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First-Time Entrepreneur at 37: Okta CEO Todd McKinnon (Part 5)

Posted on Monday, Jun 3rd 2013

Sramana Mitra: Once you had identified identity access as the real problem your target customers faced, what did you do next?

Todd McKinnon: I built a paper prototype of the product that was based on identity management and access. I continued to have meetings based on those mock-ups and then moved to webpage demonstrations. Once we hired a few engineers we had a simple implementation working and we were able to demonstrate that. We focused on something simple that worked instead of trying to boil the ocean.

Sramana Mitra: Who were the early people you worked with and how did you build your team?

Todd McKinnon: I worked alone for the first couple of months after I left SalesForce. During that time period I was connected with a former college at SalesForce, Frederic Kerrest. I had not worked with him but I knew of him. He had left SalesForce to go back to school and was getting ready to graduate. His references came back very positive. It is nearly impossible to start a company on your own so we started working together.

Sramana Mitra: Was he an engineer or was he on the business side?

Todd McKinnon: He came from the business side. He worked in sales, business development and a bunch of different roles there. He was at SalesForce right after school and spent a long time there. He was super-motivated and worked very hard.

Sramana Mitra: How did you fund the initial stages of the company?

Todd McKinnon: That summer we raised some seed funding. We raised a million dollars. That was about 7 months after I left SalesForce. We had some code written by then and had a clear product direction. We had some contractors working for us but had not hired anyone.

Sramana Mitra: What was the process of raising that seed round?

Todd McKinnon: This was in 2009. People were still really worried about the financial crisis. We did a deal with a bunch of angel investors, personal contacts and friends and family. Andreessen Horowitz did half of that seed round and the angels did the rest.

Sramana Mitra: What was the next major step forward?

Todd McKinnon: We got out first paying customer in December of 2009. We had talked with this company midway through our reach out and feedback process. We had already identified the product by the time we spoke with them.

Sramana Mitra: How many of the companies that you talked to during the validation phase converted into paying customers?

Todd McKinnon: Only a couple of them. Someone that can give you feedback on what we were doing at the time and getting them to purchase a robust product that could scale was difficult. A lot of the people we talked to had changed jobs. Others did not think it was a fit. We also built a sales team. Thinking out loud, I wonder if we were seen as two people with a paper prototype a year or more later. There could still have been a stigma about the capability and maturing of the product.

This segment is part 5 in the series : First-Time Entrepreneur at 37: Okta CEO Todd McKinnon
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