Lauri Almann, CybExer Technologies: Support from the state for expanding onto foreign markets takes negotiations to the next level

What does CybExer Technologies do?

CybExer works to establish cybersecurity capability in companies and countries. We focus on people and the risks related to them, from improving the cyber-hygiene of regular computer users to training technical experts and strategic leaders, be they the management boards of large companies or banks. In addition, we cooperate with governments. For example, in 2017, when Estonia held the presidency of the Council of the European Union, we assisted with the cyber training of European ministers of defence, which was organised for the first time in history.

How fierce is international competition in your field of activity?

It’s intense. Our strength is our wide-ranging, in-depth experience, which helps us stand out. One interesting observation I’d make is that if an IT company mentions its connection to Estonia, it’s as if certain limitations arising from competition just disappear, because Estonia’s reputation internationally is so good. We have Estonia’s state officials and the team at Enterprise Estonia to thank for that, who’ve all worked immensely hard to build up the country’s reputation. As an entrepreneur, it’s very clear to me that the image we’ve created of ourselves makes it a lot easier for us to reach international markets. For example, we have a branch in the Czech Republic, and we’ve tried selling IT products as a Czech company, but you’re not taken even half as seriously if you’re from the Czech Republic. You clearly see the difference in attitude.

What visits have you been on?

I went to America with former prime minister Taavi Rõivas and to Japan with Urve Palo, who was the Minister of Economic Affairs and Infrastructure at the time. We’ve participated in international trade fairs with the company as well, which have always been a big success. The defence industry trade fair Eurosatory’s worth mentioning as well.

What motivated you to start going on international visits?

You get to attend important meetings if you’re part of a delegation led by a minister or the prime minister. Plus being part of a delegation shows that your company is a reliable partner to the state, which is often very important to potential partners. International visits are a great opportunity to learn about new and foreign markets on which your company doesn’t yet feel at home as well. That’s why I personally went to Japan and the States, because both of those markets are huge, and small Estonian companies usually have a hard time reaching important people. And since business deals on those markets tend to take a long time, participating in a state-organised visit means you can benefit from ‘shortcuts’. I really value that.

What are your expectations when you go on an international visit?

I think managing your expectations is the most important thing when it comes to international visits. I’ve noticed that visits to slightly more exotic places get a lot of media attention. Journalists seem to have gotten the impression that agreements are reached within a few weeks or months. But the business world is much more complex than that, and doesn’t work in a linear way. When you go on a visit, most entrepreneurs naturally aim to find partners on foreign markets, but striking a deal in just a few months is pretty unusual. A visit gives you the opportunity to understand how your target market works and to meet important people. They’re also exciting because visiting one country could lead to the creation of a market in another one. With our company, for example, our visit to Japan didn’t lead to anything for us there, but rather in the Netherlands, because a lot of Dutch companies operate in Japan. But thanks to that visit, our knowledge of what goes on there, by which I mean the Japanese market, is much better and we’re able to offer our help to Dutch companies that are already operating there. As for the United States, the IT market is unbelievably competitive there. Being part of the prime minister’s delegation took our negotiations to the next level. Thanks to that visit, we have direct contacts in some really powerful US companies, which will definitely work to our advantage one way or another. I don’t doubt that for a second.

In your view, how well are these visits for entrepreneurs organised?

Really well. I don’t have anything bad to say about Enterprise Estonia. I really appreciate the professionalism of the organisers and their ability to manage entrepreneurs from very different fields all at the same time. For example, we have some very good friends who developed one of the best military boots in the world. If you’re representing an IT company and right next to you at the trade fair is a company selling military boots, that’s a difficult combination to manage. And yet Enterprise Estonia always pulls it off. The visits have always been organised to a very high level as well. All of the agreed meetings have happened, and the way they’ve been run has been terrific. We also have experience of institutions in other countries that do the same sort of thing as Enterprise Estonia. Compared to them, our lot are marked out by just how perfectly they manage to organise things.

In your opinion, how important is participating in visits for Estonian companies and the country’s economy?

It’s vital! Because Estonia’s prosperity depends on exports. The opportunity to work with the state is one people should appreciate. It’s actually an enormous privilege that Estonian companies get the chance to go on such convenient business trips. Anywhere else in the world, you’d probably have to make it through dozens of rounds of competition before getting into the prime minister’s delegation. I feel like Estonian entrepreneurs sometimes forget what a luxury it is to make it into a business delegation so easily. We’ve probably gotten so used to certain things and take them for granted, so we don’t appreciate how big of a thing it is. If we tell colleagues in larger countries about the opportunities afforded you in Estonia, they’re completely amazed at what’s available to entrepreneurs. Belonging to the delegation of the prime minister or the president or a member of the government really opens doors and creates new opportunities. It’s so important that Estonian companies go on visits! For themselves and for Estonia.

What’s the main knowledge and know-how that entrepreneurs gain on visits?

Figuratively speaking, you first find out what the dust on the streets of your target country smells like. You can’t do everything online. It’s important to invest time in your business partner and to get to know them personally, which means direct contact. Secondly, visits give you a chance to gain an overview of the target country and of the important people operating there in a very short space of time. Plus you can test how to present your goods or services, since the visits motivate you to prepare a really high-quality sales pitch. During visits, entrepreneurs have the chance to present what their company does in a very short time and at a very high level. It’s important to a company that they get high-quality feedback that tells you whether your presentation works, which is to say whether they’re interested in your product or service based on it. You might also get some good talking points. Personally, one of the most valuable results of our visit to Japan was that we gained a perfect talking point for our cyber hygiene platform, which we use as a sales argument to this day. I don’t even know precisely how many clients we’ve sold our product to, tens of thousands I suppose, thanks to what a Japanese banker said to us. What happened was, we were presenting our product to this investment banker, who was really interested in it. The principle behind the product is that while we’re assessing someone’s level of cyber knowledge, we never tell them whether they passed or not. Instead, we produce a risk chart across a range of areas, indicating the shortcomings. This banker looked at it and said: “You know, we use a cyber hygiene module in our bank and I scored 95 out of 100. I can’t sleep at night anymore because I don’t know where I lost those five points. Your product is perfect!” We’ve quoted those words since that meeting to sell our products, and they’ve been highly valuable to us.

Critics might say that the knowledge and skills gained on visits are difficult to put into use in Estonia. They ask how these visits benefit Estonian people. How would you answer that question?

There are different approaches to selling products. One of them is that since we’re an Estonian company, then the state, local companies and local people should buy our products simply because we’re Estonian. But our company has a different mentality. We say that Estonian people, Estonian institutions and the Estonian state deserve only solutions that work elsewhere in the European Union or NATO as well. Through visits and by getting to know other markets, we’re ensuring that our products are of the highest quality for people on our own market, too. That’s the direct benefit Estonian people gain from the visits.

Would you recommend participating in international visits to other Estonian companies?

Definitely! I’ll say it again: since Estonia’s so small and Enterprise Estonia’s so accessible, our entrepreneurs might not always appreciate how valuable going on international visits actually is. Being an entrepreneur and going on a visit with, say, the prime minister is a huge thing that could open lots of doors. So I definitely recommend seizing those opportunities.

When is your next visit planned for?

We’d definitely like to go on the visit to Japan that’s taking place in autumn. We’re keeping our eyes open!

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