To add a little colour on how 2020 started off for me, I wrote in my 2019 Year in Review that 2019 had been a dream year! I had ticked heli-skiing in Canada off my bucket list; the Tapaas business that Tom and I started in 2014 hit some major growth milestones; and I had just finished an amazing trip to visit the Tapaas team in Cyprus and catch up with customers and partners at the London Summit and visit family in USA.
It had indeed been a dream year!
Our plan for Tapaas at the start of 2020 was to scale up our support team and invest in exciting new product feature development.
Everyone’s got a plan
Like many others at the start of 2020, we had grand plans for growth and investment. But, by April of 2020, I kept hearing Mike Tyson’s famous quote, “Everyone’s got a plan until they get punched in the face,” ringing in my ears.
The predictions of the pandemic’s impact were so dire that nearly everyone was having second thoughts about their business plans. Nobody would have blamed us for giving up on our grand plans of hiring and training. Many businesses applied the brakes.
It’s times like those when you have to focus on what you’re thankful for; keep your eyes on the road and not the wreckage; and stay the course. We believed in our long-term vision. So, rather than take a wait-and-see attitude, we chose to stay the course and continue hiring new people and scaling our team.
As it turned out, Tapaas experienced significant growth in sales in 2020. I believe this is because the Tapaas service is fundamental to the efficient operation of our customers’ dealing desks. So, in times of extremely high market volatility and equally high trading volumes like what we saw in 2020, the need for serious risk management and trading analytics becomes particularly critical. People know who to call when they’ve decided it’s time to get serious about their risk management.
Thankfully, we had continued hiring and training, so our customer satisfaction has remained high even as we experienced significantly greater demand for the Tapaas service and the increased on-boarding and training workload that came with it.
Keep Investing on Strategic Objectives
In addition to scaling our support team, we also continued to invest heavily in our product development. One of our key investments was developing In Dashboard Alerts and Notifications.
Many of you know that generating and delivering Risk Alerts is one of the most critical features of Tapaas. Up until recently, like many other systems, Tapaas delivered Alerts only by email. The advantage of email of course is it’s ubiquitous and you can receive it even if you’re not at your desk. However, there are many disadvantages of using email and one of our most frequent requests from our customers has been to help them better manage Risk Alerts.
We know that as a Dealer in volatile markets, you need to be notified on a timely basis by Alerts when there have been incidents of risk conditions requiring immediate attention. Not only that, but you also need to quickly investigate the Alert; consult with your colleagues or supervisors; make timely accurate decisions; and initiate corrective action.
We also know that as a Head of Dealing or Head of Risk, you need to demonstrate to your executive and market regulators that your team has addressed such Alerts and Incidents on a timely basis and taken appropriate action. Not only do you have to do it, you have to be able to demonstrate that you do it.
If you have tried to achieve either of these critical objectives when your Alerts come to you only as email, you know it’s a nightmare when regulators or auditors come knocking at your door.
So, look for updates from us as we roll out In Dashboard Alerts and Notifications. If you have an opinion on this topic, I would really love to hear from you.
Coping with Remote Work
Aside from keeping a brave face while getting punched by Covid, like most of us, we experienced the disruption of being forced to work from home. But, as it turned out, this was not so disruptive for Tapaas because we have been working remotely since our inception.
Like many startups, when Tom and I started Tapaas in 2014, we worked from our homes. Unlike your typical University kids launching a startup, we didn’t have to work in our parents garage because he and I had been working long enough to own our own homes. We did, however, have to argue with our wives about whether we could take over the rooms with the best views of Sydney Harbour or the Pacific Ocean, as offices.
Even after Tapaas could afford office space and long before Covid, we had decided to operate as a Distributed Company. So, in March 2020 as workforces were being sent home from the office and scrambling to establish infrastructure and practices for remote work, it was largely business as usual for the Tapaas team.
Even though we have had many years experience working remotely, we know the practices required to establish human connection, which is vital to a high performance team, don’t happen automatically. Before starting Tapaas, Tom and I worked in teams at Citigroup which were distributed across Asia Pac, Europe and The Americas. We learned many techniques for overcoming the challenges of collaborating across different time zones and cultural differences.
Though we have applied those lessons working remotely at Tapaas, there are still many challenges and we are always looking for new ideas to improve how we operate. One of the resources on remote work which I highly recommend is the Distributed podcast by Matt Mullenweg, CEO Automattic. Matt has been leading the team of 1,000 employees all working remotely for many years. In the podcast he shares his experience and interviews leaders of companies with distributed workforces who share their strategies and insights as well.
Preparing for the new normal
There are many things I miss from pre-2020 normal life. But, I am not counting on everything returning to normal. Rather, I expect things will be more like what I have read in Scott Galloway’s, recent book, Post Corona, From Crisis to Opportunity. In the book, he shares his theory that the pandemic in many ways was an accelerant of trends already well underway. So, if we hope to thrive as the pandemic passes, we should be preparing for a new normal not a return to normal. This means taking a hard look at the assumptions which drove our solution design decisions in the past and adjusting them for the new normal.
For Tapaas, this has many implications. For one, it is clear that we can no longer assume that the Dealers, who are the primary users of Tapaas Platform, can collaborate and share the insights they discover in Tapaas simply by turning their head and speaking with their colleague who was seated right next to them. The distributed workforce was certainly already a trend before 2020. But, there can be no doubt that it has been accelerated by the Covid experience. The implication is that we must design our solutions to support collaborative business processes where the participants will be distributed in both location and time. This means the platform must support collaboration about discoveries, investigative findings, actions and rationale in an asynchronous and persistent manner.
Another big implication on the platform of a distributed workforce is the need for more transparency and accountability. When a supervisor or Head of Dealing can no longer visually monitor the team, the platform will need to facilitate oversight of compliance with risk and dealing policies.
At this writing, there is still no real certainty about the end of the pandemic. So, we cannot take a wait-and-see approach. We need to stay the course, keep investing and keep solving our customers’ huge challenge of managing risk in a high frequency electronic trading world. Next, I’ll be writing more about the features we are building in the Tapaas Platform aiming at addressing the new normal. If there are any specific topics or challenges you face which you’d like to hear from us about, please reach out with the contact us form.