In January 2019, A Cloud Guru had just six salespeople on staff.
The open office layout — the same today as it was just over a year ago — was reflective of the team’s startup roots: no private offices, no doors to knock on. Walking around on the sales floor, it wasn’t even immediately apparent where leadership sat.
Today, that once-small sales team now clocks in at over 100. But, as team members at A Cloud Guru told Built In in early March, that hub of closeness and camaraderie so evident in the early days is still very much a part of the company.
“You have access to people,” said Sarah Ruebsamen, an account executive at the cloud software training company. “Everyone’s just so approachable and cooperative. That’s really important for innovation and getting things done.”
According to ACG, as the company tripled in size over the course of 2019, it also acquired one of its competitors and hit 1 million customers. In a quickly scaling environment where each new week brings with it a spate of new faces, how could anyone expect their ideas to be heard?
Kellie Crowthers, a senior customer success manager, explained that there are no issues with figuring out how to be heard because A Cloud Guru actively asks its team to problem-solve and build new processes.
“It’s really important to this company that people come in and make their mark,” Crowthers said. “No matter how much we’ve grown, that has absolutely stayed true. There is no stifling of ideas or individuality. Your ideas are very much welcomed and encouraged.”
Meet the team
What she does: “I work with our new business acquisitions to get them onboarded with A Cloud Guru, and I consult with clients that are looking for cloud training options or trying to increase training adoption.”
What she does: “My job is to make customers successful in training their employees. We’re making sure that customers are happy, that everything is going well and that A Cloud Guru is helping them transform their entire businesses.”
What he does: “I lead the business operations team. We support the business with data and insights, administer and enhance the tech stack, train and enable the staff, and partner with leadership on strategy and execution.”
A Cloud Guru has grown threefold in the last year. What has that been like on the ground floor?
VanGeest: It’s still crazy to me that in January of 2019, there were six people on A Cloud Guru’s sales team. This year, we ran a sales kickoff with 100 people in January. That’s not normal.
We built our hiring plans for all 100 people with a specific role, territory, and purpose in mind. It’s a very formulaic, numbers-based, data-driven approach to how and when we hire. I feel fortunate the business has allowed me to hire an amazing team to support those 100 people and make them successful. If you staff a business operations team only after you see a gap, you’re usually fixing a bunch of things. It’s a lot more fun to go create stuff than fix someone’s broken duct-tape process.
You’re not coming into a machine that’s been working for 20 years — you’re coming in to build things.”
Ruebsamen: When a sales team grows and scales that quickly, it can get competitive and negative because leads become sparse. Because we have a corner on the market and our product is so necessary, there is tons of interest. We’re all super supportive and collaborative. It’s been really cool to see that much growth — everything has changed every few weeks that I’ve been here. You’re not coming into a machine that’s been working for 20 years — you’re coming in to build things.
Crowthers: I was the first CSM that we had — I actually started before my boss! When my boss, Meg, started, we had a completely collaborative process of sitting down with clients, talking to them, reviewing calls and seeing what we could work on. It was a lot of building something from nothing.
Kellie, you mention “building something from nothing.” For each of you, what’s it like to build your team’s processes from scratch?
VanGeest: We aren’t reinventing the wheel by any stretch. We’re taking some pretty tried and true formulas that work really well and implementing them in a smart way at a small but fast-moving company.
I am a big believer in role specificity. Not only does it improve efficiency and results, but it also creates greater satisfaction across the team. You’ll find that in a lot of operations roles, people do many different things, which can mean they’re stretched too thin or can’t focus on the parts of the job they enjoy. By building out specific functions, you can really allow people that want to build beautiful reports to live in SQL all day, and let folks who love doing the Salesforce configuration and intake focus on that area.
Crowthers: When I first walked in, we had zero processes, so we focused on building an onboarding and welcoming process. It was a very collaborative effort by our team and the sales team to figure out what kind of information we needed to get and how we could all work together to make it a seamless process for our customers. Then, we iterated that model several times over. Now we’ve got decks, templates, timelines and more to help build a better system.
Ruebsamen: The alternative, in my mind, is working at a company where you’re just a cog in the machine: You go in, do your job and you’re replaceable. Here, you are called on to solve problems and to actually use your mind. Of course, challenges are hard — but I’d rather be here than at a job that’s just plug and play.
It sounds like there’s a fair amount of trial and error (and success) that happens when building out some of these teams and processes. What happens if an idea doesn’t work?
Crowthers: The most important thing about working here is speaking up. We want to hear your ideas. Even if they don't pan out, even if they end up failing, that’s OK. Then, afterward, we can ask ourselves: How did it fail? How can we learn from that failure? It’s really important to this company for people to make their mark, and to be able to say, “I came in and noticed that we needed something, so I helped fix it, I built a process and I collaborated with a couple of teams to make sure this was taken care of.”
Our leadership team isn’t pigheaded. We'll adapt to data and input quickly and make decisions.”
VanGeest: The first six months that I was on the job, we rolled out some pretty large scale changes for the sales organization. We ended up redoing it all again a couple of months later. You normally plan a full 12 months all at once, but based on some positive things that we’d seen as well as some feedback we received, we adapted quickly and changed course.
That’s one of the things I’m actually really proud of — our leadership team isn’t pigheaded. We’ll adapt to data and input quickly and make decisions. But we’re mindful of not making too much change happen all at once because that can be really disruptive.
With all of this growth and change in the past year, has this impacted you directly?
Ruebsamen: A ton. Kellie and I are actually both moving to London in a few months to start the growth process again over there. There are only eight people in the London office, so it will be the same trajectory of growth that we saw here in Austin. In general, the fact that we get so much freedom to learn and fail has helped me professionally because I’ve had to lean in and figure things out on my own.
The collaborative environment really helps build you up because other people are helping build you up, too.”
VanGeest: If you jump on the rocket ship, there’s always opportunity. We’ve been adding roles of various different types, so there’s a natural career progression. As you prove yourself in one role, there is the ability to move into a different role type on the team or progress to the next rung on the ladder.
Crowthers: I had several years of experience doing the same job at a different company, but the conversations and the work that I do now makes me feel like a completely different person. At A Cloud Guru, I was given the opportunity to speak up, have my ideas heard, have some of my ideas fail but then learn from them. The collaborative environment really helps build you up because other people are helping build you up, too. Those people encourage you to think outside of what’s previously been done.