INI Alumnus Revs Up Second Venture on the Tailwinds of Startups

April 03, 2014

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It wasn't unusual for cyber forensics company Mandiant to hire INI alumni, but Rohyt Belani was among its first. He was there in the early years and recently celebrated the news of its purchase by FireEye in December 2013 for $1.05 billion. By this time, Belani had since started two companies of his own.

These days Belani leads PhishMe, an innovative security awareness company headquartered in the Washington, D.C. region with offices in New York City and London. His first company, Intrepidus Group, which he began with PhishMe’s cofounder Aaron Higbee in 2007, has since been acquired.

PhishMe combats phishing attacks by equipping enterprise employees with effective training, tools for reporting and metrics for analysis. As a former consultant, Belani saw, again and again, calamitous incidents of employees granting attackers a foothold on enterprise networks. "No one was focused on fortifying the human element," he said. "We wanted to make a behavioral change and create a product that stays on top of the threat landscape."

The idea sparked a company that has attracted venture capital and garnered approximately 300 clients in three years, including some of the top banks and insurance companies.

At the INI from 2000 to 2002, Belani believed he would pursue doctoral studies. "CMU was quite the cultural shock, in all aspects, but one of the best times of my life. A lot of hard work and sleepless nights. To me, the one lesson that I learned was that sleep is not necessary for survival," he mused.

One day in the corridors of the Heinz School (now, Heinz College), his academic career path made a hairpin turn after bumping into one of the founders of cybersecurity consulting firm Foundstone. "Within an hour, I had joined the company," he recalled. "I literally interviewed unshaven in flip-flops, with bloodshot eyes having spent the previous night coding."

At Foundstone, he was an ethical hacker tasked with breaking into enterprise networks—invaluable credentials that led to his teaching Carnegie Mellon's Hacking Exposed class for several years. After interviewing with Mandiant, the fledgling company invited him to set up its New York City office. Despite calls from high tech firms with lucrative job offers, he joined up with the "crazy startup" where he would work hard and learn by doing. The company grew, along with his role.

His experiences at Foundstone and Mandiant ultimately fueled his own entrepreneurial goals. Today, Belani remains grounded, even as his career skyrockets and FireEye's acquisition turns his Mandiant stock options to cash. He sums up his career goals nicely, modestly: "I was always following my passion. Cybersecurity is my passion. And I am doing the best that I can."

This article appears in the 2013-2014 INI Newsletter. View the online version on Issuu or in PDF.