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Q&A with Connie Qian: Finding Focus, from Fintech to Frontier Security

Connie Qian

February 17, 2022

  • Blog Post

Connie Qian is a Vice President at Forgepoint. Learn more about her background here.

Connie, please tell us about your background. Where are you from and what did you do prior to joining Forgepoint?

I was born in Rhode Island then moved to the Bay Area in elementary school. Growing up in Silicon Valley, I was drawn to tech very early on because I saw how much it had transformed the lives of the people around me – building great companies and careers while finding ways to better provide for themselves and their families. I was raised in a predominantly immigrant community where the definition of success was to go into medicine or engineering. I learned Java programming in high school to appease my dad, but unfortunately for him, it didn’t stick.
Before Forgepoint, I worked in equity research at Goldman Sachs and Robert W. Baird and in strategic finance at Square (now Block). I also got my MBA from Wharton. Don’t let people tell you business school is useless – I traveled to 7 continents in one year and picked up my first sport, D-league ice hockey.

Ha – D-league is still something! Forays on ice aside, you bring such unique research and operational experience from three financial services companies, each a leader in their own way. How does that inform your perspective as an investor?

When I joined Square in 2017, we were at this point where we had established product-market fit in the point-of-sale ecosystem and were just starting to seriously invest in adjacent areas like Square Cash, Capital, and Caviar. Strategic finance was responsible for allocating capital across teams, which meant balancing investment in the core point of sale (POS) business vs. experimenting in emerging areas. It was unclear at the time which teams or initiatives, if any, would make it. Many of my learnings were only in hindsight, but the experience helped build intuition around balancing pragmatism with optimism about the future, as well as maintaining conviction in a strategy along with an open mind if things just aren’t working.

More tactically, I remember creating a business case for a centralized procurement function at Square. I was a year into my role at the time, and was blown away by the operational and financial inefficiencies which can be endemic to large, rapidly growing companies. There’s a lot you don’t see in the consolidated financials that becomes more evident when you’re on the ground floor, able to comprehend all the details and resolve them.

With equity research, I learned how to evaluate fundamental business drivers, competitive technologies, and public market dynamics. Research is inherently about going deep, with each team covering only a dozen or so names. Valuing public companies – particularly behemoths like Apple and Cisco – were an entirely different ball game than pre-Series B, but research definitely influenced my decision to join a thesis-driven, specialist fund. Unlike VC, the stock market provides a real-time feedback cycle!

Another lasting impact was more personal, reinforcing self-discipline and habit formation. Working East Coast market hours from San Francisco meant that 5 AM wakeups were “sleeping in,” and so I really had to learn how to adapt my maximizing tendencies in order to prioritize friends and family (and sleep!).

Why cybersecurity? Which technology focus areas are you especially passionate about and why?

Cybersecurity has gone from a technology silo to a fundamental part of the software stack: integrated by design, continuously deployed, and interconnected through APIs and microservices. I think the best products enable their users to become more effective and efficient – and so I’m drawn to the convergence of security and software in areas like infrastructure and developer tools, where automation and abstraction are transforming how technical teams work.

Looking further out, I’m excited about emerging ecosystems in areas like AI/ML and blockchain. These are technologies with all the same risks and vulnerabilities as traditional software, yet security and governance are just beginning to be prioritized. We’ve already started to see companies address these areas in a way that is purpose-built, embedded, and relevant, yet most of the opportunity is still ahead of us.

What drew you to a career in VC, and what’s the most rewarding aspect of your work?

It’s really about relationships with founders. I love spending time with visionary, creative entrepreneurs in social contexts – and early-stage VC, compared to any other form of finance, is very people-centric. Yet it still brings together the analytical side of finance with the disruptive ethos of tech.

There are many aspects of the job that are rewarding! Generally, I see the role of an investor as one enabling founders to do their best work, whether that’s assisting with future rounds of fundraising, competitive analysis, or other outsourceable areas. One of the benefits of a sector focus is that the entire Forgepoint platform is built around supporting cybersecurity and infrastructure software companies, meaning more targeted recruiting and advisory support as they grow.

I’m also constantly learning new things about growing companies from experts in their respective fields. I actually started Forgepoint’s Field Guide series for early-stage entrepreneurs because I wanted to synthesize and contextualize these findings.

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

Realistically, I’d be back at a tech company. I think the COO role would be really rewarding – it requires you to prioritize the things that really matter at a given time as a company scales and needs to address different challenges and opportunities, while building mutual trust amongst multiple stakeholders and teams. I also like that beyond the benchmarks some may try to impose, there’s really no template for success – that just like the CEOs I’ve gotten to meet and collaborate with, COOs have their own leadership styles, strategies, and approaches. In the long run, it’s about being able to maintain a macro to micro view of a company, and to channel your strengths so that you’re effective within a dynamic environment.

I’d also consider embracing my love of animals as a veterinarian! My partner often says, rightfully so, that his biggest competition has four legs and is named Boots.