Ken Jarvis, Patrick Evans, Bruce Maclaren and Steven Sidley’s names are almost as recognisable as that of the brand they’re bring to the local market – Salesforce.com. Jarvis (ex-SARS), Evans (ex-Symantec), Maclaren (ex- but still sort of Nedbank CIO) and Sidley (ex-Anglo American CTO) have teamed up with Quinton Pienaar (ex-Mix Telematics CIO) in a plot to take over the software world. Or something very like it.
As Mix CIO, Pienaar had been involved in the largest Salesforce.com implementation in South Africa to date. This involvement gave him an idea. He approached Jarvis, saying he was thinking of opening a local Salesforce.com offi ce in South Africa. Jarvis was keen, and Maclaren, Sidley and Evans were soon willingly roped in too.
Salesforce.com has over 1 000 customers in South Africa and several implementation partners. Agilitude, named for Pienaar’s agility and the rest of the group’s attitude, jokes Evans, is the first reseller in the country and, in fact, on the continent.
Having physically met in the same room for the first time on 12 January, Agilitude was launched on 24 May. That’s fast moving for a bunch of grey-beards (plus Pienaar). Pienaar has been appointed CEO, as he’s the youngest and (allegedly) the most energetic, says Maclaren. Evans is heading up sales, Sidley is in charge of technology, and Maclaren is chair. At this stage, only Pienaar and Evans are involved full-time, but Maclaren says he’s spending at least half his day on the company and by all indications all of them are going to be committing a lot more time, quite soon.
Salesforce.com is best known as a cloud-based provider of CRM solutions to the SME market. It has grown, since it was founded in 1999, to a $3-billion company with nearly 10 000 employees, some 100 000 customers and over two million subscribers. It was the first enterprise cloud computing company to hit annual revenues of $1 billion, back in 2009. Thanks to a string of acquisitions, the company now offers service and support, marketing, IM and sales performance solutions, plus an application platform.
Says Evans: “Software will be the single differentiator in business in the future. Salesforce.com addresses the front office, where traditional enterprise software has addressed the back office. Front office drives revenue, marketshare, gross profit.”
For customers, says Pienaar, the Salesforce platform lets you innovate faster because you know the plumbing works and you can innovate on top of that platform. “The innovation cycle today can be a matter of hours,” he says.
“When Pienaar first approached me and said, ‘Let’s open a Salesforce.com reseller’, my first thought was that Salesforce.com is for SMEs. Once I started investigating, I realised that more and more companies are moving to Salesforce.com because traditional CRM hasn’t delivered,” says Jarvis.
Feet on the groundThat Salesforce.com is succeeding here where others have failed is partly to do with its psychology, says Evans. And as Silicon Valley-based high technical consultant Geoffrey Moore notes, sales people are not people who can run to a process or shoehorn into a CRM system.
“In my previous experience at another company, said organisation had a CRM system that no one used, and that was replaced with Salesforce.com. The sales team used it because it added enough value that we were willing to work with the process, and we could use it on our mobiles,” says Evans.
Additionally, as Sidley points out, that traditional barrier to cloud services in South Africa is finally falling away. “We all know there’s been little cloud deployment because the perception is that we don’t have the pipes that they do overseas. That has now tipped thanks to the number of undersea cables landing here, plus the fibre being rolled out. The throttle on the cloud is disappearing and there’s no reason why you can’t deliver an efficient, responsive cloud service.”
The greybeards plus Pienaar comprise Agilitude’s board. The company is 100 percent committed to Salesforce.com, says Jarvis. So far, adds Pienaar, it has four full-time employees and is actively recruiting. It expects to scale up operations rapidly in the next six to eight weeks and will be leveraging its access to resources through a strategic partnership with a company in Israel called Blat-lapidot, a Salesforce.com consultancy and implementation company, as well as a consultancy called Tequila in the UK.
“When I was implementing the Salesforce.com project at Mix, Salesforce.com said to us that no one in South Africa could run a project of that complexity, so we were introduced to Tequila in the UK,” says Pienaar.
Tequila is a rapidly growing consultancy, which had 75 employees last October when Pienaar visited, and had 167 by May. Agilitude has partnered with Tequila and has access to further consultants there.
“We thought we were going to start a nice little business and in the ten days since launch [at the time of interviewing in early June], it’s exploded,” says Sidley, “and it’s exploded in the nicest possible fashion – from being a business we could run and make a bit of money out of, to a company that could be one of the largest software companies in South Africa.”
“It’s been the easiest sales job I’ve ever had,” comments Evans.
All of them say that phones have been ringing off the hook since the company launched, and that they’re not expecting this to slow down any time soon. Skills are likely to be a challenge, however, so in addition to the partnerships with Tequila and Blat-lapidot, Pienaar says they’re trying to mature the market, taking on youngsters and growing them into the environment.
With four signed deals in ten days after launch on 24 May, things seem to be moving pretty quickly.
Part of the magic is the old boys’ network. Although, as Jarvis says: “It’s been a case of the network calling us!”
The combined expertise and experience of the five is a large part of its sales strategy – 160-odd years and counting, we believe, although it would be indiscreet to mention the ages of the gentlemen concerned.
Taking over the world
Says Jarvis: “We have a successful product, we have the infrastructure to deliver cloud services, and as cloud takes off in large companies, the need for implementation partners will grow at an unbelievable rate.”
Adds Pienaar: “What changed in the eco-system is that Salesforce.com is now compelling to corporates, where it wasn’t five years ago. Thanks to everything it has acquired, it now offers an enterprise software suite to be reckoned with.”
For the customer, says Evans, the world has shifted dramatically, and all the power has shifted into their hands. Companies that don’t keep up will not survive. It’s a case of transforming the business in terms of the way it sells, how it interacts with its market, and so on. And when people talk business transformation they want to talk to people with years in sales, with experience in running IT infrastructures. People who don’t just deal with the software but who can guide and advise you first.”
Certainly Agilitude has all the credentials its needs there.