[Updated 5/10/16, 4:18 p.m. See below.] Next up in my series of meandering conversations with tech leaders: CloudLock CEO Gil Zimmermann.
Zimmermann co-founded the cloud security software company in 2007 as Aprigo and shifted it to its current name and product focus in 2011. The firm, based in Waltham, MA, has raised some $35 million from investors, and its products are now being used by more than 10 million employees of large enterprise companies, according to CloudLock’s website. [This paragraph updated with latest user count.]
Before launching CloudLock, Zimmermann was an entrepreneur-in-residence at Cedar Fund and held leadership roles at EMC and Sun Microsystems. Born in Israel and raised in America, Zimmermann started his career as a software engineer and systems administrator in the Israel Defense Forces.
I recently chatted with Zimmermann about the outlook for cloud security products, the Boston-Israel tech connection, his favorite electronic dance music (EDM) artists, and his thoughts on the philosophies of Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius. Read on for highlights of our phone conversation.
Xconomy: We’ve covered a lot of cybersecurity startups born in Israel that have either relocated to Boston or opened a satellite office here. What do you think is driving that?
Gil Zimmermann: I’m a dual citizen. I’m highly patriotic on both ends of the pond. I was born in Israel, but raised here as an American. [Editor’s note: Zimmermann says his three children were also raised in the U.S., but have dual citizenship with Israel.]
I think there’s a tight connection. There’s an East Coast mentality versus a West Coast mentality [in the U.S.]. Israel has more of an East Coast mentality. We’re hyper-focused on delivering real value and solving tough problems—going right at the heart of the problem, whatever challenge we take on. That culture resonates with the various personalities really strongly between Boston and Israel. And just the value that we ascribe to intelligence, and the willingness to tackle and invest into taking on real serious world problems is something that we share on both sides of the ocean.
The amount of academic and entrepreneurship investment happening here in Boston, it’s the same or more in Israel. The biggest natural resource in this area and there is the intellectual capital that we have.
X: What’s the biggest challenge for your company?
GZ: I think there’s two challenges. From a business perspective, the biggest challenge is awareness and the scale of getting all the opportunities that are out there. There are way more customers than we have the capacity to talk to.
We’re a cloud security platform. We’re helping customers address their security needs and build their future with security in mind. But the penetration of that market is really nascent, like 5 percent penetrated now, going to 85 percent penetrated in the next three years. The growth is just phenomenal. The challenge is being an active participant in all those conversations.
Internally, the biggest challenge is finding people with that mindset. … In the next three years they’ll experience what most people would over 30. Last time a market went from 5 percent penetration to 85 percent, that usually takes over a decade. That brings with it intensity and opportunity. And so we operate at a different pace. My challenge is finding people who aren’t just looking for a job. They want career growth. They really want a challenge. They really want to put themselves in a position where they’re going to do stuff that they didn’t even imagine that they could.
X: You’ve worked in companies large and small. Which environment do you find more challenging or more interesting?
GZ: That’s a really good question. At the end of the day, I don’t feel like I’ve ever worked for a large company. I’ve been privileged to work with small teams, even when in bigger companies. … Even in a big company, you’re not really working with 50,000 people, you’re working with 50, maybe 150.
Each has its own different benefits. I think what I like about working at a big operation is … you have a lot more power. But it’s slower and sometimes if you’re not careful, you can find yourself in a position where even if you have a big hammer, you can’t swing it because no one can agree which way to swing it.
In small organizations, you can move with lightning speed, but you have a smaller hammer.
X: Who do you model your leadership style after?
GZ: I think I have a lot of role models. Not all of them are still alive. I’m a big believer and follower of our founding fathers, actually. I look at what we’ve built here in our country as a startup, if you will—breaking away from the pack, building something new and innovative, but building it in a way that is enduring; building as a platform that later generations can build off of.
On a personal level, I studied computer science and philosophy. One of the philosophers that really resonated with me was Marcus Aurelius. He was a Roman Emperor and wrote meditations. He coined this term of equanimity, [this] articulation of the obstacle being the path, which means it’s always going to be difficult. Your ability to embrace that and understand is what’s going to determine how you grow. … And it’s your state of mind that’s going to allow you to not be thrown off with every challenge that’s thrown your way left and right. That’s something that I really admire in him.
X: What’s your go-to stress reliever after a long day at work?
GZ: I want to say martial arts. I’ve been doing that for 20-something years. Unfortunately, I don’t get a chance to make it regularly. But whenever I can, if I had my options, I would go to the dojo and clear my mind.
X: Who does the cooking in your house?
GZ: I make a mean omelet, according to my kids. But that’s about the extent of my culinary skills. Maybe hot dogs and burgers when we’re grilling. But my wife is an exceptional cook.
But I’m better at making a mess in the kitchen, if that counts toward anything.
X: What’s your favorite food?
GZ: That’s a tough one. I’d have to say shawarma. I know that’s not a local flavor. It’s one thing, every time I go to Israel, maybe two to three times a year, I make a point to have a decent shawarma.
X: Do you have any guilty pleasure musical artists or bands? Would we find any Miley Cyrus or Justin Bieber in your Spotify history?
GZ: No, I’m probably more inclined to EDM.
X: Who’s your favorite EDM artist?
GZ: Deadmau5 is on the top of my list. But Skrillex is not bad. And there’s an Israeli crew that is pretty good, too, Infected Mushroom. They were recently out here and I missed [it].
X: Do you go to shows locally?
GZ: Yeah, but I can’t say they’re ones on the top of my list. I get dragged to a few here or there with my wife or friends. The shows we go to are more retro ’80s bands and ’90s, that kind of stuff. It’s more of a throwback to our youth; that’s the type of stuff we really enjoy. I might go to the Guns N’ Roses concert that’s coming up.
X: Any parting thoughts?
GZ: We’re proud members of the cybersecurity community here in Boston. I think that’s something that needs to be celebrated even more. I know there’s a bunch of us, but I think we need to be making even more of a stink in the global community. The level of intelligence and entrepreneurship here in our condensed area is unparalleled, even on the West Coast. I would take on West Coast cybersecurity any day of the week. The fact that we’re surrounded by academia and hyper-smart researchers is yet another layer of natural resources that we should be tapping into.