Land & Expand - Interview with Okta
Founded in 2009 by two former Salesforce executives, Todd McKinnon and Frederic Kerrest, Okta raised over $230m in funding from top tier VCs before successfully floating on the NASDAQ in April 2017. We met with Okta’s Regional Vice President of Sales for Europe Middle East and Africa, Garrett Stanton, in their Farringdon offices to learn more about the company and his London journey.
How did you come to join Okta, tell us about your personal journey?
Having left Salesforce after almost five years (not an easy thing to do) for a Silicon Valley database virtualization startup called Delphix, I had gained an entirely new perspective on the enterprise software industry.
As Marc Andreessen famously said, “software is eating the world” — and at that time, it was clear that the old guard of software titans were ripe for disruption across both their technology and business models. Salesforce has always done a fantastic job at articulating and executing against their vision for the future of enterprise software — “the end of software” — I forgot that many companies are still figuring out ways to transition to the new way of doing things.
I found Okta in April of 2011. A close friend and former colleague from my Salesforce days alerted me of an exciting startup in San Francisco called Okta that was looking to disrupt a market dominated by industry giants IBM, Oracle and Microsoft. When I learned that the guy who effectively built the Salesforce platform was the co-founder and CEO, I knew I had to get in. Okta had all the hallmarks of something big: customer need, seasoned executive leadership, awesome investors (Andreessen Horowitz, Greylock, Sequoia Capital, Khosla Ventures) and a powerful culture built around ownership and customer success. I joined as an individual contributor, and progressed through various sales roles, moving into a management role after about two years.
How did the opportunity to come to London present itself?
I was running commercial sales for the eastern United States, and also assumed responsibility for EMEA as we didn’t officially invest in people or offices in the region until late 2013. As a sales rep, I worked with many of our first European customers remotely from San Francisco. As more EMEA deals closed, it was clear that the UK market was hotting up. I was convinced that Europe was the next frontier for Okta, and was excited by the market potential.
At the same time my wife, Rachel, who works in brand management for Facebook had a great opportunity to relocate to Europe, and fortunately Okta was supportive of me coming over to establish the commercial sales operation here.
What was the playbook to open up in London?
Since we expanded into EMEA in 2013, we deliberately hired local, experienced industry leaders to give us a better understanding of the evolving market — and of course, create a unique culture. When I made the move in early 2015, I made strong recommendations not to treat London like a sales office, but to treat the UK and the rest of Europe as a full scale operation, with each country acting as its own market or sub region.
When I made the move, I made strong recommendations not to treat London like a sales office, but to treat the UK and the rest of Europe as a full scale operation.
Having been at Okta for a number of years, helping build Okta EMEA felt like working for a start up all over again. The plus side was I had plenty of scar tissue and institutional knowledge to share with the growing team.
It was a tremendous opportunity and incredible challenge — honestly, unlike any I had ever dealt with before. But I’ve always been passionate about building things and being a part of solving real problems related to people and technology, so I welcomed it.
Why did Okta choose London?
Great question. I asked the same one when we first invested in EMEA. Some of our peer companies chose to establish EMEA operations in Dublin, so I thought Dublin was the default city for American companies crossing the pond. Now (and no offense for Dublin or Ireland, because I love the city, country and people!), I see that London was the best and only choice for us.
London is a massive, global city that is truly one of a kind: it’s a melting pot, a sought after destination for tourists and businessmen and women alike, and a true global hub. In some ways I see a lot of similarities in London and our mission. Okta seeks to connect people. Being based in a multicultural, vibrant city fits perfectly. At Okta, we also focus on the long game and our founders often talk about how we’re trying to build an iconic technology company. There is a deep sense of ownership and place within the company, which works nicely with London’s long and rich history.
London is a global city that is truly one of a kind: it's a melting pot, a sought after destination for tourists and businessmen and women alike, and a true global hub.
Has Brexit impacted your answer to that question?
Since Brexit, we’ve been asked time and time again why we see London as a hub for European expansion. But a changing political climate doesn’t change the fact that businesses need to increase their productivity and security. If anything, in the face of change, digital transformation and the need to stay competitive, create even more efficiencies and scale securely is even more important. Okta’s products are a direct answer to the needs of UK businesses.
The UK is embracing digital transformation. As companies are met with outward pressures from global competition, an unstable market and questions about the future, they take a close look at how they can improve processes, reduce costs and become more efficient. Our customer Oxfam is a great example of an organization that continues to innovate in the cloud to make their organization more productive and efficient, making the most of their donor contributions while they continue the fight against global poverty. Oxfam recently rolled out Workplace by Facebook using Okta to manage its identity and single-sign-on to save money by bringing their people together to collaborate. They have 18 entities around the world, and when they respond to an emergency like the Nepal earthquake, they need to be able to collaborate and share information, documents and communications, securely and easily. We help them to do just that.
How are your reporting lines back to HQ?
It depends on your team! I’m in the Revenue organisation, reporting into the CRO, but our office is growing, and not everyone is in sales — we have back office, IT, finance, business development, recruitment, sales development, customer success, professional services and marketing professionals all on the ground in London. I’m really proud of the local jobs we have created in such a short time. It’s a byproduct of our local customers who have embraced Okta and entrusted us to deliver core infrastructure for their operations.
What have you learned from your time in region and how has that affected your strategy?
Daniel Burnham, a famous Chicagoan architect once said, ''make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men's blood,” which believe it or not is applicable to what I’ve learned during my time in the region.
You can’t treat Europe as a single market. You have to deal with the fragmentation and adapt your go-to-market motion accordingly. We have taken a country by country approach, with different market entry strategies. In some markets we directly invest, in others we partner with alliance partners and VARs. Success in region is all about focus and prioritisation — for example, we doubled down in the UK home market, because that’s where our customers are located.
There’s also an element of trial and error. We pay close attention to the applications our customers use (as you can see in our recent Businesses @ Work Report), and sometimes adapt our strategy depending on app popularity.
What has been the hardest challenge to solve?
I’ve heard our CEO Todd McKinnon say time and time again respond to the question “what keeps you up at night?” with one word: people. Technology, for all of its promise, will never fully replace people. From finding great employees, connecting to partners and finding the right customers who share our vision of the future of work. Our success comes down to connecting with the right people.
What one or two things really moved the needle for you?
Our customers are our biggest advocates and have truly moved the needle for us. You can have the best product, marketing campaigns or sales pitch, but without a customer willing to take a chance and truly partnering with you for the long term, you have nothing to grow with. I am both grateful and inspired by our customers, which range from small, anti-establishment startups in the TechCity programme, to the world’s largest organizations. We are relentless in our commitment to our customers — because, the way we see, we’re only successful if we make our customers successful.
What do you have coming next?
A key focus area for us this year is to build a world-class developer identity experience. As your previous company, Twilio, knows better than most companies developers have incredible power within organizations today — and they’re increasingly the first line of defense for identity, authentication and access. We’re already enabling developers to embed Okta into their own products, applications and portals to enrich their own customers and partners experience, and we’ll continue to bring developers into the fold, asking for feedback on where we can improve.
And of course, we’re hiring! We opened a new office in Farringdon last autumn, and we’re always looking for great people seeking to build something truly iconic whilst getting a chance to compete against some of the largest software companies in the world.
Okta is the leading independent provider of identity for the enterprise. The Okta Identity Cloud connects and protects employees of many of the world's largest enterprises and SMBs across a variety of industries. It also securely connects enterprises to their partners, suppliers and customers. With deep integrations to over 5,000 apps, the Okta Identity Cloud enables simple and secure access from any device.
This article was brought to you by London & Partners and Land & Expand, the agency founded by James Parton, Twilio’s first hire outside of North America, and responsible for building their European business from scratch since 2012. James has been interviewing ex and current General Managers to discover their playbooks, share their insights on how to build their network, approach new challenges and ultimately launch and grow in London’s tech scene.
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