Crushing The Red Ocean – Lee Klarich
Lee Klarich is the Chief Product Officer at Palo Alto Networks and has been with the company since the early days. Prior to Palo Alto Networks, he was the director of product management for Juniper Networks. He joined Juniper Networks through the acquisition of NetScreen Technologies.
(You can listen to the podcast here)
Detailed transcript :
Lee: Really good product managers are technical enough to work closely with engineering, communicative enough to be able to evangelize their products and talking to customers, able to help train sales and SEs, work with marketing on positioning and messaging, working with operations, working with legal, working with IT, working with really finance and every department of the company.
Ankur: Hello everyone. Welcome to the prodcast where we share insights from the industry leaders on how to build great tech products and companies. This is Ankur and Neelima, your hosts. In today’s show, we have Lee Klarich, Chief Product Officer at Palo Alto Networks, the leader in the cybersecurity space. Lee has been with the company since the early days and it is suffice to say that without Lee’s vision and leadership Palo Alto networks won’t be the cybersecurity juggernaut that it is today.
If you’re interested in learning about how to build market leading products that go from zero to multibillion dollar businesses, learn how to create new market categories, learn about creating a company culture that scales from less than 10 employees to thousands of employees, you don’t want to miss this episode.
Hello Lee. Welcome to the show.
Lee: Hi Ankur. Thanks for having me.
Ankur: Let’s just get right into it. So I want to get started with a little bit about your journey leading up to Palo Alto networks. Legend has it that upon graduation, you just moved to California without a job kind of chasing the Silicon Valley dream. Tell us a little bit about your journey.
Lee: Yeah, it was. College was an interesting experience. I was on the East coast- cold weather and at graduation had the opportunity to stay on the East coast with a job in consulting. And somehow I had a feeling that wasn’t really what I wanted to do.
I was fortunate enough that my girlfriend at the time, now my wife had a brother who was working out in Silicon Valley and he said- Oh, you guys should come out to Silicon Valley, easy to get a job. And well, that sounds better than consulting. So, we packed up her car and we drove to California.
And then, I’m old enough now but back then when we got here, we looked at the newspaper every day, circled jobs in the newspaper and called and just kept doing that and got my first job. So it took a couple of months but I’d saved up enough money from working summers so I was able to make that last until I started getting my first paycheck.
Ankur: Pretty amazing. Luckily I skipped the newspaper part myself. Back in my days, it used to be the site called Dice.com and all of that, I don’t even know if those things are still around but a pretty interesting way. So initially, you got into the tech bandwagon, you did a couple of stints obviously Juniper and others. So when did you decide to go into an early stage company? Back then, you had just graduated, you got the bag and you could have worked in any company, made a lot of money, paid off all your debt but you decided to make a big bet in a smaller company. Kind of tell us, how did you get to Palo Alto networks and all the events leading up to that?
Lee: So yeah. I worked at a couple of companies out of college and during that time I figured out that I really wanted to do Product management. I think now maybe more people know that there’s even a job called product management but at the time it wasn’t something a lot of people heard about in college.
And so when I first met product managers and I started talking about what they did and what their job was I said – that’s the job I want to do. But it took a couple of companies and doing various work in various roles. And then I finally got my first opportunity to do product management at a company called NetScreen. NetScreen was a firewall company. They were founded in I think late 1997. I joined in the middle of 2000. They were already sort of successful but still relatively small, maybe 120 or 130 people. I joined as an entry level product manager and worked my way up. NetScreen was acquired by Juniper about four years later. This was after they had gone public, successful public offering, successful acquisition by Juniper. A lot of great experiences for me, learned a lot of things to do or actually in some ways learned a lot of things not to do which formed the early years of Palo Alto networks when I eventually joined here. But that experience of being acquired was actually quite hard and so I can say that a lot of what I learned on the being acquired side, I’ve tried to learn from it. And obviously with both of you here for a couple of years now I think very happy, hopefully indicates we learned something good from it.
But in any case about a year and a half or two years into Juniper, I realized it wasn’t really the right thing for me. I had very good memories of early NetScreen days when it was small. So I’d worked with Nir before and I gave him a call. Nir was the founder of Palo Alto networks and said – Hey, What are you doing? I think we should work together and he had just raised money at Palo Alto Networks and that’s how I started 14 and a half years ago.
Ankur: That is pretty exciting. Even today, the way people hunt jobs hasn’t changed and the way you network still stays the same. You got to know the right people who will get you to the right place. And as they say, follow the smart people and Nir certainly is one of the smartest in the industry especially in cyberspace.
Lee: Yeah. There is this funny story and I didn’t piece it together until a few months after I joined Palo Alto network.
So when I was still at Juniper, we had the opportunity to brief a pretty high ranking person in the Pentagon and a Senator came out with him. And they’d come to Silicon Valley to meet with a number of companies to understand what were the big new threats that from a technology perspective they should be aware of or they should be paying attention to. And I remember we put together a briefing and I was one of three people at Juniper that had to describe this piece. And the topic I picked was applications were bypassing a traditional security infrastructure because traditional security infrastructure is based on ports and protocols and applications had all sort of moved to run at the application layer and all this kind of stuff. And I still remember the Senator leaned over to the Pentagon person and I heard him whispering. He goes – This is what we heard about yesterday. Right? And my reaction was – Whoo whooooo yesterday, this is my idea.
And it was a few months into Palo Alto networks and I was talking to Nir one day and I told him that story. He goes- Oh yeah, I met with him the day before you did.
So, it is an interesting sort of a story. At that time Nir was obviously thinking a lot about what the next thing in network security needed to be. And I started to think along those lines and so when I talked to him and heard what Palo Alto network was working on it just immediately resonated with me. And obviously I’ve worked for Nir before. I knew what he was capable of so it’s been a great time working together with him. And it’s not common that you would see the number of people we had in the early Palo Alto Network days are still with the company like Nir and myself but many others as well that are still here and are still passionately engaged in what we’re doing.
Early days at Palo Alto Network
Neelima: Lee, how were the early days in Palo Alto networks?
Lee: Surprisingly calm and that may surprise a lot of people. And I doubt that’s normal (Laughs) but you know Nir and Rajiv who was one of the other co-founders ran engineering for many years. And even before I joined, they had hired probably about the first 15 or 20 engineers. Through various contacts they had hired really the top three or four engineers from five or six different companies which was relatively unusual. Most startups will hire from a single company or a single set of people they know. And Rajiv and Nir very specifically tried to branch out. There were a number of people from McAfee. There were obviously some folks from Juniper, NetScreen, Peribit, one another I can’t remember right now.
So everyone really knew what they were doing. Now we still had the risk of – if we built the wrong thing or if customers did want it. Obviously that risk was still very real and is probably one of the bigger risks that most startups face. But we had a lot of confidence that what we were building was needed by customers. We had a lot of confidence that we would actually be able to build it. (Laughs) And we had a lot of confidence that we would be successful and all of it and it could be a big deal. So we were certainly working hard but also working in a way that you would work if you had strong beliefs that you’re going to be working for many years together.
Neelima: Good. When Palo Alto networks started firewall was an established market and you have a very interesting story on how the next gen pieces of that evolved and we created a new category around that. Can you tell us a little bit about that?
Lee: Yeah, there’s a term that maybe some of you have heard- Red Ocean and Blue Ocean. Red ocean market is red in color. The red is the charm, it’s the blood in the water. These are markets with fierce competition and then the blue ocean market markets that don’t really yet exist.
And sometimes startups like to have ideas that are blue ocean meaning they’ll come out with something no one else does it. There’s no competition. It’s kind of nice but now the challenge of course is if no one else does it then companies probably don’t have a budget for it and so your challenge there becomes how do you actually create a budget. Red ocean budget exists. Companies are spending money on it but there’s a lot of companies that already do it. In that case, you’re coming out with something where you’re going to try to do it better than everyone else.
And we actually had to decide early on whether we wanted to take what we were building and try to make it a blue ocean product or a red ocean product. Blue ocean would have been that we were building an application controller. No one has an application controller. We would have been the first, so we could have built this. We could have released it as this application control or no one has it. Let us sell you a new product and a new category and try to develop that new category. The other option was Red Ocean. Firewalls exist, IPS exists, proxies exist. These are all big multi billion dollar markets even back then. And I probably had about a hundred customer meetings in the first year when I was at Palo Alto Networks before we even sold to a single customer. These were meetings just to talk about what we’re doing and very early on in these conversations, it became clear to me that we needed to go down the red ocean path. That we were going to go into the firewall market and basically say everything legacy is dead. You need something new. That new approach is next gen firewall and here’s how it’s defined. This was a pretty big debate, as you can imagine. These are two pretty different strategies.
The thing that tipped me to this direction though was an experience from a few years before. A company that many probably do not remember anymore. A company called Tipping Point was an IPS- Intrusion Prevention System. They came out around 2001 timeframe plus or minus. They came out as an IPS. They market themselves in IPS. They call themselves an IPS. Their data sheet said they’re an IPS. Their website said they were an IPS. At about three or four years in they suddenly came out and said – actually, our IPS is a firewall. Also we’re a firewall and an IPS. Everyone laughed at them. You can’t be enough. You can’t just wake up one day and be a firewall. You’re an IPS. Go back to being an IPS. You’re confused. You’re not a firewall. And they tried this for about a year before they went back to being just an IPS and they did that for another year. And then after a few more years, guess what they launched again. They said they’re firewall plus IPS. No, really this time we are firewall and IPS. People laughed at them again. Said- no, you can’t just wake up one day and be a firewall. It doesn’t work that way. Yep. You should go back.
So yeah. So I learned from this that customers will not trust you if you wake up one day and suddenly say- Hey, I’m a firewall because firewall is part of the infrastructure. It’s hard. You have to be up a hundred percent of the time and have high availability, resilience. There’s all sorts of requirements being a firewall. You can’t just wake up one day and say you are a firewall.
So, Nir and the marketing and the others, we all decided but I was pretty adamant that we’re a firewall. And it was hard. We used to joke because the salespeople that we hired at first, they were a little bit nervous about being the firewall because customers would say – ah don’t tell me about being a firewall, we already have a firewall. Everyone had a firewall. It was all truly a red ocean. There were no Greenfield opportunities. And we used to joke. We would say you have to use the F word firewall, of course because some of the sales teams were afraid to talk about being a firewall because the customers would be like- I already have a firewall. I’m not interested in talking to you. And it took a lot of energy to overcome that. But as we started to build credibility, guess what- We were a firewall. Right. The firewall is the biggest network security market out there. And so, yes, it was maybe a little bit harder initially. But we established that credibility over the first couple, few years of the company, and then we kept building on it and building on it.
Ankur: I have to imagine that this is probably the toughest decision you and the leadership team ever had to make because typically the playbook is that if you’re going to go into a well entrenched market, you don’t try to go against the big boys. You say – no, no I do something else, something completely different. So the eval criteria is completely different.
You choose as you call it the red ocean strategy. And I’d imagine that back then, it was not like the investment and the liquidity was everywhere. VCs were like – Hey, here’s a hundred million. Go, do your experiment for three years and if you fail, we’ll give you some more. So this was a bet you’re going to make. It had to succeed. If not, then you would be in a tipping point, like position where you have to say -well, we are not a firewall. We were somebody else. How hard was this? I mean, was there a stage where you yourself doubted the big bet that you made for the company?
Lee: I never doubted it. And it was like you got to go any way other than that. I just didn’t doubt it. Like I said, I talked to a hundred customers. I pitched them. I wasn’t just chatting with them I was pitching them. I gave the pitch a hundred times to a hundred different customers to see how they would react. To see what questions they would ask. To see who it would resonate with or who would not resonate with it doesn’t mean that it resonated. But a lot of them said, no, I don’t need that. I don’t want that. I’ve got this, I’ve got that. But you listen closely to the feedback. And I knew when they said- Oh, I already have that. And I said- well, what do you think provides that? They said – Oh, well, my proxy does. I know technically that is not true whatsoever. Or some of them say a lot of my package here or traffic shape does it. I knew for sure technically that was not a true statement. I was waiting for someone to say something where it’s like- Oh, that’s true, but it wasn’t. They were just I’ll call it somewhat misinformed from the marketing of these different vendors.
So I knew that we had it and Nir was fully confident. I think we just knew enough about the market. We knew enough about the technology. And we were fortunate Sequoia and Greylock, who are the two principal VCs in the company, were very willing to see companies swing for the fence. Right. They’re actually not really interested in companies that are just going to kind of meander around a little bit and not do anything special. So they were very supportive of it.
The one thing though that was very different back then than it is a bit now is it wasn’t necessarily easy to just get lots and lots of cash. I see companies now that raised $200 million in a series C and I’m like 200 mn. Why on earth would you need that much money? We were a hardware company, hardware costs but cash and you have to pay for hardware. We were a hardware company initially and I think got the cash flow break even at around 46, $47 million.
Ankur: So, you start a new category, get the validation from the first 50 or 100 customers, whatever that may be and you find the product market fit. Right. And now, it’s the scale game. How do you go from or how did you rather go from – I have got a hundred customers or 200 customers where I’ve displaced the competition. We’ve got our own Palo Alto’s next gen firewall.
Is just then the scale game where you’re just doing more of what has worked, hire more engineers, hire more sellers, hire more marketing. Also, how do you then go from also one single product to multi product? The core insight that we’re looking for is you’ve got the critical traction, you’re not going away as a company, you have a future, but now the investors and public, everybody wants you to do 10 X the sales. How do you do that?
Lee: It is somewhat linked to the previous discussion, right? By picking the markets we’re going after, as we did by positioning ourselves into those markets, you have to remember, we were therefore positioned into a 10 to $12 billion a year market between firewall, IPS, proxy. Those were probably the three main things that we would replace when we went to a customer, if not multiples of those.
So those early decisions really mattered a lot when it came for time to scale because it meant that we didn’t need to pivot into other markets in order to scale into a hundred million dollars into $500 million. So what we needed to do was not quite as simple as just do everything we’re doing, but more, but to some extent that was kind of it. One of the things on the product side that I was always really focused on was just making sure we didn’t veer off course from the vision and strategy that we were on. It is easy as a startup to chase deals and add features in order to win a deal and I was always very regimented on- we’re not adding features if they’re not on the path forward, where we eventually want to be. And where we eventually wanted to be we knew it was large scale serving large enterprises, hundreds of firewalls, net next gen firewall being deployed. So I was very adamant with my team that we not get off track of that goal.
Certainly on the sales and marketing side is a lot of- how do you grow? How do you grow within the U.S? How do you grow into new markets India, Japan, Asia et cetera? Those each came with a set of challenges, obviously but a lot of that was just that same focus. Making sure we don’t go too far off course in any different direction where you start to lower productivity and as you lower productivity, then it’s hard to invest. So let’s stay focused, let’s stay focused, who is the target customer? What’s the target channel to get there? What’s the right profile? And then one last thing I’ll share and it probably was right around call it a 100 or 150 to 200 kind of customer range. Even at that scale of customers, I think Nir and I interviewed every sales person, every SE. And once we hired them, we had a rule. Nir or I had to go out and go on customer calls with them within the first month. It was a rule and many of them pushed back. They’re like, no, I’m not ready for you to come out. Doesn’t matter. We’re coming out. We’re going to sit on your couch if we have to. And that was really easy. We were a hundred people in the US and then we started hiring internationally and became a little bit harder, but we continued it for a little while because it was just so important that they would learn the story. They learn the pitch, they learned the positioning, they learn the nuances of it. And that they would hear directly from us. Like the things that we thought were really important, the things that we had seen successful elsewhere, making sure that knowledge was transferred quickly and that was what a lot of it was in that sort of early inflection period.
Neelima: I can totally relate to that Lee because we see those founding principles being a guidance factor. Now, when we are leading or adding new products, we hear it now again and again. So, at least in my limited experience, you’re one of those rare CPOs who created the first market-leading product for a company and then grew the company into a market leading portfolio of products, right? Through this journey can you give us some insight into how you retain good or great diverse people? And then you end up building a product culture where you’re going to multiple startup acquisitions. I personally believe we have done a great job at it but I’m looking for your insights here.
Lee: Obviously there’s a lot that goes into it. There’s a lot of people that are behind this. And some of the things are things I’ve learned from others on the team and I’m sharing with you. But let’s say there are two things that we really focused on and have contributed the most-
The first was on the hiring side. So we were always really focused on trying to hire people that were obviously really smart and good at what they do and all of the normal stuff that everyone does but we also actually tried really hard to hire people that prioritized having impact and working on things that were interesting and difficult challenges over people who were predominantly focused on wanting to make a lot of money or wanting to see their career take off. And it is not that people didn’t make a lot of money and not that their careers didn’t actually do wonderful but it is a question of cause and effect, right? So hiring people that had that impact, motivation to work on and solve hard problems. Well, you get enough of those people together and guess what then you’ll do good things and hopefully you’ll make money and hopefully your careers will take off but those become the result of what you’re working on. And I truly believe that was incredibly important in being able to attract good people and importantly retaining those good people because good people have to work with those types of people. They’re motivated by the right things. They don’t get too distracted when the stock price goes up or down because they understand that’s a separate thing and they are a lot more focused on things like customers and customer success, how the customer is doing and all of that.
For the second trait I’ll actually give credit to Rajiv Batra who’s the head of engineering for the first many years, although I think all of us were in tune with this decision. It is if someone does not exhibit the behavior that is conducive to a high quality collaborative culture, who is highly disruptive no matter how smart they are they don’t have a place. And there were a few people relatively early on that fit that description. They were really smart, they were really good. They would build things over the weekend and and everyone was like – Oh, this person is so great. But then after a while you start hearing these rumblings from other people in the team.Other people that we thought were also really good, who were like- yeah, I don’t want to work with that person. And then the second person would say -Yeah, I don’t want to work with that person either. And we took care of it. And I think that is critically important for keeping the good people really happy and engaged and motivated and again enabling us to bring other good people in because they see that kind of environment and culture that they want to work in. So you have to take care of those things. I want to say quickly but you have to with the right level of urgency.You obviously want to make the right decisions but you can’t let jerks stick around for a while.
Meaning of company culture & how to sustain it
Ankur: Yeah. Reed Hastings has this famous manifesto of 120 slides on Netflix culture where he talks about brilliant jerks get hefty severance packages. And it seems a very obvious thing to do when you have a top sales guy who’s consistently producing or you have a top engineer who if leaves nobody else knows the code. It’s a really hard decision to execute. So obviously kudos to you and the team for staying true to that type of culture.
Speaking of culture- Recently Ben Horowitz wrote a book on culture and Reed Hastings just came out with his book so what is culture to you? Is it just the silent norms- Hey, we don’t allow brilliant jerks. Is it coffee breaks and lavish lunches?
Like what is culture to you and how do you sustain it from like a hundred people to like 8,000 people? How do you do that?
Lee: It’s funny over the course of the company, there’s been multiple occasions where we’ve done the culture work. We sent out the surveys and everyone responds and says- well, this is what I think our culture is and you take all the words and you put them together and you kind of come back and say, here’s the five things we heard. And remember we did it pretty early on and then did it again a few years later. Did it again a few years after that. And we even did it as recently as a couple of years ago and it is a useful exercise but it’s not an exercise that -how do I say it? Like you can’t tell people -this is the culture and therefore you have to act this way because we said so. You can try it. Go ahead. But I just don’t think that is how culture works. I think culture is something that is really much more bottoms up. It’s really the combination of how everyone in the company acts and behaves whether they’re being watched or not. So if I’m doing work on my own or with one other person and no one else is watching, culture is a big part of how that interaction plays out, not just when I’m talking to all heads or in a large group setting or something like that. And the same is true with everyone in the company. And so from my perspective culture is showcased by just a lot of by examples. It’s how Nir behaves when working with engineers or talking to customers. It’s how you guys behave, a lot of people look up to you and take cues from you. And how do you handle disappointment? How do you handle failure? How do you handle success? How do you work with people that are not in your team that you need to influence? And even brand new employees, maybe new college grads that are coming in, people look to see how they behave.
And so that to me is sort of what makes up the culture of a company. Which is why it makes it so important back to hiring. You have to hire really great people because they’re going to become part of your culture. You have to get rid of the jerks because unfortunately they’re part of your culture (Laughs) and it is an ever focussed kind of challenge. You can’t let it go. You can’t say- well, yeah at 500 people was pretty culture and so we just kind of sat back, put our hands behind the head and watched you thrive. You have to constantly cultivate it as well. So that’s my view. And I think everyone of course is going to say we have great culture. You can’t find a single company out there where the leadership wouldn’t say that. And so that’s why it’s just like, people come experience it.
Ankur: Yeah. It’s not what you say, it’s what you do. I’m sure Enron had a whole bunch of notice boards that said- Hey, we are a mission driven company and we do this right we do that right.
Lee: Integrity and cultural values
Defining a good Product Manager
Neelima: So, talking about product culture. One question – I know product management is really close to your heart Lee. So, what is a good way to measure PM success? Is revenue the bar? Is building solid products that customers love- the bar? How do you work with your engineering- the bar? What is a good PM?
Lee: (Laughs) First of all product management is a very difficult job because really good product managers are technical enough to work closely with engineering, communicative enough to be able to evangelize their products and talking to customers, able to help train sales and SEs, work with marketing on positioning and messaging, working with operations, working with legal, working with IT, working with really finance and every department of the company. And so it can be a very difficult job from that perspective. On the other hand, of course it can be and it is certainly my view that it could be one of the most rewarding jobs as well. So success is sort of a lot of different things.
I certainly believe that the business of your product is a good measure. Is your product selling a lot or is it not selling at all? That’s a very easy sort of/ binary way of measuring it. Certainly not the only way to measure it but it’s one way. It’s one indicator.
Second, I would say is- how receptive and happy are the customers of that product? That becomes a very significant feedback mechanism to a product manager’s success of the product.
The motivation and clarity of what engineering is working on becomes a very important metric for determining how successful product managers are. What I mean by that is if an engineering team is confused about what they’re working on or they’re not really sure or they constantly change direction in terms of what they work on then that’s a sign of probably of product managers not doing their job well enough. But an engineering team that understands exactly what they’re supposed to be delivering and working hard to deliver it without a lot of corrections along the way is obviously a sign of a good engineering team but often it is because they’re paired up with good product managers as well.
So, one of the things that we instituted early on when it came to product management was this notion of problem statements. And I know both of you have heard this before and actually I’m starting to see it a lot more at other companies which is interesting but when we instituted it, I hadn’t seen it at any other company. So, we made it a requirement very early on in the company that you had to write a problem statement that your product was going to solve or your feature was going to solve. And this was to ensure that the product manager knew the value of what they’re building. Without that there’s a lot of feature requests and a lot of like- Oh, we’re going to go do blank. (Laughs) But the problem statement was “why are you going to go do blank?”, “What are you going to start to solve with that? How important is that problem to solve?” And it became one of the core tenants of the product management organization from a relatively early stage. And to this day it still exists within the teams. We still on a monthly basis hold a problem statement training for new product managers coming into the organization. And it is a lot harder than most people think and that would be my challenge for anyone listening to this. Actually go, try to think through and describe a problem with as much clarity as you possibly can. And I guarantee you, it will be harder than you thought going into it.
Neelima: Cool. Okay. So with that we come to the rapid fire section. I’ll ask questions and you can answer yes or no or you can give a first question.
Ankur: Sorry to interrupt but we’ll hold this particular portion. Actually, before we go to rapid fire, I was curious about a couple of more things if that’s okay. I wanted to also ask you something above and beyond Palo Alto networks.
If you think about the security industry and the landscape- how has it changed over the last couple of decades? And what do you think the next 10 year holds for the industry? For folks who want to get into security- is it going to follow the cyclical pattern or is it an up and up because of the next gen attacks as we see existential threat to the nations are all security related. What has remained the same? And what’s changed over the last few decades.
Lee: Well, I’ll give you two quick answers.
So one is what you’re describing – the importance of cybersecurity certainly has gone up. Two decades ago, obviously it was important but then the adversaries were mostly like teenagers or whatnot, just trying to get some notoriety. And so it was DOS attacks. It was network worms. It was things like that. It was almost innocent by today’s standards. (Laughs). Now, aside from the fact that it’s the industry where people make billions and billions of dollars. You have companies whose entire business is now online, so the stakes have certainly never been higher. And I think that will only continue to go in the direction it has been going.
The other aspect that has not changed and in my view it needs to change. In my view, it was something early on in Palo Alto Networks that we were focused on.
And that is that the cyber security industry is incredibly fragmented. And the problem with that is that there are so many different companies that produce so many different products that customers have to try to stitch together. Operationally, security is completely overwhelming. And stakes have never been higher but if you are trying to do security, it’s never been more overwhelming than it is today. And so I firmly believe that the industry needs to simplify and consolidate as well. Simplify- there needs to be fewer products that a customer has to deploy in order to achieve a very high degree of security because otherwise the complexity only gets worse and will only put them further behind in being able to deal with today’s adversary.
Ankur: Absolutely with 2000 plus vendors and I dunno around 10,000 products. I feel really bad for the CSOs. I don’t even know how they make a decision. Obviously the easy decision is to buy Palo Alto networks but beyond that how do they even decide what to buy? Because you are right that there is just too much complexity, too much scare techniques and the industry can go through a little bit of a simplification like you said.
Lee: I don’t mean it as a Palo Alto Networks advertisement. It really is just an industry statement. I’ve talked to companies that have over 300 security vendors. That’s just not feasible to operate. And there’s only more capabilities that are going to be required in the future, not less. And so we have to see that complexity start to move in the other direction. In some cases we have in targeted areas, I honestly believe, and I’ve seen that we just need to make more progress more quickly.
Ankur: Got it. Last question before we move into the rapid fire. So, you’re a busy executive on a regular basis. You have to make a lot of decisions. Although now we have lots and lots of information. It’s almost like we have too much information. Do you have a decision making framework? First principles? You’re known to be an extremely detailed oriented leader. How do you make complex decisions on a day in day out basis? What do you delegate? What is the thing that you must approve? How do you think about it?
Lee: I wish I could tell you- Oh, I’ve got this framework and it takes these three steps and as long as you follow these three steps, everything is fine. I don’t. Maybe at some point, maybe if I slowed down enough, I can actually try to think through how to codify the thought process.
Well, I can’t say for sure but I think there’s a couple of things that tend to be what I call skills or traits that I use to my advantage in this regard.
One is I am constantly trying to create clarity out of all of that information, trying to organize and group it into just a few key things, throw away if you will stuff that seems interesting but maybe not quite so relevant until I get down to like three or four critical aspects that I believe make up the framework for how to make a decision on whatever it happens to be.
The second thing is and this has to do with having a large team and a lot of really fantastic people on the team like the two of you and others as well. And not to give away my secrets but I am pretty good at coming up with just two or three questions just based on the interaction. And depending on the answers to those questions, if the answers are solid, rock solid, then I will assume that the rest of it is solid as well. But if I get questionable responses to those questions and questionable either because it’s clear that the person’s uncertain but more often that’s not the case. Actually, more often the answer won’t be quite right. I have a pretty good sense for when the person is confidently saying something that they don’t know. And when I hear that, then I dig because now I know that they haven’t thought through at least one thing. And if they haven’t thought through one thing, then they probably haven’t thought through other things as well, question for a while and I’ll kick it back. So, the two of you may have been on the receiving end of that particular technique that I used before. Sorry, I’m sorry about that. (Laughs)
Ankur: Yeah. Good news is that we now know that we need to be prepared with answers. Solid answers to a first couple of questions and then everything else is a breeze. (Laughs)
Neelima: Alright, so rapid fire now. So Lee I ll be asking you some questions and you can say yes or no or short answers, or if you can elaborate on some of those. That’ll be great too. Right.
So first question. If you could shadow someone who would that be?
Lee: Elon Musk
Neelima: Can I ask why?
Lee: (Laughs) I thought it was rapid fire. He is incredibly smart, highly controversial and seems genuinely motivated to change the world.
Neelima: Your favorite B2B product in the market outside of Palo Alto products. Enterprise product.
Lee: B2B. I don’t know. I spend all my time thinking about our products.
Ankur: You can do B2C.
Lee: What’s my favorite product lately? I’m going to go with my Garmin watch. It is absolutely amazing. I’m a runner and the amount of data that can now accurately be generated and stored on such a lightweight battery lasting a week or longer. This device is amazing.
Neelima: One advice you’d give to your younger self.
Lee: Probably some combination of patients and listen more. I think sometimes, maybe a little bit from work perspective, maybe a bit brash at work. I was always so motivated, focused and I’d probably say just a little bit more patience, a little bit more listening.
Neelima: Great answer. What have you read recently or what are you reading right now?
Lee: Well, I just finished reading a running book on training. Dina caster’s – Let the mind run. So for those who don’t know- she’s one of the greatest American distance runners of all time and she wrote a book talking about how to use your mind to sort of overcome the body’s desire to feel fatigued. Interesting book obviously applicable to lots of different sports but I think to some extent, even applicable outside of sports, into other things that we do.
Neelima: And last question ad hoc time versus plan time.
Lee: I think we all need more ad hoc time. I think we all have too much planned time and that’s something we should probably go work on. How do we free up our calendars a little bit to have a little more creativity.
Ankur: It reminds me of an episode I was watching when Charlie Rose had Bill Gates and Warren Buffett on the show and Bill Gates is like when I was a CEO, I had all kinds of everything on the calendar but Warren runs a really high tech calendaring system. He had a diary with his calendar and it was all empty. (Laughs) There was nothing scheduled. Charlie goes- what’s going in here Warren and he goes- “ I can buy everything. I just can’t buy time. So I need a lot of me time, thinking time that clears things up because there are all these people mourning your time, et cetera, everything is planned and then you don’t have anything to think creatively.” So I agree a hundred percent. Need a lot of ad hoc time.
Ankur: Both Neelima and I really appreciate your time. We really enjoyed it. I think this was an incredibly insightful podcast for us and our listeners. So thank you again.
Lee: Ofcourse. Very happy to join you both and like I said earlier- “you’re both just absolutely fantastic. Love having you on the team and working with you. So more than happy to join.