Okta making creative use of channel in Canadian market

Okta, which is in the process of moving its main Canadian office, is driving a channel strategy in Canada that makes broader use of partners than in the U.S.

Dan Kagan, SVP and Country Leader at Okta Canada.

Identity vendor Okta, which broadened its presence in the Canadian market back in 2018, is again making changes in how it goes about their Canadian business. For a variety of reasons, they are moving their main office in Toronto from King Street West to Bay Street. They are also pushing a more aggressive channel strategy, to build up their relatively low Canadian market share, and take advantage of partners’ strong relationships with customers.

Dan Kagan, who only joined Okta 15 months ago following a much longer stint at Docusign, is the SVP and Country Leader at Okta Canada.

“I’ve been in and out of the channel for my whole career,” Kagan told ChannelBuzz. “I worked for IBM Global Services, then found my calling in SaaS  when I went to Salesforce, and started doing that. I opened two offices for Salesforce in New York, and then opened one on Water Street in Vancouver.”

From there, Kagan went to Docusign as their Canadian country manager, where he spent over six years.

“I pitched my vision at Docusign for years, and then 15 months ago, moved to Okta,” he said.

Okta is about to implement another move of its headquarters that will have strategic importance. In late 2018, they moved to much larger office space in a reconditioned 19th century warehouse on King Street West, in downtown Toronto. That space was much larger than their old location in Toronto, and coincided with Okta’s increased investment in the Canadian market. Now they are moving again, for several reasons.

“We are moving offices,” Kagan said. “That will happen July through October. We are moving from King West onto Bay Street, getting closer to Bay Street and our customers. Our new office is on the Path [underground walkway in downtown Toronto]. That will have an amazing impact on small business units.

“This was also about getting folks back into the office,” Kagan added. “The King Street offices are large – 110 seats. But the sales cycle is different than other companies I have been at and requires more people in the field. With Salesforce, it was a niche product, which sold itself. Docusign was pretty much the same thing. We were focused on getting money back quickly. Okta isn’t like that. Cybersecurity and identity cycles aren’t the quickest in the world. It’s also very hard to build connections on Zoom. At the end of this month, we are doing a developer day, where the developers play with our API and hear how people have leveraged our platform.”

Today Okta has just under 400 employees, with the core Ontario market accounting for about 60% of that.

“Quebec is also a fairly big market for us, and we have a presence in Calgary, Edmonton, and Vancouver,” Kagan said. “Pre-pandemic, we had about 50-60 people in the office daily, mainly engaged in development, but there were also some marketing people and some partners.”

Like many companies, people have been reluctant to move back to the offices, given the difficulties of getting to King West, especially with indifferent public transit, and expensive parking.

“We saw a lot of reluctance from our people about moving back to the core,” Kagan said. “So now we are a flexible working environment, with no mandates for moving back to our workplace.”

Kagan explained Okta’s market strategy in Canada.

“I own the stack from the SMB all the way up to strategic enterprises,” he said. “Some of our bigger deals come out of the small segments, which includes a lot of work with credit unions and the provincial government. We also just closed some very large deals with telcos, and it is very fruitful here, especially on the enterprise side.”

Partners play a key role in Canada, more so than in the U.S.

“We are finding that identity really requires more than just the Okta platform, although it continues to delight our prospects,” Kagan indicated. “We continue to delight with our channel partners as well. Our operations here are different than in the US. We only have 38 sellers, which is a very small number, and we also have  about 4% of the identity market in Canada, which is also a small percentage. We  don’t lose to competitors but to ‘no’ decisions about buying. To overcome this, we need SIs and other partners. In Canada. About 70% of our revenues go through the partners. In addition, we have thousands of APIs, and we can’t develop all the throughout for this ourselves.”

A year ago, Okta partnered with Ingram in Canada, which was their first distribution here.

“We continue to look for improvements,  but Ingram has done us very well for our fulfillment in the SMB,” Kagan said. “In the enterprise it’s more Accenture and Deloitte.”

“Our focus remains on adding value through the channel,” Kagan concluded. “Where we have realigned ourselves there is looking to adopt new channel partners, which bring a specific niche, as opposed to just one partner type we are looking to embrace, like IBM, Deloitte, and Accenture. We don’t walk away from companies like CDW, Softchoice, Crowdstrike, Techjitsu, Netskope or SentinelOne.”