Execution is key and execution is everywhere. I think a lot of companies have good ideas and can even have a good product but they will raise or fall according to how well they execute. Just a short story, once I joined a very successful company that grew very fast and was very profitable. How can you make a difference in such a company? Well, by drilling down to the execution. And I did. I found an area that after we changed the process, we could increase our profit from 15% to 75% on about 350M dollars of revenue. That really made a difference.
As part of my series about “Lessons From Inspirational Women Leaders in Tech”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Maya Gershon, CRO at Vade Secure, where she is taking the lead in efforts to grow the company’s footprint in the U.S., UK and Japan. Maya comes to Vade Secure with 25-years of experience in the technology sector, including time with Unit 8200 where she trained with the Israeli defence team and progressed to Staff Sergeant. Over the years, Maya has held a variety of engineering, sales and marketing roles at industry-leading organizations such as WeWork, Intel, Cisco, Amdocs, Keysight Technologies and more. Maya is a computer and electrical engineer with a strong technical background in R&D and product strategy and a Kellogg Business School graduate.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
When I was 16 years old I was identified by the Israeli Defence Force, and selected to join an elite cyber intelligence unit; I was drafted at 17. That’s when I fell in love with cybersecurity and technology. I’ve been a huge fan ever since! Since I come from a family of doctors, I had no idea what else was out there in terms of professions, so I decided to consult with someone from the industry. I managed to get a hold of the PA of the CEO of one of the largest high-tech companies in Israel back then, and set up a career consultation. He recommended that I study Computer and Electrical Engineering at university, and so I did just that. Less than a year later, I was hired by that same company as a student software developer.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began at your company?
I have so many work travel stories that I think I can probably write a book. For example, once I jumped out of a moving taxi in China because I felt unsafe. This turned out to be the right decision! Once I was attacked by gypsies in Romania. But what they didn’t know is that I’m trained in Krav Maga (Israeli street martial art). I have many more interesting stories like these from my past, but since I started at Vade Secure, we have been under lockdown at home, so I have a much less adventurous life. The most interesting story I have comes from a private joke. Since I used to be in the Israeli Defense force Cyber unit, and since Vade Secure is a cyber company, obviously everyone makes fun of the fact that they think I’m a hacker-spy! So I try to play along with that idea. You can imagine that it can generate some funny and interesting stories… 😊
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I had an episode in my career when I did corporate development. For that, I did some much-needed networking. I contacted someone who was the CEO of a company when I was working in R&D. At the time, he had already sold the company to Cisco and had his own VC. So as a networking effort, he introduced me to the CEO of one of his VC companies over email. After we met, I wanted to send a thank you note for introducing me to the VC manager, so I sent a note saying how I was impressed with the CEO, and that the company was interesting for us, and that we should discuss further over coffee. The thing is, I sent it by mistake to the CEO of the company and not to the VC manager. To this day I remember this mistake with a smile. I was so embarrassed to have been raving about the CEO to him directly, but all I could do was apologize. As it turns out, it totally broke the ice and in fact the VC manager and I became very good friends! He has actually mentored me throughout my career.
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
When I was about 31 years old, I was working full-time for a Nasdaq-traded American company. I had a year and a half old baby, I was doing my MBA at Kellogg Business school (in cooperation with Tel Aviv university) and there was a war in Israel — this happens sometimes, unfortunately — so my husband was drafted and not at home. We had an intensive week at school, which means that I was physically at school from 9am until about 5:30pm, then I ran back home, to relieve the nanny, take care of my kid until he went to sleep and then work and study the material for school for the next day. I was up basically the entire night between work and studying. About three days into the week, I remember walking with my son in the evening in the street. He was crying, wanting my attention, wanting me to carry him and I was so tired, I started to cry with him. At that exact moment, my sister called me and heard me crying. I told her that I couldn’t take it anymore, between my responsibilities at work and school, my husband being away, no sleep and being alone with a young child who needs his parents — it was all just too much. My sister said to me “yes you can. Raise yourself, you’re a professional. Find a solution to make things easier on you. Get some help. Make a better plan. When things are tough, it’s an opportunity to better yourself. In planning, in managing your life and in showing yourself that you’re a professional.” That was probably the toughest week in my professional career. Ever since, everything looks easy to manage in comparison.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
Actually there are two people. One of them is my sister as just mentioned in the story above. The second person is actually the first chronologically — he is from when I first started in sales.
After about 8 years in R&D I decided I wanted to switch to be more customer-facing. But I had no experience in that, no connections in the industry and there was no such thing as LinkedIn. So how would you search for a job in an area where you have no experience? I went to a few headhunters, and they all said that they would be glad to find a job for me in R&D, but in sales they couldn’t offer me anything since I didn’t have any experience. I took my faith in my own hands and sent out my CV to newspaper ads (yes, old…) over fax (again, old…). Finally, I had an interview for a sales position! I went to the interview and there was this amazing chemistry with the guy who interviewed me. I went back home and said to my husband that I was sure I got it. I barely finished the sentence and the guy who interviewed me called me and said “I’m sorry. I really liked you, but my boss who is the GM for EMEA said that it doesn’t make sense to take people without sales experience when we can get people with the right experience from the same industry. So I’m really sorry, but it’s not going to work”. I hung up the phone and told my husband “this cannot be happening to me, it’s MY job!” He said “Maya, how can it be your job if he just said it’s not? Don’t worry, there will be others.” However, I was determined. I called him back and said to him, “You are making the mistake of your lifetime because I will be the best salesperson you have ever met. I’m ambitious, I’m reliable, hard working and persistent. And if I fail, you can always fire me in 3 months and you will be back to the same situation you are in now.” He hung up and said to his boss “You see? These are the kind of sales people we need! When they get a no, it’s only the beginning.” I was hired for that job, and he taught me everything I needed to know to become a top cyber salesperson. I took the territory from underperforming at 67% to being at 140% of targets within three months.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
I think it would be the combination of “Happiness is a choice” and “Carpe Diem.” I think that every morning we wake up, we have the choice of how we want to go through life — being grateful and happy with what we have and what we have achieved, or being depressed and unhappy since we feel that we haven’t achieved enough. I choose to be happy, but I also choose “Carpe diem” which in Latin means “seize the day.” So every day is a new opportunity to learn, to grow, to develop, to do more and most importantly, to enjoy it.
We’d love to learn a bit about your company. What is the pain point that your company is helping to address?
Companies all have their specific goals and targets to reach, and a cyber attack can quickly derail even the best strategy. That’s where we come in. Vade Secure protects over 1 billion email boxes around the world. Most cyber crimes start with email — you could say that email is the front door to larger attacks. Once a hacker is through that front door, then he has free range to make your life miserable — through ransomware or even worse. Vade Secure for Microsoft 365 protects that front door so hackers never get in. We are natively integrated with Microsoft through an API and bring additional security on top of Microsoft’s existing ATP and EOP solutions.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
As I mentioned earlier, we protect over 1 billion email inboxes. Vade keeps email secure in most of the world’s largest telcos and ISPs. The data we receive from these mailboxes just helps us get better — we use artificial intelligence to detect and stop threats before, during and even after attacks. Our machine learning models perform real-time behavioral analysis of each email, including any URLs or attachments. We’re also using Computer Vision to analyze images.
Another thing that I think sets us apart is Threat Coach, which is an automated phishing awareness training feature in Vade Secure for Microsoft 365. Vade’s Threat Coach is different from other training because we use real examples of phishing emails, not mock-ups. Plus, the training is delivered to users right after they would click on a phishing email, and it’s personalized. For example, if the user clicked on a phishing email impersonating Amazon, Threat Coach uses other Amazon phishing emails that we’ve identified in the past. I don’t think there are other companies that offer this level of training, and it’s really important in today’s context with so many employees working from home.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
Our most exciting new projects are still under wraps, so I can’t give you any details at this time. What I can tell you is Vade is constantly innovating. Ongoing efforts to strengthen the product for our MSP customers include integrated features that empower MSPs to provide added value on top of their Microsoft 365 offerings. In Q2, we will release a new feature that enables MSPs to provide managed security services, available in a unified dashboard via our Partner Portal.
Vade does continuous research and development to strengthen our product, and 60% of our employees are engineers. This allows us to publish new features on a continuous basis, at no extra cost to our customers. In addition, product calls and focus groups are organized on a consistent basis with aggregators, MSPs and/or end customers to talk about the roadmap, review priorities, take inputs and discuss trends and where the product should go.
Are you currently satisfied with the status quo regarding women in Tech? What specific changes do you think are needed to change the status quo?
No, I am not satisfied with the status quo regarding women in tech. I think it’s a matter of education, and the problems start at a very young age. I had two older brothers and I used to play with their toys — these were calculators, electronic kits, etc. I assume that if I had only sisters, I wouldn’t have been exposed to this world at such an early age. I think young girls should be exposed to technology (and math) when they are young, and they should be motivated to go to science classes and to be curious about science and technology. Parents and schools can influence this type of approach and make a legitimate change in the rate of women that go into tech, ultimately changing the status quo. It’s time to trade the dolls for data!
In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women in Tech that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts? What would you suggest to address this?
Women are not perceived as techies often enough. I remember when I was a young salesperson, I used to go to meetings, and although I was also very technical, people always thought that since I’m a salesperson and a woman, I didn’t understand technology. They treated me differently from my male colleagues, and repeatedly looked past me to the men in the room when technical questions arose. This went on for years, even after I continuously was the team member to address the questions — there was nothing I could do to shift their perspective once a biased mindset was formed . I realized at that time that I would need to be 10 times better than everyone else to gain their respect.
These barriers of perception can be overcome only by education in my view. Making more and more women understand they can be at least as good, if not better than men in technology, would make more women follow that path, and make it more acceptable and natural for society. We also need the men to start joining in on inclusion efforts — the reality is companies thrive when there are diverse points of view at all levels, something that comes naturally when there is a wider variety of genders, backgrounds, etc. When I graduated, the dean in my university asked the audience to clap twice as hard for every woman that came on stage, since we were only five women and 250 men, while we don’t need to always be highlighted, the women entering cyber should be acknowledged and regarded as equals. The ratio has to change.
What would you advise to another tech leader who initially went through years of successive growth, but has now reached a standstill. From your experience do you have any general advice about how to boost growth or sales and “restart their engines”?
If it’s a generally high-performing team that just needs an energy boost and some uplifting, I would advise looking at every single process, and trying to identify what’s working and what’s not working to optimize the processes. Sales teams need some fun, so a fun night with the entire team is always a quick energy boost even if it has to be over Zoom.
However, if it’s a non-performing team, I would give my ‘pack of cards advice’. Imagine a pack of cards that you take and throw in the air. Review everything. No sacred cow, or sacred people. Review the targets, processes, organizational structure, management, tools, review the data and historical data and identify the problem. When you know what the problem is it’s easier to solve it, but I usually shuffle. People need new challenges and shuffling accounts/opportunities usually makes them competitive and does miracles to numbers.
Do you have any advice about how companies can create very high performing sales teams?
Yes! First of all, I think that companies should take the time to invest in the right people for the job. I’ve noticed over the years that successful sales professionals all have the same traits. These people are resilient, goal-oriented, culturally intelligent, subtle and confident. And contrary to the belief that sales are always very talkative, they must also be good listeners! I’ve written a couple of blogs on the subject:
In your specific industry what methods have you found to be most effective in order to find and attract the right customers? Can you share any stories or examples?
I wrote a blog on this too:
Here is a summary:
Email is a powerful marketing tool, but it must be used strategically. For cold email marketing, you should first conduct a thorough investigation. Understand the prospect company’s strategy; review recent quotes by their CEO. Demonstrating your knowledge of the company can help open doors.
When writing emails, follow these guidelines:
- Your subject line should be the result you are trying to achieve.
- Read, re-read and revise your email before sending. Soften it from its original, mission-oriented message.
- If you know the person, skip the email and call or schedule a call. Direct and personal connections can be powerful.
- Don’t just jump into the sales pitch; start with a nice greeting or observation about news or announcements the company has made.
- Be short and to the point.
- Clearly state what you want and include a specific call to action.
- End with a genuine and courteous closing.
I believe you can get anyone to respond to your email if you write it correctly and use the right media to send it.
Based on your experience, can you share 3 or 4 strategies to give your customers the best possible user experience and customer service?
Again, another blog that I wrote:
But I would add to it: responsiveness. Sales people must be responsive. All the time. If you want to build trust with your customers, you need to help them when they need it most, and that could be basically all the time.
As you likely know, this HBR article demonstrates that studies have shown that retaining customers can be far more lucrative than finding new ones. Do you use any specific initiatives to limit customer attrition or customer churn? Can you share some of your advice from your experience about how to limit customer churn?
I have a full methodology around the transition from sales to customer success. I believe that the transition should be completely smooth, and the customer success manager needs to join the deal before it closes so that the customer knows them, builds a relationship with them and so the CS knows the customer, knows what was agreed upon in the contract and how to make them happy. Setting expectations is done before the deal is closed. Then when the deal closes, it avoids a lot of frustration. The CS’s have a clear cadence of calls, face to face meetings and quarterly board reviews with their customers, as well as growth objectives. If their account coverage rate is low, I shuffle accounts. I also shuffle underperforming accounts to other CS’s or if the account doesn’t have the right level of activity I expect to have.
Also, the CS needs to be responsive at all times. Lastly, when there is a crisis, to me it’s the biggest opportunity to show a customer who you are and how helpful you can be and if you treat the crisis right, this is actually a big opportunity to grow the customer.
As a manager, I monitor churn on a daily basis. And I investigate the trends. I recommend other managers to do the same. Lastly, as a program — I recommend doing an NPS survey at the customers. That really shows how they feel and it gives you the opportunity to avoid churn before it happens since it tells you who is unhappy.
Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know in order to create a very successful tech company? Please share a story or an example for each.
Compelling product. I always look at it from the eyes of a salesperson who is trying to close a deal. If you are addressing a burning need, you can always explain the sense of urgency to close. But if you have a “nice to have’’ product, it’s much more difficult to do. So once I was a salesperson, selling a “nice to have” product, I worked really hard on a deal, we almost closed it, but then it went to the CEO. It was a huge company with 10s of millions of subscribers and that was the last stage of the deal. My PO came to his desk for signature and after months of efforts, this guy simply said “I don’t think it will influence my company, so I’m not signing.” As simple as that. After months of work. It’s really not fun for a salesperson, especially knowing that basically, he is right. So a compelling product is a must in my view.
Execution is key! Execution is key and execution is everywhere. I think a lot of companies have good ideas and can even have a good product but they will raise or fall according to how well they execute.
Just a short story, once I joined a very successful company that grew very fast and was very profitable. How can you make a difference in such a company? Well, by drilling down to the execution. And I did. I found an area that after we changed the process, we could increase our profit from 15% to 75% on about 350M dollars of revenue. That really made a difference.
Amazing team. A good, synergetic, diverse and competent team is robust to any turbulence and the life of a startup is very turbulent.
Clear strategy. Know where to focus but more importantly, know where NOT to focus. Strategy needs to be clear, communicated and followed. Today I attended a meeting and someone external asked me if I see additional potential growth areas to the company in the coming year. I said that our market is so huge, and we have so much to do that I am not looking for additional areas since I want to keep my focus. The strategy is clear to me, and I want to follow it fully.
Data. I’m a big fan of data. Data can lead you to make thoughtful decisions.
If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?
I personally feel passionate about educating kids and teenagers that either don’t have the means, or don’t have the will. But given the current circumstances and the nature of the question, I would say “wear a mask and go get vaccinated!” I already did and it feels really liberating!
Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why?
Elon Musk. No doubt. I think he is a very fast-paced marathon runner that keeps on innovating, never stops surprising and knows how to execute incredibly well. I have so many questions to ask him, so many things to learn from him, that I think it would be the most fascinating conversation.
Thank you so much for this. This was very inspirational, and we wish you only continued success!