For this month’s leadership spotlight, we spoke with Niloofar Razi Howe, Executive Chair of the Board at Pondurance. Niloo’s experience as an investor, entrepreneur, executive and advisor gives her an extraordinary perspective into the world of cybersecurity. She offers helpful advice to individuals starting their cyber careers.

How did you get into cybersecurity?

The way I got into cyber may be different than other folks. I’m an immigrant, and my country, Iran, went through a revolution. When 9/11 happened, like a lot of folks on the West Coast, I was woken up by phone calls from friends who wanted to make sure I wasn’t on a plane traveling somewhere. What hit me that day was, wow, I don’t want to go through this again. Is there anything I can do to help keep the country and the world be safe from bad actors?

At the time, I was a venture capitalist in Los Angeles, investing in technology, and I wanted to figure out how to take that knowledge and experience base and apply it to security, to national security, to global security.

Cyber wasn’t, back then, as big an issue, so I joined with the former director of the CIA, former director of the National Security Agency and former head of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency to build a venture capital fund dedicated to investing in national security technologies. Over time, we started to focus on cyber and, as we did, it was something I really wanted to dive deep into. It felt to me, even in the early days when cyberattacks were starting to become real and not just for the government but for enterprises, that this was a threat factor that we should all be paying attention to. So, I started focusing almost exclusively all my time and energy on cyber. 

How did you grow into the leadership role you’re in today?

My career hasn’t followed a straight line. I’ve sat on almost every side of the table. I’ve been an investor in technology and cybersecurity, I’ve been an entrepreneur in technology and cybersecurity, I’ve done policy work in national security and technology, and I’ve advised the U.S. government. So, I come at this from a number of different perspectives.

A few years ago, I was connected with Newlight Partners, the investors in Pondurance, and they were very interested in finding a platform that they could use as a way to invest in the cybersecurity market. I worked with the team to develop the thesis, to identify the markets that we wanted to be in and to identify the best company that we could invest in and grow, and that was Pondurance. So, that’s how I got involved with Pondurance and was lucky enough to recruit Doug Howard, who I worked with at RSA, to be the CEO of the company. We are on this great journey with a really great leadership team and a great investor base.

What has been the biggest lesson you learned as you moved up in your career?

The best and worst decisions you make are based on people, so make your decisions based on the people you work with. Treat them with care, be a great advocate when you can and pay it forward when you can, but it starts and ends with people.

Why would somebody be excited about joining Pondurance? 

Pondurance is a phenomenal company. It has an amazing leadership team that is not just focused on going after a great market opportunity and building a durable company but doing it the right way, with the right culture, with the right values, and really living and breathing those values every day. There are a lot of companies out there, but this is one that’s going to not only do great but be focused on the people and how we do it.

Any advice for an individual starting a career?

The advice I would give for anyone starting out in a career is don’t worry too much about five, six, seven years out. And don’t worry about the obstacles that are going to keep emerging in your way. Just focus on the job that you’re doing and the people you’re doing it with, learn as much as you can and develop a network. Everyone’s looking for mentors, but I found over time that peer networks can be just as valuable. In fact, many times, they’re much more valuable. So really develop those peer networks and find ways to have fun. I mean, this stuff is hard. We’re still living through a global pandemic, so it’s even harder. You have to take care of yourself as you do that. But stay focused on the path, ignore the obstacles, develop great peer networks and find ways to have fun.

Interested in joining the Pondurance team? View our current openings!