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Patricia Müller

Strengthening Partners and Winning Customers: How AIS IT-Security Solutions is Reorienting Itself

Many start-ups experience the same fate as AIS IT-Security Solutions in their first years. They are all looking for the perfect product-market fit. The startup from the CISPA community told us how it was able to increase interest in its product Findalyze within a short period of time by changing its business model.

The successful establishment of a startup in the market depends crucially on its product-market fit. To achieve product-market fit, companies must continuously adapt their products or services to the feedback and needs of their target group. This may mean evolving the product or even rethinking the entire business model. Start-ups, in particular, often face the challenge of changing their offerings in the early years to better meet the needs of their target audience. This was the case for AIS Advanced IT-Security Solutions in St. Ingbert, Germany.

"We have learned two things," begins CTO Oliver Schranz when he talks about the reasons that led to decisive changes at the startup. Just last year, AIS launched Findalyze, an IT security platform that detects vulnerabilities in companies and prevents cyber attacks. The startup saw a huge need in SMEs, which often have limited resources. It quickly became clear: "We need to focus on partners," says Schranz, "our end customers often go to system houses when they don't know what to do.

Over time, the startup tried to better understand how its partners, the managed (security) service providers, did business with end customers. The partner model made a lot of sense. But it also led to Lesson #1: AIS IT-Security was not achieving the scalability it wanted with its sales model. Schranz: "We noticed that the interest was even broader. More and more requests came in that could not be handled with the classic partner model. Now, companies with project business or those who want to use Findalyze before they do business with others are more likely to get in touch.

In addition, and therefore Lesson #2, there was a growing desire among customers to move away from long-term contracts. AIS IT-Security had to ask itself whether its model was too focused on these long-term commitments. "By saying 'this is how we work', we were indirectly dictating our business model to others," explains Schranz. So the startup took a step back and tried to put itself in their shoes. The idea of per-scan pricing, i.e. 1 scan, 1 price, came up pretty quickly.

Then we started working on the details. Many questions arose: What is a reasonable price per scan? It should be affordable for small companies, but also reasonable for large companies. Also, the size of a company does not indicate the size of its infrastructure. The price also has to be right for partners. "Internally, we had about four iterations that we discussed in a small group of three people. We sat in the conference room for hours, working through the idea with test customers, getting beta testers on board and integrating their feedback," says Schranz. The fixed-price model prevailed: Scans can be scheduled on a regular or ad-hoc basis; those who use a lot of scans get a volume discount; billing is at the end of the month. The switch gave AIS IT-Security more flexibility and put a large part of the sales in the hands of its partners. Schranz: "We want to be a technology provider. That's why we reduced our requirements. And now we offer Findalyze in such a way that it is as generic as possible and our partners can map any business model. By listening to what people want, we've found our place and made it easier to work with us, from small start-ups to large consulting firms with critical infrastructure.

In December 2023, AIS IT-Security used the new model for the first time and quickly achieved stunning results. Just a few months later, it was clear to see: Interest in Findalyze had increased significantly, even though the product itself remained unchanged. "The change has paid off enormously," says Schranz, "interest has really taken off since then. AIS IT-Security continually monitors interest and carefully analyzes why certain customers drop out. The company has learned that the key to acceptance is not only the product itself, but also communication and knowing how to successfully sell the solution. Schranz: "For IT founders, the business question is so important. If you know what you are doing technically, you have to validate it with a customer as early as possible. It's good that we always had someone in the company who thought about that from day one. I can imagine that otherwise we would have taken a different path. Schranz concludes with advice for all technology founders: "Product plus business, if you only do one of the two, it will go wrong."

Product-market fit

Product-market fit describes the point at which a product or service successfully meets the needs and requirements of a specific target group. It is the stage at which a company's offering is precisely aligned with market demand. A clear definition of product-market fit means that the product or service provides significant value to customers and that they are willing to pay for it.