Q&A with Ernie Bio: Helping Cyber Innovation Take Flight

03.14.22 | Ernie Bio | Blog Post

Ernie Bio is a Partner at Forgepoint. Learn more about his background here.

Ernie, you started your career as an Air Force pilot. Thank you for your service! You have such a unique background that spans public and private sectors. Please share what you did prior to joining Forgepoint.

My pathway to venture capital has definitely been non-standard. I joined the military after college and spent the next decade as an F-16 fighter pilot with the U.S. Air Force and Air National Guard. Like most veterans, I leveraged business school to transition into the private sector – this led me to strategy consulting before taking on a role in finance and operations at a tech startup. As luck would have it, I was introduced to leadership at U.S. Cyber Command and asked to represent the organization in Silicon Valley – to build partnerships with cutting-edge security startups and VCs. This was my foray into cybersecurity and venture capital. It was a great experience that gave me exposure to the military/intelligence side of cyber, as well as the private sector. I was embedded in a brand-new organization being stood-up by the Secretary of Defense called the Defense Innovation Unit Experimental (DIUx). Ultimately, I became the Chief Operating Officer of that organization, where I oversaw five technology portfolios (to include cyber), the deployment of several hundred million dollars, and its team growth to 80 people.

You have such extensive first-hand, hands-on experience along the spectrum of cybersecurity innovation, from identifying and acquiring new solutions for national defense, to prototyping new technologies, to investing in and building with entrepreneurs. What advice do you have for future or early-stage founders who have a vision and product they want to bring to market?

Being an entrepreneur can be one of the toughest and most lonesome jobs on the planet. I often refer to it as the art of making something from nothing – a simple idea can ultimately turn into a multi-billion-dollar public company that revolutionizes an industry and how the world does business. The road getting from idea to successful company is riddled with failure and founders need to defy some laws of physics on their journey. For early-stage founders, my best advice is to surround yourself with the right people – first, and foremost – your co-founder(s). You should have co-founders with complementary skillsets; perhaps one is technical and the other is a go-to-market expert. Second, find advisors and mentors who have been there done that. You can learn a ton from their successes and failures. They will be a sounding board. Third, find investors that can help you build the company – money is a commodity these days. The right investors can help with go-to-market, building the executive team, introducing you to customers, managing your board, and more. Lastly, surround yourself with A-players as you build out the early team. A-players will bring on other A-players and help ensure you have a high performing team with a strong culture as you grow.

Did you always know you wanted to be an investor? What caused you to make the transition and how do your prior roles inform your work today?

Being an investor was definitely not something I dreamed of as a little kid or even as a young adult. Ironically, I had made several angel investments well before I got into venture with mixed results! The five years I spent prior to venture, at a startup and then in my roles at Cyber Command and at DIUx, are what catalyzed my interest in entering venture and focusing on cybersecurity. My prior experiences helped me empathize with founders and startup CEOs – what they do is so incredibly challenging, in inventing new technology, hiring and developing great teams, building a relatable brand, driving customer adoption, and scaling into new markets – there are so many variables and needs beyond just having an exciting idea and promising product vision.

Now that I’m in venture, I really appreciate the unique insight and ability I have to collaborate with my founders and CEOs, as well as the other investors, advisors, and partners who step up to support them. Unlike other investing disciplines, venture is a relationship and people business, especially in the earlier stages – it’s not transactional.

What do you find compelling about cybersecurity as an investment area, above all others?

Cybersecurity is a somewhat amorphous term that means a lot of things to a lot of people. At the end of the day, it is about protecting data, whether it’s someone’s personal data, an organization’s data, or data that enable critical infrastructure to operate and/or provide national security.

Beyond the specific technologies I’m interested in, I think it’s exciting to look at how cybersecurity is evolving. This evolution has been catalyzed broadly by digital transformation and the rapid movement to hybrid and multi-cloud infrastructures. Currently, 76% of organizations are leveraging multi-cloud architectures (to varying extents), which has presented new challenges to secure these environments. There’s a tremendous opportunity for innovation around cloud security, which from an investment standpoint has a CAGR north of 35%. Indeed, the adoption of cloud computing and the expansion of use cases and capabilities will drive investment for years to come.

Additionally, cybersecurity transcends both public and private sectors, requiring unique partnerships we don’t see in other areas. Here, the technology is truly sector-agnostic. What’s exciting is that I think we’ll see maturation of these partnerships over the next few years, especially as it relates to critical infrastructure (the Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Agency (CISA)’s list contains 16 sectors).

What’s the most rewarding aspect of your work?

Working closely with passionate entrepreneurs and their teams through the hard times and the good times, to ultimately achieve success, despite horrible odds. Entrepreneurs are a rare breed – I’m in awe of their vision, work ethic, and commitment.

If you weren’t an investor, what would you be doing?

I would be a fighter pilot…Kidding aside, I’d love to get paid to travel the world, meet all sorts of people and experience different cultures – being a professional surfer comes to mind.

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