Our VP of Partnerships Zak Pines recently sat down with Tal Frankfurt, CEO of Cloud for Good, as part of our ongoing Partner Interview Series. Zak and Tal had a far-ranging conversation that focused on the core values of Cloud for Good, the keys to running a remote team, and what makes a great partner. Here’s an abridged transcript of the chat.
Getting Started with Salesforce & Cloud for Good
Zak: Let’s start with the start of Cloud for Good. How and when did you found Cloud for Good?
Tal: My background is in the nonprofit space, and I used to work for a small nonprofit organization that helped at-risk youth. At the time, in 2005–2006, we were looking for better tools to manage donors and volunteers, and someone recommended we try Salesforce. So I tried it and was very excited about its capabilities.
We couldn’t afford to have a partner to come in and implement. As a small nonprofit, my executive director said we do it ourselves or we don’t do it at all. I quickly realized that Salesforce could help us track our financial and social return on investment, which was very valuable to us. We implemented across 12 educational centers.
Zak: So you had to teach yourself Salesforce; that is so interesting.
Tal: Yes. I wanted to be able to share my knowledge, so I started a user group in Israel, which was the second Salesforce user group outside of the US.
Salesforce users started asking me more and more questions, so I started charging for it. That was the beginning of my consulting career. After I moved to the US in 2009, I started Cloud for Good with a focus on higher education institutions and nonprofit organizations.
Zak: Fast forward to today. How do you position Cloud for Good?
Tal: Cloud for Good helps higher education institutions and nonprofit organizations create transformational value using business process improvement and technology solutions such as Salesforce. We work with some of the most impactful organizations in the country, helping them create more value. The results of our work help our customers raise more money, better communicate with their constituents, and offer better services and programs.
Zak: So your positioning is around creating value and helping these organizations transform the way they do business. That’s very powerful.
Tal: Yes. When you finish your implementation with Cloud for Good, we want you you realize a value you weren’t able to see before or create something you weren’t able to create before. We follow up with our customers every year and ask them what’s happened since we left. We want to know how things have been going since we completed implementation and they’ve gone live with the system.
We compile this data as part of our annual “State of Salesforce Report” (2019–2020 report coming soon!). Across the board, customers say that they’re able to communicate more effectively. The specific metrics are 51% of customers are able to communicate more effectively, and 96% say there’s potential for innovation due to the platform.
Managing Cloud for Good’s Growth With Core Values
Zak: You’ve been growing at an impressive clip, right?
Tal: Yes. We are the largest Salesforce partner who focuses primarily on the higher education and nonprofit markets, and we even received the first Salesforce.org Partner of the Year award for the nonprofit sector. Sales have been growing at a steady rate year-over-year, and we’ve made it on the Inc. 5000 six times in a row now for being one of the fastest growing private companies in North America. We also received a Greatest Place to Work award for the fifth time and were ranked #1 for small business in Computerworld.
Zak: I’m very interested in the topic of how consulting firms manage their growth. How have you managed growth for your organization?
Tal: It’s been a lot of fun. I enjoy the creation aspect of entrepreneurship and the change management piece. As you grow, the culture of the organization grows, and you see change start to happen too. My perception is that we can’t and don’t keep the exact same culture.
The number one question I get is, “How do you have such a great culture right now? And how are you going to keep it?” We aren’t ever going to be able to keep that specific culture as long as we’re not a static organization. We’re close to 100 people, and you’re not going to have the same culture as a team of 5, 100 or 200. We’re always evolving and shifting as we grow.
Zak: My HR team made a similar observation—that culture is constantly changing because every time you make a new hire, your culture has changed in some way.
Tal: It is so true. For us, the importance is in maintaining the core values that define our organization and the overall internal voice of the company. That’s what we’re really trying to maintain, and that’s what we’re trying to scale to make sure the culture represents who we want to be.
A big part of our core values is the learning aspect. I truly believe that in order to learn, you have to make mistakes. I think that approach is part of the reason we’ve been able to grow and why we’re the largest independent higher education and nonprofit partner in the Salesforce space. We don’t have private equity behind us. We don’t have VC mining behind us. So how are we growing? We listen to our employees, we listen to our clients, we listen to our partners, and we take risks.
Zak: I’m hearing from you how you’ve built your organization around a growing, changing culture with strong core values as the foundation. You mentioned Cloud for Good’s core values. Can you share more on that?
Tal: We have six core values: learning, trust, commitment to excellence, growth mindset, celebrating success, and inclusion.
Trust is key to all that we do, especially since Cloud for Good is a completely virtual environment. We don’t have a big office that everyone’s going to. In order to be part of this growing company, trust is key, and I always tell people that trust is about being accountable but also vulnerable. If you don’t know the answer to something, someone will always have your back and help you find the answers, but you have to be open and willing to spend the time learning and growing too.
Zak: I really like that. There are strong parallels to the Formstack culture. Trust, like you said, is absolutely vital.
Tal: Trust is the foundation of everything we do. If you have trust, you can learn, grow, and be part of an environment where creativity, inclusion, and collaboration can thrive.
I want to be proud of what we’re doing, from the solution we’re designing, to how we work with our customers, to the consultative approach we take and the value we bring to our work.
Zak: I think about that, too, in managing a team. Pride for the work you’re doing as a great way to motivate and align team members. We’re doing this to create great work.
Earlier you mentioned taking risks and trying new things. Do you have an example you can share?
Tal: We listen to our customers and our employees. On top of that, we’re trying to be a step ahead and think in terms of what’s next. We try and stay ahead of the curve and think about what we should be listening to, what direction we should head, and try it. I’ll admit we’ve made tons of mistakes over the last decade. But I don’t think we’ve made the same mistake twice.
Zak: That is a phenomenal attitude to have—mistakes are actually good as long as you communicate around them, learn from them, and don’t make that same mistake again.
Tal: That goes back to the culture of our organization. People are going to make mistakes, and it’s OK. It is important to share those mistakes or else we can’t learn from it. If you don’t share, you run the risk of someone else making the same mistake, so it’s our duty as a company to be open about our learnings—the good and the bad. It’s okay to make mistakes, but more importantly, you can’t be afraid to talk about them.
Zak: You talked about being a virtual company. Formstack is similar. Formstack has some offices in Indianapolis and Colorado Springs, but also a strong remote culture.
How do you think about running a company in a virtual environment, and what are some of the characteristics that have allowed you to run a successful company in this way?
Tal: We look for hiring the right people—those who are capable of working from home. We look for the type of people who are going to be proactive about being part of our culture. We want those who are capable of putting themselves out there (asking questions, helping others) to be successful, otherwise they’re going to feel like they’re on an island.
It’s who you hire, it’s how you onboard them, and it’s how you measure their success. Every company needs to have measurements around success, and I think you have to be extra intentional about it when you run a virtual company.
And then it’s about how you maintain this environment. For every conversation, the video is on no matter what. We see faces all the time. Every Friday, we have a company-wide meeting where everyone talks about their highlights—and sometimes lowlights—from the week. In a way, I think it’s easier to open up in a virtual environment because you’re not going to see someone seconds later at the desk next to you.
Customers’ Mission, Vision, & Process
Zak: It seems like much of your success is how you approach process improvement for your customers. How does that typically work?
Tal: I always joke that for many organizations, when they redo their website, it’s a good time for them to think about their vision and mission because it is going to be publically out there. When we’re in there implementing a CRM, it’s an opportunity to address your processes. We don’t want to replicate the processes and solutions you had with your previous system, since you’re investing so much time and effort in moving to a new system.
We’ve done more than 2,000 implementations for higher ed and nonprofit, so we can bring new perspectives, taking examples from other organizations and sharing what we’re learning so our customers can take advantage of the overall ecosystem. Then we implement those processes into the technology and help them to follow the process.
Zak: Are there themes around what specifically your customers are looking to accomplish with Salesforce?
Tal: We’re helping them focus on their mission and their people because that’s why they started their organization in the first place—to create positive change in the world through education, solving world hunger, helping the homeless. Our goal is to help them focus on that and help improve the process, and we do that by making sure our processes are strategic and they have the technology to support it.
Building a Partnership
Zak: I’ve discovered today how much common ground we have culturally. Beyond that, when you look at technology partners, what are some of the things you look for in a partnership?
Tal: There are three things. First, from a feature and functionality standpoint, I want to know if they can do what the customers need. If I’m looking at a forms tool, can I collect information online, can it handle the complexity of the forms I need, does it have the basic functionality I need in this type of product?
Secondly, we look at the Salesforce integration. We don’t want to spend our day reinventing standard objects or worrying about what the integration needs. We need the technology solution to scale and work with our implementation standards.
Last is support. We look at support for the customer. When I’m recommending a product at the end of the day, my name is associated with it, and I want the customer to be happy with the decision they’ve made. That support also comes from the partnership, specifically the support that we as a partner will receive. If a customer has a problem with their Salesforce, they call Cloud for Good. We need to arm our consultants with the tools and resources they need to help solve the problem. We don’t have all the answers, but we need to know where to find them.
Zak: We just recently implemented a partner-only support process for our certified partners, which sends our partners immediately to Tier 2 support and cc’s the partnership team. This gets rapid, technical responses with further visibility and support from our partner team.
Tal: That’s awesome.
Zak: We’ve gotten great feedback thus far.
On the Salesforce integration piece, what’s unique about Formstack for Salesforce is it’s 100% native. It’s on the AppExchange, and it’s installed directly into your Salesforce instance, so there isn’t any integration that you need to manage. It’s not a data sync or an API; it’s actually using data objects right in Salesforce, while giving you the full flexibility of an online form builder. You can progressively build a profile of your constituents for all of your Salesforce record types, including custom objects.
Tal: We used Formstack for the Make-a-Wish Ireland Foundation, and there were sensitive requirements around data storage. We needed to make sure the data was stored in Salesforce, not through an integration.
Zak: Yes, that’s a common use case for us. Nonprofits, healthcare, and government have similar restrictions. The native form builder approach is compliant with HIPAA, PCI, and GDPR, as well as meeting FEDRAMP and SOC standards.
What are some of the use cases you come across around data collection for Salesforce?
Tal: Our clients are using form tools to collect an application form online. It’s typically a student or fellowship type of application. When these organizations have a recruitment aspect, they need a tool that streamlines data entry into Salesforce.
Sometimes with Salesforce, I have to make five clicks in order to update one record, and using Formstack significantly improves the user experience and the time we’re spending on data entry. Those are the things that we’re trying to think about—is their life going to be easier by going with this product?
Zak: All of this has been super insightful. Let’s move on to our lighting round to learn more about you. What are your personal interests or hobbies?
Tal: I have a four-year-old and a two-year-old, so my hobbies have dramatically decreased over the last few years. But I like hiking and being outside with my family. That’s what brings me the most joy.
Zak: How do you stay productive? Do you have a productivity tip you can share?
Tal: Multitasking is a myth, and trying to do multiple things at one time is not a good thing. Finishing something is my productivity tool.
Zak: Do you have a favorite TV show?
Zak: That’s my all-time favorite, too. Do you have a go-to lunch during the workday?
Tal: I work from home, so whatever is in the fridge.
Zak: Last question. Is a hot dog a sandwich?
Tal: No, it’s not a sandwich.
Zak: We’ll wrap on that. Thanks so much, Tal.