It’s the first day of the rest of your life, but also the end of the beginning. This is how some entrepreneurs might describe taking their company public. The IPO signifies years of hard work and many impossible decisions along the way, and is a significant accomplishment for any company. But it’s not the end at all.
On this season’s final episode of Zero to IPO we talked with four entrepreneurs and leaders who understand what’s required to keep the momentum going post-IPO. At some point, the champagne stops flowing, and it’s time to get back to work. The sooner that happens, the better. Here’s how these leaders recommend staying focused.
View the IPO as a stepping-stone
When you’re a founder building your company, it’s natural to daydream about what it would be like to go public. Some founders even make “a successful exit” the goal. But Aneel Bhusri, cofounder and CEO of Workday, has some advice for those leaders: Change your mindset. Although Workday’s IPO was massively successful, he continues to see listing day as just that: a day. As he put it, “It’s a stepping-stone, and it’s a rite of passage… but it’s a means, not the end.”
My cofounder Todd McKinnon and I share Bhusri’s view in that we should view the IPO as a way to continue accelerating the business. We compared our IPO to high school graduation: It certainly took a lot of work to get there, and it’s a milestone worth celebrating, but you don’t want to peak in high school. Just like you’re not done learning after high school, your business shouldn’t stop growing after going public so you can’t settle.
Keep your dreams alive
Domo founder and CEO Josh James started his journey as an entrepreneur with Omniture, which he took public in 2006. At the time he was the youngest CEO of a public company, but three years later he decided to sell to Adobe. His board supported his decision to sell, but there were conflicts along the way. James remembers meeting Jeff Bezos and asking him how he managed to convince his board to continue investing in growth when Amazon was getting off the ground–and Bezos explained that he invited board members to join him on a journey. Bezos had a vision of what was possible, and he managed to convince key decision-makers to support it.
James left Adobe nine months after the acquisition, and he describes the next day as the worst of his life. He went from being a well-known entrepreneur to a former CEO and knew he had to do something to keep his dreams alive. A day later, he decided to start a new company and is now building Domo based on the lessons he learned the first time around.
Invest in diversity
Maggie Wilderotter, the former CEO of Frontier Communications, knows that diversity of thought and experience is essential to the success of any company. It’s especially crucial for a newly public company when all eyes are analyzing every part of the organization.
Wilderotter was the only woman on the board at Frontier Communications when she joined as president and CEO in 2004, and she didn’t stop there. She has used her influence to open doors for more women. Under her leadership, five women joined the board, and by the time she left Frontier, women made up half of the company’s regional leadership. Having a diverse team was good for business. Before she stepped down as CEO, Wilderotter had not only helped increase the percentage of women in the company, but Frontier also experienced 85% total shareholder return, the highest in the industry.
Dig in and focus
As a company grows, the CEO’s roles and responsibilities increase with it. Where they were once overseeing sales and product development, they now manage customer service, operations, marketing, and more. Once their company goes public, they also have to think about appeasing investors. With an ever-increasing number of stakeholders, it’s more important than ever to focus.
Take Aaron Levie, cofounder, and CEO of Box. His company has grown from 2 to 1,900 employees. While you might think that means he splits his attention in 1,900 different directions, he finds that growth has forced him to narrow his focus. Levie recognizes that an unfocused CEO has a negative ripple effect across the organization, so he works hard to make sure he’s leading the charge by empowering his team and staying true to Box’s vision of building a new way to work.
When founders are building a company, they learn to ask for as much feedback as they can before making a decision. But that gets infinitely harder after they go public as the number of opinions increases tenfold. It’s not just employees and venture capitalists analyzing how things are going; suddenly they have institutional investors, market experts, and journalists chiming in with opinions.
That’s where real leadership comes into play. The founders that know how to focus on what matters most will develop the skills needed to overcome roadblocks as they take their company from zero to IPO and beyond.
Frederic Kerrest is the COO and cofounder of Okta. You can listen to the full episode, “What Now?” wherever you get your podcasts. Stay tuned for details on the launch of season two, which will discuss how to solve your biggest business challenges. Email firstname.lastname@example.org with your questions, and you might just hear us respond on our upcoming season.