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Letting Customers Design The Product: Cornerstone OnDemand CEO Adam Miller (Part 3)

Posted on Saturday, Oct 8th 2011

Sramana: How long did you do that job?

Adam Miller: I did that job for two years, through the summer of 1999.

Sramana: By then the dot-com bubble was in full swing.

Adam Miller: More important for me, I had developed a specific interest in education and technology. I was interested in education because I really enjoyed my education and I felt it was the solution to many of the problems I had witnessed around the world as I traveled. I have always had a love for technology and that is what I focused on as a banker as well.

I knew by the end of my first semester of law school that I was not going to be a lawyer. I have always intended to be an entrepreneur, but I wanted to wait until broadband was widely deployed. In 1999, all the analysts thought broadband was about 18 months off. Back in 1999 most people still had dial-up, so high-speed access was important. I felt that it would take me 18 months to get my company off the ground, so I left my job.

Normally when you leave an investment banking job, security walks you out immediately. In this case everybody asked me how much money I needed. They all figured I would start something. They let me stay for another couple of months. My seed financing all came from people that I worked with. They were essentially angels.

Sramana: One of the best ways to raise angle money is from people who know you, trust you, and believe in you. How much did you raise from them?

Adam Miller: I believe the first round was initially $300,000 but ultimately it became $1.1 million. Thus began a seven-year march to raise money. I was basically raising money for the next seven years.

Sramana: When you were leaving your job, what was going on in your head about Cornerstone from a business perspective? What did your angels invest in?

Adam Miller: Back then we called the company CyberU. We were a metamediary between the buyers and sellers of education. We were going to have solutions for individuals, S&B, and large enterprises. Our first day of operations was November 8, 1999. As you know, by March of 2000 the bubble had burst.

We immediately shifted the business model to be focused on the large enterprise. We aggregated all the online training that was out there and started building the business from there. We were very excited when we hit our first 1,000 online training titles. We then went out and started talking to people we knew. The company started out in my apartment in New York City. Right away I decided there was a better way to do this, so I moved the company to Santa Monica.

Sramana: Why was Santa Monica so much better than New York City?

Adam Miller: I made that move from a lifestyle, balance point of view. I figured I could start a company anywhere. The business reason was that New York was extremely expensive. As a small capitalized business I did not have the money to pay people what they needed to be able to live in New York. I thought about Silicon Valley as well, but it was also very expensive and finding basic service providers were very competitive.

This segment is part 3 in the series : Letting Customers Design The Product: Cornerstone OnDemand CEO Adam Miller
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