The Israeli cybersecurity company Tufin opened its Boston headquarters a couple of years ago, serving as an example of the strong entrepreneurial ties between the two countries, according to founder Ruvi Kitov.
Kitov and his partner, Reuven Harrison, founded Tufin in 2005 to help large companies manage their network security policies. They’re now working with more than 2,000 of the largest companies in the world.
“They have complex and fragmented networks with hundreds of switches and firewalls,” Kitov said. “We help them define security policy, who should be able to talk to whom, what should be able to talk to what. We enforce policy across the infrastructure and make sure when they make changes that they don’t break that policy.”
Kitov, 46, and Harrison first met at another cybersecurity firm, Check Point software, which has operations in Tel Aviv and San Carlos, California, another example of U.S.-Israeli pipeline.
“We decided to leave and do something on our own,” Kitov said.
At the end of 2007, having built up a healthy stable of customers, the partners raised $28 million in venture capital, after first bootstrapping their company with their own money for several years. In April 2019 Tufin went public on the New York Stock Exchange.
Tufin generated more than $100 million in revenue in 2019, and is continuing to grow. The company has about 600 employees.
Kitov was born in Russia, and his parents moved to Israel when he was three months old. He lived in Israel until he was 13, when his parents moved to Maryland, where he attended high school and got a degree in computer science from the University of Maryland, College Park.
After graduation in 1991, during the first Gulf War, Kitov returned to Israel to serve in the army.
“We were all watching everything happening there,” Kitov said. “I wanted to volunteer for the army and do my part.”
Kitov describes Israel as a hotbed for startups, and especially for cybersecurity startups because of the country’s policy of compulsory military service. He also said Israelis tend to be risk takers because of the risks inherent to life in Israel. Many of the founders of cybersecurity firms served in Israel’s military intelligence, Kitov said, including the founders of Check Point software.
“The three founders all came from Unit 8200, the equivalent of the NSA,” Kitov said. “Look at any security domain and there will be several Israeli companies involved.”
There are some pitfalls to splitting your company between Israel and the United States. One obvious one is the differing time zones. When it’s noon in Boston, it’s 6 p.m. in Tel Aviv. Then there’s the Israeli workweek, which runs from Monday through Thursday; and Jewish holidays, which differ from American holidays.
Perhaps most of all, however, there’s the difference in cultures.
“Israelis are very, very direct, maybe even blunt,” Kitov said. “That takes getting used to if you’re not used to that. Once you get used to it I think it’s a healthy thing, especially in business. Better to have a direct approach, expose and talk about problems openly.”
Kitov makes it clear, however, that he is not favoring one country over the other.
“I miss Israel and I miss my friends and family,” he said. “On the other hand I have family in the United States. My parents are here and I’m a U.S. citizen. I like both places.”