Silicon Valley Star: Jonathan Runyan ’06 is Helping Startups Succeed

  • Alumni

In 2015, Jonathan Runyan ’06 wasn’t looking for a new job. He was a rising partner at Goodwin Procter LLP who’d spent years building up his practice of more than 50 clients in the technology industry. So when one of his clients, Okta, asked him to join as general counsel, he said no. But the founders of the identity management startup persisted, and Runyan let himself wonder: “What’s the worst that could happen?”

That January, Runyan decided to take the leap. “I walked away from something safe that I was pretty good at and comfortable with in order to take a chance,” he says.

He hasn’t looked back since. Runyan already knew the company inside and out, after carrying out its corporate legal work for six years. “If I were ever going to do something like this, which I didn’t intend to, this would be the company I’d do it with,” he says. “Of all the companies I represented over the years, none could equal Okta’s carefully cultivated team, product, culture and investors. It was a perfect fit.”

Since going in-house, Runyan has built up an eight-person legal team. In April, he shepherded Okta through a successful initial public offering, a rarity in the tech industry these days.

Runyan has wanted to work in the tech industry since he enrolled in business school at Yale University. After college he’d spent a year working as a financial analyst but was drawn to the energy of Silicon Valley. After graduating from business school in 2002, he enrolled in law school at UC Hastings the following year. “It had a lot to do with the school’s proximity to the technology sector,” he says.

A third-year course on negotiations made a big impression. “The professor taught us that if you lack integrity when you approach a negotiation, it’s going to ruin your relationships and disadvantage you the rest of your career. I really took that advice to heart and tripled my efforts to ensure I was transparent and upfront in all of my negotiations. As a result, I was able to build a very solid reputation,” he says.

When Runyan graduated in 2006, Anthony McCusker, a fellow UC Hastings alum, hired him at Gunderson Dettmer, a startup and venture capital law firm. In 2011, Runyan followed McCusker to help start the West Coast technology practice at Goodwin Procter. Over the next four years, Runyan worked on hundreds of private company formations, venture financing deals, M&A transactions and IPOs. His clients included startups such as Envoy and Xoom and high-profile venture funds, including Sequoia Capital and Andreessen Horowitz.

Working in the start-up scene was rewarding. “I got to be on the avant-garde of what’s going to change the world down the line and to work with people who are positively inclined. I helped nurture scores of companies from cradle to exit,” Runyan says.

But being in-house has its perks too. He’s able to think strategically about the business rather than just take direction. “It’s the best job I ever had,” he says.