Prior to launching CloudHesive in September of 2014, Jim Walker spent three and a half years as Global Head of Cloud Operations and Security for Pegasystems, a software developer for customer engagement and digital process automation solutions. Before working for Pegasystems, Walker worked a variety of IT and technical jobs and held various positions including CTO, VP of IT and Network Administrator. He was also co-founder of a call center company located in South Florida. Walker shared the story of how he ended up in Florida and where the idea came from to launch CloudHesive.
"I'm originally from Virginia," he said. "In 1994, I moved to South Florida after college to help TCI Cable consolidate their contact centers in the South Florida market and I've been here ever since. While working for Pegasystems, I had a number of customers asking us to migrate their non-Pega workloads into Amazon Web Services (AWS), something we weren't doing at the time. Our Pega Cloud offering was focused on deploying and managing Pegasystems BPM and CRM solutions on AWS. There seemed to be a growing number of these requests, especially from larger customers asking us to manage everything we put into the cloud. This was around the beginning of cloud adoption and I remember thinking that this could be the start of something much bigger than what we were currently doing."
Walker found the courage to take the necessary steps to turn his idea into an actual business plan by making sure his family was whole and that he would be able to pull an acceptable salary out of the startup. He needed seed funding and early customers, both of which he was able to pull together. Walker was able to find an investor, that agreed to meet with Walker for lunch to hear his idea. A few months later, Walker had the funding he needed and CloudHesive was open for business in 2014. In early 2015, CloudHesive won the H. Wayne Huizenga Startup Award further validating that CloudHesive was on the right path.
Growing steadily from Startup to Second-Stage
Walker shared some the early challenges he experienced shortly after and throughout the startup phase. "When we launched, we didn't even have an office," he said. "But not long after, we did secure a customer that agreed to an arrangement where we credited back services in exchange for office space. Within five months of securing that customer, we were notified that they were filing for bankruptcy. They owed us for services and we were utilizing their office space which isn’t pleasant feeling. It was a rough time, but we made it through. At that point, we wanted to be conservative with our overhead and solely focus on growing our customer base. We started to hire engineers as needed and gradually started growing. All profits were invested back into the company, so we could continue to hire engineers in order to support our managed services and start building our SaaS products. By keeping things lean, we were able to effectively scale the company."
While in startup mode, Walker and his team concentrated on determining the proper messaging as part of their overall marketing strategy and in the recent years have been nonstop with big client projects. Now in 2018, their marketing team is in the process of revamping that early collateral in order to deliver a message focused on problem solving and the true benefit for their customers. They are accomplishing brand awareness through marketing initiatives such as blog posts, social media engagement, educational AWS meetup groups and a dedicated sales team calling companies across Florida, throughout the United States and beyond. Supported by a team of 29 full-time employees, 20 located in Florida and 9 in Buenos Aires, Argentina, CloudHesive is focused on expanding its footprint beyond the United States.
Creating a competitive edge
Walker shared more about CloudHesive and the competitive edge they have over other AWS Managed Service Providers. "The portion of our business that generates the majority of our revenue is helping customers migrate large amounts of data onto the cloud and then managing those environments," he said. "We help with migration, wrapping environments with security controls and managing and patching clouds to ensure they remain up. We find great engineers and train them to be even better cloud engineers. This keeps our customers from having to find their own team, saving them time and money. So far, we're the only AWS Advanced Consulting Partner with our AWS competencies headquartered in Florida."
From a company culture perspective, Walker shared that CloudHesive embraces a very open culture. They provide employees with a fully stocked kitchen, a flexible work schedule along with complimentary happy hours. Non-constrained by your typical nine to five workday, employees are able to work hours that best fit their schedules. CloudHesive also does spot bonuses on occasion and holds contests to push employees to get certifications.
In terms of philanthropic activities and community involvement, Walker shared that CloudHesive recently signed up to sponsor Florida International University's Robotic Club. Their contribution supports monthly workshops, outreach programs and the robotic competition that will take place in 2019. They also sponsoring local little league teams and regularly donate to the public schools to help improve them. In addition to these sponsorships and donations, the CloudHesive team has volunteered with local beach cleanups and hurricane relief programs.
What it means to be a Florida Companies to Watch Honoree
We are honored to be announced as One of the 2018 Florida Companies to Watch. "It's a great milestone for us," Walker said. "It helps validate the work we're doing and the customers we work for. It also increases our brand awareness and highlights the accomplishments we’ve achieved over the past few years. In general, it just helps validate us as a reputable company and put us on the map. Many companies die in the first few years. This honor helps our presence in the local community and lets us know that we're doing something right.”
"I believe we were selected because of everything we've been through as a company and what we're currently doing. We work with some large South Florida companies such as City Furniture and multiple larger maritime companies. We also actively support Florida International University and Florida Atlantic University. Being as involved as we are in the community with a small team is not easy, but we're committed to doing it. We have an amazing team of employees, a great partnership with the team at Amazon Web Services and a VP of Engineering, Patrick Hannah, that I'd like to personally thank for his relentless dedication."
Looking ahead, Walker is optimistic about the future and believes Florida is a great place to grow his company. According to Walker, the South Florida market is a close-knit IT community that's very supportive of each other. As CloudHesive looks to continue to build upon its already impressive reputation, they will focus on growing their team as they are planning to move to an impressive new office for 2019. Walker shared that CloudHesive will continue to pursue mid to enterprise projects in the public and private sectors. They recently were awarded a cloud contract for the State of Texas which will help them grow their public sector sales efforts.
In addition to their services, CloudHesive is dedicated on making cloud services easier to adopt and use for our customers. They have built a SaaS tool called Centricity that brings the power of AWS services to our customers without having to implement a large team of engineers or developers. Walker says, “We view Centricity as a key solution to help us grow our business and provide customers with a seamless AWS solution that fill the operational gaps in the AWS service offering.” With that said, their marketing efforts have been and still are aimed on making CloudHesive the AWS “go to” cloud security partner and industry leader for cloud centric solutions.
Advice for aspiring entrepreneurs
What advice does Walker have for aspiring entrepreneurs? "Don’t ever give up, when times are tough and they will be … go at it harder and focus on making your mark in this world," he said. "I always tell myself that I want to make a mark in this world for my kids and my team’s families. That's why I do it."
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