When he was still at Microsoft, Eugenio Pace was writing books to educate developers about creating secure applications in the cloud and eventually realized that he could do one of two things.
“I could keep writing about the problem or I could just build the service that solves the problem. That’s how the company started,” Pace says.
The company was Auth0, which runs an authentication and authorization management platform for web, IoT, mobile devices and legacy apps. Pace and his co-founder Matias Woloski started the company based on the idea that identity management, long thought to be a headache, is the key to security in the cloud era, where different infrastructures are connected by application programming interfaces (APIs).
“The world is more heterogeneous, there are more components that need to co-exist. There’s no company building everything. You have iPhones talking to APIs that are hosted by Amazon and there may be other components of infrastructure running into your own business center. All that needs to work together.”
The foundational component that can run across all systems is identity management, Pace says. Knowing which users are supposed to be there and which ones are not. That’s what Auth0’s technology aims to do.
Challenges of growth
In its five-plus years of existence, Auth0 has gained more than 2,000 enterprise customers while employing more than 450 people. The last two years Auth0 doubled its revenue. While hyper growth is exciting, Pace says, it also presents challenges. Adding new customers and employees makes it hard to maintain the same culture and same level of productivity.
“At the beginning of the year, we hired our first director of culture. His full time job is to ensure that culture is nurtured throughout the organization everywhere. Messaging. Communications. Training. Onboarding. Living up to our values in everything we do.”
While it supports remote working, Pace does hold an all company meeting between all 300 employees, where everyone can understand the company’s values and keep the culture alive.
On that front, Pace says Auth0 has a unique set of core values that has allowed it to grow so fast: “No bullshit, no assholes, no politics,” he says. Pace knows that building a long-term company will rely on exceptional teamwork that relies on trust and a unified mission.
“You can’t build trust in your teams if you are surrounded by jerks. You can’t have people criticizing you or advancing their own agenda because it’s convenient for their own goals,” Pace says. There are other values the company relies on such as accountability, collaboration, experimentation and commitment, but all of these connect with each other.
Pace’s first piece of advice to his fellow CEOs is to focus on customers. “A lot of young companies all they do is devote a critical amount of resources just on funding. Fundraising is critical, but only if you have something to build on,” he says. “Once you have customers and you have traction, you’ll have no problem raising money from investors.”
To that point, Auth0 raised $55 million in Series D funding last year. Pace himself was named Ernst & Young’s Entrepreneur of the Year for the Pacific Northwest.
His second piece of advice? When you’re in growth mode, find people who are better than you. “I was writing documents. Writing code. I was doing marketing. Engineering. Customer success. All at the same time. I actually enjoyed doing all of those things at the same time. But the way to grow is to find people who can do the job better than you.”
Pace’s last piece of advice is to recognize that even when you’ve found your niche in the market, recognize that your product is never done. While this is especially true in high tech, it’s true everywhere, he says. “What makes you successful the first year might not make you successful today. As the competition evolves, so too will your customers.”