What's the single biggest culture item that you guys discussed around the office?

Steph Charbonneau:
I'm super surprised and happy about the fact that they're very people oriented. For them it's very important to recognize, celebrate wins. And they have the full company meetings. And there's over 1,200 people now. So the numbers 750 were before some of these acquisitions, they're a little over 1,250 or something like that, give or take 10, 20, 50, whatever the number is, but they take the time to recognize, and CEO will actually call in that through an acquisition, make sure we point like go call each of the employees. Normally they'd all come together, walk the room, spend 10 minutes talking to people, but now acquisition through this time is a little bit different. So they're doing stuff through Teams meeting or Zoom meetings or whatever, just to make sure their voices are heard.

Steph Charbonneau:
But they like to reach out to talk to each of the employees as well. It's something that's very important for them which is surprising for some of the other strategics that we're looking at, definitely different vibes, which is why we really, really liked this organization.

Joel Beasley:
How long do you think it'll be before you would use the word we, instead of they? Do you think that's like a couple of years? I'm curious about that.

Steph Charbonneau:
I think it takes time. And I had a couple of people call that out as well. They say, "Hey staff, you don't always use we, we try to do this we culture, and you should start using we more often." I think what's missing is because we're so separate, I'm in an environment that's no different than what I would have been pre-acquisition. And we haven't had that move of sitting into something that says HelpSystems. So I think there's some visual clues that are throwing me off and not making my pivot. Plus it's 15 years' worth of working every day, pushing Titus piece.

Steph Charbonneau:
And then yes, I totally see what we need to be doing from a HelpSystems perspective, I think there's a lot more value. And for me to say we and I hadn't been checking on my words up to this point, but it's something that's been pointed out. I think it just takes time to work through. And I think working with the rest of the teams to be part of as we're talking to the other DRM technology or DLP technologies, their HelpSystems, as we start building these really tight couplings of the products, then that becomes easier for me to start thinking, "Okay, we, as a product have something that we can offer to customers," as I've been focused now on taking what we've built before and making it part of the family.

Steph Charbonneau:
So I still see us as this transition process to get the teams in, which is probably what's holding me back a little bit, and the visual clues, there's nothing's really changed around me.

Joel Beasley:
Yeah. Because we all work from home now.

Steph Charbonneau:
That's it. And I've been pleasantly surprised how the teams have transitioned through that. We'd had some people who had started off by saying, "Well, I can't wait to get back in the office." So you're two months in, three months in, no one knew how long this is going to go, and it's like, "Oh, we've got to get back. We got to sit by the water cooler." And we just had a survey and it appears a bit like a three quarters of people are happy working from home now. I can get so much done, I don't have to commute, I don't have to worry about that. I can roll out of bed, and you're assuming that... I'm not in my PJ's right now, I've got a shirt on, but-

Joel Beasley:
I hope you are.

Steph Charbonneau:
We're getting stuff done. And I can meet customers from all corners of the world, just time permitting as far as the daytime, but I can have 20 different meetings across North America without jumping in a plane right now and have a meaningful conversation in an hour with a customer and then switch over and ran away, I'm talking to someone else and giving some input and then collaborating with people in UK or Australia. This is all happening real time. Now, not to say that getting in front of customer is not important because I'm looking forward to the day that I can actually get out there and talking to them because that's where you get the real gist of what's happening.

Steph Charbonneau:
But one hour meetings are still fairly formal and chatting, but after you get out of the work scenario and have a chat with people, I think you get to the real, what are people trying to solve? Like tell me about your pain points, not just about what the board has told you, but what is really happening and how can we help you move that process? That just takes time. And so I look forward to the days that we can still do that.

Joel Beasley:
What do you think about, or have you gotten to see in the news type articles about the different communications that they're doing? They're building these phone booths where you could almost see a 3D replica of the person. They've got all these different technologies to try to make the bandwidth and the conversation and the interaction higher. Have you seen any of these?

Steph Charbonneau:
I've seen a few things and even like the headsets, so you're going through and do the VR and get into a virtual room and we're now virtual images of each other, talking to each other. I don't see that progressing enough to make that change yet, but the one thing we do need to figure out is how do we collaborate in a way that's meaningful and still be remote? We're an international organization, no matter if we open our offices again tomorrow, we still have people who are working over in the UK and Australia, different parts of the world, and they need to be part of as if they're sitting here together and collaborating.

Steph Charbonneau:
And as inventors working through problems as in teams of engineers, there is so much value in sitting there in front of a whiteboard and just take the little sticky notes and going through strums and trying to figure out all the different ideas, and still looking for that technology allows us to do that, make us feel closer and actually being part of that process, that creativity process. I don't know if technology can help there, but it's going to be a mixture. I think we'll have like core groups in certain organizations in a certain location and then maybe a few people on the outside joining, maybe those TV, separate TV for each person to make it feel like they're individual be part of there, maybe that'll happen, but I'm not seeing too much of it yet.

Joel Beasley:
I think it'll catch on with the VR goggles. I just don't like them. That's how I go off of stuff. I'll go to a trade show or convention and put on the Next-Gen whatever. And it's like, the field of view is small, it doesn't really seem that useful, it's not as impressive as I thought. But then the other day I saw that they're using these lasers to create these legitimate holograms, you can see them from 360. So they take one laser and they trap a piece of dust in the air, like a small piece of dust. And they can control its positioning with the beam. And then they take another laser and actually illuminate it. And they made these little light sabers and stuff. It's like legitimate light saber, there's no screen, there's no goggles, there's nothing because there it's actually there. And I was blown away by it.

Joel Beasley:
They're only doing it on really, really, really small scales right now, these little holographic displays. But it's even hard because marketing teams over the course of the past two decades, they've butchered every word. So there's no good word. If I say holographic display, everyone thinks like whatever the hologram, with the little screen that they have, or like a reflection in a piece of glass or something, there's nothing, there's just the laser illuminating the particles in front of you. It's fantastic.

Steph Charbonneau:
That reminds you of the Star Wars the little creatures playing video games type things. That's interesting. I haven't been to a trade show in quite some time, Joel, so I'll have to go see that walk the floor and see what's out there. That sounds interesting. How do you get the sticky notes on the wall? That's what I need to figure out.

Joel Beasley:
This is step one. This is the dropdown. This is the visionary like, "Let's just make it so we can have some element." And then I think we're just along, I think the underlying technologies need to develop better. I don't think it's going to be with headsets because they're so uncomfortable to wear.

Steph Charbonneau:
One thing, Joel, this world has allowed us to, I think, reach out to talent that doesn't have to be in your city either. One of the good things that's happened over the last year where there's always a hesitancy, "Oh, you can't be local, I'm looking for a local person to fit the team." That's gone away. So now I can get an expert that's sitting in Singapore to be part of the team and working through an idea if they can really push the boundaries. I think that's pretty interesting. That's opened up our horizon as to where do we look for talent and make them part of the team, grow the team. So I think that's very interesting. There's one thing we're doing in late June, we're having a little data security conference, I thought I'd talk about that.

Steph Charbonneau:
So we've got four or five days, June 21st to 25th, we're going to get a bunch of customers, prospects, partners together to talk about data security in general as part of the... data security has been part of my upbringing and this part of my DNA and as we're going into HelpSystems, we at HelpSystems is really trying to drive that messaging around data security being important. And they are a serious player in that space based on the acquisitions and stuff, and the type of people they bring into the portfolio. So there's virtual conference.

Steph Charbonneau:
I'm not sure they're going to have the laser VR type capabilities at this point, but at least have a conversation around what HelpSystems is doing for them on to help them round off their data security strategies, whether it's just a small piece of what we're doing or the bigger suite as well. So that's coming at the end of the month. I thought I'd at least mention that.

Joel Beasley:
Yeah, man, let's plug it. That's what we're here to do. We'll put links in the show notes too. What's the topic of it and what are the dates again?

Steph Charbonneau:
It's June 21st to 25th, 2021. So it will be a virtual conference, and it's Data Security Week, basically just from HelpSystems.

Joel Beasley:
Excellent. So people can go register for that. We'll put the links in the show notes, they can come check it out.

Steph Charbonneau:
You got it.

Joel Beasley:
What are the top speakers or what are the top topics?

Steph Charbonneau:
Well, we're looking for a pragmatic approach to getting to data security. So people who have not started down this path or their customers have helped us, and they've gone into automation and try other pieces of the solution it may exist within their environment. So how do I start the journey of help identifying or protecting information in DLP? We've got a bunch of tools, but if I didn't use those tools before, I don't know where to start. So it'll be sessions just talking about that or how the work with regulations coming down, whether it's CCPA out of the North America or California Consumer Protection Act or GDPR, if you're international and got some Europeans, how do I start that journey and help protecting that information? And then just through its life cycle.

Steph Charbonneau:
So all kinds of great sessions just to get educated on how HelpSystems work, but we also tie into maybe the stuff that already exists, we just help them make it better.

Joel Beasley:
Excellent. Do you have any other call to actions for this? If people want to learn more about your company and possibly they could use the product that you have, how would they do that?

Steph Charbonneau:
We have a great website for people to go to helpsystems.com, and then look at the different portfolio products that we have from a data security perspective. You can get into trials, take a look at some of the software, happy to reach out and have conversations with people on what their needs are. I spend my day talking to the engineering team, trying to figure out what our way forward is from a technology, but that has to be married with talking to customers and prospects and understanding what's in their head, what's real, and what are the bad assumptions I've made about what we're building, because the faster I can get to solving and understanding other assumptions I've made, the faster we get to providing value to the customer.

Joel Beasley:
I like your style. I got some leadership questions as we wrap up, we have a few more minutes left. Is that okay?

Steph Charbonneau:
Sure. All right, Joel.

Joel Beasley:
I'm just curious, throughout the process, you said 15 years of growing this company, what were the different times that you bought leadership training or did you do it, or did learning and development do it? How did that happen for you and your team?

Steph Charbonneau:
That's a really good question. As you were evolving a company from small, we started off with a handful of people, four or five people starting company, you don't have time for some of this training piece. You just get down and get dirty, roll up the sleeves and gets a solution that people can start with and understand. Once we started getting into 25, 50 people, you start getting a threshold, I need to get processes, so you start pulling in external people, whether it's a part-time CFO, make sure the finance is there, start building out the sales team. If you don't have a good sales team out there, you're not getting new customers, understanding where they are, what markets you need to get into.

Steph Charbonneau:
So you start to have to hire that talent in, and then you can still control the culture at that point, 50 people's not bad. We get to 100. Now, you have to start setting cultures. And our training has been mostly focused in two areas. One is around, let's say from a sales perspective, one of our methodology is to help them with messaging, marketing, and building out that piece of it. And then there was some culture training to help people better themselves and moving them in their own culture, call the blue thinking as well. So strategies understanding what challenges are, have color-coded, am I thinking green, angry, competitive, or am I trying to solve something, and I'm open-minded and looking for challenging myself.

Steph Charbonneau:
So just trying to get through that trading to really help cement your culture as you grow up. And then the one thing we did as founders going through it is understanding when to pull back because we're really good at being foundational and gets started, putting ideas in people's head. I don't write code anymore. I may have looked at code before to understand the object models, but you need to be able to step back and bring the right people to bring it to the next layer because they'll help you grow that company and you can still keep the ideation going.

Steph Charbonneau:
And I think that's really critical, understanding when to pivot on some of those things, and then still keep the right creativity in line so it doesn't change and deviate too much, but that would be something I think would be important for your listeners as well, to walk through that. And I assume others have gone through the same learning experiences.

Joel Beasley:
Yeah. That's why I was curious because typically, we will share some leadership insights or something like that, but I was curious to better understand exactly how these companies grow. And it's not all the time that somebody has been there since day one, to get to talk with them. So when I do have the opportunity to talk to somebody like you, I am curious how it evolved. Now, you hit 100 people and that's when culture training becomes important and you have time for it because you can't spend time with everybody, they can't rub the culture off of you by being in the same room with you because you just can't be in the room with 100 people at the same time. But who led that initiative?

Joel Beasley:
Was leadership training originally like purchased by the CEO or was it something where they brought in like a leadership consultant who eventually came on full-time, similar to like a CFO, how that would be fractional, but then come on full-time as the company grew, how did that roll out?

Steph Charbonneau:
The rollout would have started with our executive team, which had been the CEO, a CTO which is my role, and Charlie from marketing perspective and just understanding that things just didn't work as smoothly as they did, and understood there's an opportunity here and that we need to grow the organization and we just didn't have the skillset at that point in time to leap it to that organization. These are first time we've created an organization, created a company. So we actually reached out to training organizations. We had started hiring some more senior salespeople and they knew of other methodologies. It's word of mouth, figured out, doing a little bit of research, gets motivational speakers to come in, and hire the CFO piece and work through that and work through senior people.

Steph Charbonneau:
One thing that was really critical for us is to make sure that we kept these AGMs, Annual General Meetings, where that's fun, you'd be at someone's house the first couple of years. And then we started renting places, and then we just made them really cool and exciting. And it was a show. We spent more time on doing internal marketing to ourselves to make sure that we're all having a good time because the return on that, it's just incredible. So if you can get everybody motivated together on one train of thought, and we'd have the management team, the executive team doing skits and dances and show tunes stuff up on the stage in front of people, and having a good time, having a good laugh, or at least they look like they're laughing and having fun, and maybe they're laughing at us.

Joel Beasley:
A little bit of both.

Steph Charbonneau:
A little bit of both. But they all had a lot of fun and we made sure people's families were included, these extra times outside of workplace, we'd have these special events, we'd give back to community. And then all these internal initiatives, make sure we help grow those initiatives that people thought a certain cause was important, we'd put that front and center. It's like, "That's a great cause, let's help out. How can we help up with this company grow that?" And that culture actually flowed really well into HelpSystems because within HelpSystems, their initiatives into the community is very, very strong. It's very important for them as well.

Steph Charbonneau:
And they don't just say that, they actually get into doing some activities and Habitat for Humanity, something that's very near and dear to what I believe in as well, giving people homes as an opportunity to grow is something that they have as part of their own culture as well.

Joel Beasley:
So has the training, did that roll up in the HelpSystems now that you're acquired, are they handling that?

Steph Charbonneau:
Yes. All that corporate stuff now happens at HelpSystems. And I understand that. HelpSystems use the term we, we have to figure out what that culture is so we can cement this so everyone's talking the same way. And the fact they put customers first, I don't care what your strategy is and going through, but as long as it solves a customer problem and whatever we do, we put customer first, that has to be rolled into HelpSystems wide initiative. You can't stay in your own little business unit and hope that you can keep your culture within one little area, it needs to flow across. Otherwise, it's longer before we start using the word we, as opposed to they.

Joel Beasley:
What's the most impactful leadership lesson that you've learned in your career?

Steph Charbonneau:
The most impactful leadership skill, I don't have to solve everything. So I think it's to give everyone an opportunity to have a voice, and you don't want to overpower them. Rank doesn't need to be the most important thing that's happening in your meeting or conversations. A junior programmer comes in, we have a call student comes in, I'll sit down with them and, "Hey, what's going on? What turns you on? What's the type of things you'd like to work on? I don't want you here photocopying stuff for your co-op job, because I've been through that process and it sucks. So I want you to start on an interesting career." So I think hierarchies, keeping as flat as possible.

Steph Charbonneau:
Now, if it doesn't have to have that title just because it's easier to talk to an enterprise customer than whatever, so just put whatever role you need to be. But as you're working with people, check that in at the door, walk in and make it real. I think that's probably the best impactful thing I think from a leadership skill that's worked for me, and I think it's very important.

Joel Beasley:
I love it. Thank you so much for listening. And if you found this episode useful, please share it with a friend or a colleague who you think would get value from it. And if you have topics that you'd like to hear discussed on the podcast, either add me on LinkedIn or send me an email, [email protected]. Every time I get an email or LinkedIn message, it absolutely makes my day and inspires me to keep going.