PGP the product has had a long and interesting past. It began as a piece of shareware written by Phil Zimmerman in the early 1990s called Pretty Good Privacy, a DOS-based command-line encryption utility that was used by uber-hackers to keep their emails from prying eyes and keyboards. Back then the Internet was young, the Web was still to come, and to make matters worse, the US Government quickly banned the nascent software utility, claiming that email encryption was a national security threat.
Well, eventually the government came to its senses and PGP became the gold standard for keeping emails private. A software company grew around the utility and became successful enough that the conglomerate called Network Associates bought PGP in 1997.
After several releases, including support for Windows and Unix, a group of investors were formed in 2002 and purchased the assets and intellectual property back from Network Associates (which is now called McAfee) to have a successful life as PGP Corp.
Phil Dunkelberger - President and CEO of PGP
The company is run by Phil Dunkelberger, who was at the helm in the days before Network Associates era in the mid 1990s. The president and CEO is a soft-spoken but very intense man who is very focused on the task at hand - making PGP into the best encryption software provider, bar none.
Dunkelberger has a long heritage with his technology chops, going back to Xerox's Palo Alto Research Labs in the late 1970s when they introduced the Star workstation, the precursor of the modern PC. He runs both Mac and Windows PCs today. We caught up with him recently in San Francisco, where he spoke to us about how the company was formed, where it is going, and how its channel and products have evolved.
Q. How easy was it to take PGP's assets out of Network Associates (NAI)?
A: It was actually fairly easy for us. NAI had told the world that they were going to discontinue innovating PGP and that they weren't going to support the products. So the end of life notice was already given when we picked up the assets from NAI.
I have seen more and more resurrected companies since we did our deal. There are a number of small and big opportunities and the traditional venture mode is changing. You can get a head start by acquiring these assets. My advice to entrepreneurs is instead of build it yourself to begin with, look for proven, standards-based technology or a vertical market, and then pursue this. Because in our case it certainly gave us a running start.
Building a real business these days requires a lot deeper and broader set of skills than what was required five or seven years ago: your management team has to be deeper, your VCs have to be more patient. People aren't as quick to bet on innovative companies these days. If you are entrepreneur, I would recommend that you buy an existing customer base.
Q: Do you ever use a public kiosk or public wifi network to get your own email?
A: I am pretty good about using our own security products. I don't ever roam freely around those networks without any protection, and there are certain things that I won't do on a public network. And if you are in a hotel in Europe, if you aren't protected you will likely get some form of malware on your machine from their networks.
Most of the time when I travel I use TMobile's service, although I have used many others. On a recent trip to Europe I was on Vodaphone's network at the Munich airport and Swisscom in Switzerland. I also use our own products extensively, including our own disk encryption and firewalls. Although right now I am testing Symantec's Norton desktop firewall and several VPN clients as part of our internal quality assurance tests.
All of us, and especially the executives at PGP, run a lot of different things to test our software against. It was a lucky thing that I had more than one VPN client installed, as one worked on the Lufthansa flight back from Europe and one didn't. That was very fortuitous.