Founders Diaries: Why values are the foundation on which a company is built
11 min read
24 August 2018
Values are the foundation on which a company is built. If you get your values right, you’re on the path to success, SailPoint CEO Mark McClain explains.
SailPoint secures the digital identities of enterprises around the world, helping management teams identify who has access to what – and how that access is being used.
But while security has always been an important topic, there’s more to learn from SailPoint than how to navigate GDPR. The company places much emphasis on values and culture, something CEO and co-founder Mark McClain labels the ultimate keys to success.
Here, he explains the importance of hiring the right team – and allowing employees to prosper.
Founder: Mark McClain
I want SailPoint to be remembered for is our values. We place a huge emphasis on customer service and innovation, and that shows not only in the way we work with our partners and customers but also in how we treat our employees.
I want SailPoint’s legacy to be that it was a different kind of software company, one that focused on customer service and innovation, and delivered true value and formed positive relationships with customers and business partners.
Your business model
We are laser-focused on developing innovative ways to address our customers’ emerging challenges as well as anticipating “what’s next” in identity. These next frontiers in identity include: extending identity governance to include governing access to data and expanding the definition of what an identity is to include all digital identities, including non-human users (bots).
How do you measure success?
I measure success by good, solid business metrics. For us, that’s the company performance trifecta of scale, growth, and profitability. This trio is something we worked toward as a private company in order to build a successful business, and it’s just as important today for our performance in the public markets.
I think there’s an opportunity for us to grow internationally. Enterprises around the world are facing similar security and compliance challenges regardless of location, especially with the rise of data breaches and strict regulations like GDPR, driving the need for identity governance.
How did you fund your business?
We started as a venture-backed company. But then we went to a private-equity backed model for a few years. It was a great next step for us and eventually helped us to successfully enter the public market in November 2017.
Your biggest technology boost
As a technology company, we rely on our own technology. We have an integrated set of products that supports all aspects of identity governance across the hybrid enterprise, on an open platform that enables connectivity with other best-in-breed applications and technologies.
Our solutions allow customers (and ourselves) to effectively govern and manage access for all enterprise users, applications and data.
In five years
The identity market, and specifically the identity governance space that we occupy, is continuing to gain global attention as data breaches increase in frequency and scale.
We also have a good grasp on the next frontiers in identity governance, and we’re well positioned to address these frontiers for our customers. Enterprises are feeling more pressure to digitise to stay relevant and deliver value, and customers are turning to the power of identity to help them govern access across all users, all applications and data.
Your highest point
Taking SailPoint from startup to global success story with our IPO in November 2017. It was an incredible achievement. But I would be remiss if I didn’t also say that the reason it was so meaningful was because of the culture of the company that allowed us to get to this exciting point.
All of the business success we’ve experienced is so much sweeter with the added context of awards, like being named one of Austin’s best places to work for nine years running, or on a more personal note, being ranked one of Glassdoor’s best CEOs, which is based solely on employee feedback.
Your lowest point
The biggest mistake I made in my entrepreneurial career was spending too much time and energy on things that didn’t immediately matter. When you’re creating a company, it’s easy to get hung up on the logistics of where your office will be located and where to put the ping pong table.
Those decisions are far less important than the team you build and ensuring you find a great product/ market fit. I quickly learned that you have to focus on the big idea first to ensure your overall business success and worry about the other details later.
What would you tell your younger self?
For years, I tried keeping people around who weren’t a good company fit, giving them different opportunities or hoping with the right guidance they might improve. I would have saved myself heartache (and others a lot of frustration) if I had been able to let go. I’ve learned this lesson, and we’ve continued to hire according to our values, so this comes up less and less.
But when it does, we’re quick to act. In almost every scenario where this happens, swift action results in both the company and the person thriving in the long run.
Your policy wish list
In an ideal world, I would like to see governments protect the privacy of consumers and employees by ensuring that companies are taking due care to protect their sensitive data. However, that focus on privacy can’t come in the form of overburdening legislation that stifles innovation. It’s a delicate balance.
Your biggest piece of advice to other entrepreneurs
Focus on the company’s values and hire people who embody them. You cannot be successful if you don’t also have a great corporate culture. I believe that corporate culture starts with the company’s values and breaks down when those values become stale or “a plaque on the wall”.
My passions and side projects over the years have become the companies I’ve founded. I try to find a balance between building a great business and enjoying my personal life because that is how I can be the best version of myself. That’s why balance is such an important part of SailPoint’s culture. We want our employees to be the best versions of themselves too.
What would make you a better leader?
What continues to make me a better leader is surrounding myself with people who are smarter than I am and who have different strengths than I do. It’s easy to let ego get in the way, especially in the tech industry. We see it all the time in Silicon Valley. At SailPoint, we value humility from the top down.
The one app you use the most
With three millennial kids and their millennial spouses, along with three grandkids, text messaging is often the best way to keep in touch. It’s not my preferred method of communication, but it helps me keep in touch with the people I love.
A day in your life
I try to exercise regularly and have some quiet time in the morning to clear my head before starting the day. But the truth is that as a CEO, I don’t have the same routine every day, which is what makes my job so fun and interesting. My days vary widely, from talking with investors to having lunch with our new employees at orientation. I never have the same day twice.
On your reading list right now
I always go back to Patrick Lencioni. His books are digestible and practical. The Advantage addresses how to achieve organisational health. Lencioni also tackles the issue of maintaining a well-oiled leadership team to maintain all the functional areas and needs of the business. It’s something every entrepreneur should think about as they build their business.
Lencioni’s The Ideal Team Player is also good. His philosophy that the kind of person that is valued in the workplace is “hungry, smart and humble” is something I not only aspire to be on a personal level but also that I use as key criteria when hiring and retaining talent.
On your watchlist right now
I don’t have much time for television, but I do prioritise spending time with my wife and she’s a fan of The Great British Bake Off. As such, I’ve learned a lot about baking, even though I have a fairly limited interest (and absolutely no talent!) in the subject myself. I don’t always agree with the hosts’ views on American pies. I enjoy watching them interact with the contestants. It’s often hilarious.