Bill West on A Revolutionary Approach to Website Security and Bot Detection

Cyberattacks can damage your reputation online and ultimately ruin your business. So ensuring the safety of your website is critical for business success.  Findings show that 43% of cyberattacks are against small businesses, yet only ...

Read moreBill West on A Revolutionary Approach to Website Security and Bot Detection

Cyberattacks can damage your reputation online and ultimately ruin your business. So ensuring the safety of your website is critical for business success. 

Findings show that 43% of cyberattacks are against small businesses, yet only 14% have a secured internet infrastructure. As a result, when your website is under attack, you risk losing up to 98% of your traffic

In this interview, Bill West of Human Presence shares some ideas on a more sustainable approach to ensure security and detect bots on your website. With Human Presence, your visitors get a seamless experience, and when used as an alternative to reCaptcha, it can help you increase your conversion by 3.5%.

Key Takeaway From The Interview

Bill West shared some valuable tips on how Human Presence monitors bots and ensures security on your website. 

Here are some key takeaways from our conversation:

  • Up to 30% of visitors fail the reCaptcha at the first attempt. And your customers are likely to drop off each time they fail. So, you need to adopt a simplified, but secure alternative
  • If you sell a specific SaaS solution, integrating your solution into complementary SaaS products will help you sell faster.
  • If you reduce the friction for visitors on your website, your conversion will increase by 3.5%.
  • You can reduce the risk of bot activities on your website by 99% if you don’t automate field entries in your forms.
  • Listen to your customers because their feedback can help you improve your product with unique features and innovative functionalities.
  • Unlike other website security and bot detection platforms, Human presence doesn’t try to detect bots. Instead, they try to identify humans and block anyone who doesn’t behave as a human.

My Conversation With Bill West

Founder, Human Presence

  1. Please tell us about yourself and “Human Presence.”

I spent most of my career in telecom—AT&T. I also owned a company here in the south. So, for the last 30 years, I was in Telecom as an executive with startups here.

I was able to exit both of those, which is usually a good day for an entrepreneur, and started Human Presence.

The idea for Human Presence came when I spoke to a friend of mine who had an e-commerce company. We were just talking casually when he said he tried to buy something from his own company, but his wife had taken his reading glasses with her when she went shopping. And he couldn’t pass the captcha—the squiggly little letters on his website.

Up to 30% failed the Recaptcha on the first attempt, and there was a drop-off at each failure. So it’s affecting conversions and certainly customer stickiness.

So, he couldn’t buy something from his own company.

As a friend, I was looking for an alternative for him. Some of them ask you to complete the puzzle, complete the game, or tell us which picture has a stop sign in it, things like that.

And I thought they were more annoying than captcha. 

We also saw that a pretty large percentage of people left his website and all websites we’ve since found as soon as they see the captcha. So they don’t even try.

Up to 30% fail on the first attempt, and there was a drop-off at each failure. So it’s affecting conversions and certainly customer stickiness.

So, while looking for an alternative, we found and purchased a software company in Atlanta. The platform was able to collect the timing and behavioral movement activities of users.

So the difference in Ellipsis Human Presence at 40,000ft is that we’re not identifying bots, we’re identifying humans, and we’re assuming everybody who’s not clearly behaving like a human is suspicious and should be blocked.

So we collect 

  • The timing and movement
  • Behavioral events
  • Keystroke up
  • Down touches
  • Swipes
  • Mouse movements, and more

And when we run that machine learning algorithm with the data that we collect from a regular browser session, we can identify whether that user is, in fact, a human or not. And if they’re not, we send them on their way. 

2. You’ve touched on the second question, but I’ll ask you to expand a bit on it. You focus on website security and bot detection. How has that experience been so far? How were you getting your initial audience to see the value in what we were giving them?

Well, you exactly hit a key question. When we started, we were selling like everyone. We were going out and looking for prospects, leads, making sales presentations, responding to RFPs, doing demos, and the likes. 

And it was a difficult road.

About two years ago, we switched what we sell entirely from others. Instead, we sell as an app on:

  • WordPress
  • Shopify
  • Drupal
  • Magento, and
  • Shopify plus.

We sell as integration with form builders, hosting companies, and independent app stores around the world. So we’re selling directly to end-users now.

They have a very specific problem, we have a very specific solution, and they just click on it and buy it.

So, instead of securing leads, almost everything we do tries to drive people directly to an app page or to our website where they can buy the product on their own.

Sometimes users have problems with bots, such as form spam or their checkout being attacked. And so we were out there in the market telling the world that we have what we have, and they go directly to either one of the platforms, application pages, or to our app page on our website. And they can onboard themselves totally, without us even talking to them. 

They have a very specific problem, we have a very specific solution, and they just click on it and buy it. It’s like not having too many conversations with the angry birds.

3. Since you’ve been doing this for a while, you must have started to notice some patterns. Plus, some businesses with similar problems might not know that a solution like Human Presence already exists. So, what patterns are you seeing in site security right now? And what do you predict that businesses are going to be doing in that regard?

Yeah! There are a lot of companies out there that are looking for bots. And some are fairly effective, and others are ineffective. But it’s all over the board.

But there’s a lot of different methodologies for trying to identify a bot. So we took an exact opposite approach of identifying humans, and we assume anybody that’s not behaving like a human is suspicious. 

So it’s a different approach from what anybody else is doing. And it’s fairly unique in the marketplace. 

We take the opposite approach from others by trying to identify humans rather than bots. And we assume anybody that’s not behaving like a human is suspicious and should be blocked.

There are many people talking about doing things like this, but we are specifically a hundred percent focused on identifying humans. 

And that’s why the product is called Human Presence. We identify the presence of a human being on the site. 

So, I think many people are trying to build products that identify the bots, but I think we’ll always stand out from that perspective.

4. In an interview with Robert Jacobi, you mentioned that removing reCaptcha from ecommerce sites increases conversions above 3.5%. But, in 2020 alone, 25.6% of websites’ traffic came from bad bots. How does Human Presence help businesses filter traffic while ensuring they don’t lose customers? How does Human Presence work?

We’ve blocked between 25% and 30%. We’ve had some sites get as high as 65% bots, which is incredible when you think about it.

However, due to the friction with Captcha and reCaptcha, we’ve moved to identify humans.

I don’t care how many bots they have. Even if they only have 30% humans and 70% bots, we’re going to reduce the friction for those humans.

Those humans aren’t going to have to solve the Captcha, or any kind of two-factor authentication or identify where’s the street sign or whatever. They’re not going to have to do any of that. 

And just that alone will increase conversions by what we’re saying is an average of about 3.5%. So again, the primary business we have is identifying humans versus bots. 

We identify the bots as suspicious, but we don’t care how many they have. What we’re trying to do is increase conversions and reduce friction from humans.

5. There have been 120 high-profile documented ransomware attacks in 2021 alone. What’s the biggest security challenge businesses face today? And how does Human Presence put it under control, especially for ransomware attacks?

Ransomware attacks in 2020 vs. 2021

We’re a small player in that. I mean, if the ransomware attacks our bot base, we’d undoubtedly stop them. 

But we’re browser-based and website-based. So if anybody’s coming in through the server or other means, that’s not our business. 

We’re simply trying to protect you from intrusions through your website.

6. I think everyone knows that one of the most exciting things about technology is innovation. Customers’ wants are constantly changing. So what do you see right now that probably didn’t exist when you started. And what should businesses look out for?

I think the way you sell in the SaaS environment has changed dramatically in the last few years. For example, not very long ago, you sold almost exclusively to CIOs and CTOs for a cyber solution for a website security product. 

And you know you’d respond to RFPs. You’d:

  • Put in a proposal
  • Do demos
  • Have a relatively technical and financial base proposal

And the sales cycle was quite long. 

Then it changed a little bit to where you sell solutions to operating executives, Chief Marketing Officer, Senior Vice President of Marketing, Vice President of Marketing, and alike. And they just want to protect their website.

That’s the way it should be because that’s somebody doing their job and they have a particular problem. So we have a very specific solution that it’s effortless for them to install. They click on a button, and that’s it, they’re in.

But still, it was a similar process with RFPs and demos and proposals, and often the sign-off from the CIO and CTO. 

Well, I think Atlassian, Slack, and similar solutions have changed this dramatically where we sell our product directly to the end-users. So we’re selling to some enormous e-commerce companies. 

But an ecommerce manager or an assistant ecommerce manager made the purchasing decision because they have spam or they see bots on their site. And they see our simple solution. So we market directly to them, go to our website or the app page, and onboard themselves without even speaking to us.

That’s the way it should be because that’s somebody doing their job and they have a particular problem. So we have a specific solution that it’s effortless for them to install. They click on a button, and that’s it, they’re in. 

So I think that one of the most significant change is how companies buy SaaS solutions.

7. Do you focus on really large companies, or do you have solutions for just about anyone who has bots problems?

Yeah, it’s interesting. When we switched to the app solutions, we also integrated with form builders and hosting companies so that our technology bakes nicely into their service offering.

We envisioned that we would be selling primarily to small businesses with a website, and the owner manages it. It’s been quite surprising to us that we’ve sold our product to some very large companies. 

But it’s just someone who managed their website within it. And we quite frankly don’t even know that the company bought from us until after the purchase. 

We see that a huge company just installed our app. So it’s an exciting and changing world. So, yeah, we’re selling to everybody across the board, not totally intentionally, but we are.

8. Apart from authentication, another concern for website owners is ensuring that the information they get from customers remains unaltered, especially information in form fields. So how do you ensure data integrity, especially for ecommerce owners?

A lot of these problems go away if you don’t have automated field entries in your forms. And so, just the fact that we are allowing only humans to have access to these forms, to be able to enter information, knocks away 99%, if not a hundred percent of it. 

Most of that wrong information and breaches in data integrity were automated responses from bots input. So, by only allowing humans onto the site, we eliminates most of that, if not all.

9. Do you provide some reports to help users see how many bots they’ve had versus humans who’ve visited their sites because this could help with even the Internal traffic analysis?

Yes, We provide it as part of our product. Users have a dashboard that allows them to see minute by minute the humans versus the non-human traffic they have on their site.

10. I understand that one of your strong points is that you focus on humans, helping humans access sites instead of chasing down bots. But what other thing makes you different from your competitor?

A part of it is our customer service. We always respond very quickly. We’re constantly outreaching to customers telling them to please let us know when they have problems. Our service team focuses on fixing any problem.

When customers are having a hard time with anything, they can reach out to us. And we pride ourselves in attempting to answer almost instantly, that’s one. The other is when we talk to the customers they give us ideas for additional products. 

For example, when we went out with just Human Presence on Shopify, the merchants were telling us, the site owners were telling us that they also get hit with form spam, which comes outside of the browser.

So we came up with a solution for fixing form spam. And then the largest users were telling us that they have their checkouts being attacked by bots-based checkouts attempts, especially during flash sales and limited inventory events. So we came up with the first solution to protect the checkout for those.

And now we’re adding chargeback protection in the next few weeks because customers are telling us we have a lot of chargebacks, and it’s not necessarily bots, but it’s a problem we have on our security side. So we have a solution for that that we’ll be introducing. 

I think a lot of it is that we have a powerful basic technology with Human Presence, but we’re listening to customers. So for each channel, we’re adding additional features and functionality at all times.

11. What one piece of advice would you give a small business owner that’s seeking to adopt a security and fraud detection system on their website? What should they look out for when making this decision?

The one piece of advice I’d give him is to buy our product. We could solve that. I mean, it’s a simple solution that we have. 

It wasn’t simple to build, but it’s simple to understand for a business owner. 

And they are trying to sell to humans, so we make sure that they only have humans on their site. So it’s slightly different pricing for each channel, but it’s very economical.

12. You’re beginning to build some additional products, and you’re probably beginning to see things, new problems you probably didn’t see in the beginning. So I’m wondering, are there things that you’re starting to work on now that give you a picture of what you would be like in the next few years, let’s say five years, ten years? 

Yeah, it’s very similar to when we added the form spam protection, and we added other things. For example, now we’re adding chargeback protection. 

We’re looking at a pop-up blocker. So if you see little ads that pop up, if you’re looking for a drill, for example, and it’s $59, you suddenly get a pop-up that’s available somewhere else for $39 or a similar drill. 

We’ll have a technology sometime this year that blocks those pop-ups. There are massive carding attacks that are mostly automated, and we’ll be protecting that. And then a lot of it is adding additional functionality.

We have the checkout protection that works very well, but we’ll be adding more rules and more features to that product. When we’re dealing with flash sales, we gather a lot of data. 

So we’re putting that in a reporting format so that it’ll be helpful to our customers. 

So those are the kinds of things. We’re listening to customers, and we’re adding more functionality all the time.

13. What do you think more people should know about website security that you haven’t mentioned in this interview?

There’s a ton. We are a small sliver. The big companies like Akamai and Sophos and the others are very good at what they do. 

And we have a small piece of it with bot detection and website security, and we’re very good at what we do, but it is a very small piece of overall website security.

14. What’s the best anyone ever said to you about Human Presence and or what you do?

Well, it’s almost every day when we have customers send us a note saying nice things to us. Take form spam, for example. They said they have a comment section, a product review, and a mailing list, and they were getting inundated with bot input to those forms. 

And they had to have somebody on their staff spend some time, every afternoon emptying all the spam of those boxes. 

And so that’s one of the most common comments we get where customers say, I don’t have to have anybody empty those boxes anymore. You guys do it for me all day long. So you’re saving us manpower and time and frustration and all that.

So there’s a lot of nice compliments we get. But that’s a real one that people understand the dollars behind. 

Because it’s somebody that they’re paying an hourly wage, they should be doing another job during that period, and they have to do this every afternoon. 

So that’s very comforting to know we helped them with that. 

15. In your interview with Robert, you said one personal thing you’d like to do in 2021 would involve taking coffee with friends and associates and doing something at the beach. How much of that have you been able to do?

I was at the beach last week with my family, and our team got together yesterday for coffee. And it was nice to see everybody after all this time. 

Although we’d been doing video conferences, I still know what they look like. But yeah, we all sat in the room together yesterday. And that was very nice. 

Yes, that was one of the things I wanted to do this year, and I did them both in the last week and a half.

About Human Presence

Human Presence is the epicenter of bot detection and defense. It protects against the most intelligent bots and gets smarter with each interaction.

Its users have complete control and flexibility for any traffic to their site. Thus making it easy to scale with any website, regardless of complexity.

Unlike other platforms, Human presence doesn’t irritate site visitors with invasive pictures or quizzes. Instead it runs at the background of your site to form an active barrier between your codes and what people see. That way, users can invisibly detect actual humans on the site and kick out suspicious visitors.

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Nicholas Godwin

Nicholas Godwin is a technology researcher who tells profitable brand stories that tech buyers and businesses love. He covers technology topics on his website, and has worked on projects for Fortune 500 companies, global tech corporations and top consulting firms, from Bloomberg Beta, Accenture, PwC, and Deloitte to HP, Shell, and AT&T.

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