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Auth0’s Eugenio Pace on understanding your target persona

The Auth0 founder shares the importance of prioritizing people when building a product and growing a company.

By Adam O'Donnell, Sit Down Startup podcast host

Last updated November 20, 2023

At the age of 42, Eugenio Pace was a late bloomer in the startup game. But that didn’t stop him from thriving. The first-time founder built the identity authentication platform Auth0 from scratch in 2013, and in May 2021, he sold it to Okta for $6.5 billion. In this episode of Sit Down Startup, Pace discusses why developers are important in tech, the validation of that first sale, and how luck and timing impact growth.

Understand the people you’re selling to

Pace understands developers. When he was working at Microsoft, Pace was tasked with finding obstacles that would prevent developers from moving applications to the cloud or building them there. Pace initially attempted to enhance Microsoft’s configuration system, but realized it was limiting and opted to build his own.

Pace’s goal was to create solutions that provided a good user experience for developers. He believed selling services to developers could lead to selling to bigger organizations.

He explains, “Developers are a very important constituency in the technology world, but they are often overlooked by companies because they don’t have money or they don’t have a budget themselves. They unlock budgets from others.”

Celebrate the first sale, no matter the amount

In 2013, Pace achieved a major milestone for any startup founder: the first sale. Pace was so excited he screamed with happiness. His wife rushed into his office, and Pace told her the good news—he had just made a $27-a-month sale. She said, “You are going to need a lot of those.”

His wife was right, but for Pace, the sale was about more than money. “The first sale is such an important milestone for a startup because it doesn’t matter what advisors and investors tell you—the true proof that you are doing something valuable in the world is a customer’s check. That is the ultimate validation.”

Later that year, Pace closed Auth0’s first enterprise deal for hundreds of thousands of dollars. It was a phenomenal moment that confirmed the belief Pace had built his company on. “For me, that was the first enlightenment that our hypothesis—that we could sell to developers, and through developers, we could sell to bigger organizations and get a bigger commitment—was real. We could do it.”

Timing (and luck) both play a part in company growth

When Auth0 entered the market, cloud computing was in its emergent stage. Pace admits his first year as a startup founder was difficult, but Auth0 had a significant advantage. “There is a non-trivial component of luck,” he says. “The biggest component to what we call luck, it’s really the timing.”

In 2013, the tech landscape saw the emergence of companies that centered their business models around the developer persona. Notable examples included Twilio, Stripe, Heroku, and SendGrid. Each of these companies shared a key element with Auth0. “All these companies are awesome, and they have the same approach,” Pace explains. “We make the life of developers super easy.’’

As the market began to acknowledge the value of a developer-centric strategy, Auth0 launched and experienced significant growth. “The timing was the right timing for us,” Pace says.

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