Meet the CEO of a Salesforce DevOps $1B Unicorn [Interview]
Earlier this year I had the pleasure of talking with Copado CEO, Ted Elliott. Having recently achieved the much-coveted ‘unicorn’ status, it’s a very exciting time for Copado, which is going from strength to strength in the DevOps space.
Ted shared fascinating insights about his life before and during Copado, as well as his focus for the future. I’ve highlighted some of my favorite parts of our meeting below. Ted was extremely generous with his time – you can watch the full interview below or via our YouTube channel.
The Start of Your Journey
Ben: I’d like to start with Jobscience. For those who don’t know, Jobscience was a recruitment app built on Salesforce, founded in 1999.
Ted: It was, and we made the pivot to Salesforce in 2010. We started to try in 2007 when Multi‑cloud was first released, which was the original AppExchange. Some people have called me the ‘uncle of the AppExchange’. I’ve been messing around with Salesforce for at least 15 or 16 years.
Ben: What made you place your bets on Salesforce as a platform? What was so exciting about it back in 2007?
Ted: Frustration is the main driver. It’s funny that what I’m doing today actually ties back to the reason I moved Jobscience onto the Salesforce platform. I’d been at a hospital giving a pitch about our recruitment software system. I used to carry a pager around – every time the servers were about to go down, it would notify me so that I could quickly scramble.
So, I’m in the middle of this pitch with 50 people in the room, and all of a sudden I feel my heart murmuring.
Am I having a heart attack or is my pager going off?
It was my pager going off, telling me that all the servers were going down that we were hosting to deliver the original Jobscience. Honestly, it was embarrassing.
I kept saying, why don’t we stick with PowerPoint slides before we go to the live demo? After that I drove back to my house and thought that maybe I should go back to being an attorney because it had to be more fun to sue people than doing a presentation like that!
I really thought it through; what was going on? Why were we failing? Why were our servers going down? In reality, we were in way over our heads, we didn’t have the infrastructure in place, we were in old data centers with redundant servers, it was really expensive, and we had developers who were out of control.
So there was frustration that things were breaking, that we were up all night during release days, and that we had control of nothing. Ultimately, there was a better way to deliver innovation. And that was the pivot – it was a tough pivot because a lot of people thought I was crazy.
What do you mean you’re going to rebuild your software on a CRM?
Back then it wasn’t considered a platform. But it turned out to be a tremendous advantage in the field because no one ever sees you coming if they don’t take you seriously. So I think it was a great decision. It’s been a great journey – it’s been a lot of fun and I met a lot of really smart people.
How Has the Salesforce ISV Ecosystem Changed?
Ben: You’ve been in the Salesforce ecosystem for a long time and seen the evolution of the platform. How has the ecosystem and your view of the platform changed since you were first introduced?
Ted: I think in the early days it was really about proving it was a platform. It was about proving that you could do financials or recruiting or that you could use this as a platform – that was the first five years. Then you had a second generation of partners who said, we’re going to go out and accelerate development on Salesforce, or bring in more sophisticated enterprise business people, not early movers.
So you had that first generation of partners that’s proving it, then the second generation of more sophisticated business people. And now I think we’re in a third generation, which is more about what we are doing to determine how we can enhance Salesforce. That’s why the DevOps stuff is really kicking off.
For the most part, I think people want the AppExchange to provide them with components as opposed to solutions. They want the components to build their version of how they want to do things – to ultimately own their solution. The CIO does not want to innovate – doesn’t want to build all the components – but they want to put the components together to fit their business model and fit what they’re trying to do, and they want it to be reliable.
That’s quite an evolution. It’s the ‘stickiness’ of Salesforce. There’s no difference between Salesforce and any other CRM product or support product without that ability to innovate.
We’re at this period where people want digital transformation, but they want to do it in a way that’s not going to fail on them. And because we have a shortage of people to actually do the work of development, they need to have interchangeable parts so that they’re not relying on one craftsman who builds a special tool – the only person who knows how it works. I think that’s kind of where we are right now in the evolution of the AppExchange. And clearly COVID has proved that you can move a lot faster and get stuff done with the Salesforce platform.
There’s another interesting thing going on with the ten other clouds in the Salesforce ecosystem. For the first time there’s a recognition at SAP, Oracle, and Microsoft – they have to connect to Salesforce. And that really shifts the question to: Is Salesforce going to build the best-of-breed products or connect to the best-of-breed products?
I think it’s going to change how we look at Salesforce as a platform and how we support it and how people use it, because it’s no longer a sideshow – it’s the main stage. And things are interconnecting to it – that really affects how people working in the Salesforce ecosystem should look at their career. It’s not just about knowing how Salesforce works. It’s about thinking about how Salesforce works with the ecosystem and all the other applications out there.
I think most people believe in Salesforce because they believe in the ecosystem – they believe in the idea of what Salesforce is capable of. It’s really not about any individual. It’s about doing something bigger than you thought you could do when you woke up in the morning.
What Excites You for the Future?
Ben: What are you excited for going forward? In the world of digital HQs, is Slack something that Copado has bought into?
Ted: I think Slack is really interesting because I’m a big Chatter fan, so it’s been very hard for me. I’m realizing I’m starting to get old – I have to learn something new! But we’ve leaned in big time on Slack. We think it may be the interface that allows us to attract users who don’t know Salesforce but want to become part of the Salesforce culture.
We acquired a company called New Context that does security and they like the concept of us taking the tooling that we built on Salesforce and making Slack the user interface for that technology. So how can we lean in on Slack as a system of access and then tie functionality to that interface?
I think Slack is a big deal for Salesforce. It will take us a couple of years to figure out how it’s going to play out. One of the benefits of Slack compared to something like Roku, is that there is a ton of Salesforce culture already built into it. A lot of people who work there have worked at Salesforce before – they’re already kind of indoctrinated into the culture.
Ben: I’m looking forward to seeing some of the tighter integrations, but I think it’s going to get a lot of people that use Slack, but don’t know Salesforce, into the ecosystem.
Ted: Ultimately Slack is a great standalone product. How do they integrate it into Salesforce to make both of them stronger? And how do you unwind Chatter and how do you own Chatter within communities? Follow Trailhead, follow communities, and see when Slack becomes mainstream. That is when the sea change will occur because that’s by far the largest community of users that Salesforce has to speak to – their own community.
What’s really interesting about Slack is this ability to create close captioned communication channels. As we want ways to be able to talk to only the people we want to talk to, the ability to almost have an enterprise permission-based system of who can communicate to you and who can’t, is really fascinating. But it’s a ten‑year evolution, not a two-year evolution. It’s going to be a while.
Making Release Days Obsolete
Ben: I remember speaking to Phil, one of the co‑founders of Copado – he was talking about making release days obsolete to help people spend more time with their families, which I thought was such a great angle. How have you seen this goal develop since you’ve been at Copado?
Ted: I didn’t get it at first when Phil and Feder (Copado co-founders) brought these billboards around San Francisco that said, I got to go home for dinner on Release Day. I was thinking, no one gets to go home on release days! Are you kidding?
That’s what we’re all about. This is probably the most rewarding part of being here – the problem that I used to have with my pager going off, with countless nights of being at the office with the team, and now seeing how we’re changing, and how people perceive themselves. I had never been in a company where people want to come to the booth and get their picture with the team. And that led to fewer divorces because people were getting to go home for dinner, be with their family, and not come home angry or feeling that they weren’t valuable.
It comes down to this, we’re dealing with a whole group of people who are the first domino to hold up the wall. And no one tells them you’re doing a great job or you’re valuable, or we understand all the work you did to make this happen. Giving them the ability to have just a little more control over their lives and have things not break is really the pain point we’re solving. So that’s what gets me up in the morning because I don’t want anyone else to have to suffer through the pain of releasing days.
When you think about DevOps, there are over 2.1 million people who identify on LinkedIn that they are in the Salesforce ecosystem doing some type of development. If you then think about the number of people they’re impacting and the number of people they’re impacting, if you have an impact on that group of people, you’re contributing! You’re doing something that is much bigger than money. Money is only a measure of success, but success is doing something to help other people.
That’s what gets me really excited about what we’re doing. Honestly, the reason we got into the testing business is that we’ve realized, once you fix the pipeline in the process, if you know what breaks before it breaks, you’re out of trouble.
We’re opening up the world to a much wider audience – the people that participate in the development process. And they’re going to need tools to allow them to stand up. That’s the game changer.
How many hours and days and weeks have you lost in your life because of monotonous nonsense? To me, it’s about the economic impact or the human capital impact. I always bring it back to people. If things are going well for you, you’re usually nice to people around you because you’re happy and it has this whole sort of a proliferation of positivity. We’re not here to suffer – that’s the big thing. There’s no reason we should suffer.
How Has Copado’s Culture Grown?
Ben: Copado has had quite a few funding rounds. Now you’re a ‘unicorn’ – congratulations!
Ted: A ‘llamacorn’ because our mascot is a llama!
Ben: From what I’ve heard in the ecosystem, Copado has a very cool culture – people really enjoy working there. But obviously you’ve scaled massively with the funding and the need for DevOps. How have you managed to keep that startup family feel, even though you’re growing?
Ted: I’ve been lucky enough to have the resources to hire really great people – if you want to be in a great culture, you have to hire great people. Our guy who does recruitment says, we need to get an unfair share of the talent pool. And I think we’ve been really successful at getting our unfair share of the pool.
We also have our ‘Copa value system’. Customer success comes first. We do it not because we are pious, but because we’re pigs! It means that if we deliver to you what we said we would deliver and you’re successful, we know that you’re going to come back and buy more from us.
There’s a concept of over‑delivery. Not everyone’s born with the over‑delivery gene – some people will just give you what you asked for and that’s it. They’re not good for Copado. We need people who want to go that extra mile.
Next is people, which is really about the ecosystem. All the employees, partners, and tens of thousands of people trained on Copado, the puzzle of all the pieces coming together – that’s a big deal.
Our next value is always building trust. Trust is this idea of honorability – this idea that I might be able to tell you something you don’t want to hear, and I’m going to trust you to make a decision about what to do with it, which may not be the decision I’d want. But if you don’t try, that’s when trust breaks down. I think the biggest challenge as you’re scaling is maintaining that trust. And ultimately, you have to listen.
The last value we call do. There are three types of decisions. There are good decisions, which we forget very quickly. There are bad decisions, which we have to fix very quickly. But indecision will kill us.
These values are baked into what we’re doing. I think that’s how you keep people together – a common cause, common purpose, and common values. And it’s worked so far.
Advice for People Undergoing Battles
Ben: My next question is about your illness – I hope you don’t mind me asking. I read an interview and you posted a lot of content online about your battle with cancer. My family has been through a similar thing, and over the past two years, a lot of people have been going through similar personal battles. I think the pandemic has also made us a lot more empathetic.
You were scaling Copado to a ‘unicorn’ while you were battling cancer – that’s an incredible feat. What advice would you have for anyone undergoing any battles, similar to yours or any other personal battles with themselves or with their families, to get through that struggle?
Ted: My biggest regret was that I probably had had cancer for a year or so, and I didn’t think anything was wrong with me because I was 47 years old – nothing should be wrong. Then I had a colonoscopy and when I woke up, the doctor said I should get my affairs in order.
I went to the company board and said, Hey, I’ve only been here for three or four months. If you guys want to pass me out and get someone else, I might not be here in six months. But honestly, I think I will be here because I’m a fighter, I’m a survivor.
So they said, keep going. I asked myself, what can you control or at least trick yourself into believing you can control? You certainly can’t control a tumor inside you. But you can control how many people you’re going to hire. So how quickly are we going to move? What ideas can we execute? Are we going to be focused? What if this is it? How do I maximize my time? And it kept me super focused.
It forced me to hire really great people. When you think you might die, you actually have to rely on people because you might not be here. That was a game changer for me. Instead of thinking that Ted Elliott was the center of the universe and Ted Elliott was going to make it happen, I realized that Ted Elliott’s a two‑bit player in this story who just happens to move the pieces long. That’s what Ted’s job is – to keep the assembly line moving and keep everybody going in the right direction.
I like to walk with my dog every day, or I’ll walk by myself and look up at the sky and breathe in the air and think, hey, it’s a great day. That’s a gift. It’s another one of the luxuries that I didn’t understand was a luxury being bestowed on me. I am on ‘bonus time’, and I hope I get a lot of bonus time, but if I don’t, I’m at peace with that.
What I want people to know when they’re sick or down, is there are other people in the same situation – you’re not alone. If you’re a male who’s in your forties or thirties and there’s something coming out of you that looks strange, go to the doctor and get a colonoscopy, please don’t put it off. As men, we’re very uncomfortable as men with our bodies and we’re proud. But when something’s wrong, you need to go see a doctor – take it from me. We’re all going to get something at some point, so play on. What’s the British phrase – ‘crack on’. It’s all about just cracking on, making the most of it and enjoying it. Enjoy what you have.
Habits for Keeping Focussed
Ben: Do you have any habits, hacks, or anything that you do to start the day to keep you focused and motivated?
Ted: I usually read the Wall Street Journal on my iPhone, then I like to get on a dog walk and put on a podcast. I don’t know if you’ve ever listened to Masters of Scale – Reid Hoffman’s podcast. It’s a great one. So my advice is to listen to some content, get some fresh air and get out on a walk. I love walking.
Ben: Me too. I work from home now, so my routine is: get up, go for a walk around the park, get a coffee. As soon as I’m back, I’m energized and ready to start the day.
Advice for Salesforce Entrepreneurs
Ben: I’d love to know, as a successful serial entrepreneur, do you have any words of wisdom for any budding entrepreneurs about to start their journey?
Ted: I would get this book called Silicon Valley Way from Amazon, and I would read the appendix. Don’t ignore venture capitalists – you don’t have to take their money, but don’t ignore them because they’re the first ‘sanity test’ for your idea. Any time no one can understand your idea except for you, you’re in big trouble. When you have to explain to people that if only they had your experience, they would understand what the problem is… you’ve got a problem.
You have to be able to make your problems something that people can widely understand or you need to go back to the drawing board. If you’re so in love with your idea but no one gets it, it’s like having a bucket of water in the desert with no people. It may be very valuable, but no one will ever know it’s out in the middle of the desert – no one’s coming to it.
You have to be brutally honest with yourself when you’re an entrepreneur, and then you also need to be in complete denial of reality. I think it’s a combination – you have to be irrational and then completely rational at the same time, which is why most people will think you’re crazy. But the big thing is listening to the feedback people give you. It doesn’t mean they’re right, but it’s something you need to incorporate into what you’re doing. Because if you spend a year or two building something that no one understands, and that gets no traction from customers, you’re wasting your time.
Time is our most valuable asset, not money. If you love what you’re doing and it’s your personal mission to do something that only you understand, go for it! Just don’t expect people to want to invest millions of dollars.
Thank you to Ted for sharing his invaluable insights – it was a pleasure speaking with him and I look forward to hearing more about Copado’s journey in the future.