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First-Time Entrepreneur at 37: Okta CEO Todd McKinnon (Part 4)

Posted on Sunday, Jun 2nd 2013

Sramana Mitra: What I am hearing you say is that you were able to have detailed conversations with a lot of potential clients based on a mock-up. I think this is an important point to make.

Todd McKinnon: If you talk only about high level concepts then it is difficult to communicate with any level of fidelity. I would tell entrepreneurs that any concern they have about giving away their idea should be thrown out the window. If someone else can steal your idea and be more successful at it than you then you have bigger problems as an entrepreneur.

Sramana Mitra: An idea is a highly over-rated concept. Turning an idea into a product is what entrepreneurship is all about. It’s all about execution and selling the product. That is what a business is. Ideas are a dime a dozen.

Todd McKinnon: Exactly. You are not going to give away your idea and you definitely will not get the feedback that you need unless you put it down on paper somehow. You need to give the person something to see and touch if you really want good feedback. A lot of people are overly secretive and afraid to give away any insights into their idea. That is foolish.

The second problem is that they are kind of embarrassed. They might be concerned because their product idea is not flushed out more. My feedback for that is to just get over it. If you are embarrassed then you are not going to get the feedback that you need. If you go to a wedding and you think about dancing, there are a lot of people who are afraid to dance. The reality is that if you are going to have fun then you need to get out and dance. The same is true as an entrepreneur. You need to get out there, show the product, and get some feedback. People will give you the benefit of the doubt.

Sramana Mitra: Our methodology is very much around what you have just described. We call it customer immersion. If you are doing a B2B product that will go into complex IT systems then you better go talk to people who are in the middle of that workflow. You need to talk to people who will understand where you fit into that workflow and ecosystem. Otherwise you will build something with no relevance.

Todd McKinnon: That is completely true. The other thing I like to tell people focused on disruption. Everybody likes to talk about how they are going to be disruptive to an industry. One thing you can learn by talking to people in industry is that a lot of industries are screwed up and seemingly inefficient. There is some dynamic or flow in that industry that has built that industry the way it is built. Thinking that you are going to disrupt it without understanding the dynamics is naïve. If you do not understand why the industry is the way it is then you will disrupt absolutely nothing. The more you can understand the true dynamics of an industry then the better the opportunity that you will actually be able to be disruptive.

This segment is part 4 in the series : First-Time Entrepreneur at 37: Okta CEO Todd McKinnon
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