How I Succeeded: Okta's Frederic Kerrest

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How I Succeeded is a regular series on Lifehacker where we ask business leaders for the secrets and tactics behind their success. Today: Frederic Kerrest, Okta.

Current gig: Executive Vice Chairman, Chief Operating Officer and Co-founder, Okta

Current Location: San Francisco, CA

Current mobile device: iPhone X

Current computer: MacBook mainly, iPad during the day for meetings in the office

One word that best describes how you work: Prioritisation

What apps/software/tools can't you live without?

Microsoft Outlook for email, Evernote for my notes, Fantastical for scheduling, Okta of course

What social network do you find the most useful?

LinkedIn. Business is about people. And people’s professional lives are on LinkedIn. I follow my peers, fellow entrepreneurs, coworkers at Okta and the publications I read every day.

What were the most important lessons you learned while growing your business?

There are too many to just choose one, but here are a few:

  1. Keep the main thing the main thing: Have a big long-term company vision, but also be pragmatic about what you need to do this month, next quarter and next year. Planning is important.
  2. Focus on the people: We’re all in the people business. It’s essential to hire the right people, build the right culture and encourage people to make it their own. Another important lesson on the people front: never forget a friendly face. Building a network of mentors and investing in your relationships with them for the long term is a necessity in business. Stay in touch with everyone you meet — the head of engineering at one of your first jobs could one day be your co-founder — and don’t lose sight of your friendships.
  3. Lead from the front: You can’t ask anyone to do something you’re not willing to do. How you act as an entrepreneur and founder will trickle down.

What has been the most surprising part of your business journey?

I was surprised by how lonely it is trying to build a company. Even with an amazing team and passionate co-founder, it’s isolating. And the media largely does entrepreneurs a disservice by only covering massive successes or failures. Everyone encounters daily bumps along the road, and yet, you don’t hear about them. As someone struggling only reading headlines about wins, you think, “I’m the only one this is happening to,” and the reality of it is it’s happening to everyone. Even the most successful people. That’s what the podcast I co-host, Zero to IPO, is all about: it’s reveals the tough reality of building a business, and lets entrepreneurs know they’re not all alone out there.

What everyday thing are you better at than anyone else?

What everyday thing are you better at than anyone else? Connecting with people. Our CMO Ryan Carlson will sometimes refer to me as “a connector,” referring to Malcolm Gladwell’s archetype from his book The Tipping Point. I agree that one of my strengths is connecting people — so, networking, but beyond that: understanding their needs and requirements, and working with our team to meet them.

What's your sleep routine like?

I aim for 6-8 hours of sleep a night, but it’s usually less between the reality of work, our three kids, travel and hockey practice and games. But the one thing that stays constant is my wake up time, which is around 6am every morning.


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