Ryan Jones, CEO of Serverless Guru, a serverless consulting company based in Portland, Oregon, that is helping to lead the serverless computing revolution. Ryan believes that every business has the ability to achieve operational excellence across their entire organization from the development team up to and including leadership.
Ryan Jones has made a name for himself in the serverless computing and cloud computing space by helping enterprise clients identify, reduce, optimize, and kill inefficiencies. Now he is on a mission to help clients save a billion dollars in operational expenses by 2030.
“I'm the CEO of Serverless Guru. When I founded the company back in September of 2018 it was just going to be pretty much a one-person operation, blog, training site, and then I discovered that there's an opening in the market. We started slowly building clients, and by the end of 2018 we had two or three clients and I was pretty much working 13-14 hours a day. I tried to balance that with a full-time contract position. So, nights, weekends, early mornings.
In 2019 I hired a few people and slowly started building it up. Around the middle of the year, we got an awesome partnership with the name brand in the industry, serverless.com. We are serverless developers working with cloud technologies on this new way of building applications, and once we got that partnership we started getting approached by bigger companies and scaling up the team even more. So my day-to-day went from being a developer on the project working nonstop to slowly transitioning into more of a managerial role, handling invoicing, accounting, billing, contracts, statement of works, etc. All that stuff.
Towards the end of 2019, we landed a huge client that is on the Fortune 100 list. From there the team grew out even more, and we’re still working with that client. It's been just nonstop development training for developers on their team. There's about 30 of them there and we've been helping them, building out best practices.”
From their base in Portland, Oregon, Serverless Guru has been fortunate to be able to leverage remote working and have hired contractors from Brazil, India, Germany, and closer to home in Alberta, Canada. Jones says that he has enjoyed the process but as growth has accelerated they’ve had to learn to ‘keep our heads above water’ and had to take on legal teams to help keep pace with the new demands on the business.
“I didn't start with a formal business plan or anything that. I was always told by my dad when I was growing up; ‘find a problem and provide a solution and there's a market for it’. He's a salesman and he's been in business his whole life. So that was really good to hear when I was growing up.
First, I went to a code school and then had a job for about eight months at Nike on the innovation engineering team doing serverless development. I thought; serverless development is very new. There's a market for it. I was fortunate to work at a big company very early on in my career. I worked at a serverless consulting company for about six, seven months. Based on that experience I decided to build a business and build something for the rest of my life. I started by asking ‘does anybody need software development services with serverless?’. There was a construction company that has been our client ever since the beginning of the company called BuildCenter. They're helping construction workers track COVID symptoms at construction sites. We've been working with them for the past two years.”
Having founded Serverless Guru a little more than two years ago, we were keen to find out what the process had been for Jones. Many start-up founders have to juggle a full-time job and their business to begin with. We asked him what advice he has for other young entrepreneurs that are just starting out.
“My advice to new entrepreneurs is to build up a skill that is in demand in the market. It may take time to learn that skill, but keep thinking about ways of how you can market that to people and just keep trying to figure out if it is actually needed. What is most in-demand?’.
I then started getting involved in a code school because that also aligned with this path. I consumed as much as possible from everyone that was there, everybody around it. Then I started thinking about how I can differentiate myself from the others that were in my code school, which was 30 people in my class. There were another five classes, so that’s 150 people, and we're all learning the same materials. It became really critical to figure out what other skills can I add to this to use the programming skill. That's where I learned about Amazon Web Services. I started getting certifications, and I started getting involved with serverless really early on trying to just figure out how all this stuff works. Once I found it, I just pursued it.”
For such a young entrepreneur in a start-up business, Jones speaks with striking clarity on his vision, and with determination on what he wants to achieve with Serverless Guru. As a business primarily based around providing consulting services, we asked Jones how he sees the company evolving in the space in the future, and if there are any solutions that he would like to build.
“The idea around building out tools and other things. It’s a really good point, it’s something we've definitely thought about. The biggest reason for that is when you're working very closely with all these things you start seeing patterns develop.
We have a podcast called Talking Serverless and I talked to the CEO of Dashbird recently, they are a big serverless company. They had an interesting story about how that company got started. They started very early on, in 2015. I learned about serverless in late 2017. When they saw Serverless and the possibilities of it, there was nothing built. It was just an open market for them to just do anything they wanted. Around 2018, the serverless consulting space was still very new. I'm pushing forward on the serverless consulting path right now, building up things on the side about what could be potential products but actually launching a product would probably take two more of myself!”
Being able to envision where the business will be in 5 years is a question that Jones has begun asking himself. While many start-ups go through a period of pivoting as they identify new opportunities he is focused on capitalizing on their early success and pursuing more.
“It's only been the past six months I've really been thinking about these types of questions. The vision I see now for Serverless Guru is; anytime that an enterprise company wants to do something with serverless, Serverless Guru would be involved. What we're shooting for is any Fortune 100 plus company that does anything in Serverless. We want to be at least part of the consulting team, part of developers that's on the ground, working with them doing training.
We are in conversations with enterprise companies that I wouldn’t believe if I went back nine months back. In September or October of 2019, we were at a place where I thought; ‘is the business going to survive?’. We got our first enterprise client in November and it's snowballed since then. I would say I am optimistic. If you aim for the stars you might hit the sky. So that's what I'm shooting for.”
Experiencing the journey from start-up and potential failure to success and rapid growth in little more than two years, it’s apparent that things have not always been easy for Jones. Those challenges and obstacles often provide valuable learning opportunities for business leaders, and Jones tells us he is no different.
“There are obstacles every day for me, I'm a 25-year-old entrepreneur. When I was 23, I thought; ‘I have a skill, just give me the opportunity to work and show that I can actually do it’, but you need a company structure, you need insurance, you need invoicing. How do you do the sales process? How do you do marketing? There were all these other things that were obstacles. My growth over the past two years has been really, really crazy. I think sometimes as it's my day-to-day, it's still so crazy that I haven't had a chance to really reflect on how much growth has happened, but I know there's been a ton of growth.
More recently I had this friction to talking to lawyers and I just did not want to talk to a lawyer. I might use Rocket Lawyer or some online platform to get documents created, but I just had this block, I didn't want to talk to a lawyer for some reason. Then I finally got on a phone call with them, probably about a month ago. It just blew my mind; they have so much information about things. Once I had that ability to have a conversation with them that obstacle fell away.”
It’s a frank and honest answer, and Jones is very open with the fact that he didn’t enter the business world knowing everything. Being open to learning new skills and forcing yourself to learn things you might not be comfortable with are key to growth. Often that means realising that you can’t do it all by going alone. Partnerships and collaborations are a vital part of success for any business. Jones says Serverless Guru are well on their way to defining their own offering and looking for opportunities to partner with companies in the sector.
“We do three things: training, consulting, development on Amazon web services specifically for serverless. Typically, we use one framework, which is Serverless framework. We've tried to keep all our content, articles, and training courses focused strictly on that. Which makes it really easy for people to understand what we do. If there is a client that needs that we align perfectly. The thing that I would like to expand into more in the future would be expanding out different frameworks for building these applications on the cloud. We're getting more partnerships building up with different monitoring companies in the space and other serverless companies that provide tooling. So that's really nice.
Then potentially building out two separate clouds. So, we're Amazon web services right now, a goal that we have is to get an advanced partner which is going to open up some doors and give us a little bit more credibility. We're also looking at Google cloud platform and Microsoft Azure as other ways to build up exposure for clients that are coming to serverless from all different parts of the industry and all different parts of the world. In Europe, businesses are very Microsoft, Azure heavy. Amazon web services may not be their first choice, but they still want the same benefits that serverless on Amazon web services offers. Microsoft Azure and Google cloud platform are all building up these serverless services to cater to these customers so we want to get more exposure to those different platforms so you can provide more context for clients coming in.”
The team at Serverless Guru has grown to 15 employees, with the majority working remotely. Bringing a remote team operating in different time zones would present a challenge to any business leader, but as a young entrepreneur, we asked Jones how his leadership style had evolved as the company has grown, and what advice he could give other young business leaders.
“My role is the person who has a shield, that's at the front of the army. If something has to happen or the gap that opens up, it's on me to fill that gap. It's on me to stand out there with a shield by myself to try to move it forward. I try as much as possible not to put pressure on other people on the team with a late deadline that came in on Friday. I'll work at the weekend or push back on a client. But a lot of times, depending on how critical the timelines are or if we don't have that flexibility because we're still a small company I'll end up working that weekend and try not to put pressure back on the team.
I want to make sure that I'm always building trust for the team and the company. I have a goal in mind for Serverless Guru to keep operating and keep moving into the future. If at some point I got hit by a bus I want to make sure that the whole thing doesn't just crumble suddenly because I was this linchpin that was holding everything together. So, I'm trying really hard right now to learn all the things I need to learn, put people into leadership roles who can support all these different areas. Then when the time does come where somebody has to be the person that's sticking their neck out to try something new, I want to make sure that they're either doing that with full confidence from my side where they can take a risk and not be hurt.”
It should be no surprise to any start-up founder that embracing change and learning new skills are traits you have to embrace in order to succeed and grow your business. Talking to Jones, the eagerness to keep learning and improving his skill set is a recurring theme. With the process of going from conception to successful business is still fresh we asked what 3 takeaways he had from his journey to date.
1. If there's a problem and you can provide a solution, there's a market there for that.
2. The biggest differentiator is skill acquisition. Before it was ‘who has the skill’ or ‘what part of the world are they from?’ A lot of those barriers are starting to get eroded away. What stands out is the skill of doing something. So if you have the ability to build some killer website, or some killer application, or write really good documents or present really well, that skill acquisition is super important and it balances the playing field.
3. It's a marathon, not a sprint. Someone told me that, and at the time I didn't want to hear it. I wanted to sprint. I thought I could do it faster than I actually could. It stuck with me and I've realized that when the work keeps coming in every single day and it keeps getting more and more responsibilities and obstacles. I've started to think more about spending more time than I would taking a break on the weekends or thinking about things that I can do to relax or look at things in more of a macro view so that the day to day feels less daunting. Being able to think about things on a multi-year basis has been helpful there.”
It’s a mature outlook for a young man who has come far and grown fast in his industry, forging a path different from his peers but with a clear vision and determination that is truly inspiring to hear. We couldn’t let Jones go without giving him the opportunity to tell Cascadia Report readers a little more about Serverless Guru, and what they can do for your business.
“If you're looking to learn anything about Serverless or you're a company that's looking to modernize your architecture or your applications - you may have heard about cloud - something new has popped up recently in the past three or four years, which is really starting to hit maturity and that's called Serverless. It allows you to take your legacy application or the things that you built in the past, which may not have been fully optimized, or you may have been covering all the overhead and maintenance of that.
What Serverless allows you to do is to focus on your product and on the undifferentiated lifting. When you do that, your business focus is on a product only and the rest of the things fall away. To make that transition, you may have employees that have to switch roles. You may have leadership that has to get buy-in. You may have a lot of internal systems or external systems that have to all work together. The benefits of it can be realized and you can move faster, but sometimes you just need a little bit of help. Serverless Guru specializes in consulting and employee training. Then if you need us to help with the development, to move things over and get them set up and make sure everything works properly and is following best practices. We can do that too.”
You can learn more about Ryan Jones and Serverless Guru here: https://www.serverlessguru.com/