Jody Houton

We sat down with Behavox CEO, Erkin Adylov to discuss the highs and lows of the past year, the things we should be thankful for, and why 2021 is shaping up to be Behavox’s biggest year yet….

How did COVID-19 affect Behavox?

Before COVID, 2020 was actually shaping up to be a great year. We’d just closed the US$100 million round of financing with SoftBank and we were focusing on expanding our headcount. COVID came in and caused unprecedented levels of disruption to our clients and to us.

The sudden work-from-home conditions created a decentralized risk map. All of a sudden, companies all around the world started to think, “Well, how do we quantify what’s going on in this digital workplace? How do we better understand our employee dynamics? How do we better mitigate risk?”

Overall, I’d say it really brought to the front and center of everybody’s mind that an employee base can work effectively in a digital realm. COVID accelerated this notion. It’s all happening in the cloud. It’s all happening in a place that could be classified as the Wild West, for some organizations.

COVID created an “a-ha” moment for many companies, who now understand better than ever the value of using a data operating platform to create insights into their everyday decision making.

Have you seen any benefits of working from home?

People are getting the benefits of not having to commute anymore. They’re able to spend more time with family. They can use the commute time instead to go to the gym or something like that. 

Another benefit, of course, is that you’re able to do more work. You can literally roll right out of bed and go straight to work and because there’s no commute, and there is no grabbing coffee or anything else, it literally keeps you focused and at work, almost permanently.

So, if you’re a founder, this is super efficient, because it allows me to get much more work done, but the flip side of it is it also is very exhausting. So by the time it’s Friday, I’m pretty sure everybody is literally just waiting for the weekend, so that they can sleep or recharge.

So, there are challenges to working from home. There is no break anymore between home and work and people are missing all the emotional connections that they could easily build in the workplace.

I think work from home was the kind of thing that people idealized before COVID. I think many were envious of colleagues who could work from home, because they didn’t like commuting or they didn’t like to spend money on lunch, or they wanted to spend more time with their families.

If we think about where the world is going, we’re probably going to start seeing two office environments. You’re going to have the people that have moved out of the city because of COVID who are now living in suburbia; enjoying life and working from home and all that. That’s all good. 

One challenge moving forward is that there is going to be a big chunk of the population that actually appreciates living in the city, and wants to go to the office. Those are the people that are going to create those emotional bonds with each other, and the people who are working from home are going to feel that they’re missing out on all the fun; on all the great things that are happening in the office.

So, I do think that when we start going back to normality that an overwhelming majority of people are going to want to actually go back to office because the office environment is where we’ve been working for hundreds of years, for a reason. It creates a physical and psychological demarcation line between work and home.

How have Behavox’s customers responded to the pandemic?

Typically, a business continuity program would involve a terrorist attack or a flood or some sort of natural disaster that disables an office. So, our clients all have backup offices.

Obviously, the ramifications of the pandemic were not something that could be planned for, so, in the early days, many literally had no idea what to do. Many struggled to get the necessary equipment to people. They struggled configuring remote access to systems and setting up trading floors from home.

What’s interesting is how well and quickly the industry was able to adapt. With regards to Behavox, we were already operating globally. Our employees were already used to operating on a distributed basis and being serviced remotely, at all hours of the day. We were already doing regular WebEx or Zoom sessions with clients.

The feedback we got from clients was, “We love the fact that Behavox didn’t even skip a beat and continued to service our needs as if nothing happened.” So, I think that if there’s something that we can be proud of as a company, we should be proud of the fact that, although the pandemic was happening, nobody was panicking at Behavox.

We continue to deliver great results for our customers. In fact, some of our customers went into production in record time. For example, with Danske bank, we were able to deliver the fastest enterprise implementation of any enterprise project in the space of just five months.

What would you say has been the toughest challenge from the experience?

When Black Swan events happen, they tend to throw everything out of balance. But I think one of the learnings that can come out of it is the importance of building the agility and mental toughness of an organization, so that it is unfazed with whatever happens and continues to focus on execution.

I think more companies are going to be focused on how to integrate their risk routines or discussion points at the executive team level. How can you lead people through a crisis, whatever it might be? 

I think, from a leadership perspective, one of the biggest challenges that you have as a leader, is, what do you say to your people?

When you’re faced with an unprecedented event, such as a pandemic, when things are literally changing on a daily basis, there’s a lot of data that suddenly hits you, whether it’s stock market fluctuations or macro data, unemployment data.

So, the challenge is making the right decisions on behalf of your people. Most leaders wake up thinking, how do I do good by my people? How do I lead them?

I think that was probably psychologically the biggest challenge of this year for many companies. For Behavox, it wasn’t really a challenge. We didn’t fire people. In fact, we hired people. We actually more than doubled our headcount.

But, for us, the challenge was: “What do we tell our employees when there is so much disruption happening in the world?” People are losing their jobs everywhere. So you need to give them confidence that we’re going to be different. You need to tell them that the world is not going to be falling apart, you need to be able to guide the employee and to tell them that things are going to be okay.

In these uncertain times, have you found that you need to be more transparent in your CEO leadership style? 

You know what makes it fun for people to work in a company? Beyond the paycheck and everything else that you get, is the sense that you’re on a common mission. I cannot create that sense of common mission if employees don’t feel connected. 

If they don’t feel connected, it doesn’t matter how much the company is going to pay, they’re most likely going to sign up to another company that actually gives them that mission. So I think transparency and the ability to communicate what everybody is trying to achieve is essential. Like, what’s our common goals? That’s the thing that breeds ownership.

Again, I think this is probably going to be a lesson for other companies to embrace as well. When you’re operating in very uncertain times, you need to be very transparent and very honest with your people because that’s what allows them to make tough decisions.

What were Behavox’s key achievements in 2020?

Our major achievement was that we managed to double our employee base. That was really important because in the COVID world, it was a big decision to change jobs and to sign up to a company. So, the fact that we’re able to double our headcount in the face of coronavirus was great. We need to be thankful to all the people that decided to join in the middle of the pandemic.

I think the second achievement is actually taking customers into production and continuing to be able to deliver very complex enterprise projects all around the world. 

The third significant achievement is that we’ve built up real agility and resilience as a company. The fact that we survived and thrived through a pandemic is going to make the company stronger and better, because we’re much more prepared for these kinds of events in the future. 

Can you let us know what’s in store for Behavox in 2021?

2021 is already shaping up to be a great year for Behavox. We are going to invest heavily in Research and Development in order to continue to innovate and update our product offerings to drive more value to our customers. 

We have some really exciting things coming up, driven by seasoned industry experts and leaders in the field, including Gagan Gulati, our new Chief Product Officer, who joined us from Microsoft this year.

We’ve also got some new products set to launch next year that we’re really looking forward to unveiling. It’s going to be a transformative year for both Behavox and our customers. Our collective journey is only just beginning.