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Adam Miller, CEO of Cornerstone OnDemand: Lessons Learned Building a SaaS Unicorn

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Jason Lemkin

At the recent SaaStr Summer Social in L.A., we were not only hosted by Cornerstone OnDemand (THANK YOU!) but Adam Miller, CEO, wasn’t called back for jury duty so was able to join us for a deep-dive session.  My co-investor (and co-host) Jim Andelman of Rincon Venture Partners led the discussion here:

Cornerstone is a $2.5b public SaaS company doing $400m+ in ARR so I impressed how fresh Adam’s memories still were of scaling in the early-ish days.  Being a founder is tough work, folks, even at the most successful SaaS companies 🙂

Some of his key take-aways:

  • Funding from revenue, i.e. bootstrapping works … but it was too slow for him with hindsight.  Every new hire had to be paid for by a dollar cleared in customer contracts.   He wished he’d raised more, simply to accelerate hiring.
  • It was harder to get funded when you “looked different.”  Back then, and maybe even to a much lesser extent today, an enterprise SaaS company being built in L.A., especially one with a seeming 50+ competitors … was hard to get funded.  It took longer, and they had to get further from an ARR perspective, than otherwise.
  • Cherish your unstructured time.  Less meetings.  Build a better management team to get there.
  • You can build a great team, even in the enterprise, anywhere.  I’m not 100% sure I’ve figured this one out.  But great CEOs have great things to learn from here.  Adam recruited a top SaaS management team in L.A., in part by hiring more stretch hires, more folks without on-point domain expertise.  Another variant we heard previously was from Ryan Smith, CEO of Qualtrics in Utah, who moves Bay Area management to Utah.  That discussion here.

It was a great discussion, and from the heart.

Give a listen / watch.

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Published on August 30, 2016
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