On Assignment: BitDefender changes brands and strengthens focus

In September, The Tech Herald hit the road. This time it was off to Romania, in order to pay a visit to BitDefender. I was there to see the 2012 product line, and learn about the new corporate branding. It was an interesting trip, and an insightful learning experience on the concept of Romanian pride and culture.

Sleepless in Europe

It’s 5:30 a.m. on a Tuesday. After two connections and a trans-Atlantic flight, I was sitting outside my hotel unable to sleep. When you travel for your job, sometimes sleep becomes more of a luxury than anything else. Inside, the hotel staff were moving about preparing for the new day. Outside, the temperature was rather cool, but warming, as the sun made its presence known. Even at this early hour, the streets were starting to fill with cars.

6:30 a.m. local time

6:30 a.m. local time

6:00 a.m. local time

6:00 a.m. local time

So there I was, at the start of a long day, looking at a dog not four feet from me. Earlier, he and I were playing a game of tug of war with some random rope that was lying about. It was a fun game until hotel staff chased him off. They were not amused that I was paying attention to the dogs. Yet, the dogs are the reason I couldn’t sleep. They were outside for a nightly stroll, and being rather vocal about it.

As it turns out, stray dogs are rather common in Bucharest. They roam the streets day and night, but for the most part they are rather used to people. For safety, visitors are encouraged to avoid them. The dogs are homeless, a hotel staffer told me, due to the end of the Ceausescu regime. When Ceausescu (the last Communist leader of Romania) lost control of the people in 1989, the aftermath included mass relocations, where citizens moved into tower blocks. Most of these new residential buildings banned animals.

Luckily, none of the strays I came across were hostile. Most of the dogs looked well fed too, so I’m not the only one wondering about their well being. Some had tracking tags on their ears, and the staffer at the hotel said that spaying and neutering programs were spread across the city to help with population control. Now, the scruffy, but healthy looking stray has returned.

He has a look that says time to play, but he doesn’t want to deal with the hotel staff. It’s as if he is telling me to join him, suggesting I skip work for the day. It’s tempting, but I give him a friendly pat on the head and walk back inside. I need coffee.

This is not the dog I was playing with. He was camera shy. I came across this little guy later in the week.

This is not the dog I was playing with. He was camera shy. I came across this little guy later in the week.

The Dacian Dragon-Wolf

Fast-forward a few hours. The press conference explaining the new 2012 BitDefender line and rebranding is fueled by excitement and emotion. Corporate officers and staffers were buzzing with an obvious sense of pride in their efforts.

BitDefender is a company rooted in Romania, where it was founded in 2001. So I wasn’t shocked to see the level of pride the employees had. After a week, talking to coders, marketing staff, and development teams, this level of pride was almost overwhelming.

I spoke to employees at the hotels I stayed at, the servers and bartenders, as well as people who were there visiting like I was. As it turns out, the level of nationalistic pride I experienced is all over the place. I wasn’t the only one who noticed. Curious, I asked the head of BitDefender’s online threats lab, Catalin Cosoi, about it.

“The strong sense of identity that visitors to the country often spot is rooted in a firm sense of history. In the context of Romania’s history, what you referred to as “nationalistic pride” is really more a sense of pride at having survived in one piece as a nation through centuries of adversity. Romanians do have a strong sense of pride but it’s also a nation that is quick to poke fun at itself,” he explained.

The average age of a BitDefender employee is 27, but there are those in the company who know the technology world within Romania, both before and after the fall of Communism.

“Though flawed in many ways, Romania's Communist-era isolationism did lead to some build-up of IT-related technological capabilities. Post-1989 liberalisation has encouraged a suppression of higher-level capabilities but a substantial increase in lower-level IT skills,” a report written in 1998 from the University of Manchester noted.

That was then. In the last decade, the number of companies in Romania related to IT services tripled to 11,000. In 2010, it was said that 60,000 employees were involved in the software segment alone, the lower-level IT skill mentioned by the Manchester report.

Another thing I learned is that much of the country before 1989, and to this day to a degree, see two options for academics; science and math or computer technologies. The younger generation has taken an interest in IT and development, and they are fueling a thriving market in the country. This trend accounts for the driving force behind BitDefender’s recent success, explained Florin Talpes, the company’s CEO during the press conference.

“This success is the quality of our staff, right through the organization. Our management team, which draws on Eastern Europe’s leading technologists, Romania’s unique technology heritage, and veterans of the Tier 1 IT security industry vendors...”

But, despite success and accolades from industry peers and testing labs, BitDefender wanted a change, and they wanted it to reflect the pride they had in Romania. Thus, enter the dragon.

“We understood immediately The Dacian Draco, the Dragon Wolf suits us perfectly. It is an icon that has survived the past 2,000 years because it represents undying virtues,” Talpes said, speaking of the new corporate icon.

Half wolf, half serpent, this totemic creature guarded the Dacian people in their wars and has come to stand for invincible defense. To BitDefender, it represents a promise. The promise is to remain awake, vigilant to new threats and advances in technology. It’s also a promise to remain aware of the needs of their users, and to protect them despite their level of knowledge and ability online.

BitDefender is currently sitting strong in the anti-Virus industry, but they want more. They want to grow to the point where they are consistently first to market with better security offerings, which are easier to manage and maintain.

“The history of the Dragon Wolf fits ideally with our business aim to maintain and grow our leading position, pioneering innovative new solutions and offering the best performing products on the market,” Talpes added.

In a recent AV Comparative test, BitDefender had eight false positives, five of which were likely installed by less than 100 users. The other three had similar low install bases. This is a solid improvement compared to other tests.

Earning AV Comparative’s ranking of Advanced+, BitDefender scored in the top five (a normal lab test placement for them), with an overall score of 98.4 percent [Source] [Source]. AV-Test.org ranked them #1 late last month, after I had returned from Romania, with a score of 16.5 out of 18 [Source]. Lastly, PC Magazine’s Neil Rubenking gave them a 4/5 score when testing the 2012 products [Source].

Again, when it comes to where they stand now, BitDefender’s products are solid. But the plan is to listen to users, and continuously improve. This mantra of continual improvement and awareness - remaining awake – is all around the employees at BitDefender. Changes to the headquarters itself reflect this, including the new brand and mottos being painted to the walls. Moreover, they plan on keeping the large open area workspaces.

“Open office ensures better communication between people and a much more friendly environment rather than possible isolation sentiment imposed by cubicles. Romanians are very social people and they like to share ideas,” Cosoi told me, when asked about the office layout.

Sharing ideas is something that has helped streamline the newest offerings from BitDefender. Their 2012 line is sleek, and offers an easier to use GUI. Designs that came from open communications between the development teams and customers.

The sense of pride in their country and history extends to their work. For example, when you get a developer to talk about their area within the product, they almost seem to glow with excitement. Based on the initial lab scores and reviews, BitDefender’s 2012 offering is a step in the right direction.

However, it isn’t perfect, and it may be several years before BitDefender is consistently ranked, and honestly going toe-to-toe with the likes of Symantec and McAfee. As one employee told me, when you do good, you get good.

For BitDefender, the good will mean constant improvement, by providing stronger and better protections. If they can accomplish this, then the saying is correct, as good will surely follow in the form of growth and market domination.

The teams in Romania know this, and they welcome the challenge, confident that they will deliver on the new direction for the company.

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