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Q&A with Leo Casusol: Innovating from the Mines to the Front Lines, a Serial CIO and Global Architect Now Cyber VC

Leo Casusol

February 28, 2023

  • Blog Post

Leo Casusol is a Managing Director at Forgepoint. Learn more about his background here.

Leo, tell us about your story: what has been your journey to get to where you are now?

I was born in the north of Peru and moved to Arequipa, where I attended college and obtained a dual degree in electronic engineering and computer science. After graduation, I started working in industrial automation with Siemens. I became a professor at a local technical university and joined the mining industry to help automate and modernize operations. As I was doing that, I completed a masters in economics and management to balance my technical learnings from the field.

While working with various mining companies, I realized that automating production created additional bottlenecks along the supply chain. It was important to integrate the production systems with ERP (supply chain systems) so we could have just-in-time delivery of parts and supply materials for the mines. This was the genesis of a project I developed that became the foundation for a very successful initiative that quickly attracted widespread support across the industry. I became a founding member and Chief Technology Architect of Quadrem, the first global electronic marketplace for the mining industry that was launched in 2000 as a joint venture by 21 of the largest mining companies in the world. They seeded the company with $150 million dollars and hired experts from all over the globe. The vision for Quadrem was clear and simple: to simplify and streamline the global business of doing business. Today, Quadrem’s supply chain transaction delivery networks connect more than 100,000 suppliers and 1500 buyers, handling over $20 billion in annual order throughput.

I was responsible for technology integrations and implementations. I moved to Los Angeles in late 2001 to partner with Accenture, SAP, and CommerceOne for launch. As we started to scale the business, we realized that out platform needed to be upgraded, so we signed a joint venture with Microsoft and TCS to rewrite the platform. I then worked in India for 8 months to architect, develop, and implement the new transaction marketplace.

At that point, we were ready to establish our new headquarters. We did a search and that’s when Dallas became my home – in 2002, though it feels like I have lived everywhere since then! Although our commercial headquarters were in the US, our operational headquarters were in the Netherlands. This is where we decided to deploy our new transactional platform and, selected a small, quite advanced managed hosting partner called Dedigate. We quickly became their largest customer, responsible for about 40% of their revenue. Soon after, in 2003, Dedigate was acquired by Terramark which managed data centers around the world. Given the size of our business with Dedigate, their new parent company was concerned about potential churn, so I met Terremark’s Founder and CEO Manuel “Manny” Medina, who is from Cuba originally. We really hit it off and became friends. Right as Quadrem was about to IPO, it was acquired by Ariba (NASDAQ: ARBA) in 2008.

I said farewell to the Quadrem family, and joined Terremark as their CIO to drive their business transformation from a colocation company to a fully integrated IT services provider that manages hosting, cloud computing, and other security services. It was fun and fulfilling work helping the organization accelerate its growth and impact from a later stage startup to more of a strategic service provider to Fortune 100 customers. I spent nearly four years leading the collaborative process for the implementation of business technology and strategy, driving P&L accountability while optimizing the allocation and investment of resources. This included evolving the company’s IT infrastructure and architecture to support rapid business expansion, managing its product development office, developing enterprise initiatives, and building overall ROI while ensuring high levels of service for key stakeholders. Terremark was acquired by Verizon in 2011, and became the foundation for the managed services offering inside Verizon Business. After a year and half, Verizon decided to focus on mobile and divested their colocation business unit to Equinix and its managed services business to IBM.

I left to serve as CIO of Liquidity Services (NASDAQ: LQDT), the largest global provider of reverse supply chain services for a broad customer base that ranged from the Department of Defense to all the largest retailers across industries. This includes managing and selling assets for 6,000 government agencies and Fortune 1000 brands. Over a four year period, I led the transformation of Liquidity Services from a holding company to a fully integrated operating business.

After leaving Terremark, Manny funded Medina Capital Partners, doing private equity investments in cyber. Having raised $400 million they invested in six companies, including Easy Solutions (fraud protection), Catbird (hybrid IT infrastructure security), Appgate (secure access solutions), Cryptzone (context-aware security for critical applications), Data Return, NS Brainspace (ML-powered enterprise intelligence).

Together with BC Partners, Medina Capital, and a few others we partnered to create Cyxtera, a $2.8 billion private equity-backed startup. I became Cytera’s Global CIO, founding team member, and business and technology architect. Cyxtera’s portfolio included the legacy colocation business from CenturyLink and 5 Cyber Security companies with over 5000+ customers and 60+ locations worldwide. I led business transformation and integration of all business units, ensuring we delivered unified customer experiences, business operations, and finance platforms. When Cytera IPO’d via a SPAC, I took some time to celebrate with my family then got the call from Alberto and Don whom I had gotten to know over the years.

Soon after, I came on board with Forgepoint as a Venture Partner and the rest is…still making history.

You have such extensive background as a senior executive and operator for some of the world’s biggest brands. How has this influenced your point of view as an investor and in how you work with entrepreneurs?

I think I have a unique perspective on what large enterprises buy and how they evaluate, procure, integrate and deploy software and services. This is something a lot of entrepreneurs don’t know well. In my opinion, one of the biggest challenges they face is not just building for enterprise scale from a technical standpoint, but all the go to market, account strategy, and customer success that goes into really partnering with your customers long-term.

Secondly, cyber is not consumer – selling to the enterprise requires a deep understanding of their organizations, culture, and procurement processes. This includes integration into their existing technology stack and broader ecosystem of vendors and suppliers.

From my perspective, there are four main challenges in selling to the enterprise:

1. Customer: who are you talking to and how do you identify the main stakeholders? Typically, there are three: the influencer, the decision-maker, and the person with the business-case.

2. Technical sponsor: who will be responsible for implementation? How will you make them understand the process is important and worthwhile, and won’t be burdensome? It will help if the solutions and services will be immediately appealing to a large user base.

3. Scale: Now that you have the buyer (executive sponsor) and implementer, how do you make sure the solution scales for the size of the company acquiring your product? Startups don’t always think about the needs of say a major global bank that has 350,000 employees in 60+ countries.

4. Ongoing support: now that you’ve identified your customer, activated your technical sponsor, and achieved scale, how are you handling for ongoing customer service? Dealing with an enterprise customer requires constant touch points, addressing issues as your platform evolves or as they arise, etc. You have to pay attention or else customers will churn. This can be challenging, especially if your company is on relatively limited resources with novel, sophisticated products. You cannot just apply AI or automation across the board.

What do you see startups doing right then?

Startups are able to innovate and break the status quo, challenging how things are done today in an open and unconstrained environment. Innovation happens with startups because they don’t have to play by rules that large corporations might impose on their R&D teams. They are closer to the front lines – they see what’s coming up right around the corner. They tap into new sources of talent that aren’t always easily accessible or considered by the enterprise – from international ecosystems, specific colleges/universities, and technical schools.

Finally, many startups work closely with research groups to innovate – from my experience it’s 50/50: about half start from research environments, while the other fifty percent are executives who have witnessed and experienced the problems they are trying to solve. They know the pain first-hand!

What key gaps do you currently see in the market for more innovation? Looking ahead, what are you most excited about?

I’m very excited about companies that are applying business process orchestration to the consumption and deployment of technology.

For example, Rafay which is giving you all the playbooks, plans, tools to make the most of the cloud and Kubernetes. As a business leader, I can take my applications and containerize them in Kubernetes, then deploy them in any kind of cloud – Amazon, Google, Azure, multi-cloud, etc. This enables the modernization of my applications and application delivery in a very effective way.

Same goes for 1Kosmos, which is stitching identity, blockchain, multi-factor authentication, and passwordless all together with workflow management. This helps workers, customers, and IT leaders alike enjoy seamless login experiences anywhere, on any device – improving productivity while protecting against account takeover and fraud.

In general, I’m more excited about platform plays than point solutions, because they address complex problems that provide enduring value to the enterprise.

You have over two decades of proven leadership and results as an architect and CIO for major global organizations. What do you now find appealing about venture and cybersecurity?

What I like the most about the VC world is your ability to influence and work with multiple companies at the same time.

I’ve had the opportunity to not only invest but to also work together with the team to incubate companies that can then integrate with other portfolio companies to provide combined solutions that help customers be even more successful. SolCyber, which we launched in 2021, is a great example. As a modern managed security services provider (MSSP) for startups and the mid-market, it has already formed strategic partnerships with over a half dozen companies in our portfolio. Its customers benefit from managed security and excellent support at a lower cost and overhead.

In my current role, I’m not working on a single company and one set of problems to solve. I can reach and talk to 10-20 companies at a time to direct them to a common goal, which as we say is to protect the digital future by securing the enterprise.

We also examine the white space of the cybersecurity sector across industries and geographies versus being so narrowly defined. The learning never stops.

What is most gratifying about what you do?

To me, the most gratifying aspect of the job is when you’re able to develop a relationship with your entrepreneurs and become a trusted advisor to them. Being considered a team member for multiple organizations is something that is very rewarding to me.

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

I would be a chef. I cook everything: Peruvian, Asian, Indian, you name it. I would open a Peruvian-fusion restaurant and introduce all my favorite recipes. Don’t worry, they have been tested and approved by the world’s toughest critics: my beloved family.

It’s a hard industry but cooking is a lot of fun. If soccer is life, cooking is art!