'I Think It's the Perfect Time for Me to Start My Second Act.' Cornerstone CEO Adam Miller Steps Down

Ben Bergman

Ben Bergman is the newsroom's senior finance reporter. Previously he was a senior business reporter and host at KPCC, a senior producer at Gimlet Media, a producer at NPR's Morning Edition, and produced two investigative documentaries for KCET. He has been a frequent on-air contributor to business coverage on NPR and Marketplace and has written for The New York Times and Columbia Journalism Review. Ben was a 2017-2018 Knight-Bagehot Fellow in Economic and Business Journalism at Columbia Business School. In his free time, he enjoys skiing, playing poker, and cheering on The Seattle Seahawks.

'I Think It's the Perfect Time for Me to Start My Second Act.' Cornerstone CEO Adam Miller Steps Down

After two decades building Cornerstone OnDemand into one of the largest cloud-based learning and talent management software vendors in the world with a market capitalization of more than $2 billion, CEO and founder Adam Miller is finally ready to walk away.

"This year I celebrated the company's 20th anniversary, I celebrated my 50th birthday, and we acquired our biggest original competitor," Miller told dot.LA. "I think it's the perfect time for me to start my second act."

Santa Monica-based Cornerstone closed its acquisition of Saba Software, headquartered in the East Bay, April 22nd and the company's former CEO, Phil Saunders, will replace Miller June 15th while he becomes co-chair of Cornerstone's board.

The world has changed dramatically since the deal was first announced at the end of February, which is reflected in a lower closing price. Saunders acknowledges it will be no easy task integrating the two companies when their 3,000 employees are working remotely and he is quarantining with family on the East Coast.

"It is a bizarro time," Saunders said. "I guess if you could have a few wishes granted to you, one of them would not be taking over a CEO role in the midst of COVID."

Saunders and Miller spoke to dot.LA's Ben Bergman how the deal got done in such a challenging environment, how they will integrate the companies, and Miller's views about L.A. tech, which he has seen grow up alongside Cornerstone.

Former Saba Software CEO Phil Saunders will become CEO of Cornerstone OnDemand on June 15, 2020.

Adam, you've been CEO for so long. Why step away now?

I started the company 20 years ago with the idea that we would help improve access to education on a global basis, and we have been able to do that. We now have the company clearly on track to a billion in sales and we have delivered over 800 million online courses in the last year. So I'm feeling really good about where we are. We are about to kick off the next chapter in the company with integration with Saba to become a larger scale player. And I think it's the perfect time for me to start my second act, which is really about philanthropy and public service.

CEO and founder Adam Miller is finally ready to walk away from Cornerstone OnDemand

Was it always the plan to step aside when you acquired Saba?

It wasn't definitive when we first started talking two years ago. I've been thinking about this for a couple of years and what transition might look like. As I got to know Phil better and the board got to know him better, it became clear it was the right time to do it.

Phil, this is a challenging environment to come into. You're not even in the office right now. What is it like?

It's sort of like a marriage. When things are going well marriage is pretty easy. It's when things get dicey you test the balance of that personal relationship. Adam and I have been through a lot.

This deal could not have gotten done at a more complicated time. We had very emotional and agitated boards and stakeholders because of COVID-19. And I would say to Adam, "If we just put everyone out of the way, what would you want to do? Do you think this is still a good bet?" And when we both talked it over and said "hell, yeah!" then you know you have something special and it's worth fighting for. I'm really proud of the fact that we fought our way through to the other side because it would have been easy to quit.

Did you ever think about not going through with the deal in light of the coronavirus?

(Saunders) It's public knowledge that when the deal got signed it was at a certain value and when it closed, it was another. [The price fell from $1.395 billion to $1.295 billion at closing.] So there was definitely a bit of a OMG there. But I think it just shows where perseverance and belief and conviction really come through. You know ultimately Adam and I looked at each other - virtually at some point - and made sure that we both believe that the thesis is still rock solid and we both knew it was. There were definitely people all around us that had questions. But I think the belief in the conviction won.

How does the coronavirus change what you will do at Cornerstone?

(Miller) What we do is very applicable to this environment. We help companies recruit online, onboard their people, train them, manage them, and improve communication between managers and employees using digital tools. We're even using our own tools to make this integration happen.

Phil, how does this acquisition change Cornerstone?

If I just kept doing what Adam did for 20 years, then you really would not need me. So part of what I'm here to do is help extend Adam's success. Adam is a founder with an idea he had 20 years ago in his New York City apartment. I never had an original idea in my entire life. I'm just a really good operator. I always like to get my arms around things and make them better. And so it doesn't sound like it, but it's a really good fit between me and Adam. People need to understand that we take combining the companies very seriously. If you do well, you build a really awesome company. If you do it really poorly, you have a mess on your hands. We believe we will get this integration right and we're taking the care and time to do it right. We also have to acknowledge with our employees and with our customers that there's going to be some change. It's undeniable. For example, Cornerstone was running the company like it was the Golitah in talent management. Saba was the David of David and Goliath. Now we're one company and we have to get our minds around the fact that there is a new competitor out there and it's not each other.

Adam you are really one of the forefathers of the L.A. tech scene. Can you reflect on what has changed in the last 20 years as you've built up Cornerstone?

It couldn't have been more different back then than it is today. When I started the only acceptable jobs in L.A. were in entertainment, real estate or perhaps finance. There was no tech community to speak of. I had a very hard time convincing our earliest investors – who were quite frankly friends and family – that it made sense for me to move what was really just me from New York to L.A. to build the technology company there. About 10 years in, we started to see the real development of L.A. tech. I used to say that we were forced by necessity to hire based on potential and not experience because it was impossible to find people with experience. We were a B2B software company in Los Angeles at a time when there weren't even tech companies, much less enterprise software companies. Today it's been an amazing transformation in Los Angeles. I feel like we've accomplished a dual mission. On the one hand, we built Cornerstone from scratch into one of the largest cloud computing companies in the world and simultaneously took L.A. from obscurity to one of the top tech centers in the world.

Could you have imagined 20 or even 10 years ago that the L.A. tech scene would look like it does today?

Not at all. I knew it was becoming legit when people started proactively saying they were going into tech and I knew we had first made it when I started to hear engineers who were at L.A. colleges start talking about staying in L.A. I think the next problem to solve in L.A. is dealing with that seed stage gap, which has to do with companies getting seed funded and maybe even getting their A-round funded, but not being able to get to that B and C round. I think that's the next evolution of L.A. tech and I'm absolutely going to be one of the people helping solve that problem.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity


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ComplYant Founder and CEO Shiloh Johnson on Why Tax Knowledge Is Her ‘Superpower’

Yasmin Nouri

Yasmin is the host of the "Behind Her Empire" podcast, focused on highlighting self-made women leaders and entrepreneurs and how they tackle their career, money, family and life.

Each episode covers their unique hero's journey and what it really takes to build an empire with key lessons learned along the way. The goal of the series is to empower you to see what's possible & inspire you to create financial freedom in your own life.

ComplYant Founder and CEO Shiloh Johnson on Why Tax Knowledge Is Her ‘Superpower’

On this episode of Behind Her Empire, ComplYant founder and CEO Shiloh Johnson discusses her journey to building a multimillion dollar business and making knowledge of taxes more accessible.

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Taylor Swift Concert in the Metaverse? Ticketing Platform Token Is Using NFTs To Optimize Experiences

Andria Moore

Andria is the Social and Engagement Editor for dot.LA. She previously covered internet trends and pop culture for BuzzFeed, and has written for Insider, The Washington Post and the Motion Picture Association. She obtained her bachelor's in journalism from Auburn University and an M.S. in digital audience strategy from Arizona State University. In her free time, Andria can be found roaming LA's incredible food scene or lounging at the beach.

Taylor Swift Concert in the Metaverse? Ticketing Platform Token Is Using NFTs To Optimize Experiences
Evan Xie

When Taylor Swift announced her ‘Eras’ tour back in November, all hell broke loose.

Hundreds of thousands of dedicated Swifties — many of whom were verified for the presale — were disappointed when Ticketmaster failed to secure them tickets, or even allow them to peruse ticketing options.

But the Taylor Swift fiasco is just one of the latest in a long line of complaints against the ticketing behemoth. Ticketmaster has dominated the event and concert space since its merger with Live Nation in 2010 with very few challengers — until now.

Adam Jones, founder and CEO of Token, a fan-first commerce platform for events, said he has the platform and the tech ready to take it on. First and foremost, with Token, Jones is creating a system where there are no queues. In other words, fans know immediately which events are sold out and where.

“We come in very fortunate to have a modern, scalable tech stack that's not going to have all these outages or things being down,” Jones said. “That's step one. The other thing is we’re being aggressively transparent about what we’re doing and how we’re doing it. So with the Taylor Swift thing…you would know in real time if you actually have a chance of getting the tickets.”

Here’s how it works: Users register for Token’s app and then purchase tickets to either an in-person event, or an event in the metaverse through Animal Concerts. The purchased ticket automatically shows up in the form of a mintable NFT, which can then be used toward merchandise purchases, other ticketed events or, Adams’s hope for the future — external rewards like airline travel. The more active a user is on the site, the more valuable their NFT becomes.

Ticketmaster has dominated the music industry for so long because of its association with big name artists. To compete, Token is working on gaining access to their own slew of popular artists. They recently entered into a partnership with Animal Concerts, a live and non-live event experiences platform that houses artists like Alicia Keys, Snoop Dogg and Robin Thicke.

“You'll see they do all the metaverse side of the house,” Jones said. “And we're going to be the [real-life] web3 sides of the house.”

In addition, Token prides itself on working with the artists selling on their platform to set up the best system for their fanbase, devoid of hefty prices and additional fees — something Ticketmaster users have often complained about. Jones believes where Ticketmaster fails, Token thrives. The app incentivizes users to share more data about their interests, venues and artists by operating on a kind of points system in the form of mintable NFTs.

“We can actually take the dataset and say there’s 100 million people in the globe that love Taylor Swift, so imagine she’s going on tour and we ask [the user], ‘Would you go to see her in Detroit?’ And imagine this place has 30,000 seats, but 100,000 people clicked ‘yes,’” he explained. “So you can actually inform the user before anything even happens, right? About what their options are and where to get it.”

Tixr, a Santa-Monica based ticketing app, was founded on the idea that modern ticketing platforms were “living in the legacy of the past.” They plan to attract users by offering them exclusive access to ticketed events that aren’t in Ticketmaster’s registry.

“It melts commerce that's beyond ticketing…to allow fans to experience and purchase things that don't necessarily have to do with tickets,” said Tixr CEO and Founder Robert Davari. “So merchandise, and experiences, and hospitality and stuff like that are all elegantly melded into this one, content driven interface.”

Tixr sells tickets to exclusive concerts like a Tyga performance at a night club in Arizona, general in-person festivals like ComplexCon, and partners with local vendors like The Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach to sell tickets to the races. Plus, Davari said it’s equipped to handle high-demand, so customers aren’t spending hours waiting in digital queues.

Like Token, Tixr has also found success with a rewards program — in the form of fan marketing.

“There's nothing more powerful in the core of any event, brand, any live entertainment, [than] the community behind it,” Davari said. “So we build technology to empower those fans and to reward them for bringing their friends and spreading the word.”

Basically, if a user gets a friend to purchase tickets to an event, then the original user gets rewarded in the form of discounts or upgrades.

Coupled with their platforms’ ability to handle high-demand events, both Jones and Davari believe their platforms have what it takes to take on Ticketmaster. Expansion into the metaverse, they think, will also help even the playing field.

“So imagine you can't go to Taylor Swift,” Jones said. “What if you could purchase an exclusive to actually go to that exact same show over the metaverse? An artist’s whole world can expand past the stage itself.”

With the way ticketing for events works now, obviously not everyone always gets the exact price, venue or date they want. There are “winners and losers.” Jones’s hope is that by expanding beyond in-person events, there can be more winners.

“If there’s 100,000 people who want to go to one show and there's 37,000 seats, 70,000 are out,” he said. “You can't fight that. But what we can do is start to give them other opportunities to do things in a different way and actually still participate.”

Jones and Davari both teased that their platforms have some exciting developments in the works, but for now both Token and Tixr are set on making their own space within the industry.

“We simply want to advance this industry and make it more efficient and more pleasurable for fans to buy,” Davari said. “That's it.”

Here’s Why Streaming Looks More and More Like Cable

Lon Harris
Lon Harris is a contributor to dot.LA. His work has also appeared on ScreenJunkies, RottenTomatoes and Inside Streaming.
Here’s Why Streaming Looks More and More Like Cable
Evan Xie

The original dream of streaming was all of the content you love, easily accessible on your TV or computer at any time, at a reasonable price. Sadly, Hollywood and Silicon Valley have come together over the last decade or so to recognize that this isn’t really economically viable. Instead, the streaming marketplace is slowly transforming into something approximating Cable Television But Online.

It’s very expensive to make the kinds of shows that generate the kind of enthusiasm and excitement from global audiences that drives the growth of streaming platforms. For every international hit like “Squid Game” or “Money Heist,” Netflix produced dozens of other shows whose titles you have definitely forgotten about.

The marketplace for new TV has become so massively competitive, and the streaming landscape so oversaturated, even relatively popular shows with passionate fanbases that generate real enthusiasm and acclaim from critics often struggle to survive. Disney+ canceled Luscasfilm’s “Willow” after just one season this week, despite being based on a hit Ron Howard film and receiving an 83% critics score on Rotten Tomatoes. Amazon dropped the mystery drama “Three Pines” after one season as well this week, which starred Alfred Molina, also received positive reviews, and is based on a popular series of detective novels.

Even the new season of “The Mandalorian” is off to a sluggish start compared to its previous two Disney+ seasons, and Pedro Pascal is basically the most popular person in America right now.

Now that major players like Netflix, Disney+, and WB Discovery’s HBO Max have entered most of the big international markets, and bombarded consumers there with marketing and promotional efforts, onboarding of new subscribers inevitably has slowed. Combine that with inflation and other economic concerns, and you have a recipe for austerity and belt-tightening among the big streamers that’s virtually guaranteed to turn the smorgasbord of Peak TV into a more conservative a la carte offering. Lots of stuff you like, sure, but in smaller portions.

While Netflix once made its famed billion-dollar mega-deals with top-name creators, now it balks when writer/director Nancy Meyers (“It’s Complicated,” “The Holiday”) asks for $150 million to pay her cast of A-list actors. Her latest romantic comedy will likely move over to Warner Bros., which can open the film in theaters and hopefully recoup Scarlett Johansson and Michael Fassbender’s salaries rather than just spending the money and hoping it lingers longer in the public consciousness than “The Gray Man.”

CNET did the math last month and determined that it’s still cheaper to choose a few subscription streaming services like Netflix and Amazon Prime over a conventional cable TV package by an average of about $30 per month (provided you don’t include the cost of internet service itself). But that means picking and choosing your favorite platforms, as once you start adding all the major offerings out there, the prices add up quickly. (And those are just the biggest services from major Hollywood studios and media companies, let alone smaller, more specialized offerings.) Any kind of cable replacement or live TV streaming platform makes the cost essentially comparable to an old-school cable TV package, around $100 a month or more.

So called FAST, or Free Ad-supported Streaming TV services, have become a popular alternative to paid streaming platforms, with Fox’s Tubi making its first-ever appearance on Nielsen’s monthly platform rankings just last month. (It’s now more popular than the first FAST service to appear on the chart, Paramount Global’s Pluto TV.) According to Nielsen, Tubi now accounts for around 1% of all TV viewing in the US, and its model of 24/7 themed channels supported by semi-frequent ad breaks couldn’t resemble cable television anymore if it tried.

Services like Tubi and Pluto stand to benefit significantly from the new streaming paradigm, and not just from fatigued consumers tired of paying for more content. Cast-off shows and films from bigger streamers like HBO Max often find their way to ad-supported platforms, where they can start bringing in revenue for their original studios and producers. The infamous HBO Max shows like “The Nevers” and “Westworld” that WBD controversially pulled from the HBO Max service can now be found on Tubi or The Roku Channel.

HBO Max’s recently-canceled reality dating series “FBoy Island” has also found a new home, but it’s not on any streaming platform. Season 3 will air on TV’s The CW, along with a new spinoff series called (wait for it) “FGirl Island.” So in at least some ways, “30 Rock” was right: technology really IS cyclical.