Protocol | Enterprise

Okta taps former Salesforce exec John Zissimos as chief digital officer

Zissimos joins the identity management software provider shortly after its acquisition of rival Auth0 for $6.5 billion

John Zissimos

John Zissimos is joining Okta as its first chief digital officer.

Photo: Okta

John Zissimos is joining Okta as its first chief digital officer, the company is slated to announce on Thursday. He will report to Chief Marketing Officer Kendall Collins who joined in March.

Most recently, Zissimos served as the vice president of brand, creative and media at Google. He is also the former chief design officer at Salesforce, where he reported directly to CEO Marc Benioff. Zissimos is hoping to do for Okta what he helped achieve for Salesforce: Take a mid-tier enterprise software vendor and turn it into one of the industry's most well-known brands.

"Most companies at this point in their [lifecycle] are stuck telling what things do. The best companies talk about who we are, what we do and how we do it," Zissimos told Protocol. "Creating an iconic brand is really about the 'why' of those three things. My job over the next 100 days is … to figure out what that is."

The comparison is particularly relevant given both of Okta's co-founders — Todd McKinnon and Frederic Kerrest — were former Salesforce execs. Collins, who also used to work at Salesforce, even believes Okta could surpass its $224 billion market cap.

For Zissimos, the crux of his marketing efforts to make that happen will focus on one concept: trust. It's a buzzword he said other organizations just list as a value, but one Okta has to embody in all aspects of its operations. The company provides identity management products, and its tech underpins many single sign-on systems within enterprises.

"The entire brand is built around that one word," said Zissimos. "They've done a lot of work to lay that out, but the next five years is going to be about taking that to the mainstream."

McKinnon, who currently serves as CEO, has pegged Okta's addressable market at $80 billion. It's one where the company faces competition on all sides, including from Microsoft, though McKinnon says the tech giant doesn't show up in many mid-market deals. On the startup side, burgeoning rival Trulioo just raised $394 million at a $1.75 billion valuation.

Zissimos joins shortly after Okta announced it would acquire rival Auth0 — a provider of tools to add identity management features in end applications — for $6.5 billion. McKinnon had pursued the company for years. And while he's bullish on the potential of the deal to expand Okta's go-to-market strategy to better target developers, investors still need convincing. Shares sank in the days following the March announcement but have since slowly crept back up.

Hirsh Chitkara
Hirsh Chitkara (@ChitkaraHirsh) is a researcher at Protocol, based out of New York City. Before joining Protocol, he worked for Business Insider Intelligence, where he wrote about Big Tech, telecoms, workplace privacy, smart cities, and geopolitics. He also worked on the Strategy & Analytics team at the Cleveland Indians.

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"While consumers and early adopter businesses had widely embraced collaborative applications prior to the pandemic, the market saw five years' worth of new users in the first six months of 2020," said Wayne Kurtzman, research director of social and collaboration at IDC. "This has cemented collaboration, at least to some extent, for every business, large and small."

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Kate Silver

Kate Silver is an award-winning reporter and editor with 15-plus years of journalism experience. Based in Chicago, she specializes in feature and business reporting. Kate's reporting has appeared in the Washington Post, The Chicago Tribune, The Atlantic's CityLab, Atlas Obscura, The Telegraph and many other outlets.

Hirsh Chitkara
Hirsh Chitkara (@ChitkaraHirsh) is a researcher at Protocol, based out of New York City. Before joining Protocol, he worked for Business Insider Intelligence, where he wrote about Big Tech, telecoms, workplace privacy, smart cities, and geopolitics. He also worked on the Strategy & Analytics team at the Cleveland Indians.

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