ONE9 is a venture capital fund focused on national security and critical infrastructure
Venture capital used to be a cottage industry, with very few investing in tomorrow’s products and services. Oh, how times have changed! While there are more startups than ever, there’s also more money chasing them. In this series, we look at the new (or relatively new) VCs in the early stages: seed and Series A.
But just who are these funds and venture capitalists that run them? What kinds of investments do they like making, and how do they see themselves in the VC landscape?
We’re highlighting key members of the community to find out.
Glenn Cowan is the founder and CEO of ONE9.
Cowan is a Canadian venture capitalist, retired special operations officer, accomplished investor, and adventurer. He founded ONE9 in 2013 while serving as an Assaulter Officer in Joint Task Force 2 and grown it into one of Canada’s leading defence and security ecosystems with a focus on investing in dual-use technologies that are validated by national security end users. Having deployed on multiple combat tours in Afghanistan, sensitive information operations in the Middle East and hostage recovery efforts in Africa he experienced first-hand how technological implementation and overmatch is a force multiplier for success.
Armed with a deep knowledge of the capability requirements of national security organizations, Cowen is an advocate that a Tier 1 Special Mission Unit is an untapped technology incubator – accelerating talent, innovation, and imaginative problem solving.
Causes important to Cowen include countering human trafficking, mentoring transitioning service members, and supporting special operations and other military charities.
He is a graduate of McGill University, The Army Operations Course, The Special Operations Assaulters Course, Canadian Securities Course, and Ivey’s Executive Leadership program.
VatorNews: What is your investment philosophy or methodology?
Glenn Cowan: I formed ONE9 in 2013, while I was a Squadron Commander in a military unit in Canada called Joint Task Force Two, which is our tier one special forces national mission unit; it’s the equivalent unit to Seal Team Six or US Delta Force or British SAF. Those are our counterparts in the US and the UK. Really, the genesis for the fund was that I’ve always been a very active and interested entrepreneur: I formed my first company, ONE9 Investments, as a proprietary fund and portfolio for myself. And in the application of our military service, we were seeing big threats ahead of the rest of the world. We were deployed overseas in, generally, very strategic, national security missions globally and we were witness to, and solved problems, that were very pressing national security problem sets. In doing that, we had a front row seat to what corporation companies and industry would face maybe two or three years down the line and we used a lot of technology to solve those problems. We brought in commercial, off the shelf technologies or by innovating within our ecosystem, or by a mix of both, to find a way of rapidly prototyping technology. There was no requirement to monetize or commercialize or scale the company, so,we didn’t care about the company, we cared about the tech to solve the problem, and I just saw that as a huge missed opportunity. Not only did we have a front row seat to what’s coming in the future, but we had an ability to take the work from the world’s best military entrepreneurs, Special Forces soldiers, are military entrepreneurs, and solve these problems. This led me to carve out a thesis where I use the term, “Y Combinator on steroids.” It is a very focused, responsive, risk averse, technological accelerator, and when you look at the parallels, it’s a group of people joined collectively with different skill sets and a common mission. They’re well capitalized, they’re imaginative, innovative thinkers with, again, very healthy risk tolerances, and a culture of risk mitigation.
When I thought about building an investment company I went with the old adage of stick with what you know. Well, what do I know? What do I know about investing? What’s my expertise? I’m like, “I know national security and I know how to develop and deploy technology.” So, to me, that was a no brainer, and as ONE9 started to mature into what it is now, as a first time fund manager, it’s really hard raising money. I was very humbled in the sense that I always got the meeting with any prospective LP or big institutional, because I had such a different background and such a different thesis. The question would invariably be, “well, what do you do about venture? You’re a Special Forces Squadron Commander, what do you do about venture?” At first, I was like, “yeah, I’m new to this. Well, I can figure it out. I’m really good at going into austere and new environments and really finding my feet very quickly and figuring out how to get by in new environments.” But when I started really thinking about it I’m like, “I know a lot about venture.” Because venture capital and Special Forces missions are very, very well aligned. And when you break them down, the deployment of a venture fund or deployment of private equity into a venture investment or a venture backed company, it is a special operation. And so, it led me to coin my tagline of the business, which is “building businesses is a special operation.” Venture capital is a special operation. Innovation is a special operation. The crux of my thesis is that venture capital and Special Forces are identical and there’s a lot of venture capital folks out there doing great things, but there’s not a lot of venture capital people who have had the experiences that I’ve had. What it comes down to is the finite deployment of resources at a specific point in time and place to achieve a specific desired effect, in an environment where the risk is really high, the reward is high, the margin of error is low, because if you have an error it’s going to be catastrophic. To do that successfully, you need a well formed, trained, rehearsed team that is specially equipped with unique skill sets and knowledge. You need a series of supporting plans and contingency plans and, invariably, at some point in time, you have to get the hell out of there, whether that’s a pivot, whether that’s a new mission, or whether that’s a full exit. It’s at that point in time that your force or your operation is probably at the period of most vulnerability. And so, when I assessed it that way, I said, “I’m really good at that. I mean, I’ve done 10 overseas deployments and many, many combat tours, I’ve been involved in hostage recovery operations, and I understand how to plan and execute missions. So, let’s just take the same methodology and apply it to venture.” That formed the thesis. So, it’s twofold: the fact that a special forces unit is a relatively undiscovered, untapped accelerator. And a venture investment is no different than intelligence led, effects based, targeting of a Special Forces operation. That was my eureka moment, where my answer to the question of, “what do about venture?” is significantly different. Now, it’s almost like, in some ways a reverse question. “What do you do about executing a mission?”
This led me to build the team at One9, because I am a new venture capitalist, I don’t have the experience. I knew I needed to, like in a Special Forces mission, build my team with the right expertise. I partnered with Daniel Weinand, who built Shopify, which is Canada’s most valuable company by market cap; we aligned very well and Daniel has joined our GP as an operating partner to really get involved in our companies and help them scale. And then we have a third GP who remains confidential for the short term; he’s a very experienced VC who’s currently employed with a very high profile security/Big Data fund here in Canada. He’s our third GP and we’ll be making an announcement about him shortly. With the three of us, we’ve really rounded out our skill sets. All of us have very extensive security experience and it’s led us to get invited into deal flow, specifically American deal flow, emanating from more secretive government programs, where the founders of these technologies are able to export their technology and build and scale to commercialize the companies into dual use.
VN: What are your categories of interest?
GC: So, where we focus our investments is on dual use technologies and what I mean by that is they have applicability both in government, for the National Security end users, whether that’s military, Special Forces intelligence, signals intelligence, law enforcement, border control, government entities, but then they have an ability to achieve scale commercially. Really, what we look to do with our portfolio companies is use our security networks within government Five Eyes intelligence, defense, and security, to validate our technology, validate the company’s requirements to steel this new technology, and then deploy it, generating some revenue for the portfolio company. Then we look to really achieve scale commercially by taking it into different industries, commercial enterprises, or consumer type markets.
What we have experienced and seen, and we’ve seen this coming for a long time now, is a new normal in national security. We’re seeing new tactics, techniques, and procedures and new inbound threats to Western, free capital market companies. We’re seeing a whole host of non-traditional critical infrastructure, new critical infrastructure, and Shopify is a great example of that, and non-traditional national security problems. So, less state-on-state, government-on-government national security posturing; we now have climate as an existential national security threat, we have food security, water security, we have supply chain security issues, we have pandemic and virology national security issues. I mean, the national security thesis can touch any vertical.
VN: You mentioned that you saw problems ahead of other industries. Can you tell me what some of those problems were? Can you give me some examples of what you saw before everybody else?
GC: As I built my relationship with Kensington Capital, who’s anchored my fund with $10 million, we built a relationship and did a couple of direct deals. And so, we tested my thesis on direct, one off deals. In 2019, I made an investment in a respirator company, and people thought I was crazy. They said, “Why would you ever buy a company where people need to wear masks?” I was really interested in the military application, because we built a custom respirator for military markets since, while I was in one of the three or four top military units in the world, with almost an unlimited budget, and we had every piece of equipment we needed, we didn’t have a respirator that would protect our forces from some of the environmental threats that we faced in operations and training. And so, I found a company and I bought it. I was the first seed investor and we built a respirator we call the Tactical Respirator II. I did that pre-pandemic and pre COVID, which people thought I was crazy for, and in President Biden’s recent State of the Union address, he spent four minutes talking about the threat of respiratory cancers in returning soldiers from the last 20 years of war. He spoke for about 60 or 70 minutes in his State of the Union, and he spent four of those minutes talking about the need for respiratory protection in soldiers. We made that investment four years ago and so we saw this coming. We’re doing a lot of work on the soldier’s side right now with brain injury, because we’re looking at a whole lot of technology that supports returning to work post-concussion to enhance the lethality and performance of soldiers. There is an epidemic coming in the military of brain injury.
The other example is, we started to get ahead of what we were seeing with intellectual property theft coming out of China, and we made an investment in a company called Strider out of Salt Lake City that has basically created a new algorithm to protect Western companies against existential threats from inside statecraft and the new national security, where we’re seeing nation state intelligence collection not only targeting government type entities; they’re targeting supply chain and big companies with a view of egressing critical intellectual property. We’ve seen this coming for some time and, ultimately, we’re well aligned with this company in Salt Lake City. So, those are a few direct deals that we have done to date to show how we’re seeing some of these new threat trends.
These are not secrets; we don’t have a monopoly on these threat trends but we just see how they start to unfold. The other ones are adoption of 5G networks and secure communications. We’re starting to key now to a melting Arctic, and an opening of a Northwest Passage and what that means for North American and NORAD sovereignty. How do you control and police and then defend your sovereignty at the same time that Russia has pushed into Ukraine and is threatening to bring NATO into a massive global conflict? So, these tailwinds are very big for us, in the sense that we’re tracking what’s happening. I’m probably one of the few VCs with a top secret security clearance, but we’re just tracking the macro trends that are garnering the attention of national security government end users in the Five Eyes. And then, within that, because we intuitively know what’s going to draw our attention, what’s going to come down the pike for forces and folks that are really keeping us safe at night, we know where to focus, and we intuitively know what’s going to work and what’s not going to work. We might not nail the company, because there’s a whole host to the diligence other than just the capability of what the product or technology or service that’s being delivered by the company, but within five minutes we’ll know very quickly whether a national security entity is going to be able to adopt and integrate that technology. That’s led to be one of the biggest value propositions that ONE9 brings to the table” we’ve seen the gaps in government procurement, we’ve seen the gaps in how capability gets integrated to end users and, with our team, we’ve probably got 60 years worth of capability integration into special forces and national security organizations.
The other really unique value proposition is that we’re a Canadian fund; we invest and raise capital in US dollars, but we’re an Ontario registered Limited Partnership, and we’re the only ones in Canada doing this. Canada is often about 20 years behind the US and so we’re in a position here in Canada where we have the ability to be in-house, really aggressive thought leaders on helping use private capital to innovate really efficiently to protect our critical infrastructure, but for American investors, and American founders. In an environment where capital is a commodity, not only do you get the end user experience in the security space by ONE9, but, immediately, by bringing us into the cap table or into the partner in the company, we immediately open an entirely new geography. We’re one of one doing this in Canada and we have a very strategic network that allows us to take American portfolio companies and give them access to the Canadian market. We’ve done that very successfully. And so, in a weird way, despite being a first time fund and a small fund, we are a strategic investor for a lot of these portfolio companies, and it allows us to punch way above our weight when it comes to adding value, even if we’re not leading the round. We’ve done investments with some of the US’s biggest and most well known investors and companies; we get invited into deals because we add a lot of value and above and beyond just investment capital.
VN: What is the size of your current fund and how many investments do you typically make in a year?
GC: We’re aggressively in a cap raise right now. We’re going to target $50 million and we’re going to cap the fund at $100 million. We have our anchor investment from Kensington Capital, which is one of Canada’s larger fund to funds, and they’re about a $3 billion manager out of Toronto. We are closing our first deployment into a seed deal this week, but the ink’s not quite dry on that, so we will have an announcement probably next week or so about the close of our first deal.
Based on a $50 million portfolio, we’re looking to make between eight and 10 investments into what we call “high confidence Series A.” So, our average check size will probably be about $2 million or $3 million, depending on the company and how much room there is. We’re happy to lead but often we’ll find ourselves being invited into deals alongside other tier one American funds, who often have the lead, so we’re happy to lead or follow. We expect, given the current security environment, which is changing and deteriorating rapidly, that within 18 to 24 months, we will have the majority of our commitment period completed.
We are also reserving 10% of our fund for Canadian pre-seed and seed deals. One of the other advantageous aspects of what we think we can add to the Canadian investment ecosystem is really showcasing some Canadian talent. So, we’re looking at probably about 10 to 15 investments into pre-seed and seed, with an average check size of about $250, maybe going up as high as $500,000 into some of these seed and pre-seed deals.
VN: What traction does a startup need for you to invest? Do you have any specific numbers? Talk to me about what you’re looking for in the pre-seed and seed deals, and in Series A.
GC: We’ll start with the pre-seed and seed and it comes down to two macro themes. The first is, what is being built? And is there a need at the national security level? So, we’re going to look to establish traction, predominantly in the intelligence community and Special Forces, based on the desired capability that needs to be built or the early concepts for capability development by these early stage concepts. Then we’ll take those companies into the end user and we believe in failing fast and failing cheaply. So, we want to find out what the company needs to do very early on to make it a palpable capability that can get onboarded. The other strength that we have is the assessment of people. At the early stages, we are really looking at the team. From a Special Forces capacity, I retired as the Chief Instructor of Joint Task Force Two and my job was recruiting and selecting tier one special forces officers and assaulters, so, the psychology and human assessment and human performance of leadership and mission execution. I was bringing in the best and brightest soldiers in the country and specifically selecting them for the units. Those types of processes are replicated elsewhere throughout the top special forces units and selection is one of those things that is usually held near and dear to a unit’s core process and core culture. So, the ability to assess and evaluate talent is something that we’re very strong at. We also have, in our team, a very, very deep understanding of human intelligence and psychological operations. We can combine what we know about people and assessment and validation of talent and people to make a very in depth, detailed read about a leadership or management team in an early stage company. So, we’re betting on the team and the person and we’re betting on their vision that is able to be adopted for early validation in a national security environment.
Then, for the Series A round, the exact same would remain in place. We do like to see well beyond minimal viable product. We do want to see customer traction with two or three customers, at minimum. We are looking for companies that are north of $1 million in ARR, and we are really looking at what we can do to influence that company to get to Series B milestones, and how long it will take us to achieve scale within that company to hit some of those milestones. From a valuation and hard dollar perspective and multiples, those change depending on the industry and what we’re looking at, but if you look at a cyber company, as an example, we’re looking at $1.5 million in ARR. That might be three or four clients, they’ve got some good traction, they’re looking to grow and scale and really looking for maybe a $6 to $10 million raise to increase their engineering talent. That’s something that we’re seeing consistently across the field, that human capital arms race of engineering talent, and so that’s something that we pay a lot of attention to as we diligence the company.
We also feel that there’s a lot of talent sitting on the sidelines in these national security organizations, so we also think that we add value at the A round by pulling talent that’s egresing from the national security environment into our portfolio companies. There’s an astronomical amount of talent and experience that’s sitting sidelined in some of these organizations because they’re like, “what do I know? I’m just a Special Forces soldier.” But they know everything about leadership and sales. I just had a discussion this morning with a friend of mine. He was like, “Well, what do I know about sales?” I said, “Man, you sold a high risk concept of operations, mission execution orders, to risk averse generals from 10,000 miles apart. You know everything about sales. You’ve been able to sell in the most difficult environment where the consequence of failure is life and death. So, give yourself a little bit of credit.” He had a chuckle, but that’s ultimately what we’re looking at.
Also, we want to see an ability to have steep enterprise value. Obviously, everyone wants to back the really good companies but, thanks to the deal flow and the network that we’re connected with, we’re being invited into a lot of these deals and at Series A, when we’re putting syndicates together or looking at the other investors, we really like to talk to the other investors and make sure that we have synergy with them and that we have complementary skill sets. Venture is a team sport and national security is a team sport, and when I was in the military and we conducted joint operations with American special forces, we would conduct them in what we would call these Combined Joint Special Operations Task Forces and that’s exactly what a syndicate is when they look to collaborate on making an investment into a company, especially when we’re looking at cross borders. We’re forming these little task forces where everyone is doing the same thing, they do it slightly in a different way, you’re enhanced by the skill set and the assets and the resources that each other bring to the table, and you’re all looking towards engaging and performing on a common mission, and you’re all playing by the same set of rules. So, it’s a very collaborative environment and I’m very humbled that we’re being invited into these deals with amazing co-investors in Canada, but particularly south of the border with some great American funds. And so, that’s what we look at when we’re looking at Series A, and we want to see that grow so we can continue to grow with the company and continue growth funding throughout subsequent rounds.
VN: How do you assess market size? You talked a lot about being ahead of the curve, so how do you determine that there’s going to be a market?
GC: Let’s use a very current example: I think everyone agrees that the outbreak of war in Ukraine is catastrophic to the world. Canada has, for the past eight years, had a left leaning, Liberal government that has slashed defense budgets year-over-year. The war in Ukraine has now prompted the Trudeau government, and has pressured them, to honor their 2% NATO commitments in defense and security spending. Even under a majority Conservative government in Canada, we weren’t able to meet our 2% government spending commitments to NATO. There is not a NATO country that is not being pressured and stepping up to the plate and very verbally and publicly announcing that they are doubling down on spending to counter the threats coming out of Russia and China. When I look at the size of the market, in Canada we are one-tenth of the US and ONE9 is the only player in the market right now. So, Canada itself is a small market, relatively speaking, but we’re spending north of $25 billion a year just on defense, let alone security, signals intelligence, public safety, and private sector and critical infrastructure spending. If we’re able to capture a small market share, and be invited to deals and be thought leaders on the innovation space, that opens a big market for US investors, US LPs, and opportunities to really help sell Canada as a place to do venture business and really reinvigorate venture spending in Canada.
What I love about the national security space, and this is where the question becomes ambiguous, is we’re entering into a new paradigm in the world, and we know this to be true, where there is going to be a balance of power shift. The US is going to be challenged for balance of power and global hegemony by the Chinese. We know that to be true. What happens in history when there’s a balance of power shift? There’s a major global conflict, and that global conflict has started with Putin’s aggression and war in the Ukraine. We’re starting to see a tolerance for state-on-state, global conflict coupled with a rapidly deteriorating climate. One of the biggest national security challenges is the risk of climate change, displaced people, migrations, food security, agricultural uncertainty, the opening of the Northwest Passage, providing major sovereignty issues for Canada in the United States and NORAD. We have to be focused on national security, which makes climate tech into national security; two years ago, you probably wouldn’t have put them into the same bucket. So, it’s opened our market exponentially, in the sense that there’s a way for us to look at technologies and tie them to defense. There’s also a really increased appetite for venture backed companies really looking to disrupt traditional defense products. The example I use is what Trey Stevens and the team have built and Anduril, with Palmer and the guys. Anduril is a phenomenal success story of a venture backed company and Palantir is the same thing; coincidentally, they’re the same team. And these guys are building companies that are challenging and disrupting the traditional military industrial defense complex. We want to be finding and growing the next Palantir, the next Anduril, that’s our mission. And that’s where we think there’s this huge opportunity but it’s really opened that aperture. When I engage with senior decision makers in government, the way that we’re framing this is, “you no longer need to engage with industry, you need to start engaging with venture, because this is where technology is moving at that speed and we need to keep pace to maintain technological overmatch from the adversaries of the national security, critical infrastructure end users. And that speed is moving at the speed of venture, it’s moving at the speed of startups, it’s moving at the speed of technology.” I mean, quantum computing is probably one of the next big challenges and a quantum computer’s ability to crack traditional encryption. What’s going to happen when quantum computing is more democratized around the world and your current encryption is relevant? Those are major security challenges that affect a lot of people. So, there’s another great example; again, that’s not a secret that we’ve got some monopoly or insight into, but we’re starting to think about how people process and think about secure and store formation.
When we assess just the military market itself, it’s literally a $2 or $3 trillion market and the military has a phenomenal track record of innovating and developing early stage technologies that become so commonplace in day life. I use the example of GPS and UberEATS: GPS was a military technology and now you use it to order your McDonald’s. So, all of that emanated from early stage military innovation. Computers, the internet, secure communications, encryption, AI, blockchain, robotics. Autonomous aircrafts are a great example. Now we’re starting to look into space, low orbit satellites; space is becoming the new environment. It’s very difficult to put a number on that size of that market. But everything is touching the national security paradigm.
VN: The other aspect of investing I wanted to ask you about was the product. Are you able to see a prototype from that product? Do you want to use it yourself? How do you make sure that the end product is good?
GC: Intuitively, I feel like I’ll have a really good idea about the effect of the product and that’s a really important distinction, again, to our value proposition. We look at the effects that will be achieved by the product, not the product itself, and that stems from the military planning. We look at what we call, “effects based targeting.” So, I want to really understand the problem that’s getting solved and how it’s going to get solved and then the second and third order effects of solving that problem. Then we’ll worry about how we solve the problem, which is essentially the product design or the product itself.
I created a company called ONE9 Capability Labs and this is a very rapidly emerging defense accelerator. I’ll give you an example: with my respirator company, we’re the first respirator that successfully integrated military grade communications equipment so that our soldiers can actually talk to people really effectively while they’re wearing something that’s covering their mouth. I wanted to really make sure it worked and I was like, “what’s the windiest environment I can have a conversation in?” So, I rented a plane and I went up to 18,000 feet and I jumped out of the plane wearing this respirator and I wanted to have a conversation with the guy on the ground. While traveling 170 kilometers an hour through freefall, I was having a crystal clear conversation with the guy on the ground. One of our military clients is now wearing that respirator, not even to do anything with protecting their lungs, but wearing it while they’re working and operating in and around the ambient noise of helicopters just because they can talk super clearly while wearing it. So, there’s an example of wanting to get our hands dirty. We want to get our hands on the product, we want to trial it, we want to innovate with it, we want to work with the companies. Like I said, with pre-seed and seed, we want to fail early; we want to find out, as early as we can, every bug in the technology, everything that we can improve. And so, we created Capability Labs to really bring some of these companies in-house and work very rapidly and in that no BS environment where we’re able to take constructive feedback from ourselves, from our end users. And we’ve got a great staff of very experienced national security end users, we call it our “task force of subject matter experts,” that we rely on to do very early technical diligence on some of these products. And in so doing, we’re getting a really in depth understanding of the product and the company and really helping them de-risk our investment while we’re working with them and making sure that we can also add value by delivering, maybe, a purchase order at the same time that we deliver a capital commitment to the company. So, in a perfect world, our value proposition is at the time that we write an investment check into the company, we’re also delivering them a purchase order to a customer that we’ve sourced and spoke with as we’re working through this validation process.
VN: Le’ts talk about valuations and how you’re viewing those, especially over the last couple of years, because everything has been disrupted. Rather than VCs not being able to deploy their capital, it was the opposite: we had record numbers in 2020 and 2021. So, where do you see the value of those companies? I thinl everybody would agree that they’ve gone up in that time.
GC: They’ve gone up exponentially but I would argue that now we’re starting to see a squeeze, and we’re starting to see valuations starting to come back down to Earth. One of the challenges is founders still think they’re worth that much money and it’s going to take some time to, again, convince them maybe to not look at the last few years of inflated valuations as the norm. At Series A, it’s hard to convince a founder of what he needs to do at Series B and beyond, and so the VC often has a bum rap about trying to squeeze founders and nickel and diming them. Anytime I start a conversation with the founder, I’m joke with them, “Look, I’m not a VC, I’m a Special Forces guy. I’m pretending to be a VC, but I’m not a VC.” But it’s important to try to understand, what does your Series B valuation look like? And that’s the one where valuation starts to get very important because we want to protect against down rounds, we want to make sure a company’s actually able to hit the milestones to get it to that type of growth. Going from an A round ARR number to a B round milestone can be very challenging. And so, it’s a hard conversation to have.
I look at valuations very collaboratively with the folks that I’m investing alongside and they will also vary by industry. So, the one where we’re seeing maybe the best data points on is valuations in the cybersecurity industry, just because there’s been an astronomical amount of spend, but we’re seeing companies with $1.3 in ARR garnering $50 million post A round on $10 million bucks. That’s coupled with the next guy that says, “Well, someone told me I’m worth $100, so I want to do $100.” Like, dude, you’re not. You’re setting yourself up, one, for failure if you do that, because you’re either taking capital that’s not going to be a strategic capital for you and really help you grow, because if it was the right investor that could actually influence that market, they would know that you’re not worth that much money. Or it’s just a land grab, where capital is a commodity and people are putting too much money to some of these founders. So, the squeeze or the reduction back to Earth at A round is probably healthy for the market. In the long term, it’s setting founders up for more success, assuming their companies remain successful and they’re able to hit some of the subsequent B and C rounds. But it’s healthy to have those discussions and take a bit of an appetite suppressant at A to get the right team behind your company.
VN: There are many venture funds out there today, how do you differentiate yourself to limited partners and to entrepreneurs?
GC: The three main differentiators and value propositions: one, I and my team are experienced national security end users. We intuitively understand what effect the product needs to achieve, and how to help the company integrate it. Because of our very unique fraternity of national security folks that we’re globally aligned to, we’re invited into deal flow that other big investors won’t be invited into or understand the value of that specific capability, because they’re not seeing the operational aspects of what those technologies are doing. And we have access to an understanding of what that’s actually doing. As an example, Canada doesn’t really have a mandate for cyber operations from a government perspective, but the US certainly does. When you have the guys that are the most sophisticated offensive cyber team in the US, the ones fabricating the attacks that are happening globally, when they build the defensive company to that capability, those are the ones that we want to look at. We talked earlier about what’s happening: you put something into the wild on the cyber side, and then build the defensive posture to it nine months ahead of launching it, those are the kinds of things we’re looking at. And we’re being invited into those discussions because we are a bit different. We do see things differently, we understand the market differently, we maintain our security clearances, and we just understand how to quarterback operations.
The third real value proposition is our geography. In Canada, the value is that we’re one of one and it’s a massive opportunity. And from a US investor and founders perspective, we open a new geography to American founders to really deploy and help sell into new markets. And that applies globally as well, with our Five Eyes security networks and whatnot but, really, it’s great for the North American cross border.
VN: What are some lessons you learned? What are some of the things that maybe surprised you when you got into this industry?
GC: Fundraising is hard. I mean, I’m pretty good at it but it’s hard. Wanting the result to be what you want, and actually maintaining the lens of reality, has been another interesting lesson. And it really comes down to just being very disciplined which, again, shouldn’t surprise anyone from the military background, but you see the world as it is and not the way you want it to be. That’s often very appropriately reflected in the discussion about valuations and sometimes bringing people down to that reality of the hard work that’s involved. And then, the grind is real. I mean, this is a business that’s a grind. But I’m also incredibly proud and very humbled in the fact that the parallels of it to special forces become more and more and tighter aligned every day. And every day that I’m learning something about venture reinforces the fact that I am actually using very unique skill sets that I’ve built over the last 18 to 19 years to really appropriately build a really dynamic, exciting business that’s able to really capitalize on those skill sets and talent pool that I’m associated with. Again, I’m learning in venture that just becomes more and more crystal clear to me every day.
VN: What excites you the most about your position as VC?
GC: The team. I’m trying to build an ultimate Special Forces debt, and working with people. I know that’s probably a really cliche answer but coming to work and working with amazing visionaries, whether that’s the folks that I’ve built organically and internally at ONE9, or really, really exciting founders and their teams. When there’s energy and passion, it is contagious.
More personally, on the national security side, one of the things that I’m most proud of, outside of having amazing returns for my investors and building a great fund, altruistically, the national security space allows me to continually serve my country. I didn’t think I would have, when I left the military, a unifying purpose like we did of mission focus. I’m incredibly humbled and proud that I think I have done more in my post military, civilian life to increase the national security of Western democracy than when I was a cutting edge Squadron Commander with a top global military unit deployed in a combat zone. The role I’m in now, I’m actually able to do more to defend and enhance and protect our collective way of life than when I was in the military. That is a really hard thing to find post military, where you’re part of a unit and a culture and a mission focused organization that is doing operations at the most strategic levels of a government. My access into those same levels is heightened now as a civilian that was as a uniform member of the military.