Failure as an option
Kaufmann joined Avira as a legal counsel in
2008, and then was promoted to general counsel only a year later. When he started, Avira
was continuing their global expansion, with
offices opening in China, Japan, and Malaysia.
The next logical step was Silicon Valley.
“In late 2011 we had reached the point where
the United States was the last unconquered
territory for us,” he remembers. “As a software
company, we wanted to be where a lot of our
customers are, and where a lot of potential
partners and strategic partners are.”
Avira opened its Silicon Valley office in 2012,
and Kaufmann joined soon after. As vice presi-
dent of operations, he ran into his first problem
not long after arriving. Due to the nine-hour time
difference, his international team could no longer
have weekly in-person meetings. Now they saw
each other in person only once or twice a quarter.
“Our team tried a lot of different things, from
weekly one-on-ones to daily updates like they
do in the software industry with quick stand-up
meetings,” he reveals. After a few hiccups, they
found the communication style that worked
best for their intercontinental company.
“We found that using online collaboration
tools and well-structured video calls worked very
well to ensure everybody was on the same page.
Whenever something needed a more in-depth
discussion, we took this offline to not derail the
meeting,” he explains. Last but not least, the team
also conducted regular in-person meetings to
strengthen team spirit. “Getting to that mode of
operation required constant monitoring of what
went well and what didn’t created a culture of
open feedback,” Kaufmann says.
But Kaufmann embraced Silicon Valley’s “fail
fast, learn fast” mindset beyond organizational
tasks: “It’s like a not-so-conservative approach
to taking risk,” he explains. “Instead, it’s thinking
from the perspective of how big is the damage
that could potentially happen and how problem-
atic it could be if we try it maybe on a smaller
scale. If it works on the smaller scale, then let’s try
to roll it out on a bigger scale.”
Kaufmann continued to use the “fail fast, learn
fast” method when he returned to Avira’s head-
quarters in Germany in 2015. As GC, he encour-
aged his team not to see risk in a too negative
light if they want the company to move forward.
“Risk is part of life and trying to eliminate it
completely most likely also means eliminating
any chance of success,” he says. “This is why I
want my team to not only ask ‘what could happen
and how can we avoid it,’ but also to think of ways
how we can deal with it.”
Should the risk not be a success, Kaufmann
knows how he and his team will bounce back.
“If we fail, we obviously still need to make sure
that it’s not going to be massive failure. Then we’ll
decide quickly whether we want to continue with
that approach or try new things,” he explains.
Catching up to tech
Though Kaufmann has adapted to Silicon
Valley’s fast-paced culture, the legislative side of
law is “light years away” from catching up. “If
you look at the lifecycle of legislation compared
to the lifecycle of technology, they’re worlds
apart,” he notes.
Legislation’s torpidity is problematic for
companies developing cutting-edge technology. One example he mentions is how long
Europe has taken to enact the privacy rules
of the General Protection Data Regulation
(GDPR). “While technology undergoes major
changes, there is a great chance legislation will
already be outdated in light of the new legal
challenges arising from resulting business
models,” he explains.
According to Kaufmann, the disparity between
law and technology will only get worse. “I think
what we’re seeing today is only the beginning.
Companies like Airbnb and Uber that are really
challenging the law. In 90 percent of the cases,
we’re already wandering on unchartered territory,” he says.
Navigating legislation is especially difficult for privacy companies like Avira. “We’re
constantly in a space where legislation doesn’t
simply answer all the questions that occur with
regard to the handling of data and the types of
partnerships that are happening,” he says.
Thankfully, his time in Silicon Valley has
changed his outlook on how to handle those
seemingly daunting situations. “As a lawyer in
those areas, you need to be willing to try new
things, to have an open mind, and ultimately to
take risks even though you can’t look it up whether this is going to be correct or not.” If not, he’ll
learn fast and move on until he succeeds. ACC
BY KARMEN FOX
TIPS & INSIGHTS
ACC EXTRAS ON…
Avoiding the Ethical
Perils and Pitfalls of Big
Data (Jan/Feb. 2017).
Protection: New Rules,
a Whole New Game
Cybersecurity Failures and
Resulting Liability Issues
(April 2016). www.acc.com/
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