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First-Time Entrepreneur at 37: Okta CEO Todd McKinnon (Part 1)

Posted on Thursday, May 30th 2013

Todd McKinnon is the CEO and co-founder of Okta, an enterprise grade identity management service, built from the ground up in the cloud and delivered with a focus on customer success. Okta enables IT management of access across any application, person or device. Whether the people are employees, partners, or customers, or the applications are in the cloud, on-premises or on a mobile device, Okta helps people become more productive and IT more secure.

Sramana Mitra: Todd, let’s start at the beginning of your story. Where are you from? What is the story to Okta?

Todd McKinnon: I am from California. I was born in Southern California but I grew up in the Bay Area. I always tell people that I am super lucky that the career I chose to go into happened to be the hotbed of the area where I grew up. All these smart people are born all over the world and have to move here, and for some reason my parents decided to move here in the 1970s, so I was raised in it. I am extremely lucky.

Sramana Mitra: Were your parents in tech?

Todd McKinnon: No, they were not. My dad was a VP of HR for a bunch of different companies, and my mom stayed home and raised the kids.

Sramana Mitra: Where did you go to college?

Todd McKinnon: For my undergrad I went to Brigham Young University, and for my grad school I went to Cal Poly.

Sramana Mitra: What happened after college?

Todd McKinnon: After I finished grad school with my computer science degree, I knew that I wanted to work in Silicon Valley. I got a job at a company called PeopleSoft. They recruited from campus at Cal Poly. I was building an database application for the recreation department on campus, which was for accounts payable. The individual who ran the engineer group at PeopleSoft that built accounts payable applications came down to campus to recruit, and he really liked me because I was building the type of app that he was building. That is how I got connected to PeopleSoft.

I started at PeopleSoft as an engineer and stayed there for a long time. I moved up through the ranks there, and after eight years I went over to Salesforce.com and spent six years there. I have a tendency to stick around companies for a long time.

Sramana Mitra: That is not a bad thing. It is a bit unusual around here, but it is not a bad thing.

Todd McKinnon: I totally agree with you. First of all, I think perseverance and sticking with something is incredibly valuable. I value that a lot when I look at resumes. When you are starting a new company, there are pragmatic reasons to look at someone’s longevity. When I am looking at a person’s resume and they have been at a new job every year for six years, it makes me think that they either have poor judgment and picked the wrong companies, or they cannot stick around any place and you are going to hire someone who will not stick around. If I see a resume without a four- or five-year chunk, then I have a hard time pulling the trigger.

Sramana Mitra: What time were you at PeopleSoft and Salesforce?

Todd McKinnon: I worked at PeopleSoft from 1995 to 2003 and at Salesforce from 2003 to 2009.

This segment is part 1 in the series : First-Time Entrepreneur at 37: Okta CEO Todd McKinnon
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