Companies are a Reflection of Their Founders
When I parted ways with Okta last October after an 8-year journey, I wrote an “exit memo” to our co-founders, Todd McKinnon and Frederic Kerrest. Along with a few thoughts on product strategy and the future of the business, I also felt compelled to recall a few of the leadership traits that I “felt” through the years. These were characteristics that they brought to the company, and in my opinion, defined what made Okta such an extraordinary place to work during our hyperscale years leading up to our 2017 IPO.
This is what I came up with:
“Always on”. Relationships that can only be forged in the fire of hypergrowth.
Going big. You took “exiting early” off the table explicitly, and that freed up everyone to think as big as possible. These are huge markets and you repeatedly articulated this point.
Clarity of vision. You always made it clear that we are building something massive, with positive impact on our customers and the world, and with potentially unbounded upside.
Accountability. You hold everyone and yourselves to high standards, and nobody wants to let you down.
Transparency. You were first-time founders and were figuring it out as you went along. You shared as much as you could along the way, and we all felt a responsibility to help you win.
Ownership mindset. We all felt -- and still do -- that while you started Okta, this is “our” company.
Competitiveness. Competitiveness is contagious and energizing. This is one of my biggest takeaways from my experience at Okta, and it is a huge differentiator.
Team. To this day, it’s always about the team. “We win as a team, so don’t lose alone.”
Companies are a reflection of their founders. To those who know Okta, and by extension Todd and Freddy – investors, employees, customers, partners – none of these will come as a surprise. Each of these certainly deserves more unpacking in their own right. And these certainly won’t be appropriate for every founder and every business. But hopefully this lens – from the foundational era of an iconic enterprise software business – is helpful for founders who are at the stage of their own business where they are aspiring to reach similar heights.
(Interestingly, I recently looked at the notebook I received in September 2013 when I joined the company, and the first page had our original company values; plenty of similarities with what I came up with myself when looking back):
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