Q&A with Summer Associate Reed Simmons: Making Public and Private Sector Impact by Investing with a Purpose

08.02.22 | Blog Post

This post is the second in a series that showcases our MBA interns participating in Forgepoint’s Summer Associate program. Designed to provide comprehensive exposure to venture capital while advancing participants’ understanding of cybersecurity and cloud innovation, this ten-week program includes hands-on thesis development, market-mapping, sourcing, diligence, and company building experience along with opportunities to get to know the Forgepoint community and team.

Learn more about Reed Simmons’s background here.

Reed, you have such a unique story. First of all, thank you for your service! Where are you from and what did you do before joining Forgepoint this summer?

I am from Marion, Massachusetts, a small town near Cape Cod. Growing up, I loved exploring the surrounding waters. We had a little dingy (more like a bathtub with a motor) which I would use to set lobster traps and attempt to catch striped bass. This passion morphed into a broader interest in marine biology, and I was lucky enough to work with a scientist at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute during a summer. It was probably these experiences (as well as the Band of Brothers TV series) that sparked my initial interest in joining the Navy. The feeling accelerated when I was at Groton, a high school with a deep culture of service, and then at Harvard. There I concentrated in history with a focus on international and financial history. A central question—why nations succeed or fail—fascinated me, and it is one, I believe, particularly relevant in our time of geopolitical change with the rise of China and the end of the post-cold war unipolarity.

Upon graduation, I commissioned as a Navy Intelligence Officer via Officer Candidate School (OCS). My first job was in Japan. I lived in Yamato, a town just south of Tokyo, and deployed twice on the USS RONALD REAGAN (CVN 76) around the Asia-Pacific. Tokyo is an amazing place. I loved walking through different districts, trying new restaurants, and going to baseball games. After two years, I received new orders to the Pentagon, where I became the Chief of Naval Operations and Secretary of the Navy’s intelligence briefer. While my intelligence expertise centered around China, I had global responsibilities in this role and provided both tactical intelligence updates as well as deeper dives into more strategic issues.

I absolutely loved my time in the Navy, but in the summer of 2020, I decided it was the right time to pursue my other interests. I now am a dual MBA/MPA candidate at Wharton and Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government.

What led you to the private sector, and to venture capital?

When I left the Navy, I had one guiding principle for my professional life: to continue my career in an industry with national security implications. Yet how to put this into practice? I loved the challenge of intelligence: you are expected synthesize a vast amount of information, develop actionable insights, and then deliver them in a concise narrative. A similar challenge lies at the heart of venture capital, where you need to stay informed of fast-changing technological and market developments before selecting an investment.

Moreover, the entrepreneurial experience has always intrigued me. Many of my college friends became entrepreneurs as did my sister, Taylor, who started Coco Shop – a women’s resort-wear brand. More personally, I also know that technological innovation is a key component of current geopolitical environment. Past barriers between public-private sector integration are breaking down, albeit slowly, in the face of such competitive necessity. For unlike the mid-20 th century, when technological leaps often occurred within the government’s purview—from the early internet to space exploration—the speed of the digital age and the increased availability of private capital have shifted the centers of innovation to the private sector. As I weighed different career paths, being at intersection of government and private innovation was an appealing direction and one primed for outsized growth. As such, during my first year at Wharton I connected with the team at First In, an early-stage venture firm focused on cybersecurity and dual-use technologies. I became an Investor there and absolutely loved meeting with passionate entrepreneurs and working with a mission-driven team. Yet I also realized I had much to learn, both about investing and in building my technical knowledge.

Why Forgepoint?

I was first exposed to the cyber domain in the Navy, where I had a first-hand view of cyber’s impact on both the digital and physical environments. Cybersecurity is inherently a dual-use technology and one intertwined with national interests. Forgepoint’s motto, “Protecting the digital future” speaks to this as well as the mission of the firm. I had first heard of Forgepoint while at First In and knew of its reputation as a premier early-stage investor. I thought this was a firm where I could receive the mentorship critical to learning investing. Yet it was meeting the team that completely sold me. It was clear the firm had a collaborative, competent and exciting culture. My time this summer has proven this all to be true.

What was your summer experience like? Was it what you expected?

My Forgepoint experience has exceeded my high expectations. Upon arriving, I was taken aback by the team’s depth of industry and technical knowledge as well as their openness to sharing it. I thought I knew the broad outlines of cybersecurity, but being at Forgepoint has revealed new layers of analysis I had not previously considered. Expectations of technical understanding are high—as they should be—and the first month was a bit like drinking out of a firehose. Yet in the truest sense of the word, Forgepoint is a team and everyone—from Associate to Managing Director—is there to assist in your development as an investor.

From a community perspective, my second week with the team at the RSA conference was eye opening. While meeting with companies and listening to seasoned security practitioners was interesting, the highlight for me was the Forgepoint-hosted National Security Social. There we met with about a hundred other national security veterans in the cybersecurity ecosystem over drinks. It brought home the dual-use nature of the business, as well as just being a lot of fun.

That’s wonderful to hear! So what have you been working on? What skills and exposure have you gained?

Where to start? My responsibilities this summer have been along the following overlapping four lines: sourcing, thesis construction, diligence, and portfolio company support.

  • Sourcing companies is primarily done two ways: outbound via thesis construction and outreach, and inbound from one’s network. Forgepoint prides itself on its thesis-driven approach – identifying market trends, technological gaps, and industry needs prior to making an investment decision. I have been working on researching and developing a thesis in the Secure Access Service Edge (SASE) area and am expected to present my findings to the broader investment team in the coming weeks. Second, I find the inbound sourcing method highly enjoyable as it means meeting with security practitioners, entrepreneurs, and others in the venture space, nearly all of whom have fascinating personal stories and interests.
  • On the due diligence front, I am gaining first-hand experience working on an active deal which in this case is for a data security company. In addition to evaluating the company, product, team, and market, I am modeling return profiles and building competitive market maps, while helping the team refine a post-investment business plan.
  • Finally, there’s portfolio company support – an area where Forgepoint excels. With high inflation and rising interest rates, the cost of capital is no longer near-zero, making investors less willing to underwrite growth at the expense of capital efficiency and delayed profitability. As a result, the Forgepoint team is working with portfolio companies about how to adjust spending profiles and extend runways while maintaining growth and delivering great products. The team continues to provide portfolio companies with sales leads, hiring opportunities, and board-level advice expected of their investors. I have been pleasantly surprised at the extent the team is willing to include me in these meetings and is genuinely interested in my input.

What guidance would you give to others looking to transition from the public sector into venture capital – whether during their MBA or directly from a defense background?

There are many ways to get into venture capital and I certainly do not have all the answers. I think there are, however, some unifying themes. First and foremost is to demonstrate an interest in the space and coherently answer the question, “Why venture capital?” This means being able to draw connections between your public sector experience and the venture ecosystem. A second is to develop a network and begin to meet with companies before starting the job interview process. Even better is to actively help such companies, through which you will learn the different pain points of starting a business. Finally, it does help to have some technical familiarity. Though a full technical background is not a prerequisite (I do not have one), it is a way to differentiate yourself and providing an immediate value add.

If not investing this summer, what would you be doing?
I have wanted to bike across Europe for a long time. I got into cycling one summer in college, when a couple friends and I biked across the US, from Oregon to Maryland – an adventure I will never forget. After graduating college and before OCS, my brother and I biked across England from London to Wales. How much fun would it be to go from Normandy to the Black Sea! Alas, one can dream. In all seriousness though, if not venture I would probably work at a defense-technology startup.

How have you enjoyed the Bay Area?

I have loved exploring northern California. After getting married in June, my wife came out and we have taken trips out to Napa, Tahoe and Big Sur. I have also driven north and attempted to fly fish some new rivers and creeks. No luck as of yet, but there is time left!

Congratulations, Reed to you and Mrs. Simmons! Thank you for your many contributions this summer. On behalf of the team, we wish you all the best with completing your MBA/MPA and all that’s ahead.

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