“I’m getting better at talking about myself now,” says Haydn Brooks with a smile. “I go in ready to pitch my product, and investors are more interested in me and my story.” It is another adjustment for the 25-year-old CEO of Risk Ledger as he turns a cyber security idea into a company and a job. “I think the investors simply want to understand me – these people are smart and they know that all start-ups will face challenges and setbacks. They need to know I can adapt and be agile enough to handle any difficulties ahead, regardless of the idea.”
That said, the idea is undeniably attractive given today’s cyber landscape. Risk Ledger’s pitch is that it offers the world’s first scalable security assurance platform, allowing clients to monitor and remediate security across the whole supply chain. Despite his youth and drive, Haydn is not the stereotypical technology prodigy. He may have been messing about with computers and hacking computer games since his tweens, but people and problem solving are of more interest than the technical side of cyber.
“I did consider becoming a doctor,” Haydn admits of his choice of a Biomedical Science degree at Imperial College London, “but after work experience I realised that it wasn’t for me.” Instead, he focused on neuroscience and mental health during his final year at university, delving into psychology and sociology to fuel his interest in people.
His chosen field came more by accident than design. He joined KPMG and was randomly assigned to the cyber security team, and it didn’t take him long to become fascinated by its scope. “People think it’s just about technical details and knowledge, but it’s actually incredibly broad.”
It was during his time at KPMG that he identified flaws in a process used to conduct supply chain assurance, an area in which he had become an expert. “Running these programmes on behalf of clients, and experiencing the pain that they were going through, I was sure there must be a better way of doing it.”
After working at Deloitte on the same issues he decided a step change was needed. He finally established his own company to bring the ideas that he’d been deliberating over for three years to life. “I knew I would regret it if I didn’t do it. And I don’t have kids or a mortgage, so what’s the worst that can happen?”
Risk Ledger is now being nurtured into something sustainable by CyLon, Europe’s first cyber security accelerator programme. Haydn started with CyLon’s week-long crash course Hut Zero before joining the accelerator’s Cohort 7, a 13-week programme aimed at upskilling cyber security start-ups to navigate the competitive market and survive.
Nominet, with a vested interest in cyber security as the company responsible for the security of the .UK internet infrastructure, is a partner of the programme. I met Haydn seven weeks into an experience that he describes as “Very fast, very intense, but I’ve met lots of great people. It really does accelerate what you’re doing and helps you focus.”
The interaction with like-minded individuals in the Cohort has been transformative for Haydn, who admits, “I need people, I need to chat. People and problems – I love them.” He has benefited enormously from access to senior industry figures, such as Nominet’s Head of Cyber Security. “I’m meeting senior people, heads of security at large firms, and they are impressed by my idea. That gives me such confidence and has also helped me to realise the importance and the power of the pitch.”
Haydn is also enjoying the industry he inadvertently joined. “The landscape is changing – what cyber security means on a global, political level is in a state of flux. Cyber warfare has no rule book, so things are going to change a great deal in the coming years. I want to be a part of that – and think I can help businesses to combat the challenges ahead.”
There are endless problems to be solved, not least how companies balance the effort and resources involved in trying to protect themselves from an attack or breach. “There is so much complexity with the internet and across networks, and you need only one weak spot for a criminal to launch an attack.”
Haydn is an embodiment of the breed of multiskilled cyber security workers our industry will rely on as threats become increasingly complicated and damaging. After all, cyber security is much more people and problems than technical detail. We need those who understand both to help us meet the menace – and we need to keep supporting their early-stage efforts to nurture what could become the powerful solutions we need for the future.