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First-Time Entrepreneur at 37: Okta CEO Todd McKinnon (Part 3)

Posted on Saturday, Jun 1st 2013

Sramana Mitra: So you started your business off with one hypothesis for a product, and ultimately shifted your product direction based on actual market feedback. Is that a fair statement?

Todd McKinnon: We had a macro idea and a specific product that we started off with. The product changed after we talked to companies and found that there was a more pressing need.

Sramana Mitra: Can you talk about how you went through that refinement process? You went to a bunch of CIOs whom you had known from your Salesforce days and proposed a macro idea. Did they convey the more pressing problem? How exactly did you discover what they would be willing to pay for?

Todd McKinnon: That is exactly what it was. When I left my job at Salesforce, I did not have the luxury of time to decompress. The clock was ticking as far as I was concerned. The first thing I did was establish as many meetings as I could with associates I knew in the industry and people I had met while I was at Salesforce. I went and met with everyone I could.

The first thing I did was draft a nine-page business plan. I laid out the thesis for my product idea and I shared it with a few people. I then built a product mock-up. I probably had 75 meetings over four or five months, and I showed everyone pictures of my product mock-up. That elicited feedback of what the product would be.

I got a lot of good feedback. I heard everything from “this is great” to “I don’t get it.” After having those conversations, it became clear that the product idea I had was valuable, but not as valuable as this other idea. Out of that mock-up came the conversations and feedback that led to the product we ultimately built.

Sramana Mitra: What I am hearing is that you let the people you met with drive the product suggestions.

Todd McKinnon: Exactly. It was not as literal as them telling me what to do. It was feedback on what I was showing them and having enough conversations about their environment that led me to the idea. It was not like I showed them a picture of the performance monitoring product and a picture of the identity solution and had them pick between the two. I just listened and learned from all of the conversations that I had.

Sramana Mitra: You put out a conversation starter and then listened to the conversations that followed. You heard multiple people express the same problem, and that is when you realized you had found the correct problem to solve.

Todd McKinnon: Exactly. If I were to give advice to entrepreneurs about this, I would tell them to have something to show. That is what makes the conversations productive. Just the screen mock-ups were valuable.

This segment is part 3 in the series : First-Time Entrepreneur at 37: Okta CEO Todd McKinnon
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