Despite still being in his 30s, Assaf Rappaport has held positions across the Israeli tech ecosystem. Entrepreneur? Check. Acquisition? Check. R&D center General Manager of a major tech giant? Check. Even a check writing investor - Check. But it seems as if nothing could prepare him for the adventure of establishing his new startup.

“We hit the conventions, met with people, and attended customer events. Everyone in one room, shaking hands. Now, it sounds like a movie set up. But the next day everyone understood that we need to get back to Israel, and fast. This is where we begin.”

This is how Assaf Rappaport describes the initial moments of Wiz, the new startup he founded just prior to COVID disrupting reality.

COVID made it possible for both big and small

The world dipped into a state of uncertainty, with real concern for a 2008-like financial crisis or dotcom bubble. Not exactly the best time to make the most important move in his career. Nonetheless, Rappaport still claims: “In a normal world, Wiz doesn’t hit the same achievements, without the COVID accelerator effect.”

Rappaport explains that from a world, where enterprises had a sales network in every major U.S. city, suddenly the playing field has been leveled. Every player can play the game, it doesn’t matter if you’re a small startup or a billion dollar corporation: “Suddenly, the critical infrastructure we had been building for the past decade - became irrelevant.”

“All of a sudden, remote Zoom meetings were on par with major companies. Relationships lost steam, and the tech became much more significant, especially cloud technology. These things are game changers for our customers,” tells Rappaport: “Us not being there physically didn’t really matter.” He says that anyways startups, from around the world, reaped the benefits of the ‘stay-at-home’ pandemic, and he adds that we will see more Israeli startups blossom because of this, down the road.

3 people in an apartment searching for an idea

Rappaport’s journey started as many other Israeli entrepreneurs, through the military. He went through the IDF’s most elite intelligence and technological units - 8200 and 81 - in addition to being a Talpiot program graduate. The rest of his journey though, was a bit different.

He started working at American consulting giant McKinsey: “I was on a path to get an MBA in the U.S., and return to private equity or banking… Every 3 months I changed majors and countries… i got to experience a lot of different functions,” Rappaport reminisces about the past. However, through the fast track up the promotion ladder, which secured full tuition at the most prestigious universities the U.S. has to offer, and experiencing different markets and industries, Rappaport realizes that his next step has to be going back to what he did in the military.

In 2012, Rappaport joined his buddies from his old unit, Ami Luttwak and Roy Reznik, and together they embarked on a new entrepreneurial path. “It was 3 people in an apartment searching for an idea,” remembers Rappaort. “We decided that this year, we will venture together, no matter what. Even if we sit clueless on the beach - this year, we’re together,” he recalls. “That was the first time I consciously decided on it, and it accompanies us still to this day, and proving itself time and time again.”

Luckily, it took less than a year to come up with an idea, and their first baby, Adallom, was founded. During its first year operational, the company, which developed a SaaS focused data security system, was self funded by the entrepreneurs themselves. December brought the company’s first external funding, with Sequoia Israel and serial entrepreneur Zohar Zisapel dropping $4.5 million into Adallom’s piggy bank. In the two years after that, with more and more customers onboarding, additional investors joined after realizing the massive potential here.

In 2015, just 3 years after Adallom was founded, the offer from Microsoft arrived. “We had no idea what CorpDev even meant,” admits Rappaport, when talking about the corporate departments in charge of strategic relations, mergers, and acquisitions. “We were young and naive, and we thought great, they want to partner up. We worked with the CorpDev, who are essentially acquiring the company, and I don’t even go to meet them. I kept telling myself that Ami (the CTO) is taking care of it… Until we received the offer, I wasn’t really involved. Today, I’m more familiar with the key players.”

After a short negotiation process, the trio decided to sell their baby, the one conceived in a Tel Aviv apartment, for $320 million. Adallom was swallowed into Microsoft’s vast cyber sector, and Rappaport’s first position was to take charge of the new startups acquired by Microsoft. Later he moved up to heading the entire cloud security department.

Just 34 years old and already Director of a Microsoft R&D center: “I’m considered old”

After two years at Microsoft, covering different positions, Rappaport was appointed Director of Microsoft’s Israeli R&D center. Rappaort replaced Yoram Yaakobi, one of the most celebrated Israelis to ever work for Microsoft, as the head of the R&D center. Rappaport may not have had a lot of experience at Microsoft, but he was promoted to Director after managing a team of 400 people in Israel and the U.S. “It's a significant role, and it’s not unlikely that a CEO, who built a business with hundreds of millions in revenues, should run it.”

When I ask Rappaport if the position is not too much responsibility for a 34 year old, he laughs: “Interview Mark Zuckerberg then, he’s a year younger than me… I’m considered old.” Nevertheless, he admits that in comparison to the other Microsoft execs, “I was the kid… That I may be 20 or 25 years younger than someone else, doesn’t mean that I don’t have more experience, or have seen more of the world. I can’t compete with his Microsoft experience, but I can definitely hold up to his non-Microsoft story.”

What many saw as a gamble on a young Rappaport, fit like a glove for the new strategy introduced by Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, who hit the refresh button, and probably saved the company from the path of so many tech giants who failed to adapt in time. “Satya transformed Microsoft from a company that knows all, to a company that learns all. That was part of the strategy… I think that Microsoft saw my appointment as an opportunity to change.”

Adallom changes Microsoft culture; Rappaport leads change for good; The wiz kid leaves Microsoft for Wiz, and so much more. Check part 2 of our interview with Wiz CEO and co founder - Assaf Rappaport...