How Aura is building customer trust while combating fraud
On this episode of TELUS International Studios, we're joined by Christopher Bray, chief revenue officer at Aura, a digital security start-up that recently achieved unicorn status and caught the attention of high profile investors like Jeffery Katzenberg and Sujay Jaswa.
Aura has been making waves recently for its pledge to back customers who suffer losses related to identity theft and fraud with up to one million dollars in coverage. Christopher shares his thoughts on how this offer, as well as Aura's approach to empathetic customer care, has impacted the company's success. He deep dives into how these components help strengthen the level of trust between Aura and its customers, all while serving as a key differentiator in the industry. Check it out.
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Intro: TELUS International Studios where customer experience meets digital transformation.
Patrick Haughey (PH): Welcome to TELUS International Studios. I'm your host, Patrick Haughey, and on this episode, I meet the chief revenue officer of a digital security start-up called Aura that recently achieved unicorn status. And we talk all about online security, customer and user experience and, of course, growth. There are so many threats out there when it comes to your digital presence. And traditionally, we have had to have an individual application or piece of software for each one of these threats, requiring quite a bit of time and money and also a level of technical knowledge and expertise. But then Aura came along and bought all of these individual applications together into one suite, giving users better options, better value and a more seamless user experience. And here at TELUS International, we understand the importance of client security on behalf of our partners. So this is a topic that we take very seriously indeed. Well, Aura has attracted the attention of some very high profile investors, including Hollywood mogul Jeffrey Katzenberg and Silicon Valley investor Sujay Jaswa. And the company recently achieved unicorn status or a one billion dollar plus valuation. At the heart of that phenomenal growth is Aura's chief revenue officer, Christopher Bray, who is my guest on this episode of TELUS International Studios. We caught up earlier and Christopher began by explaining exactly what Aura does.
Christopher Bray (CB): Yeah, well, we are, we're protecting individuals and we're doing it in a very different way to, I think, the way that the industry has done it over the last 20 years. What makes us different is, we're a collection of experts coming from various companies and putting together a solution and a value proposition almost with a white sheet of paper. Our strength is that we have a lot of these core technologies that have existed as point solutions. But we've pulled that in together into a very seamless customer experience that protects people's identity, privacy, as well as device security, unlike anything out there in the market. I think one of the things that the industry has been guilty of over the years is they've expected customers to be technical experts. But any bit of consumer research, you'll find that your average consumer doesn't know what the difference is between a firewall and an antivirus solution and why should they? You know, that should really be our job to say, hey, listen, we've got your back and we've got a solution that takes care of it all for you. So we've built this product the Aura suite that we launched just recently, that does a really good job of demystifying a lot of this, educating, empowering and giving you the ability to really understand your security profile and fix it.
PH: So does that suggest that up to now, traditionally there are many different types of threats when it comes to your digital presence and your online security. But up to now, you really have had to have a number of different types of software or a number of different types of applications to address all of those threats. Whereas what you guys are doing is bringing all together in one suite.
CB: And that's very much the case. And if you look at all of the solutions that you need on a point product basis in order to protect yourself, that starts to become rather expensive. But it also requires a certain level of technical sophistication that most people don't have. People are aware of the threat out there. I mean, every seven seconds, someone is the victim of identity theft or fraud, and they're losing about three point three billion in fraud in 2020. That was an 80 percent increase from 2019. So the problem is there, it's just how do I fix it? And it leaves a lot of consumers a bit paralyzed thinking, OK, I know I'm at risk, I might be protected, but I'm not sure to what extent I am.
PH: What does Aura, the Aura suite look like? How does it work? What's the experience?
CB: That's a great question. So the big, I think, difference and differentiator is the customer experience. So we try to do as seamless and onboarding as possible and as frictionless as possible and then driving to a very clean and understandable UI that summarizes your security, your privacy and your identity status. And then it provides you with tools a) to understand what's going on and then b) to remediate, which is all covered by a million dollar insurance policy, as well as telephone based support, in the event something has happened where your identity has been stolen and you need our help to get it all back.
PH: In terms of actually knowing that we need tools and platforms and suites like Aura, do you think unless you are hit by a threat, unless your identity is robbed or suddenly your bank account is empty, do you think we are actually aware of how much we need these things as a preventative measure? Could there be a bit more education around that? Could we be a bit more aware of why we need things before the threat actually becomes a reality?
CB: Yeah, and that is being done for us, sadly, with the ever increasing amount of breaches that are that are happening and the press coverage that they're getting, the challenges is, is even if you are diligent about protecting yourself and making sure you've got your private data all locked down. That does nothing if you have a massive breach where a company that has your data has lost it all to hackers. And that has led to quite a bit of awareness across consumers that, "hey, maybe I do need to be more proactive here because this is not within my realm of complete control.
PH: Yeah. And those consumers that you're dealing with, are they, you know, people like you and I or big enterprise companies or are they both.
CB: They're overwhelmingly - I wouldn't say people like you and I, because we have industry experience. I think my perfect litmus test for a consumer is my mother in law who is just not technical in the least bit. She does not understand how complex and pervasive the threats are, but she does know that they're out there and she does appreciate a solution that basically takes care of it for her. And if she wants to learn more about it, it is there. But at the end of the day, it keeps her protected. And that's the, that's really the bulk of the consumers out there. As I said earlier, we don't expect them to be technical or security experts. All we need them to do is to install and use the product and have that peace of mind that they're protected proactively as well as reactively.
PH: Ok, well, when it comes to a situation where your mother in law might feel she wants to talk to a customer care agent, customer experience agent of yours, what kind of communication can she expect? And is how she is communicated to very important or can you just have an out of the box let's just sort this for you factual approach or is tone important?
CB: Oh, tone is critical. We take great pride in our customer service. It's US based and it's got some of the highest NPS scores in the industry. If we're talking about just the identity component of our solutions, there are plenty of pure identity play companies out there. What differentiates you in that space is the effectiveness of your customer care. So when something really goes sideways and you need help, you need to be able to access someone quickly who can then guide you through the process, hold your hand and handle that remediation process as effectively and empathetically as possible. And that's reflected in our NPS numbers. It's also reflected in our reviews and it's something we take great pride in.
PH: Another telling fact of how successful you've been. You've attracted the backing, the attention firstly, and then the financial backing of some very high profile people like Jeffrey Katzenberg, the Hollywood mogul, and the Silicon Valley investor, Sujay Jaswa. Do you want to tell us a little bit about these investors and maybe how that came about?
CB: Yeah, this was the brainchild of our CEO, Hari Ravichandran, and he's done a fabulous job of taking businesses and growing them and taking them public and making them very successful. And he saw a real opportunity here to take a couple of assets. You know, I like to say we're a start-up, but we're not a start-up because we're a collection of acquisitions. And in that process, he got to know Jeffrey and Sujay. But we've also complemented that board with some pretty other impressive names like Jim Cash and Zulfikar Ramzan. So it's a star studded board that has done a fabulous job in supporting us in our business and being advocates as well. So getting our name out there, because we've got these point solutions that we acquired and combined into a suite who all are industry leading solutions in their own right, but pulling them together into one seamless customer experience and a new brand requires a fair amount of work. And you need, you need top talent at the leadership level as well as top talent at the board level to make that a success.
PH: And so when you bring on investors like this, do they tend to be more than just the finance? Do they tend to bring a little bit of expertise to the table, like you say, or bring a little bit of their profile to the table in terms of getting the name of Aura out there, et cetera?
CB: Oh, absolutely. And as you can imagine, folks like Jeffrey Katzenberg, I can't think of anyone who's better networked than that man. So they are - this is a - I've worked with many boards. What I really, really enjoy about this board is they're hands on and they're very and they're strong advocates of the business. And of course, they all bring a wealth of experience and their own network. So if there are companies out there that we want to talk to, invariably there's somebody on our board that knows somebody senior or somebody on their board. And it just makes that whole process so much easier than cold calling a new organization, for argument's sake, and trying to make yourself heard and establish that credibility. We - when people find out that we've got the backing that we do that opens doors and that really helps.
PH: I guess you're a long time in this industry and you probably have seen this over and over again. The importance of putting together a strong board, it's probably very hard to overestimate.
CB: Yes, I fully agree, and what's nice about this board is it's very diverse in the experience and the skill sets that they bring. So invariably whenever we have a roadblock or a challenge, there's probably someone on the board who's been there before and someone we can turn to for advice.
PH: And your role, Christopher, as chief revenue officer. What does that involve exactly? I'm sure that's a very long answer. So maybe the elevator pitch.
CB: My role is really focused on helping scale this organization and scale or go to market. We did some pretty remarkable things in previous lives at previous companies, and we're running a lot of similar plays here. There's a huge opportunity in not only obviously the direct to consumer business, but also on the - in the side of the business we call B2B2C where we partner with large PC manufacturers as an OEM solution or large telcos as part of their value added services and - or even financial institutions and others. Those channels are some of the highest volume, new subscriber acquisition channels that you can get out there. So we're scaling that side of the business. And, you know, to my earlier point about a virtuous cycle that helps feed the direct consumer and vice versa, the direct consumer helps drive the brand awareness to help the sales work, land new partnerships.
PH: And so, you know, is as a large part of your role, kind of coming up with those ideas for how to scale, for looking at different types of partnerships, whether it's new telco or device manufacturer, for forming those relationships and really just trying to get a partnership going.
CB: Absolutely. That's the majority of what we're doing right now. And what's nice is it's - there's some proven verticals out there that are quite successful. And so we don't need to reinvent the wheel in most regards. But what I'm finding, the advantage that we have with a lot of these large partners is our customer experience. They themselves have grown weary of some of the legacy players and the solutions that they've been exposed to over the years. And look at the Aura solution as a fresh new alternative.
PH: Yeah, interesting. I'm actually on that note and your pricing structure, you know, when you come out with it, with a new offering like this, how to price it, I guess, is one of those huge conversations at the very start. And it's a huge decision. So how did you land on your current pricing structure and how does that make you different to what else is out there also?
CB: Yeah, well, you know, back to bringing together a world class leadership team. I've got a lot of people in my org who are some of the best and the brightest in the industry. And the opportunity we have here is to start with a clean sheet of paper and not repeat some of the mistakes that we saw in previous companies. And one thing that this industry is notorious for, and people pretty fed up with, is the sort of bait and switch pricing. Right. Become a subscriber. It's only nineteen dollars to activate your first year of the product. And invariably they'll get automatically renew the next year for sometimes in excess of one hundred dollars. And we wanted to be really clear to differentiate ourselves from that type of approach because it's about trust. We're handling not only people's ultrasensitive information, but we're also telling them, hey, we're here to protect you and we're here to treat you fairly and treat you with respect. And doing that type of pricing strategy just flies in the face of that. So our pricing is very transparent. If you land on our website, you see our good, better, best option and the monthly in the annual price for each one of those. And that doesn't change. That doesn't you don't get a nasty surprise 12 months later where all of a sudden it's 50 percent more.
PH: So you obviously have form, a lot of form in this industry. You've worked in it for some time. I think we believe you would have been with McAfee, which would have one of the big operators in the cybersecurity space. So what attracted you into the industry in the first place?
CB: I got into the industry, oh jeez, back in 2001. That was really when the big mass mailer viruses were coming out. Like Melissa and the like. And that was really being perpetuated by kids who were looking for the digital bragging rights, it was sort of the digital equivalent of breaking streetlights and the like. Of course, that's evolved into organised crime and nation state mischief out there on the Internet. But the idea of protecting people and getting into that space I found very attractive. Previously, I'd been working in the consumer hardware world. So I was approached by McAfee back in 2001 and with responsibility for southern Africa. And that was just an absolute blast and came to the US in 04 to join the relatively nascent consumer group. It and in some regards it reminds me a little bit of what we have in terms of potential at Aura. When I joined the McAfee consumer group, we were pretty much a rounding error on the corporate PNL and through this scaling strategy of working through large partnerships, I mean, we pioneered the telco business model of AOL back in 2002. We were able to take that business from a near standing start to a billion dollars in seven years. So, fast forward to today. What attracts me about Aura is I see a lot of similar things here and an ability to be disruptive and to scale this business quickly and very successfully. I think we can easily get to a multiple hundred millions of annual incremental revenue to what we're doing today through this approach. I think we have an opportunity to really change the industry. And we're seeing some of the legacy competitors getting very nervous about what we're doing. So I don't think us becoming a billion dollar revenue organisation is out of the question. I think it's more of a question of when as opposed to if. And our aspiration is to take this organisation public. And I'm very optimistic that we'll be able to do that in the medium term.
PH: And finally, I guess you're doing it in a market that unfortunately, in a way is certainly becoming rife for companies like your own. You know, the threat of online hacking, privacy, all of the things that you mentioned is growing. I guess it is not going to stop anytime soon. And particularly with the world moving on to digital as it has since COVID, that's only going to be a fuel for that.
CB: Oh, indeed. I mean, we're looking at it. You know, it's about one hundred billion dollars TAM as it stands currently. And I remember in the early days of working for McAfee, I think there were something about less than 20 or 30 new pieces of malware released a month. And these days it's in excess of five, six hundred thousand unique pieces of malware released today. So just the volume of online mischief has increased exponentially. We'll continue to do so.
PH: And with that increase in online mischief will, no doubt, come more demand for Aura the services or provides in the years to come so the story of Aura's growth, it seems, is really just beginning. Thanks to Christopher Bray Aura's CRO for joining me on this episode of TELUS International Studios. Remember to check out TELUS International dot com for more information about the company that brings you this podcast series. And if you are enjoying the series, please do follow on Spotify or subscribe for free on Apple. We will be back soon with another brand new episode of TELUS International Studios. And thanks for listening.