A response to coronavirus: Q&A with Hrishi Dixit, Chief Technology Officer

As Chief Technology Officer, how do you anticipate the current environment affecting Yieldstreet’s ability to scale?

There are various aspects of scale, but from an objective perspective, the health issue of this crisis is something that’s unprecedented and every industry is trying to address this. But an equally important aspect is the economic and business impact this crisis is going to have. 

From an engineering and technology infrastructure standpoint, we are not worried because we are built to scale. Being fully cloud-native on the infrastructure side, and globally distributed on the team side, we have not seen a direct impact to this aspect of our business. 

The most important focus for scaling right now is our investor community. This is a cross-functional effort as it involves our Product, Tech and Marketing teams to work together. We are always attempting to build software that conveys our position to an increasingly nervous audience of both existing and new investors these days and provide them with a smooth experience to help navigate through it. 

How is the switch from in-person to WFH affecting you and your team’s day-to-day? 

Of all the groups that make up Yieldstreet, the one group that has always been in a good position to work in this distributed, work from home or remote fashion is our Product, Design and Tech complex, because that is how we have always worked, even before the crisis ensued. We have teams working across four different countries and three different time zones and we had been working effectively like this since our inception. 

We are fortunate in that we already had an internal protocol and a great set of tools and processes for working remotely, and when the coronavirus outbreak hit, that protocol was broadened to include the entire company. We’ve been able to conclude that working from home is an entirely viable option and does not necessarily impact productivity in a material way, which has been an extremely useful learning experience for us as a company. 

As long as we take care to ensure that people are engaged and feel a human connection even while working from home in isolation, we will continue to be productive. We could even potentially apply the learnings from this scenario in going forward with how we scale and distribute some of our other internal groups. For example, if we were to apply a work from home model to our investor relations team, we could have investor relations offices in several time zones and effectively have 24-hour coverage for investors’ questions by using the right technology and processes. 

Certain aspects of a business will always rely on the human connection like face-to-face interactions or handshakes. These aspects have certainly been impacted by the current situation but what appears to be a significant disruption hasn’t yet affected our ability to launch new offerings, ship new software or even continue hiring people. By being agile and constantly reassessing the situation at hand, we have been able to carry on business as usual. It’s 2020, there are many technology options that can help businesses work around this difficult situation.

How has this affected the following areas and what should individuals be mindful with regard to infrastructure, bandwidth, and security?

In my mind, infrastructure and security are closely related. From a purely tech/infrastructure perspective, we are in very good shape. Our cloud infrastructure was already in place prior to the outbreak. Access to the internet has been the most important ask for our employees at this time, which most people already have at home.

Working in this kind of situation often requires the use of tools like video chat to create that human connection. However, having a slow connection can be a real issue, which is where the question of bandwidth comes into play. Of course, there are workarounds like turning the video off and having just a verbal conversation. It may be worth it for companies that are trying to make a distributed or remote model work for them to invest in good bandwidth and provide it to their employees in a work from home scenario. 

In terms of security, we have set up gates and firewalls as most technology-centric companies do. One of the biggest impediments that larger companies might be facing are rigid internal security controls, which are very useful when things are fine, but in a situation like this, access protocols may actually hinder productivity as people may not have access to all the systems they require to get work done. By being judicious about the number of systems we have in place and ensuring that our VPN and firewall are cloud-based, we’ve been able to avoid many of the issues that other companies may be seeing. 

There are easy and non-intrusive ways to make it seem like we are all in the controlled environment of our headquarters when, actually, we’ve all been working from home. We anticipate that there may be slightly increased risk to operating in this way, but we have been vigilant and monitoring our systems closely enough for this to not be a deterrent.  

What are some of the most critical tools right now? Cloud, Zoom, VPN?

The most important tools from my perspective are any and all that facilitate communication between our team members while keeping information safe. Slack, Google Hangouts, and Zoom have been absolutely essential in our being able to continue operating with minimal disruption to our productivity. 

Much of the infrastructure we need for this is in place because Yieldstreet is required to go through a yearly business continuity audit for SEC compliance. Being able to continue with business functions in situations like this is part of our security posture. Over the past weeks we’ve proved that our methods work effectively. 

If we weren’t a cloud-native platform going into this crisis, the level of disruption to our day-to-day work could have been quite unmanageable. But because technology has developed to a point where all of our systems are now cloud-based, we have no fear of our data centers going down and can even continue to operate if they do. This is because we are able to replicate the data, create back-ups and get back to working order in our “failover” data center within a 2-3 hour timeframe. 

From an access standpoint, a well thought out technology infrastructure has been critical for us to stay connected and work remotely. However, it’s the behavioral changes that are what I foresee as challenges. For example, people will have to be more cognizant of informing their colleagues about when they are available or if they’ve stepped out. 

How has Yieldstreet prepared for a situation like this? Internally and externally? I.e. secure investor data

I don’t think that being forced into this work from home scenario has had much of an impact on the stringent procedures we have in place to maintain sensitive investor data because that is an on-going and very important focus area for us.  

The only real issue would be if our own employees were trying to access investor data within our internal systems from an unsecured connection. We prevent this by putting access to these systems behind a secure VPN that only authorized personnel have access to. The same set of controls that are applied to how we access our internal systems are used when it comes to accessing our investor data via our internal admin portals. We are also ensuring that permissions are granular and that employees only have access to the data they need to do their work and nothing more. 

With major tech industry events canceled or postponed – E3, SXSW, Apple WWDC – how do you see the industry pivoting and, in the future, rebounding? How has this affected professionals within your industry (layoffs, decreased spends, hiring spree)?  

‘Tech’ is obviously a very broad industry and how a given company will react is largely based on the product they are producing. Hardware tech products will obviously be impacted differently than companies that produce, say, a software product. I would expect that products that cannot be delivered digitally will be harder to both produce and sell with the lockdown in place. 

In this day and age, almost every company has some tech aspect. Yieldstreet, for example, falls under the category of a Fintech company or a technology-enabled financial product. For companies like ours that serve our product digitally, I don’t anticipate that there will be a huge impact unless the entire internet shuts down. 

Another thing that will affect tech businesses at this time is how demand will change. It will depend on whether or not consumers believe your product to be an important enough purchase in times of crisis. From a broader economic perspective, I think that most industries will recover over time, some slower than others but I do believe that normalcy will eventually return. Overall, I do think that tech is positioned better than other industries. 

What are some takeaways from this situation and how can we be better prepared in the future?

The coronavirus crisis has made it abundantly clear that a natural disaster of this magnitude is not only possible but probable. It has also thrown the importance of contingency planning into sharp focus. The importance of having a plan B, C and D to provide enough redundancy has never been more clear. The most important takeaway from this for me has always been to be prepared for the absolute worst. 

Read more from the Yieldstreet leadership:

Chief People Officer, Nicole Keller’s take on the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on Yieldstreet and the HR and talent acquisition industry.

Chief Product Officer, Sylvain Grande’s take on the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on Yieldstreet and how products will evolve.

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