Nikesh Arora, who advised against WeWork deal at SoftBank, says throwing cash at founders doesn't always work

Key Points
  • Nikesh Arora, CEO of Palo Alto Networks, criticized his former employer, SoftBank, which has been writing massive checks for tech founders.
  • Arora reportedly advised against investing in WeWork when he was at the Japanese company.
  • "Money in the right hands and right founders, right potential long-term platforms works, but it doesn't work willy-nilly on every pet walking and hotel room renting website," Arora said.
VIDEO0:4700:47
Fmr. SoftBank president throws shade at SoftBank

Palo Alto Networks CEO Nikesh Arora left SoftBank in 2016, a year before the company placed its first big bet on WeWork. Arora advised against doing the deal while he was there, and now says that a mountain of cash is not always the right thing for tech founders.

Arora spoke on Tuesday at CNBC's Technology Executive Council summit in New York. He noted that Google — where he was an exec for 10 years before joining SoftBank — Facebook and Amazon showed that spending heavily can help companies dominate a particular consumer market.

But that strategy doesn't always work.

"Hasn't worked in ride-hailing, for example, around the world," Arora told CNBC's Jon Fortt in an on-stage interview. "Hasn't worked out, I guess, in the 'take long-term leases upfront and then make money on a day-by-day basis' business."

Adam Neumann, co-founder and former chief executive officer of WeWork.
Michael Nagle | Bloomberg | Getty Images

In September, CNBC reported that Arora was among SoftBank executives who looked at WeWork several years ago and suggested the firm not invest at an $8 billion valuation. Arora didn't dispute that report on Thursday, saying "It was on TV, it must be true."

SoftBank is the biggest investor in Uber and is deep underwater on that investment, with the company's stock falling sharply since its IPO in May. At WeWork, SoftBank has now invested about $18.5 billion and was forced to put forth a bailout package after the public markets shunned the office-sharing company last month. In both cases, the CEO has been ousted after raising billions of dollars.

Arora threw another SoftBank investment into his discussion, though he didn't name the company. Dog-walking service Wag raised $300 million from SoftBank last year. Bloomberg reported on Monday that Wag now is trying to find a buyer.

"Money in the right hands and right founders, right potential long-term platforms works," Arora said. "But it doesn't work willy-nilly on every pet walking and hotel room renting website."

Arora served as chief business officer at Google prior to becoming president and operating chief of SoftBank in 2014. He left abruptly two years later, amid criticism from investors about his performance.

In June 2018, Arora was named CEO of cybersecurity vendor Palo Alto Networks. The company's stock price is up about 8% since he joined, underperforming the S&P 500, which has gained 12%.

CNBC

Arora said this is the first time he's worked at an enterprise company and highlighted the fragmented nature of the cyber market.

"Cybersecurity is a $140 billion industry in revenue on an annualized basis," he said. At about $3 billion in sales, "we're the largest player," alongside Cisco and IBM, he said.

A major target market for Palo Alto is retail because of the threat that Amazon poses to the entire industry and the need for every player to modernize its services and operations to stay relevant.

"We're seeing the largest spend in retail right now because every retailer is trying to buy more and more technology to be able to compete with Amazon and provide the same services that amazon is able to," Arora said.

WATCH: Palo Alto Networks CEO on earnings and growth

VIDEO8:0608:06
Palo Alto Networks CEO Nikesh Arora on earnings and growth