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Letting Customers Design The Product: Cornerstone OnDemand CEO Adam Miller (Part 1)

Posted on Thursday, Oct 6th 2011

Adam Miller is the founder, president and CEO of Cornerstone OnDemand, a leading SaaS company. Prior to founding Cornerstone, he was a lawyer and an investment banker. He worked in corporate finance with Schroders (now Citi Financial) and an affiliate of Montgomery Securities (now Bank of America), supporting clients with private equity and public financing, as well as M&A advisory. His background also includes work with the Card Group in Los Angeles. Miller has a JD from the UCLA School of Law, an MBA from the Anderson School of Business, a BS from the Wharton School and a BA from the University of Pennsylvania. He earned a CPA and Series 7 certifications and has cowritten two books, “Business Capital for Women” (Macmillan, 1996) and “Managing Your Inheritance” (Random House, 1995).

Sramana: Adam, please tell us where you come from and where your journey begins.

Adam Miller: I was born in New York and grew up in New Jersey. My journey began back in high school when I was one of the first people on my block, other than my next-door neighbor, who had a PC. My sophomore year of high school we were taking advanced computer classes at high school, and we had basically passed the capabilities they offered. I gained my love of technology from that time.

My love of entrepreneurship came from my family. My uncle and grandfather were both very entrepreneurial. I was comfortable with the idea of smaller things and started doing entrepreneurial type ventures in college.

Sramana: Where did you go to college?

Adam Miller: I went to school at the University of Pennsylvania. I got a BA in European history and a BS from Wharton in systems analysis.

Sramana: When did you graduate?

Adam Miller: I graduated in 1991. That was before the Internet had taken off.

Sramana: What happened after you graduated from college?

Adam Miller: At that point I was entrepreneurial, but I also had a real interest in law. I went to law school and at the same time I had the opportunity to be the part owner of the restaurant. I took both opportunities. I went to UCLA Law School and became a part owner of a restaurant at the age of 21. It was one of the top two restaurants and bars on the campus. You can imagine that it was interesting being 21 years old and owning a bar.

Sramana: How did you become part owner? Was it sweat equity, or did you have to invest money?

Adam Miller: I was an assistant manager the summer before I began law school at UCLA. I was there trying to decide if I wanted to go to school in California, so I took a summer program at UCLA. I worked at a restaurant because the only thing I was qualified to do at that point was tend bar. By the end of the summer the manager asked me to stay on as a manager, hoping that we could eventually buy a restaurant.

I went back to Philadelphia for my senior year of college when I got a call from that manager who told me that the restaurant had gone up for sale. It was a seller-financed deal. I took what little of my life savings that I had at that point, which I had intended to buy a car with, and bought my way in. Most of my equity was sweat equity. I was a minority shareholder. We had five partners in that deal and there were only two of us who were active partners who shared responsibility for the place.

I owned that restaurant while attending law school. About three months into school I realized that I had slept through too many accounting classes in college and I needed more of a business education. I then applied to the business school, and the rumor is that the admissions office went to lunch at the restaurant to see if I actually owned the restaurant. I was able to get into business school and I was the youngest person in my business school class.

I ended up doing a JD/MBA and ran the restaurant at the same time. I went to school in the morning, hosted faculty luncheons, and then came home and changed so I could go to work. I worked from 6 p.m. to 2 a.m. and just studied at the bar. That was my daily schedule.

This segment is part 1 in the series : Letting Customers Design The Product: Cornerstone OnDemand CEO Adam Miller
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