Originally from the US, Peter Hix moved to the UK 6 years ago when the investment company he was working for expanded. He later met Hadrian’s CEO Rogier Fischer, and CFO Maurice Clin through the MBA program at London Business School. A ‘tech enthusiast’ at heart, Hix started working for Hadrian as a Project Manager. Using research skills developed during his investment career Hix has been working to help Hadrian profile its potential customers and find the perfect product-market fit.
You have an extensive background in investment, why did you decide to switch paths and how has this background helped you on this journey?
I had been interested in becoming more directly involved in the operations of a company than investment allowed for a while. Operations to me means, in the most basic sense, getting stuff done. From an investment perspective you look at a company and you identify the things they need to improve on but there’s a bit of distance from the actual execution. I was really interested in the execution aspect which drew me towards getting involved with Hadrian.
My investing background has been advantageous. The research process I developed over the years has been helpful. For instance, interviewing experts in an industry was something I did constantly, and that process is already proving beneficial at Hadrian where we’re doing the same thing.
One of the greatest differences though is how excited I am by digital security. When I was working in investment, I was researching industries that, while interesting, might not have always been of personal interest. Thinking back a couple years ago, when I was listening to security podcasts while walking to work, I never would have pictured getting to interview people who work on these concepts and really ask deep questions. To be able to do research on digital security, which I’ve always been innately interested in, has been very fulfilling.
What makes assessing market fit for a start-up different from thinking about market-entry for a more established organization?
For companies that already have an existing product and a clear market the research goes one of two ways: It’s either iterative on the product - making incremental changes to an already existing product – or taking a product and figuring out how to get it into the market. In that type of situation my starting point is normally to talk to customers about how they buy a product. For instance, if you’re heavily investing in Facebook ads and then you find out your customer doesn’t use Facebook to source your product, that would indicate you’re not getting a good return on investment.
With a start-up like Hadrian the product is in a much earlier-stage. You might have a proof of concept but because you’re creating a product that isn’t on the market yet you can’t really ask a customer how they would buy it. Instead we’re focusing on figuring out what a customer would like to see in a product.
To figure out how to meet the needs of our clients we don’t ask them what they want to see in the product, but rather what they want to be able to do. Then we consider what they would need in our product in order to achieve that goal. One way to illustrate this framework is to think of yourself as a kettle manufacturer (laughs) bare with me. You could ask customers what features they want to see on a kettle, however, what they actually want to get done is make a coffee. Instead of adding more features to your kettle, an innovative response to the market would be developing an espresso machine where you can make a coffee with a push of a button. I think this is a great framework for a start-up because we’re building a product from scratch so we have the flexibility to address what a customer wants to be able to do in a way an existing product might not.
As this is your first time working for a start-up did you find it difficult making the mental shift to a start-up mentality?
Most of my career I’ve been looking at companies who have been around for at least 30 years, so working for a start-up has definitely been new. I think the main shift in my understanding has been realizing that my research and learning can be incorporated into the actual product. It’s exciting to see my work going towards building a differentiated product that can do well in this market.
Have you had any moments yet where you’ve been able to collaborate with some of the developers?
One of the projects I was working on, which won’t be reality for a while yet, was an e-book. The e-book was going to go on the website and contain a lot of information about the product and the company. I had brought up the idea of also including the results from the external attack surface management tool. The point of the e-book was to create a sense of value for a potential client. By taking the results from a scan and adding them in the e-book we could directly present companies with the types of vulnerabilities they might experience, and the number of unknown assets we found.
Figuring out how to integrate the scanning product with the e-book as a marketing tool was exciting. The idea was that the customer would put in their email to get the e-book and there the tool could find the domain and start mapping the attack surface. I scheduled a meeting with Wesley, one of our Product Managers, and we chatted about how it could work.
The more that I talk with the developers and learn about the product the more evolved the idea becomes. One of the challenges to overcome is the length of time it takes to fully scan an attack surface. There will be a question of balance when it comes to deciding whether we want a full visualization of the attack surface in the e-book or we want the client to get the e-book fast. Finding the balance is exactly the kind of execution challenge I was looking for when I started at Hadrian.
You met Rogier and Maurice at London Business School. What drove you to go back to school to do your MBA?
Going back to school was a way to shift industry function and get high-level introductory education on many new topics. I happen to be finishing a course on customer marketing analytics right now, which is very timely. The course thinks about how to profile a customer, how to segment them and how to prioritize them. The course allows me to have a base knowledge and language that I can use to do my own research.
For example, there was an introduction to customer segmentation based on surveys included in the course. We learned one of the easier techniques for customer segmentation which wasn’t perfect for Hadrian’s goals. However, the course gave me the knowledge and language to find the method that I felt best suits our purpose.
And finally, as you are a self-proclaimed ‘tech enthusiast’, my last question is, of course, what is your favourite digital security podcast?
I religiously listen to every episode of Darknet Diaries. Jack Rhysider is an amazing host who tells stories about “the dark side of the internet” through research and interviews. It’s in a film noir style and incredibly entertaining. At first I didn’t understand everything he was talking about but eventually started to pick up more and more over time.