Career Notes 11.12.23
Ep 175 | 11.12.23

Grace Cassy: Actions speak louder than words. [Associate Fellow]


Grace Cassy: Hello, my name is Grace Cassy and I am an Early Stage Investor in cybersecurity companies.

Grace Cassy: So I've always been interested in people and politics, I studied history at college and I've always been fascinated by the interactions between people and getting into people's motivations and the context in which they operate and how that affects their decision making. So when I graduated, I joined the UK civil service, and I went into our foreign service, where I spent 10 years in a range of foreign policy and national security roles. I was really fortunate to be posted abroad quite early on in that career. So my early twenties, I went to Pakistan, had a wonderful three years there, and did a bunch of other roles in that time, including, uh, very fortunately, three years as a foreign policy advisor. So I had a huge range of subjects there, which I was able to get involved in everything from our policy towards Afghanistan, to India, to China, to migration, to counter proliferation and, you know, a real fantastic mix of subjects that I was able to, to immerse myself in.

Grace Cassy: So I left public service after 10 years, I think because I didn't want to find that I woke up, you know, 30 years into it and it was too late for me to try anything else. I'd always had a an interest in science and technology, and I thought that I would step out and try to get into the technology world and you know, really have a chance to work with, with builders. You know, being a policy person is, is great, but in some ways you're quite distanced from the people who are actually building stuff in the world, so I wanted to get closer to that.

Grace Cassy: And I started out, um, working with and advising, uh, growth stage technology companies across a whole range of subjects. So I worked with healthcare companies, energy tech, novel proteins, fintech and that was fantastic. Worked with some wonderful, wonderful companies. But in terms of how I got into cybersecurity, it was a bit more of a roundabout journey, actually. I had been talking for some time with good friends and colleagues in London about why we didn't see more high quality, scalable cybersecurity companies that emerged out of Europe. We felt that we had all the right ingredients here in terms of the talent, the problem set, the customers and yet, we didn't typically grow the number of high quality companies and security that we saw, for example, coming out of the U. S. and Israel and so my friends and I decided to set up an accelerator program for cybersecurity companies to try to create a kind of gathering point for a community, a program of support for founders taking on that really difficult challenge of building a deep tech business and security. So we founded Cylon in 2015 and worked with gosh, upwards of a hundred companies across Europe, Israel, and the far East, cause we also latterly operated it out of Singapore as well and that was where we really became exposed to investing at the very, very early stage in, in young startups. So that's where I made that transition from being more of an advisor to being more of an investor.

Grace Cassy: So no one day is the same, which is probably why I enjoy it so much and I get to meet a lot of wonderful people, which is the other reason why I enjoy it so much. Uh, but it, you know, a day might include hearing a pitch from a new company that wants to seek investment for their solution. I hear a lot of pitches all the time, which I really enjoy. I might spend some time, um, on the phone with companies that I've already invested in uh, obviously you spend quite a bit of time doing that. Uh, I also spend quite a lot of time looking at policy developments in our, in our sector, trying to stay on top of that and, uh, hope that that also brings some perspective to the founders with whom I'm working. I've also happily managed to keep my hand in a little bit on, on foreign policy and international, uh, policy. I'm a visiting fellow at Chatham House, uh, in the UK, and that enables me to spend time talking to, thinking and writing about some of the geopolitical issues that affect, uh, the security landscape.

Grace Cassy: I would really encourage anyone with an interest in cyber security to consider a career in our space. I think there's a huge diversity of opportunities, both for people with a technical bent and for people who, you know, like myself, don't come from a technical background, but who are interested in people and motivations and I think cybersecurity is a fantastic sector if That is your interest because it really gets into the heart of decision making and, um, how organizations can be constructed to, uh, to best support, uh, you know, uh, a well organized risk program and to work with, with people rather than against them. 

Grace Cassy: I think it's a question of resilience and I think that can be developed as a personal skill set. I've been lucky in some ways to have worked in some quite challenging environments. I was in Pakistan on 9/11 and for the period afterwards when, uh, we, the allied forces went into Afghanistan and so, you know, there and at Downing Street when you work in a head of government office, there's obviously quite a lot of days where, where you're under high pressure and I think that builds resilience. You start to appreciate that actually you, you can perform in those situations and you can appreciate the almost the enjoyable aspects of, of working in, in high pressure environments and there's a, there's a real sense of achievement if you and your colleagues can, can draw together and deliver in some of those situations. So honestly, I see challenging days or challenging times as an opportunity to build that sense of depth in your personal experience.

Grace Cassy: I would like. to be remembered as someone who tried to have some impact. I think there's a lot of talking that goes on in the world, and goodness knows I've done a fair amount of that myself, but I think if I could be seen as someone who really tried to make a difference for the companies in which I invested, or for companies that I advised, or for the industry as a whole, that would be very pleasing, because I think we probably don't need too many more words, but we definitely need a bit more action, including on things like gender diversity. So I would really encourage anyone who is interested in people and has life experience to offer, which we all do, to give this industry a go because we need different voices and your voice would be very welcome.