The Summer Without A Cybersecurity Conference - Rick Grinnell

Serious man working from laptop in home kitchen

“You’ve gone from the more social, fun-loving people you were trying to impress at Black Hat to using online tools and research and videos. … It’s going to be interesting to see what defines “success” now for a security company and what attracts attention.”

– Rick Grinnell, Venture Capitalist

The Vrge Strategies team has represented clients at Black Hat since 2014 and at DEF CON since 2015. Coffees and interviews at the conferences in Las Vegas have turned into hundreds of stories for the cybersecurity organizations we represent. That coverage includes network news coverage, major daily newspapers, cybersecurity trades, and podcasts.

We’re certainly aware of all the opportunities lost from NOT being at the conferences in Las Vegas this year. It will make it tough to converse and make introduction to those security professionals creating interesting products and research.

And yes, we’ll miss the parties too.

Just because we can’t share space doesn’t mean we can’t share news. We just have to be creative about it.

Strategic communications is not a science, it is an art.

  1. Know Who To Call — Reporters have plenty of news right now. Know which reporters might be open to new story ideas and can turn out “copy” quickly.
  2. Know What to Say — Compelling content is king.
  3. All About Timing – Big news doesn’t have to die at the hand of bigger news. It’s a matter of working with reporters to figure out how to keep that story – your story – from falling through the cracks.

We say – no conference, no coffee, now is the time to get creative. To find out more on how to cut through the clutter and get yourself heard, please contact Adam Benson and the Vrge cybersecurity team at 202.999.9104 or [email protected].

Rick Grinnell is an experienced venture capitalist with a focus on all things AI-related, including an emphasis on security. As a founder and Managing Partner of Boston-based Glasswing Ventures, Rick has led investments and serves on the Board of Directors of Allure Security, Armored Things, Normshield (a client of Vrge Strategies), and Terbium Labs. Rick has been to three Black Hats in the past. He spoke with Vrge’s Adam Benson about how having no in-person opportunities to meet entrepreneurs this summer affects him as well as some of the security companies trying to make an impression this year:

Adam: For a person like yourself in the venture capitalist space, what happens at these conferences?

Rick: Similar to what goes on at RSA, it’s really all about seeing the network of folks that you don’t get to see every day of the week having our operation in Boston but collaborating with folk on the West Coast and other parts of the US and around the world. Events like Black Hat provide a forum for you to see face to face the other VCs and corporate development people at some of the larger public companies – think Cisco or Splunk or Microsoft – and be able to have meetings, whether they’re set up ahead of time or informal while you’re waiting in line at Starbucks and you bump into somebody like John McQueen from Splunk. To me, it’s all-around reinforcing some of the relationships you already have and establishing some new ones that in our business are the most important thing – being able work with syndicate partners, find partnership and exit opportunities for your companies, and obviously meet new entrepreneurs and new companies that you may not have had the chance to meet otherwise.

I think of RSA as more of a partnership and M&A event and Black Hat as customer pipeline development.

Adam: What’s the impact of this decision [to not have Black Hat] on the little guy trying to make a name for themselves?

Rick: For a company that’s trying to break out, being on the floor for the first time is something the companies get excited about. It’s almost like a coming out party that this is our first show, we’re real, and we’re demoing our product and having these meetings. I don’t know how you replace that virtually. I do think there is a huge credibility leap that companies take by being a part of those shows. I’m not suggesting a company needs to go and spend tens of thousands of dollars to get the big, bright shiny booth that a more established company like Crowdstrike might have, but having a presence that is meaningful and being part of that community is a big deal. How do you replicate that booth buzz? At the end of show we all talk about these topics: what startup has the most buzz, and who had the most interesting crowds around their booths that didn’t exist a year ago. It is a great loss not to have these physical shows. I don’t know what the alternative is in this point in time.

Adam: A big part of Black Hat is all the interaction that goes on. Maybe the only thing that companies can do is double down on research?

Rick: Whether it’s research via papers or multimedia presentations, or videos that demonstrate the value prop of a company’s product, they all have to become a viable alternative to the in-person experience. What’s interesting is the people that would go to Black Hat and get excited about a company are not likely to be introverts. The people who want to read a research paper are not the social beings that want to go hang out to a social gambling party in Vegas or go see a DJ perform at one of the afterparties. You’re potentially having a different audience control your company’s sales destiny now. You’ve gone from the social, fun-loving people you were trying to impress at Black Hat to using online tools and research and videos. I’m not sure that those social beings are necessarily the ones that are going to click through all that content. They’re more “people” people and would rather talk. It’s going to be interesting to see what defines “success” now for a security company and what attracts attention.

I think the CISOs and other security execs that would have shown up at Black Hat and would have been potentially dazzled by some expensive event or flashy presentation without the benefit of having their tech teams in tow, to get the same level of excitement would require more people to get interested. I can imagine there’s the human element at one of these events where an executive comes back, had a great experience, fell in love with a new vendor, pushes their team to pursue it, and now that’s going to be different. Now you’re not going to build that same level of enthusiasm, you’re probably going to parallel process that evaluation more quickly. So different things may gain traction and win, relative to what would have been the case with a live event.