Nir Zuk is a serial entrepreneur and the founder and CTO of Palo Alto Networks. Prior to Palo Alto Networks, he was the CTO at NetScreen Technologies, which was acquired by Juniper Networks in 2004. Prior to NetScreen, Nir was co-founder and CTO at OneSecure. Nir also served as a principal engineer at Check Point Software Technologies, where he was a lead developer of inspection technology.
SM: Let’s start by reviewing your background. Where are you from?
Nir Zuk: I was born and raised in Rehovot, Israel. The Weizmann Institute of Science is there; it is one of the top research institutions in the world. As a result, Rehovot is a very scientific town. I was exposed to science throughout my life.
SM: Were your parents affiliated with Weizmann at all?
Nir Zuk: No, my mother was a school teacher and principal and my father was an engineer.
SM: What did you do as you were growing up? What was the path that led you to where you are today?
Nir Zuk: I always liked technical themes. When I was in fifth grade, I received my first computer. I taught myself how to write code and I started to develop software. When I was fifteen I received my first PC and continued programming. Like everyone in Israel, I had to go into the military. I did that service from 1990 to 1994.
SM: What happened after you came out of the military?
Nir Zuk: In the army I had computer jobs in Israeli intelligence. In parallel, I was studying mathematics. A bunch of guys from my unit started a small company called Check Point Software. A few years later when I left the military they recruited me to go work there, so I was one of the first employees at Check Point. Today it is a $1 billion–plus company. In 1997, I came to Silicon Valley when Check Point started an engineering group here. Eventually the company became too big for me, so I left in March 1999.
SM: When you left Check Point, did you know what you were going to do?
Nir Zuk: I knew I wanted to start a company. I was looking for a good idea and ended up starting a company in early 2000. It was called OneSecure and it built the first intrusion prevention system in the world. That is a device which complements the firewall.
SM: How did you start OneSecure?
Nir Zuk: A friend introduced me to Rakesh Loonkar, who was also looking to start a company. He had a term sheet for $25 million to start a company, and he was looking for a technical person to help him start it. It was very easy to get $25 million back then. You really did not have to do anything.
SM: What was the concept behind the company?
Nir Zuk: The idea was to build a security device and offer it as a managed service. We built a service and found it challenging to get customers. We did have a few customers, but they were mainly service providers.