8VC Emerging Builders Spotlight: Erin Risk (Twingate)
In your words, what is Twingate and what are you most excited about?
We live in a time where folks are working from everywhere on their own devices – they are not tethered to a desk at an office on a company provided laptop. The surface area of what can go wrong has increased exponentially. Twingate was born out of this pain point to solve for rapidly evolving security needs.
Add-on the fact that security products today don’t account for the needs of the multiple parties they serve – including IT admins, DevOps teams, and end users themselves. There’s an unnecessary amount of friction within the workflows of these groups and a lack of innovation in the VPN and remote access marketplace in general. Twingate helps companies secure access to resources (cloud or on-prem) in a way that is more secure and performant, while removing the maintenance and inflexibility of traditional VPN technology.
For example, often end users will try to get around using their company’s VPN in an attempt to avoid frustrating slow performance. This unfortunately increases the threat of a security breach.
In parallel, IT teams are burdened with maintaining inflexible VPNs, and DevOps teams need to manage access controls for developer workflows in a scalable manner. We’ve designed our technology to be deployed programmatically using Terraform or Pulumi in minutes and regardless of existing infrastructure requirements.
What I’m really excited about is where the security industry is headed. Access has historically been limited to the network level – when you use a VPN, you effectively have access to anything on that network creating a threat risk. Instead, we can give administrators more control over what employees can access down to the resource level and provide visibility into what resources they continue to need access to based on their usage. Our aim is to allow companies to be able to set parameters for when a certain user, on a certain device, under a certain context should be granted access to the resource in question, every time they try accessing that resource. And we make it easy.
How did you learn about Twingate?
I worked with Tony Huie (co-founder/CEO) and Alex Marshall (co-founder/Chief Product Officer) at a previous company. I loved working with them and strongly believe in surrounding oneself with great talent that values growing the next generation. I think who you choose to surround yourself with is especially important early on in one's career.
Prior to Twingate, I worked in roles focused on strategic finance and analytics – I was eager to pivot towards direct application with a growth mandate.
What part of the Twingate product do you work on today?
I’ve worn many hats internally depending on the most pressing needs of the business. When I first joined, I spearheaded our SEO strategy, eventually jumped into sales operations and ultimately shifted into managing our Product Led Growth (PLG) motion.
Twingate has a product-led motion where folks can sign up through our website and onboard completely on their own. It’s frankly challenging to communicate all the benefits of Twingate until customers try it and can independently recognize how straightforward the product is – it takes minutes to set up and the product ultimately sells itself once you give it a go!
I spend most of my time thinking about how we can harness existing growth for our self-serve funnel. This includes learning about the key problems our customers are trying to solve so that we can improve the ease of setup, build helpful tutorials, and uncover new ways to reach these users. We’ve adopted a “follow your nose” approach where we identify a problem, speak with customers directly to further understand the problem and then brainstorm creative solutions.
We’ve double clicked on certain aspects of the funnel, specifically around onboarding and acquiring new users. Brand awareness is very critical, especially at this stage of the company.
We’re extremely excited about the PLG motion at Twingate and how it can be brought to a domain where it historically hasn’t existed. A lot of improving that onboarding motion is in instrumenting where people fall off in the customer journey or where there are key inflection points. How do you think about mapping out the user journey?
It’s important to understand your existing funnel – website visit to signup to onboarding to engaged account to power users – and how various user segments are successfully completing each of these stages.
We’ve discovered that our product is straightforward for an individual who is comfortable using a command-line interface making a self-service motion the right experience. For other users, the optimal buying experience is a more hands-on approach that allows us to continue learning about the “bugs” or friction points within the product today.
It’s also important to understand why someone landed on your website to begin with. In some situations, these users are a great fit for the product and in others, you might be attracting the wrong audience. Once you are clear on what personas derive value from your product, then you need to be hyper focused on attracting this persona.
In the onboarding process, with a traditional VPN, you have a single bottleneck and don’t have to worry about resource access management. How do you help new users get used to new framing of how VPNs should work and enterprise resource access management should work?
Most of the folks we talk to understand that VPNs are outdated and that a zero trust security approach is where the industry is headed. However, the best thing we can do is help your users solve their main pain points rather than trying to convince them to switch to a whole new security strategy right out the gate. For some of our users, they are looking for an easier to deploy and manage VPN than what is in the market today. Network level access control is all that is needed. For others, they are looking for granular resource level access controls, aka a zero trust model. Our solution can address either use case, but our mission is to make zero trust easy to adopt for any organization. We allow our customers to grow into this mission at their own pace and are removing the friction of making this transition.
But there are also some misconceptions about our product given that folks are used to traditional VPN technology. To counteract this we offer detailed documentation. We categorize anything that produces a question as a “bug” and take that as a ticket to address within the documentation to help eliminate receiving the same question twice.
We also have an awesome sales and sales engineering team who can walk customers through how to efficiently set up Twingate in their respective environment and for complex use cases.
I’m proud of our onboarding experience and have found that when customers get on the phone, questions are less focused on implementation and more about wanting to better understand our feature-set and compatibility with other technologies within their security stack.
How has the transition been from the consumer side of security at Aura to the enterprise networking infrastructure world? How have you picked up GTM and business strategy best practices and principles?
It definitely took work – not only was I shifting from consumer to B2B tactics, but joining an early stage company has its own set of challenges, but provides unrivaled opportunities to develop your career.
I work with grade-A teammates who thankfully are always willing to share their expertise. I’ve also realized the importance of looking outside my organization to understand how other startups are solving the same problems. As long as you’re willing to put in the work, you can level up – just don’t discount resources at your fingertips like sales call notes, talking with cross-functional teammates, and reaching out to your network.
Any hot takes you might have on working at startups, networking or investing?
Working at an early stage startup builds certain skills that you won’t cultivate anywhere else. It’s much more challenging to go from zero to one as opposed to managing something that already exists.
Developing the mental grit to try a bunch of things, guided by a strategy based on limited information is important. You need to be thoughtful about what you are doing and why, but with a bias towards action. The further along you get into your career, the harder it becomes to give yourself the space to build these skills.