Venture Capital & Cyber Security Expert William Lin Opens Up
Can you provide some background on your upbringing?
“The biggest part of my upbringing that really defined me was that from a very young age, starting when I was five, I lived away from my parents. The key reason why that was the case was my parents wanted me to have an education based in the US.
As Taiwanese residents and citizens, they could not transfer to the United States. I lived with family and friends. Living away from parents and not having structure could have had positive or negative effects on my life and I feel very lucky that I ended up where I am today.”
2. How did you become interested in technology?
“Playing video games as a kid created this desire to understand the unseen side of how video games work. I had this overall eagerness to learn more. Whenever I found opportunities to learn and progress, I took them. This led to an interest in computers and building them, which eventually led to an interest in building businesses around it.”
3. Why did you choose to pursue a career in venture capital?
“The initial reason why I wanted to work in the venture was based on my interest in leading-edge technology. I have always valued the competitive advantage of having knowledge others don't have. After all, knowledge is power. Being in venture allowed me to explore and learn more by being surrounded by this cutting edge technology. Another reason was my belief in karma. Helping others is a big part of venture capital, and it gave me personal enjoyment. My belief is that if you help others enough, you don't really have to worry about value because you're creating so much of it.”
4. What made you want to specialize in cybersecurity?
“I believe the power of knowledge specialization is critical to be able to succeed in venture. Otherwise, how else can you help people when you have a general knowledge base? Specializing in cybersecurity was driven by the entrepreneurial things I did in high school and college. Building computers and selling them gave me a good insight into technology and its use in illegal activities, helping me build an interest in the field.
Using technology to unfairly take money, data, and information from others goes against my values of karma and respecting others. Cybersecurity prevents bad things from happening to good people. Having the home advantage, the right tools, and the knowledge to stop these unfortunate events is an important value to me.”
5. What has been your biggest challenge in your career? What advice would you give your past self in order to prepare?
“It comes down to understanding why things happen in the world. I don’t think people ask the question of why enough, rather asking the question of how instead. If I focused on why earlier on and really dug deep into it, I think it would have allowed me to understand better and go through life with less stress.
Another way to summarize that point is the idea of having empathy. Empathy in the business world is very different from building empathy in the personal world because, in the personal world, you have similar experiences, especially when you're coming out of high school and college.
However, in the commercial world, everyone goes in so many different directions with their careers. It can be difficult to build empathy for everyone out there. Focusing on having empathy has allowed me to have a clear view of why people do what they do and where we should be investing.”
6. What made you want to leave Trident Capital to help develop Forgepoint Capital?
“I was working with my co-founders Don and Alberto at Trident beforehand and we realized that the firm was trying to implement two strategies. We thought that it was more efficient to have two firms, each one focusing on one strategy.
So, we ended up creating two new firms. I chose to go with Forgepoint primarily because it was just more in line with my interests with its focus on early-stage security. I think that you have a much greater ability to help people in the formative years of a company versus in the later years of the company.
At first, back in 2015, we set really low expectations for ourselves. We thought we were going to raise a hundred million dollar fund or a hundred-fifty. We were very fortunate and raised a three-hundred million dollar fund, which gave us a solid foundation to accelerate the growth of the team and our portfolio strategy. Our initial strategy was validated when we raised four-hundred fifty million dollars for our second fund.
A 50% growth was good validation that what we're doing was going down the right direction.”
7. How is Forgepoint different from other cybersecurity venture capital firms?
“I think this is always a tough question because I don't ever want to feel like I'm disparaging others, so I like being pretty factual. I think the factual components are our team is larger than other cybersecurity firms, and then the other part is I think we've built a team that is unique versus other firms. I'd say the diversity of thought and background is relatively unique. Each of the partners thinks of the world very differently. Each of us has different viewpoints and I think when you combine all of our viewpoints together, it leads towards a successful company.
8. What do you look for when investing in a startup?
“While there is some science to it, choosing which startups to invest in has become more of an art. However, at the end of the day, there is some generic science involved. For instance, we care about the product that they're selling, the market, and the market size mostly.
However, when it is hard to differentiate between startups, we apply our unique lens to determine which startups to invest in. For instance, if we're trying to figure out whether to invest in a startup, I might ask my partner Alberto, as he was a multi-time entrepreneur in security startups. He has learned lessons from managing in the past. The same with my other partner, Don, who has invested over a billion dollars and has been on over a hundred boards. He understands the business and has seen everything that could go wrong in the world. Being able to learn from their experiences and views is valuable as it makes it easier to determine whether investing in a startup will be successful and special.”
9. What are some new developing technologies in cybersecurity that you have seen?
“The biggest development is the digital transformation of the working world due to COVID, enabling customers to let go of legacy. Legacy means the use of technology that customers have already bought and continue to use despite upgrades being available. During this time, many have started to understand that with COVID, outdated versions might not work in the future world. Consumers have looked towards becoming more efficient during this time, decreasing the importance of legacy. For a lot of companies, now is the time that makes sense to upgrade.”
10. In what way do you hope the cybersecurity industry develops in the future?
“I think the main issue in the industry right now is that the CSO role is still relatively new. This means that when someone from any company hires CSO, each person has a different definition of what they're looking for in their head of security. I think there needs to be standardization around what a CSO does for their company.
There are lots of experiences where some CEO hires a CSO but ask them to do work that is not their job. It’s very inefficient. I'm hoping for better education in the security space on what a CSO does so standardization around responsibilities is easier to accomplish.”
11. What are some trends that you have seen developing in the cybersecurity investing world? Are there certain types of cybersecurity ideas that are being invested in more than others?
“In general, because of COVID, there has been a flight to quality that's going on right now between venture capital firms. That means they generally tend to invest at a later stage, creating a white space in earlier stage security investments. The reality is that people are still taking lots of risk in terms that they augment that risk by paying a higher valuation. It limits the risk of saying a start-up failing but then it reduces their upside as well. Lower risk, lower reward.
12. Being someone with racing experience, how did you become interested in racing cars?
“I had an obsession with getting a car as a younger kid. That plus my obsession with learning and being achievement-driven all came together and built a hobby around racing cars. With racing, everyone is able to drive, so it is all about how much better you are than the next person I thought it was something that would be fun to build my knowledge base in and I got lucky that I did it well enough to get some sponsorships for it as well.”
Written by Zachary Ostrow & Edited by Alexander Fleiss