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First-Time Entrepreneur at 37: Okta CEO Todd McKinnon (Part 2)

Posted on Friday, May 31st 2013

Sramana Mitra: What happened in 2009?

Todd McKinnon: Ever since I was in high school I wanted to start my own company. The reason I did not do it earlier is that I always had good jobs, and the companies I was with kept challenging me. At PeopleSoft I had a new project every few years. At Salesforce we had a huge growth ride. When I started, there were 10 engineers and when I left, I was managing hundreds of them. Managing growth was a good challenge.

In 2009 I was at a point of my career where I had accomplished what I felt I was going to be able to do at Salesforce. If I was ever going to start my own company, there was never going to be a better time. It was a life timing, and a career timing, issue. With all of the change in technology where people were moving from software into cloud services, there was an environment of disruptive transition. During that period there would be big, important companies built. What you want as an entrepreneur is that level of change and disruption. I saw the opportunity and decided to go off and do it.

Sramana Mitra: Did you have an idea what that company would be about?

Todd McKinnon: I was in my late 30s, and I think it is more rare to see a first-time entrepreneur at that age. People at that age typically have good jobs and are making good money with important companies. The biggest challenge for someone in that situation, like I was in, is giving up your job. Quitting my job was one of the hardest things I have done. It was my safety net, a lot of my social life was associated with it, and of course friends and family associate you with where you work and what you do. When you are fresh out of college or you are younger, it can be easier to start a company because there is not a lot to leave behind.

Sramana Mitra: You had a family of your own by then as well, right?

Todd McKinnon: I did. I had one daughter who was a few months old.

Sramana Mitra: Was that an issue? How did your wife cope with it?

Todd McKinnon: It took a lot of convincing. In my case, I had to have an idea or it would not have happened. I had to convince myself first and then my family. I had an idea I was exploring. The idea had two parts. First, there was a macro idea which was recognition that a bunch of stuff was moving to the cloud and a bunch of companies were building software and services for business people like HR and sales. Nobody was building anything for IT to help them integrate, manage, and adopt cloud services and products.

When I was at Salesforce, I was the engineering guy and I would inevitably get connected with the CIO of these companies. The CIOs would tell me that cloud stuff was great and that it was getting used in all parts of their business, but none of the vendors were thinking about what it meant for IT to adopt all of the cloud solutions. What did it mean to be centrally secured and managed?

The specific product idea I had was different from what we ended up doing. The product idea was around reliability of the services and SLA compliance. We started down that path and quickly found out that there was a much more urgent problem, which was identity management. How do companies integrate the security and identities of the various services into their corporate identity solutions?

This segment is part 2 in the series : First-Time Entrepreneur at 37: Okta CEO Todd McKinnon
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