572 Rachel Haley:
We can all make a plan … decide a strategy … create a financial model … game out contingencies …and all that is necessary to build a successful business, and at the end of the day, the only thing that matters is decisive flawless execution.
I’m Melinda Wittstock and today on Wings of Inspired Business we meet an inspiring entrepreneur who has scaled her team to 100 employees globally … and learned a lot along the way about what it takes to build and lead a team to flawless execution.
Rachel Haley is the co-founder of Clarus Designs, and recently at Snowflake as its Senior Director of Sales Operations and Strategy she helped the company grow from 300 people to over 2,000 and more than 10X its annual revenue.
Rachel has a successful background in finance and tech in the corporate sector – from Hall Capital Partners to Salesforce. The entrepreneur bug bit with Clarus Designs back in 2015, and today we talk team building and leadership, and much more.
Rachel will be here in a moment! First…
Rachel Haley says her core focus as an entrepreneur and former corporate executive is flawless execution: “I’d rather have a sub-optimal strategy with flawless execution,” she says, “as opposed to constantly shifting strategy to fit a particular box.”
Today Rachel shares all she’s learned – especially from the fail moments – along the way on her entrepreneurial journey. She started out at Hall Capital Partners, in the portfolio management, market analysis and financial modeling group, before moving on to Salesforce to work in the finance and strategy department.
In 2015, she Co-Founded Clarus Designs, which now has over 100 employees globally. The 100 hour work weeks took their toll, so Rachel took a break from her own company to join Snowflake as its Senior Director of Sales Operations and Strategy, where she helped the company grow from 300 people to over 2,000 and more than 10X its annual revenue.
Today we talk about the power and purpose of failure, how to crush it in sales, and how to attract and inspire a great team to success – all while avoiding burnout.
Let’s put on our wings with the inspiring Rachel Haley.
Melinda Wittstock: Rachel, welcome to Wings.
Rachel Haley: Thank you so much for having me. It’s great to be here.
Melinda Wittstock: You have such expertise over your career in building and scaling teams, and managing them to success. This is something we talk a lot about in this podcast. What’s your secret?
Rachel Haley: I wish I had just one answer for you, but to be honest, I’ve just failed so many times. I think if I could give you one answer in terms of scaling teams, it would be good communication. I think that’s the biggest thing that I’ve learned, is when everyone is on the same page and have really clear concise goals, you can get a lot accomplished.
Melinda Wittstock: I love that you mentioned the concept of failure because in my experience as an entrepreneur, all my biggest learning’s have come from failure and being willing to fail, and not take it personally. What were some of the earliest failures or lessons you learned along the way in terms of being able to really create a cohesive team?
Rachel Haley: So many. I would say there have been a couple. I worked as an entrepreneur with my current company, Clarus Designs, and then I was also in tech working for a larger organization, Snowflake, which just recently IPO’d. I would say I learned key lessons at both of those in terms of scaling a team. With Clarus Designs early on, I think trying to find the right person for the job at that moment versus where the company was going to be in six months was a big learning lesson. You’re at a very early stage in an organization, and you mentioned this with your current company, you’re going from five to 50 employees. That’s a massive scale.
So really, where people are today in their jobs today, they’re going to be drastically different a year from now. Keeping that in mind when you’re going through the hiring process as well as the structure of the team, is extremely integral to the success of scaling your overall operations because you want people to be set up for success. One of the big mistakes that we made at Snowflake with me, as well as at Clarus Designs, is we would hire people for the job that we had at that moment. We weren’t as proactive or forward-looking in terms of how is this job going to evolve in six months, or three months [crosstalk 00:03:01]-
Melinda Wittstock: Right, and the jobs and the needs evolve so quickly at that early stage because there’s more that you don’t know than you do. You have all these external issues, competitive issues, or the context of the market, what your customers actually want as opposed to what you think they want in all that product market fit stage. You got massive, massive growth. So much is swirling around you, so you’re hearing towards that North Star on your vision and yet you have all these other things around you that you can’t control, and knowing that those positions are going to change.
At that early stage, if you had to kind of go and do it again, how would you have done that differently?
Rachel Haley: Great question. I would hire people who are positioned well to become leaders in a very short amount of time. To say it more concisely, I would hire more senior members earlier on that are also interested in building a really great team. I think that oftentimes when you’re really small and you’re strapped for cash you…This also depends on your growth trajectory, but if you can afford to hire someone more senior, I think you should do more with less. It’s a very common pitfall that I’ve seen where people just want to hire someone junior because they have a list of tactical things that need to get done. It doesn’t make sense for the CEO or maybe the VP of Engineering, or anyone that has a technical background to do that.
So, they hire someone who has a less experience and is more tactical. Then that really… There’s like an undertow that comes really quickly, and then pretty soon you have a lot more work, a lot more strategic things that have to be accomplished, and you really are not well positioned for that because you have someone who’s more tactical and junior, and you need to hire a leader over them. So it creates this very odd scaling process, and it’s not very seamless. The strategy also will change continuously, which also is an ideal.
If I could do it over again, I would hire someone who has a little bit more experience, just bite the bullet and try to find that and pay for that, and really build something solid that’s a good foundation that can [inaudible 00:05:35] that this person will be able to hire a team underneath them later on. I think if you can hire leaders first, it’s usually a better outcome from my experience.
Melinda Wittstock: That’s music to my ears, because that is actually the strategy we’re taking with a lot of the kind of key people that we’re hiring right now at Podopolo, is really kind of understanding their potential as leaders and as managers, and their appetite to be flexible and really grow with the position. That’s actually a key part of our hiring process to actually understand that.
Rachel Haley: That’s fantastic.
Rachel Haley: How long have you implemented that strategy or been using that strategy? That’s [crosstalk 00:06:30]-
Melinda Wittstock: Quite recently, because when I was looking at our roadmap and I was looking at the milestones we needed to hit, and I was looking at actually the reality just on a spreadsheet and correlating that to, okay so what’s it going to take to achieve the results that we want? Who needs to be in position to deliver those results? How is that going to work? It became very clear to me, just looking at that, like near term/medium term/long term that we had to have people that were results-focused and just the obviousness of the scaling.
Rachel Haley: Yeah, no that’s great to hear because that’s something that I learned and digested in retrospect, but I haven’t been at that opportunity again at a five person small company and then implemented that strategy. So, it’s nice to hear that it’s actually working for another fast growing startup.
Melinda Wittstock: The other thing here too, is this is my fifth. Like you, I could go back in all my other companies and just list ad nauseam all the mistakes that I’ve made, and things that I’ve learned along the way. I think coming at it for a fifth time, and having been through this particular awkward moment before, their new insights and whatnot. I think it’s really vital to have really good advisors around you who’ve done it before as well, and constantly having their perspectives, and constantly masterminding, and learning, and all of that.
I think one of the biggest mistakes though, and I’m curious to your thoughts on this Rachel, is that a lot of people hire people to go do things rather than people to deliver results. One of the things that I’ve learned along the way is to say, “Well look, I don’t really care how you do them, as long as you’re in alignment with the vision and the mission of the company, and the core values of the company, but I’m not going to tell you how. Here’s what you’re on the hook for,” and even gearing our compensation to that so it’s focused on the result rather than just the doing.
Rachel Haley: Right. I see that as a mistake very often, especially with younger companies. Leaders have a very specific preference on the method in which certain things are accomplished, and it deviates oftentimes from achieving the results that were intended. Also, I think companies sometimes struggle with setting these key results, as you mentioned, or key company objectives, because there are so many things that they’re trying to get done in a year or in a quarter, or in half a year, and they all get listed and then things aren’t properly prioritized.
So, employees get sidetracked working on things that maybe aren’t as impactful, and then they’re not delivering the key results that the company would want. I think if revenue is your biggest goal, and I was like our goal is to get to $10 million in revenue, anything that’s not directly related to that goal shouldn’t be on the list. That’s really all we want to focus on this year. Then structure your teams accordingly so every single leader has a very clear objective that they’re trying to achieve. Just like you said, it doesn’t necessarily matter how that was built/is achieved, as long as it is.
Designing compensation along those lines is a shift that I’m seeing. I don’t think it’s always been that way. I think it’s because companies struggle to align on these key objectives for the organization in one year because there are so many priorities, there are so many competing priorities. But yes, to answer your question.
Melinda Wittstock: Oh gosh, I mean that one I know… We have a long list of all the features and all the functionality, and all the things that we want. But you have to be really ruthless at prioritizing those things. Otherwise, just people are drifting and they’re not necessarily focused on the things that are the most important. At this stage where you’re moving from startup to growth stage in that transition if you will, that the CEO role necessarily changes.
At the startup stage, you’re doing a lot it yourself. Then you have some helpers. Then all of a sudden, more and more, of my time is being spent on the hiring, on the systems, on making sure that the team is aligned on the prioritization, on the communication, on all those sorts of things. So, less doing, a lot more delegating. That’s a transition that can be hard for people to make.
Rachel Haley: Definitely. I see that a lot, and I would say definitely with women, and men too though, because sometimes with very technical founders I see this specifically. They’re so used to selling the product because they built the product. They want to go into the potential customer and explain exactly what they built, and how they built it, and how it works, and things of that nature. It’s just at some point you have to realize as the CEO or CTO, or the co-founder of this company, it’s really not in your best interest of time to be selling the product. You should hire a VP of Sales or a sales leader to do that for you, while you can continue to think about the roadmap and how the product scales and evolves.
I think it is a big shift because this is somewhat… It’s a very personal experience to build a company, as I’m sure you know. It’s very rewarding and gratifying, and you really want everything to go a specific way. This is the pitfall I often see women into, is “I have a specific vision of what I want it to look like, and how I want it to work. I want to do the things in the way that I have anticipated them working out, and I want to do it all on me.” It’s I think sometimes easier for women say, “I’ll just do it,” versus spending an hour now, or even 10 hours now, to explain it thoroughly to someone else, coach them, train them, develop that talent, and then delegate so you never have to do it again.
I personally really, really struggled with that in the early days of Clarus, and then I ended up just working 100 hours a week and nothing really scaled. We lost clients because of it, and it was a huge failure. So yes, that transition is a challenging one that a lot of people struggle with I’ve seen, and myself included.
Melinda Wittstock: I think almost startup founders struggle with that at some point. There was a study that the companies that survive and prosper, the founder has hired at least one person, likely more, within six months. And yet, a lot of female founders I think can fall into the mistake of hiring too late because they’re looking at hiring as an expense rather than as an investment.
What I mean by that is if the people you’re hiring, you’re hiring so that you can grow, and so for investing in a person… If you invest X dollars in this person’s salary, how much money is going to come into the company as a result of that investment? Actually thinking about it in just really simple, straightforward terms like that, and I’m surprised how many people don’t.
Rachel Haley: Right, I agree. I think it’s almost this more tactical thought process of, “Okay, I need to hire this person, their fully loaded cost is X and my revenue is Y, that means my profit margin is Z, and I don’t know if I can afford that, or if that works, if that makes sense. What can I do now so I don’t need to hire this person?” It’s a very short term mindset when you really need to be thinking long term like in one year or two years from now, do I want to be doing the same thing that I’m doing today? The answer should be, definitely not. It should definitely evolve, and you should be delegating continuously, and your role should be growing as a founder or a CEO.
Just as you mentioned, looking at hiring additional staff and personnel as an investment for the company, as well as giving you the opportunity to scale your role, is hugely valuable. I don’t think people think about it that way. I think they get caught up in more short term thinking unfortunately, and get stuck in that loop trying to make it work from a budget perspective.
Melinda Wittstock: Yeah, there’s a great exercise in a Four-Square, what are all the things that I do that only I can do that nobody else in the company can do in one square.
On another square, things I love to do that I’m talented at, and I’m really good at, but somebody else could actually do. Then another square which is things that I’m okay at. I don’t mind. I can do it. I’m competent. I’m good at it, but you know what, it doesn’t really make my heart sing. The last one being, oh my God, I will die if I have to do this, and I actually am really crap at it. Right?
Rachel Haley: Right.
Melinda Wittstock: Being able to really see your hires kind of in that context as well, as well as what the company needs to grow. I don’t know, I’m a big believer in doubling down on your strengths and hiring your weaknesses. That idea is counterintuitive for so many, because when we go to school even as young kids, we’re supposed to work harder at the things that we’re bad at. I think that’s just completely wrong.
Rachel Haley: I agree. That’s so interesting that you mentioned that exercise. When I worked at Snowflake, my boss, her name was Rhonda Larson, she had a very similar approach and strategy as you do in terms of we took the StrengthsFinders test and it was really interesting in terms of communication, execution, prioritization, leadership in general, and then which were your weaknesses. She was just, “If you are left handed, don’t try to write with your right hand,” [crosstalk 00:18:52].
When she put it that way I was like, “You’re right. Why would I try to get better at these things that I’m clearly terrible at?” I should just really invest in my strengths and hire for these weaknesses that I have, and make a very well rounded diverse team as I’m doing it.
Melinda Wittstock: To your earlier point of the fact that when you’re hiring at the early stages and those people are going to kind of grow, and change, and someone whose great at a role in year one may not be good at that anymore, or the company may not need that anymore. So, constantly evaluating this I think is really important as well. You mentioned something a little while back in our conversation about at one point working 100 hours a week. Oh my God, I’m sorry, I’ve been there too.
I know so many female entrepreneurs who’ve really burnt out doing that by their 40s or certainly into their 50s. Their hormones are shot. They have nothing left in the tank, or they have immune issues, or things like that. Our health is vital to our success as entrepreneurs as well. So what was that moment where you’re like, “Oh my God, I can’t do this anymore”? Was there some sort of wake up call in terms of health, or just how you were feeling?
Rachel Haley: Yes. I am very glad you asked that because I actually haven’t really discussed that on a podcast yet, so I’m excited I get to do that because I think it’s so imperative to realize that your health is the most valuable asset that you have. Without your health, you don’t have much. I did have a huge wake up call. Actually, this time last year, or November 2019, so a little over a year ago, I was working for Snowflake. I wasn’t working on my own business, but similar.
I was working so many hours, 90-100 hours a week, and just really working myself into the ground. This was more self-inflicted, by the way. This is just sort of, as a traditional perfectionist, wanting to really pour myself into everything. I got really, really sick. I came down with vertigo, and it was stress-induced vertigo. What vertigo is, is basically there’s an imbalance in the crystals in your ear, and so your center of gravity and your sense of balance is thrown off. So, you always just feel like you’re dizzy and on a ship, and there’s really nothing you can do. You just have to wait for the crystals to reorient themselves in your ear canal.
This lasted for maybe 13 weeks, and it just wasn’t getting better. It got worse, and worse, and worse, and I had to go to a variety of different specialists. I even went to a neurologist. They thought I had brain cancer at one point. They thought it was really, really serious [crosstalk 00:22:10]-
Melinda Wittstock: Oh my goodness.
Rachel Haley: Yeah, I actually had to take a medical leave of absence for a period of time. I remember my doctor, I’ll never forget, it was like January 2020. She looked at me and was like, “You need to just stop doing whatever stressful work you’re doing now. If you don’t, you will not get better.” I just remember this very direct look in her eyes. She was like, “I don’t care what it is you think you’re accomplishing. You’re going to really, really, really harm yourself if you continue to put yourself under this much stress and pressure.”
It was just a huge wake up call because I was like, wow my hair is falling out, I can’t drive, I can’t sit up in the morning, I can’t keep food down. It was a very, very, very scary health experience for me. I realized nothing in life is worth it. On top of that, what you realize I think as you go through those bouts of working crazy hours and then coming back and working maybe a more normal work week, is you actually experience severe diminishing marginal returns when you’re putting in that kind of work. I would say that it’s actually better to only allow yourself to work a certain number of hours a week, and then force yourself to take a break and recharge because that’s when your body and your mind can really digest everything that’s happened in the last X number of days, and you can synthesize it and you can take a different perspective on new problems or old problems that you’re trying to solve.
You have a different approach and a fresh approach when you start the new work week. If you don’t do that, it’s just you continuously fall into this pit of trying to just keep your head above water. In my experience, I’ve seen that your work quality actually diminishes. So, it’s actually more important to force yourself to have those breaks, or you’re setting yourself up for failure.
Melinda Wittstock: Rachel, first of all, I am sorry that you went through that, but it’s so important that you shared it. So, thank you for that because I know so many women who’ve gone through this and it would be nice if it didn’t take that kind of suffering sort of wake up call for all of us. I’ve had similar sort of things, and it had to get really bad for me to realize that I had to change the way I work. I finally landed now in a place where I work less to achieve more.
If you say, “Okay, I’m not going to be a human doing anymore. I am actually a human being, and I want to actually enjoy the journey.” It’s not just about the destination, it’s actually having fun along the way. Otherwise, why are we entrepreneurs to begin with, right?
Rachel Haley: Exactly.
Melinda Wittstock: Getting very, very clear on like what kind of life we want to lead, Especially when you calendarize it. I started to put self care in my calendar, meditation in my calendar so I would actually do it. The more that became just a habit, and it’s just the way I am now, the more it forced me to really look for areas in my work day rather than having a “To Do” list, it became more like an inspiration list, the inspiration being okay what’s the one thing, if I only did one thing today, what would the one thing be that would have the most leverage? In other words, one thing that had a multiplicity of outcomes. That now has become more and more habitual or even instinctive.
It’s just a different way of doing it, and I find that I’m much more productive and I have time for exactly those gaps I guess that you’re talking about where the realization that my best ideas, my best thinking about the business comes when I’m not working. I could be in the shower. I could be walking my dog. I am anywhere else but at a computer.
Rachel Haley: Exactly. I think that’s so fantastic that you’ve been able to really integrate it into your every day to the point where it comes second nature, and it’s your calendar that’s when I think you’ve really mastered it because it’s no longer a chore or a thing that you feel guilty about like, “Ugh, I should have done this. I should take time to do this.” It’s like, no this is just part of your everyday schedule. I think that the thing that you mentioned around creating a goal a day, or a week, or a month, or whatever time period it is that, “What is the one thing that I could do in this designated time period that creates the most leverage?”
I’m so happy to hear you say that because I started doing that about three months ago when I realized I was getting into the rat race again. I was like, “Oh my goodness, I just feel like my days are do-do-do-do tactical, and I’m not above the trees really looking at the forest.” I found that to be so effective, if I just really think through my week and say, “If I did one thing this week that had the biggest leverage, or what would be the biggest impact for Clarus? Let me just get that done and I don’t care what else has to be pushed.” Let’s make sure that that gets accomplished while maintaining these blocks of time for long runs, or yoga, or meditation, or things that’s similar to what you do. I just found it so effective. So, it’s great to hear you do that as well.
Melinda Wittstock: Yeah, and it’s been a process for me. I think it’s gradual because you set these kind of intentions, and it’s easy to fall back into it. You got to be able to forgive yourself. Because changing a habit or changing behavior, it takes time to do it.
I think what happens to all of us as women especially, is because we’ve been so acculturated to put other people’s needs in front of our own that we think that we have to do everything, make everybody else happy so the person that we can often sacrifice is ourselves, like our own healthcare, or our own wellbeing, our time for ourselves, quiet time for ourselves. All these sorts of things.
It requires a kind of mindset shift I guess, to be able to accept that no, you’re not being selfish. You’re not being a bad person by putting yourself first. [crosstalk 00:29:22] Especially as the CEO of the company because it wouldn’t exist but for you.
Rachel Haley: Exactly. You’re actually doing everyone else a favor, which is counterintuitive to where I think what you mentioned, a lot of women have been conditioned to believe that if you can really take care of yourself first, and you feel as though you have a full cup, you actually can be more present and give more to others. It allows you to really help others in a more impactful way. That’s what I’ve seen for myself at least.
Melinda Wittstock: Absolutely, right. I even think putting friendships or mentorships with other women, like prioritizing that, that’s been something that I’ve really… In a lot of ways, I use this podcast to do that for myself. I think one of the things that’s been a real challenge during the pandemic is that entrepreneurs I think have never been busier because there’re all kinds of other things that were in our calendar that aren’t there anymore, so it’s really easy to fill that with work.
Rachel Haley: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Melinda Wittstock: As an introvert, I’m exhausted by all those Zoom calls. They’re more tiring to me than meeting people in person, but the whole business kind of runs that way now. So, by the end of the day, you don’t really feel like reaching out to a friend, or having a ‘wee chat’ on the phone because you’ve been on the Zoom all day. So, trying to figure out how to prioritize those relationships, particularly with other women who get you, like their other entrepreneurs so they’re going through a lot of the same things, I found that I was much better at that pre-pandemic than I am during the pandemic. I’m trying to figure out why, but it’s so important that we have the support of other women.
I’m curious about your experience in that, because just before we were talking in the Green Room a little bit about this, that Women easily are quite isolated, particularly in finance and in tech. There aren’t necessarily a lot of other women around, even in the same room.
What’s your experience been? I want you to share a little bit about what we were talking about earlier before we started recording.
Rachel Haley: Absolutely. I think that one of the things I’ve seen in the last five years in technology, and even today, is there aren’t as many women leaders as there are men. There’s definitely a gender imbalance. I think it is shifting, which is the good news. However, there is an imbalance. In my experience in the companies that I’ve worked with, or even in business deals with Clarus Designs, I’m generally the youngest person in the room and I’m most often the only female in the room as well. You have to be really particular about how you communicate and how you present yourself, because you are a minority in a sense.
I think one of the things that I noticed a few years ago that I think is changing, is that women became very competitive, or were very competitive with each other, and it was unfortunate because we I think are stronger as a group. What I would hear is women cutting down other women, and also funneling a lot of energy and negativity into how this imbalance exists, and it shouldn’t exist, and it’s unfair that it exists, and we shouldn’t have it that way as opposed to taking an opposite approach and being really strong advocates for one another, building each other up, taking time to mentor and coach, or network with one another as well as thinking “How can we provide the biggest impact to this organization? What can we do together? What can I do individually to make this a better organization?”
I think if we all took that approach and we became a unified front, we’d see this gender imbalance even out very, very shortly. I think that’s my perspective, because so much energy has been funneled into this scarcity mentality or a negative perspective, and it isn’t serving anyone. It creates this level of competition I don’t think is necessary. If we can become connected and have a cohesive front, and really work with each other, I think that that would be so much more impactful for us as females and female leaders, as well as the organizations for which we’re working.
That’s my perspective on it, and I also try to as best as I can prioritize relationships with my previous bosses who are women, trying to get coffee with them when I can. I guess now it’s not as possible at having virtual chats. Sending them long emails, checking in, seeing how they’re doing, recommending people in my network for positions when they come across my desk of someone I think would be a good fit for a particular role. I always try to recommend female colleagues of mine to just continue that cohesivity. I think it’s really important that we work together and leverage one another, so we can be stronger together.
Melinda Wittstock: I absolutely agree, hence the hashtag, #LiftAsWeClimb.
Rachel Haley: Right.
Melinda Wittstock: You know, one of the things, a muscle to exercise, and this is of course is true in the hiring context we were talking about earlier, is to be able to ask for help, but also being able to actually receive it. We’re so good at giving, but we’re really not great at receiving.
Rachel Haley: I know, we aren’t. Why do you think that is? [crosstalk 00:35:28].
Melinda Wittstock: I really don’t know.
Rachel Haley: I agree with that.
Melinda Wittstock: I wonder whether it’s just some deep subconscious thing that we sort of don’t think we’re enough. The same thing that makes women be perfectionists, is just this constant drive to prove that we’re worthy. I think that’s at the root of it. You don’t receive something if you don’t feel you’re worthy of it, right?
Rachel Haley: Exactly. That’s interesting. Thank you for that. I would agree with that. I think that you’ve cracked the code there, that there’s this lack of feeling that we are not good enough, so it’s hard to ask for the help and then actually receive it when it’s given.
Melinda Wittstock: It’s so true. My way of doing this was launching the podcast, because I just thought, okay I don’t see enough of this around, so I’m just going to start doing it. I’m just going to start promoting other women’s businesses through the podcast.
So, just enough of us really being prepared to do that, give forward, and it does start to change things. Things have started to shift, and I think as women have more opportunity, as women succeed more, there’s less of that feeling of scarcity and more of an abundance. We can all succeed. There’s room for everybody. We’re all different. We’re all doing different things, so we can all help each other to do better. That’s really, really critical.
Before we go, because I could talk to you for hours, this is a great conversation by the way-
Rachel Haley: Likewise. I don’t want to have to go.
Melinda Wittstock: Because you’re an expert in sales and scaling sales teams, I wanted to make sure that we didn’t forget to really talk about that, because that’s so, so important. Building Snowflake’s sales team, what you had like 300 employees to 2,000 employees, 10Xing the revenue, all these amazing accomplishments. What are some of the mistakes that you see that sales executives make, or what are some of the common pitfalls in building a sales team? What’s your advice around that?
Rachel Haley: Sure, I have a slightly biased perspective given my background. I would say at Snowflake, yes, when I started there in October 2017, there were only 10 account executives. Then when I left there, over 450 in March 2020. So, I think a common pitfall that… Chris Degnan, the CRO of Snowflake, and I talked about when I was there is, he wishes he would have invested more into sales operations and the operations behind scaling the sales team much earlier.
Having a data-driven approach in today’s landscape is extremely valuable. In addition to the things we mentioned earlier about hiring leaders early on, making sure that the people that you bring in for the job are good for the job today but can scale with it at the pace that the company is scaling, so is this person going to be best suited for this job in 18 months? Will they be able to grow and get there? I think that was extra critical at Snowflake given the pace at which they were growing. More specifically, we were not as well structured from an operational perspective to really support and help the sales team growth for a significant amount of time, and then once we did have that support we were sort of playing catch up.
So, once we did have the budget and the resources, and the backing from the executive team to really invest in operations, we were somewhat a step behind. So, I think if we could redo it, we would have hired the senior people in sales op sooner. We would have done more with less. So, we also had more junior hires that we bought in. So, we bring in more senior people and build out the foundation of the systems, the processes, the technology, the overall strategy even if we didn’t need it at that point to have a really good foundation so that once the company really started to scale, we had all the processes, the data, the reporting and the information in place.
It’s a lot easier to restructure that at a smaller size than it is when you’re a much larger company. Then as you grow, you have these data points that you can use to provide insight into how the company is actually growing, and what’s working well and what isn’t. We were playing catch up for a bit, and I think that’s a really critical piece of advice I’d give to sales leaders, is to invest in operations as early as you can. It will really help you once you’re a bigger company, and you need data to drive really key insights on how to direct your business.
Melinda Wittstock: Oh gosh, I’m so relieved to hear you say that. That’s such good advice. Actually, that’s what we’ve opted to do. Initially, we were thinking, okay we’re going to get a lot of junior sales people, and just bring the revenue, whatever. We’ll do that, but we’re really focused right now on hiring our CRO, which is a vital position for the company.
Rachel Haley: Fantastic.
Melinda Wittstock: We don’t want to silo marketing and sales. We want them to be really aligned, and also customer success. So, through that whole journey from the first point they hear the name Podopolo, the customer journey, and through the customer success … thinking about it really holistically.
Rachel Haley: Oh, great. Great. [crosstalk 00:42:06]. I’m excited for you.
Melinda Wittstock: Rachel as we wrap up, I’d love for you to share your vision for where you’re taking your company and what’s next for you. Where do you see yourself going like five years, 10 years?
Rachel Haley: Fantastic. For Clarus, we are building out a product which I’m really excited about. Historically in the last five years, Clarus Designs has always been a services company. We offer sales operations consulting for small startups as well as outsourcing services. So, small tactical tasks that you don’t want your in-house team doing, we take that on for you and do it overseas.
We’re also building a product that helps integrate those services, that’s built directly on the Salesforce.com platform. We’ve been in beta all of 2020. We’re hoping to be GA in March of this year. I’d really like us to get to $1 million in sales, which is a pretty big goal, by next year. Then if we could get to $10 million or $15 million in sales within the next five years, that is the goal for the company. So, actually building out a tech company of my own is where Clarus is going, and I’m really excited for what we’re building.
Melinda Wittstock: Oh, that’s wonderful. I’m so excited for you. You’ve got to come back on the podcast a little later on this year, because there’s so much more to talk about. I’ve really enjoyed this conversation. I want to make sure that people can find you and work with you, anyone listening to this that needs help with their sales operations or whatever. Rachel, what’s the best way?
Rachel Haley: Thank you. If you go to www.ClarusDesigns.com, there’s a contact us page. You can just fill out exactly what you’re looking for, and one of our team members will get back to you within 24 hours, and you can set up a conversation and see if we can help you scale.
Melinda Wittstock: Fantastic. Thank you so much for putting on your wings. Sorry, I got to say that again. Thank you so much for putting on your wings and flying with us, Rachel.
Rachel Haley: Thank you so much for having me. This has been an absolute pleasure. I really appreciate it.
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