Expect to work 18-hour days, every day of the year, and be “tenacious as hell.” That was the advice of Akamai Technologies Inc. chief executive Tom Leighton to entrepreneurs packed into a Babson College auditorium Wednesday at the Xconomy Summit on Innovation, Technology and Entrepreneurship.
“You can sleep some, and you get a little time not at the office, but not a lot,” said Leighton, who co-founded the Cambridge tech company in 1998. “It’s hard.”
Leighton was the keynote speaker at a conference of Boston-area technology professionals, including many who run startups. He stressed the role perseverance played in Akamai’s success, recalling a conversation he had with partner Daniel Lewin in the early days of the company.
Akamai wouldn’t grow because of good ideas, good technology or good people, Lewin said in Leighton’s retelling. “He said, ‘We’re going to be successful because we’re tenacious as hell,’ ” Leighton said. “ ‘We’re not going to give up no matter what happens.’ ”
For a while, there was little need for tenacity at Akamai. The company’s 1999 IPO put its value at $13 billion, and Akamai’s stock price rocketed up to $345 per share by the end of that year.
Only a year later, Akamai plummeted to the brink of bankruptcy when the dot-com bubble burst.
“The only good news was that we looked like we were going broke, so it enabled us to negotiate out of all the leases we didn’t want,” Leighton said.
To make matters worse, Akamai was left to recover without Lewin, who was killed in the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
“But we believed in the company,” Leighton said. “We maintained focus.”
After deep staff cuts and with only enough cash to operate for one more quarter, Akamai began to break even again in 2003 and was turning profits by 2004.
The company generated $1 billion in revenues for the first time in 2010, and is aiming for $5 billion by the end of the decade.
“There’s a lot of work still to do,” Leighton said.