Beyond Consulting

25: From Consulting to SaaS Corporate Strategy

In this episode of Beyond Consulting, sponsored by ECA Partners, we speak with Nashua Springberry, a former PwC Consultant and current Principal at Cloudera, a hybrid data platform. Nash joins us to discuss his journey to PwC and his subsequent move to Cloudera, where he leads their Corporate Strategy team in Australia.

 

The Beyond Consulting Podcast is hosted by Ken Kanara and co-hosted by Steven Haug, who leads this week’s episode.

 

 

Steven Haug: I’m Steven Haug, this is Beyond Consulting, brought to you by ECA Partners. This week we have the pleasure of hosting Nash Springberry. Nash, welcome to the podcast.

 

Nash Springberry: Hey, thanks. Thanks, Steven. Thanks for having me.

 

Steven Haug: You’re coming to us from Melbourne, is that right?

 

Nash Springberry: Yes, exactly. Down in Australia, way, way down under. It’s been quite the journey getting here, but I’ve been here for about six months now. I actually came down here to be with my girlfriend, now fiancée. It’s a pretty big life move. Believe it or not, my current company Cloudera are the people who made it all happen. It’s one of those perks in the great reshuffling. I was a boomerang. I left for a year, then I came back and sometimes you ask for a big thing and they might be able to make it happen for you. It’s pretty cool being down here.

 

Steven Haug: Oh, that’s cool. I assumed that it was work that brought you out there, but it was personal move there and work let you get away with it.

 

Nash Springberry: It’s crazy. It’s a series of stories of that, with the pandemic and remote work, I left Cloudera for SingleStore to be a Director of Sales Ops. There, I went to Colombia for a digital nomad experience before they reopened the office, which is a whole other story itself, because, while I was in Colombia, they reopened the offices and were like, “Hey, can we get you back?” I’m said, I have a lease, come on, I have a girlfriend. I want to wait and stay there.” So I was down in Colombia for five months, then I came back to San Francisco. My partner and I, we kept in touch. She’s an Australian permanent resident, so if we were going to be not distance, but together, there’s only one way to make that happen, you know? You have to be in the same place. When I was looking to switch roles, an old boss of mine reached out. We used to work a lot together at Cloudera. He’s said, “Hey, I just got promoted to Chief Strategy Officer. We’re building out some teams. Do you want a job?” I said, “Absolutely. I’d love to come back. I loved working with you, but I’m really trying to get to Australia. Can you make that happen?” It turns out, we had a whole immigration team and they’ve done this a million times before, so it was a lot easier than I expected, but if it wasn’t for them I don’t if I would be engaged to my future wife right now.

 

Steven Haug: Oh, that’s good. I wanted to chat more about Cloudera here. You’re the Principal of Corporate Strategy?

 

Nash Springberry: Yes.

 

Steven Haug: Can you tell us a bit about what Cloudera does?

 

Nash Springberry: Yes, so Cloudera is a big data management company. If you remember Hadoop, as I did in college, going through your information systems, classes, or whatever you did…there used to be only one way to process big data. It started with this thing called MapReduce and parallel processing where it’s like, you could have one person you know looking through a dictionary to find a word, or you could have 100 people looking through 100 different sections of the dictionary to find a word. You’re going to find the word a lot faster. That was the base technology when Cloudera started over 10 years ago now. I actually joined Hortonworks, which was another Hadoop distribution competitor. So you have the Apache Software foundation and they have a bunch of great technologies for managing massive amounts of data, but it was  the Wild West. Cloudera did what they called, Tamed Zoo Animals, because a lot of these Apache projects have animal-related names, like Hive, then Cloudera created Impala…Pig was another one. There’s all these different great technologies that help people process massive amounts of data differently. Even NiFi. The NSA had a technology they would use for flowing data from point A to point B, then extract, transform, load, and do different transformations on that data. That was a really great technology. They had to get permission from the government to open source. Well, Hortonworks bought that group in the company that would become NiFi. Cloudera has a collection of technologies that are packaged into one clean distribution that you write enterprise support on and the new platform, CDP, encapsulates all of that and you can run modern workloads in the cloud, on-prem data center. They have the only platform that lets you do that from a single control plane layer. They’re the hybrid data cloud company. They do a lot of really cool stuff in the space and they’re big–almost a billion dollars in revenue, 2,000 plus customers globally, 3,000 employees. That’s a large enterprise and a large global software company.

 

Steven Haug: Ten years the company has been around and you just said a billion dollars in revenues?

Nash Springberry: Yes, close to. Yes, right around a billion. Yes.

 

Steven Haug: Wow. Are you the only one in Australia?

 

Nash Springberry: No, it’s crazy. So we actually had a meet up not too long ago and the coworkers down here have been really good. It’s surprising. I randomly got onto a call with this product marketing director and saying where we’re based. He’s like, “Oh, I’m based in Melbourne.” I’m like, “Get out of here. I’m in Melbourne too.” So we actually have met up and hung out a little bit. Then there was another team that’s part of my boss’ strategy group and two of the senior leaders were also in Melbourne, so it’s been a good opportunity to meet new folks and there’s a big strong presence down here, so that’s been nice.

 

Steven Haug: That is pretty neat. Is the team fairly global then? Australia, US, Europe, Asia? Is it spread out all over?

 

Nash Springberry: Oh yes. We have locations all over the world. I think we’re in…we have customers in 80 countries and we have offices in 35…I want to say that was the last stat? Yes, there’s a huge global footprint. We have Center of Excellence for sales ops, which is my old rollout in Cork, Ireland. Big teams there. We have large engineering teams in India and in Hungary, we have ops all over. Big teams in China, Japan, Korea, Singapore, obviously, we have some folks in the Philippines. So yes, it’s a really large global operation.

 

Steven Haug: Do y’all have…

 

Nash Springberry: …Even in Colombia. We have an office in Colombia, believe it or not.

 

Steven Haug: Oh yeah?

 

Nash Springberry: That was a fun thing to find out.

 

Steven Haug: Yeah, that is good. So you have physical data centers right, that you are running as well?

Nash Springberry: So Cloudera would just sell software. We also drink our own champagne. That’s been one of the cool things I think through my consulting experience, is I started out going to college with no clue I was going to have a degree in business, because I wanted to, in my mind, as a high schooler, I was scholar athlete, and you know, I had like a 3.97(GPA). It was really important to be successful in the academic world, which I think a lot of folks, who get into consulting have that same parallel track where they wanted to be really good in school and then, when they get to college, it’s like, what do you do? Well, out of everything you could do, consulting definitely sounded to be the most interesting. I had originally wanted to go into accounting and then I had a case complication, if you remember those from the college days. We did it with PwC, which is the firm I ended up joining. I was a freshman, I was three months into college and we end up getting selected. We were one of five teams out of 50 teams to go to nationals and that’s how my relationship with PwC started. Different things happened. At the end of my freshman year of college I became a financial analyst intern at Amazon and I spent six months there. One of the PwC partner reaches out and said, “You should really apply for this consulting internship.” I said, “Oh, yeah.” Then she said, “The deadlines tomorrow. So if you want this, you gotta do it tonight.” I’m like, “Oh, sure.” So I end up applying, go through two rounds of interviews, and I end up getting it. It turns out there were three out of like 120 students who got this PwC internship for management consulting, which was crazy. I went, literally, from not having heard of it to a month later having the offer. That was really how I got started in consulting. I knew what I wanted to do, but if it wasn’t for some dumb luck at the beginning, I never would’ve gotten set on that path.

 

Steven Haug: Yes. That’s wild.  It was like one comment that someone made to you almost, it sounds like, really sent you down this path. And you went to…the University of Washington is where you got your undergrad degree, is that right?

 

Nash Springberry: Yes, yes. Oh yeah, to finish the question, at Amazon I was writing a bunch of SQL, which is one of those things you learned, which I would say, if anyone out there is thinking about a great skill set…there’s this issue in the world where we have a bunch of data and getting value out of that data is actually this big gap. There’s always been this gap between,  we have IT, who is really good at building systems that can collect and process all the data, but then that disconnect with the line of business for how do we actually take that data and create something of value? There’s a massive need for that. What it comes down to is you have business analysts, which I think is a great career path out of consulting, even. Folks who need people on their team who can work with data, who can run a spreadsheet, who can fight insights that are meaningful, presented in a way people can understand, and then hopefully take action on those insights. That’s a huge skill set. So if anyone is thinking about something that they can pick up as arrows in their quiver. I would look at BI, I would look at SQL. It’s great stuff to know that.

 

Steven Haug: That’s a good point. There probably are a lot of interesting opportunities out there just to make public data more useful or other types of data. Thinking about companies like Zillow, you know, the MLS and tax data is probably out there in the county courthouses somewhere, but a company that takes it all, turns it into an app and then can monetize that. It’s a great opportunity. It’s a great skill to know and then opportunities for entrepreneurs out there, as well to start something out. I think that’s a helpful tip for folks going into consulting or just, you know, in college thinking about how to build out their toolkit there for their next opportunity. Are you from Seattle or did you just go there for college?

 

Nash Springberry: I’m from Spokane, WA, so it’s the east side of the state. The Columbia Plateau is what you call it. It’s about 45 minutes from the border of Idaho. Actually, Spokane is the city, Cheney is the small town suburb that I grew up in. So if you’ve heard of Eastern Washington University, go Eagles, that was big. My mom was a grant writer there. My dad was an academic advisor. My grandparents were both biology professors there. Eastern and Cheney is really in the veins. It’s a far cry…it’s definitely a lot more like Idaho than it is like Seattle. I was probably one of the only set of Spokane Democrats. There’s not a lot of them.

 

Steven Haug: That’s good. Not too many people from Cheney end up in in Melbourne.

 

Nash Springberry: Surprisingly not. You know, I’ve been looking for them, but it hasn’t happened yet.

 

Steven Haug: How many folks are in that town?

 

Nash Springberry: Cheney? Oh, 10,000 when school’s out of session and then when school’s in session, I think it goes up to closer to 20,000. It’s a small town.

 

Steven Haug: So small town. Is that Washington University? UW, right?

 

Nash Springberry? Yep. Exactly, UW.

 

Steven Haug: You did a ton of stuff in college, isn’t it? You’re an athlete. Did you mention that as well?

Nash Springberry: Oh, that was high school. No, I wish I was an athlete in college. I went to the rec center, that was about the extent of athletic activity. In college I was in, we called it Montlake Consulting Group. Honestly, it was very interesting, in some ways more intense, subset of consulting before I got to the real management consulting world. It’s one of the, I think, the best student run organizations I’ve seen, so a big shout out to the MCG partners who are continuing the work there. We would, essentially, take a small group of five students and there would be a business that would want to partner with us. We were helping out an IT distributor. We would go around and survey IT buyers and local community colleges on how to break into that higher education market. That was a good first intro. It could not have happened anywhere else. It was a great thing that the University of Washington and the Foster School of Business had.

 

Steven Haug: Oh, that’s really cool. Was it a consulting club effectively?

 

Nash Springberry: Exactly. Yes, a group of student consultants. I’m sure there’s other models like that out there, but those are really good places to get experience and build some soft skills.

 

Steven Haug: I know we chatted a little bit already about the way you got into PwC. It was a little bit of luck there and some hard work getting into PwC. You joined it because you wanted to join one of the Big Four, is that right? You mentioned you wanted to do finance accounting, which is what they’re usually known for.

 

Nash Springberry: Yes, after my Amazon internship…well, this was during it, but I was thinking of, “Okay, do I stick on the accounting track, or do I… so at Foster, at the University of Washington, you could either do information systems, finance…you had these concentrations you could do. I did a double concentration in finance and information systems, mainly to get better SQL skills, which turns out, you’ll learn way more doing SQL on the job than you ever will in a class. But I knew consulting was where I wanted to go. Generally it was, but it was really after that interview, as soon as I saw it that night, then applied, then I was like, “Oh yeah, management consulting. This should have always been the plan.”

I’ll tell you, during the interview for the internship, which is interesting because that one interview, really…I didn’t have to interview for another four years. Until five years…until you quit. Patrick Pugh, who was one of the head Seattle partners at that time, and the Microsoft account was the biggest account. He comes in and the first thing he points out is during my internships in high school, I interned for the Spokane Coordinated campaign, or Patty Murray’s Senate campaign was one of the things I did. He was a big supporter of Dino Rossi, which if you know Washington state politics, Dino versus Patty Murray was one of the great matchups. So he gave me some flak over that, and I think that helped me not do what I normally do in interviews, which is not be personal and talk too much. I usually focus a little too much on the question, not about building a relationship with your interviewee, which is a mistake we all make. But I think they helped me get through that, which was nice.

 

Steven Haug: Well, that sounds like a good first step into to consulting there. You were there for four years, you mentioned?

 

Nash Springberry: Yes, for four years at PwC.

 

Steven Haug: Walk me through that. You joined thinking about finance or accounting. Did you stay in that group at PwC?

 

Nash Springberry: Yes, I interned in Seattle at Microsoft and I could tell during that, that when I graduated, I wanted to leave Seattle. The winters were getting to me. I just wanted to try something new. I’m like, oh San Francisco, what? I heard a lot about that. I know people going there, it’s a West Coast city, which is important to me. I’m like, “Hey, can I get a job?” So I call up HR at PwC and I ask, “Can I get my offer transferred to San Francisco?” And she’s like, “So you’re in tech…” Tice was the industry vertical because Seattle, Microsoft. “San Francisco is all finance and healthcare. Tech is in San Jose.” And I’m like, “Okay.” Then I quickly Google on my phone, “Where is San Jose?” Like, literally, I googled this on my phone. This is something that would probably shock a lot of you to hear, but telling friends and family in Spokane that I’m moving to San Jose, it was like, “Oh yeah, isn’t that halfway between San Francisco and LA?” That’s how I ended up in Silicon Valley. I first move down to San Jose with a couple of roommates from PwC and things went from there. I don’t think it’s a big deal to say this now, much longer after the fact, but we were on one of the largest corporate breakups that was happening in the valley at the time. The role, essentially, is similar to actually a project I’m doing now where, these really big organizations generally don’t have visibility to say, “Oh, I have this business unit. If that business unit was going to become a standalone company, what do those financials look like?” It’s something that the CEO of the company that was doing the divestiture said in a CNBC interview, “Without this balance sheet level visibility, they couldn’t have done the split. That was the first project and it was an absolute cut your teeth in. 7:00 PM is when you would generally see if it was okay to leave the office. It was one of those projects, and working through the night, working some weekends. I think it’s one of those first jobs right out of college, I had just turned 21 and graduated on the exact same day and without having, I think one of those really disciplined, regimented, long-hour projects, I think that stuff is really formative. You build your habits. Without that initial project being really hard, I think it would have been difficult to grow my career in the way I’ve grown it so far.

Steven Haug: When you joined PwC, where you thinking, “This is what I’m going to settle into, I’m going to be partner one day,” or did you have the mind set up, “I’m going to do this for a few years and then make the jump in industry?

 

Nash Springberry: My whole plan was always to make manager and then think about it. That was where I was. I was happy. I got put on some pretty interesting projects. One of the big projects I was on for over a year, I would say the work itself felt less interesting and engaging and valuable to me, even though it was definitely. Sometimes you just can’t because you’re just so in the weeds that you can’t see the bigger picture and why a set of activities would be important. But I realized that the experiences I got from that going to New York quite a bit, going to Brussels, going to London. In meeting all these different executives, and even though I was doing essentially PMO reporting, it was one of those projects where, a lot of times, it felt more internal than external in some ways, even though we’re working with the client a lot doing these events.

But then, your day-to-day work, when you’re working more with your internal team is still incredibly valuable. Even when I was on a project where I’m like, “I don’t think I can transfer any of these skills anywhere” and I tried getting off. I asked my manager, who is my mentor at that point, I’m like, “Hey, I’ve been here nine months, I’m thinking I really want to do something different.” And he gave me some great advice, he said, “Look, a career is a marathon. It’s not a Sprint.” Six years later, I’m like, “Of course. How was I so anxious to get off of that awesome life experience I was in the middle of in those experiences?”

Those experiences…and you may have heard of this book and I think this might be relevant to a lot of the folks here on the show, The Defining Decade. It’s about the importance of your 20s. Which I’m almost out of at this point, you know, only a few months to go. It talks about you have to build up identity capital, which is the capital you use to get relationships and to get jobs that you think, “Oh yeah, I can do that.” If you’re on a project, and you’re thinking, “This isn’t for me. This is boring and not what I should be doing.” Take your hat off of the domain expertise and think about some of the soft skills and the experience you’re getting and see if maybe this has more value than you would think.

 

Steven Haug: That is probably helpful advice. I think that if you end up in consulting, you’ve probably been grinding it out for a long time. You know, in high school you’re putting together a perfect resume to getting college. College, you’re putting together that resume to get into consulting or some other career that is similarly competitive there. Whenever you make it into that career, there’s opportunities to build out all kinds of skills that don’t necessarily go onto a resume. Oftentimes, there are relationships you’re building or even the skills you build working with a difficult manager or something like that can help you out down the road, because you have quite a few years ahead of you to keep working at that point. Was there any point during consulting where you made the decision, “Now I’m going to start searching, looking outside of consulting to make the jump?

Nash Springberry: Yes, this is actually really interesting. Two years in, my whole thing was, and this is about the same time I’m on this project and wanting to do something else. I really wanted to get into renewable energy. That was always a big goal for me is I want to help…I think it’s crazy…for example, if you look at The Line, which is this Saudi Arabian city they’re building and where did they get all that money? By selling a bunch of oil to the world, right? What if we were able to keep…and you see it with the war in Russia and natural gas in Europe is needing to supply…Eventually we will run out of this stuff. So I’m like, “Okay, we’re going to run out of oil and gas. We have to electrify our vehicle fleet. We have to electrify our generation.” It was all in the same line of what Musk has been saying with solar city and of course with Tesla. I totally bought into that.

So two years in, I had actually done some exploratory work with the Clean Group at PwC and one of the folks on that–I think it’s an absolutely outstanding group. They do great work. But one of the folks, Sean’s like, “Oh, hey, look, this is more, really, utilities work. Do you want to be in the utilities industry?” I said, “Yeah, absolutely. Utilities, great.” Then of course, I try making the switch at that point, Senior Associate and you’re thinking in your head, “I’m a Senior Associate. I’ve got all my two years of career experience. I’m a veteran at this point.” So I would go in and they’d be like, “Well, if you want to switch industries and switch roles, you really need to take something that’s going to be more entry level.” I didn’t want to take the 20K pay cut or whatever of this stuff I was getting because, you know, I didn’t really have a lot, so I interviewed at a couple places, didn’t get some rolls I wanted, got one I didn’t. And then I’m like, “You know what? I shouldn’t move.” So I got into a project I wanted to be on and then I just stopped interviewing.

I tried once to leave and failed essentially. So a year in, I tried interviewing for an investment banking job, didn’t get it and that definitely bruised my ego. But I think in hindsight, it all was for the better. In my head after that point, I’m still thinking I’m going to stay until manager. So I go from, I would say, the enjoyable project where I didn’t really feel like I was challenging myself from a domain expertise perspective, then I go into this licensing model study at a large software company and six really intense weeks of almost no weekends, lots of expert interviews though and it was a really interesting project to get done. Then from there I go to something that was more process driven at a larger hardware manufacturer in the Valley and that was like, “Okay, I probably did not take away a bunch of stuff I’ll use in the future.” Which is funny because some of it was Salesforce related, and Salesforce ended up being something I work with a lot at this point. Then I get into this big project that I guess I’ll just say it, because it’s an important part of the career at Hortonworks, and they had just brought in Alan Fudge to be the CRO, and Alan Fudge used to be one of Meg Whitman’s old lieutenants at HP. He was really a seasoned executive, a great CRO. Scott Davidson was COO, I could certainly mention a ton of names, but I made some really great relationships on this six month end-to-end, go-to-market restructure, essentially, where it wasn’t really like restructure, but you’d say these are new segments. We had to set a new segmentation model, we had to figure out sales comp. It was just a total refresh of the go-to-market model and that was super interesting. I had a great relationship with the executive team and our sponsors and so at the end of it they’re like, “Hey, you know, we’ve been joking about this whole project, but do you want a job in our sales ops team?” The one thing I was thinking is what’s sales ops? That doesn’t sound sexy. I want to do something cool, right? This is not going to be the thing for me and I still remember the day, I was on another project. So that project ended and I was on another one, I had just been up all night. We just got through a deliverable, and of course, we still have another thing we need to get out later that night. I’m exhausted, I’m dying, and I get this call from an old project sponsor and he’s like, “Hey dude, what are you making at PwC?” I tell him what I’m making, you know, which was I think, just barely over six figures at that point. And he’s like, “Oh look, we’ll give you a comp package that almost doubles your money.” I’m like, “Uhhhh…what?!” I still remember that call. It changed my life forever. I had no idea. I thought I was years away from this. This was something I was hoping to get to, I don’t even know when. At that point, I was still 24 and I’m like, “Oh my God, I have got to do this.” It was a big wake up call too. If it wasn’t for them in that call, I never would have left PwC, not for a while, I think. It was still a hard choice to leave. I absolutely loved the firm. They’ve done so much for me. They really grew me into a professional. I think without those four years I would be no where even close to where I am today. I’m not saying I’m in this high and mighty position, I just feel like I’m a lot more capable of doing my job because of the time I had there. It was a really hard choice, but the end of the day it came down to when will I see this comp again? Even one of my mentors said that “Really, if you make manager next year, how much money is that going to be a difference of?” Maybe it was all crazy in my head, but that was the reason I left, was for that role, to go work in Sales Strategy and Ops at Hortonworks works for an old client.

 

Steven Haug: That’s an interesting thing to think about in a bit more detail here. You tried to make a run at industry two years in. The roles weren’t you hoped they would be. It worked out a few years after that. Is there an ideal point for a consultant to leave consulting?

 

Nash Springberry:  People make a lot of their own career choices, and I would say there’s no bad or good choice. What I’ve heard and what I’ve been told, and someone had tried telling me that earlier is, let’s say if you make manager, and as someone who never did, if your skill set keeps growing and it’s too, let’s just say, broad, I’ve heard anecdotally that can be a harder transition to make if you don’t build some sort of domain expertise. If you’re consulting work is really, I would say, domain expertise centric, which mine was not up to that point. That first Hortonworks project was really my first true exposure to sales ops and sales planning work in a in a meaningful way. I feel like if you spend more time without developing, that they can’t hurt you. That said, I do have friends who have stayed longer. I have a friend who stated at Accenture…man, I want to say he was seven…six or seven years in, and he just recently had a really nice exit to Meta, to a good role, with good comp. and all that. So that said, I had heard that at the point where you’re at manager, maybe you just made manager, maybe right before, is a good, sweet spot or you want to stay the course and stay on to Director, MD, Partner. But that said, I’ve also had friends who’ve had a good experience exiting after that point, and then I’ve had a friend for whom that’s been harder. I would say that it is, like less than three years. I think people are still successful, but like that three to five year period, in my mind, seems like a sweet spot. Of course, people have different stories and you know, I bet, have been successful leaving before or have been successful leaving after, have been unsuccessful leaving right in the middle of that, but that’s my general thought. That three to five year point.

 

Steven Haug: Yes, that’s a good point. Here at ECA we talk with these folks like yourself quite often at different points in their consulting career and it comes down, I would say, to what you’re looking for, as you found, leaving at the two year mark, different opportunities than when you’re looking at three and four years. It depends on what you’re looking for in the exit, what type of companies, those sort of things too. Did you have any friends that went to interesting routes out of consulting? Maybe things that you don’t usually hear about?

 

Nash Springberry: Oh yeah, totally. My best friend, he went to Apple and he has a whole other  ordeal where he did a leave of absence from Accenture and, comes back…I don’t know what the policy is now, but they would give you a year sabbatical on unpaid leave, you could take an extended leave for that. He was trying to get his start up off the ground, which is Bolde Bottle, an amazing shaker bottle. Look it up if you’re listening to this. Bolde Bottle. A premium weight shaker, an absolutely beautiful product. He spent six years of his life getting it off the ground. He takes a year off to get that back, comes back right around when the pandemic hits of April, May of 2020. He’s like, “Well, I need a job now and health insurance and income.” It was hard because it was right before consulting really took off in the pandemic, in some ways, there was the fear, and then there was the “great rise.” Maybe that happened in early 2021, because everyone who I’ve talked to after that point, is like, “Oh my God, we’ve been so slammed. There’s no capacity whatsoever. We don’t have enough people.” But it was the point where all the firms were still really unsure of how the pandemic is going to affect business investment? I mean, you can’t travel anymore. What’s going on? It was tenuous, because Accenture was like, “Look, we’re going to staff the people who have been on the bench already. That’s our priority, you’re second, but he was able to network his way into a good role at Apple, then ends up leaving Apple to focus on his startup full time. No income, right? Living off savings and making it work. It’s really cool. He’s what he’s doing. Building his own company from the ground up.

Two friends actually got into venture capital and worked their way up to being Principals. Now one of them ended up going to Harvard Business School, the other one’s still in VC and thinking about what his next move looks like. I think that was a really interesting path for some folks. A lot of folks go right into tech, jobs at LinkedIn and Meta.

Doing what I’m doing– a sales ops, customer success ops, go-to-market ops, data analytics, supporting, those types of roles…I see that really commonly. They left more at the three-to-four year mark, but I think sales ops, which is what I went into…and it’s one of those things where, we’re interviewing for new roles for someone to join our team at Hortonworks and my director, my manager, who is a really great friend and mentor of mine, Mike Gnos, he’s like, “They don’t necessarily need sales ops experience. We can teach them that, but they do need a core skill set of, are they critical thinkers? Can they put analysis together? Are they safe hands? That’s something you hear in consulting a lot, but dotting your I’s and slashing your T’s, whatever the saying is, and a good personality, a hard worker because he’s in something like in our current role, as we’re growing the strategy team at Cloudera. We brought in another person from PwC and they were more in the finance industry focus, not really focused on the tech industry, but you can still tell the work ethic, the discipline and not being afraid to put time on a stranger’s calendar to figure something out and being able to interview somebody and do a good interview, putting together a good work product, putting together good slides. I know we were talking about earlier, when we had an intro, a lot of times people will leave consulting like, “Oh slides no longer count as work,” which is true, but you know for some jobs it actually, if you’re more analysis focused, it still does matter and make a difference, but you’ll see that the content and the formatting go hand in hand. For some people and some things the formatting is important, for a board of directors deck, you want that looking clean. The one thing…we were putting together a board of directors deck that was, essentially, here’s the quarterly update. Some of the feedback on some of the slides were, “This is fluff. It looks pretty but the content is meaningless.” We obviously can’t go forward with that. There are some of those things you learn, where, in consulting you might be like, “Well, we need to stack a big appendix and show how much work we’ve done.” In sales ops, you don’t have to really have a bunch of sales ops experience to get the first role. I think a lot of hiring managers understand that. I can talk more about what sales tops looks like.

 

Steven Haug: Yes, that would be interesting to hear about. It’s always funny to talk with former consultants about deckbuilding skills and how that translates into their new roles. I do find that they often find ways to leverage that skill to make things happen, even if it isn’t something that…you know, if they join a team without other former consultants, they find ways to build structure around the team and around the projects using those skills.

I do want to hear a bit more about a couple things really. I’d love to hear a bit about the sales operations, and then you mentioned that you hired another former consultant. Do you actively look for former consultants for the reasons that you listed–the work ethic and those sort of things?

 

Nash Springberry: Definitely. I think as a lot of folks would see a lot of these jobs, they’d be like, “Oh, prior experience in management consulting,” or “banking preferred,” or “three-to-five years or a similar type of role.” I was talking to another person, this is back in the day and something they acted like was, “Oh, you know, you were consultant.” There’s a discipline factor which I think is interesting. Like getting some hard work that needs to get done, having the discipline to take a project. It might be something that seems menial or hard, it has a ton of different moving pieces and to still hold yourself to a deadline, and it’s something I think you’ll see as your career goes on. For example, when I was at Single Store, my boss was the CFO and my other real boss was the CRO. They had time for me, but they really didn’t have time for me. If I didn’t set my own deadlines for me and my team, and if I didn’t hold myself accountable for those deadlines, stuff wasn’t going to get done. I think in consulting there’s really good structure because you have partners, you have a project plan, you have a specific end date, and you especially have clients and client reviews. When you’re scheduling your own reviews, you have to take a lot that on yourself. I think being a consultant really helps with that and it helps you…do you really want to sign back on at 10:00 PM and work for four hours? Probably not, but if you’re going to get it done, it’s really going to take that. I think that discipline is a big factor in why a lot of folks like hiring consultants, because they will work to get the job done and they will hold themselves to account.

 

Steven Haug: Then, thinking through the sales ops roles out there, you mentioned that you’d had one project under your belt in sales ops before you made the jump into industry working on a sales ops team, effectively. Was there anything about your consulting toolkit that you realized did not prepare you for that role whenever you joined? Were there any big learning curves you had to overcome quickly?

 

Nash Springberry: Yes, I would say my business intelligence skill set, which was important for that role, was definitely lacking. I think going into it, the biggest thing was probably domain knowledge and understanding various systems. Sales ops can mean different things in different companies. It’s kind of like the right hand person to the CRO. There’s a good army analogy where it’s like, you’re the operations, the logistics officer, kind of like the Chief of Staff. There’s this team of analysts who run the forecast. The biggest thing in sales ops, and in sales in general, is you have a forecast cadence of, “How much are we going to sell this quarter?” This is specific to the software, but with any kind of public company you’re going to see a quarterly cadence and a quarterly sales forecast. It’s important to get that right because, you can see, “Okay, how’s our performance? Are we trending or not trending?” So supporting a sales leader in their forecast is big. If you haven’t had a lot of exposure to forecast calls or pipeline or different stages of pipeline, all that is an intrinsic…or leads, right? What’s a good lead model?

There’s this domain knowledge that I felt I didn’t really have exposure to just because my prior project experience didn’t expose me to it. What’s really important in those scenarios is you’re probably not going to be able to learn enough to be effective by just trying to do the work. It will help to go look at external sources and I did that with forecasting and business intelligence. We were going to set up all of our sales reporting. That was one of the first projects they gave to me is, we’re going to do it in Domo. I just tried to wing it, like open up Domo, we had some consultants helping us. What can we build? Taking a step back and actually reading some enablement material on it. Taking a step back and looking for some white papers on forecasting. Looking for white papers on a good lead model. Reading those really helped catch me up, and all of a sudden, stuff I had been working on, which I thought I understood, you get this, “Ah-ha!” when you take a step back and you read someone else discussing it. I would say stuff that was lacking was my domain knowledge for the specific work I was doing. It wasn’t really there and it took concentrated effort to get caught up. Another one being, if you’re going to work with business intelligence tools and you don’t know anything you, that does take some ramping up. Other stuff I wasn’t prepared for…I think sales ops is really great because, you were talking about some prior guests, and you might get into a role that is…for example, when I took this Director of Sales Ops role, one of the first things we were doing is the planning cycle. This is a hard thing where you gotta say, “Okay, the board gives you a target…this is what you need.” Then you say, “Okay, we have to now assign that bookings target out and quota…” But it gets more complicated…“What are our renewals? What do we have available for renewal? What’s going to be our renewal rate? Now we have this big target, okay, who gets what? We’ve going to give this much to APAC, this much to EMEA, this much to the Americas.” Then, “What headcount do they need?” You have to run these capacity models to figure out what that the headcount should look like. There’s stuff like that where you have to know that all these things that need to get done.

The other thing is  this idea of some of these real life consequences for some of your mistakes, which was something for which I wasn’t prepared. So I take that Director of Sales Ops role and I have a massive sales comp budget that we need to come up with comp plans. And I was familiar with comp plans, I had done that before, so I actually had some good domain expertise. But then we actually have to implement and pay people every month, which we work with finance to do. At one point, even though it was in their plan, someone was getting very large payment. I’m like, “Well, it’s in the plan. That’s what the payment should be.” That turned out to be too large, and that was something I really needed to have told my boss about and I did not. You’re going to make some mistakes. I think that’s something where, in consulting, no one is counting on you that they’re going to get a direct deposit in their bank account. That was something, all of a sudden, there were very real life consequences. Oh, and you got something wrong. One, it’s going to cost company a ton of money, or two, someone is not getting money they should.

There is this thing of, all of a sudden, you can be put into positions where your mistakes have more gravity to them. You have to recognize we’re all human, we all make mistakes, but you can’t beat yourself up too much about it. However, it’s definitely something you have to be more careful with.

 

Steven Haug: There’s not another project that you’re moving onto, right? This is what you’re working on and you’re going to be around for if it works, and then if it doesn’t work, you’re still going to be around there too. Good. You know, one of the things that I’m curious about is you were at Cloudera for a while, left for about a year and came back again. You’ve been with the company for a while. What’s one of the things you’re most proud about in your career there?

 

Nash Springberry: I would say, I was about thinking my answer, like why I came back and what have you. I think there’s a couple things we got done. One of them being building out all of this reporting infrastructure. It’s one of those things like, people had Salesforce, right? But at Cloudera, we’re drinking our own Champaign. We had an amazing, essentially, a data warehouse. We didn’t have any consistent metrics that the sales team would look at, and these are really big organizations and so we got together in a room. We went through a massive list of metrics and said, “This is what’s going to be important for how we manage our business pipeline generation.” Then we have set pipeline generation goals, which were then even referenced on a on our earnings call like, “Oh, hey, we’re on track because these pipeline generation goals.” When I heard my work on an earnings call that was like this is kind of fun. This stuff does matter to people, right? That was important that we can track and say, “We’re generating enough…,” or, “we’re not generating enough…” pipeline.

Then we built out reporting infrastructure that of course goes with all these metrics in Tableau. It was really good and really robust, to the point where they were thinking about, “Let’s break off and become an analytic center of excellence,” and we actually took on different analytics projects. As we were trying to migrate people to the new platform, we needed dashboarding that shows that as our public cloud product was taking off, we needed reporting to track its progress there. All of a sudden, it was stuff that was really tangential to my role, but I was being pulled in and the team, Matt Perry, who was on my team, we were being pulled in to do these special projects and I think that was really gratifying.

I would say probably the biggest thing though was Hortonworks and Cloudera merged. That happened… I was at Hortonworks for six months. I joined in February and that October, September they announced the merger. It’s was a merger of equals, but Cloudera was more valuable at the time, so as you know with company control, you only need 51% to have all the say. It was really a merger of equals where Cloudera was going to be the company in control in the surviving Co. We had these functional integration leadership teams and it was two people from each company for each function. For the sales function it was the VP of Strategy and Ops at Cloudera, my good mentor and friend Tristan Munday, a VP of Finance and Controller, and also the ex-CFO, Mary Rorabaugh, who is also a great friend and mentor and one of the reasons I came back. Then it was Craig Ryall, who’s our SVP of Sales Strategy and Ops at Hortonworks, and then me. I was like a manager, a junior manager at the time, and I was in this room full of senior VPs, VPs and we’re in charge of merging the sales function with a huge synergy target because, essentially, you’re merging two equally sized companies. You’re going to have some redundancy and part of the merger thesis is you would have cost synergies. We had a massive synergy target that four people, with the help of, actually my old consulting partners who I did the original project with, they come in to help with the merger as well. That was really great to be able to work with them again, but it was crazy to take an instrumental role in setting and doing that big body of work of integrating two sales functions.

 

Steven Haug: I think if you’re with the company for four years, you finally make the decision to join a new company, you’re there for six months and you hear that a merger is happening? I think usually you get a little nervous. You’re the new one there, you’re probably redundant once these companies merge, but you were put in the driver’s seat there and were the one making the decisions and handling all the integrations and finding the synergies.

 

Nash Springberry: And I should say, I was definitely the responsible, the racy consultant…I was consulted. But it was still the epicenter of all of it. Some of the stuff we did put forward in a brainstorming session ended up being what we submitted to our CFO. There were things like our renewal rate reporting was different, the methodology was different, and it was probably, I would say, erroneous and there were decisions made in our licensing model based on that. So, the data connecting the two companies, I think that was a really interesting role to play. I think we did some stuff well and we got some stuff wrong. But it was a really rewarding experience.

 

Steven Haug: That’s cool. Then, to the question that I think you and I both almost brought up a couple times. You left Cloudera for a little over a year and then came back. Can you walk us through to those moves?

 

Nash Springberry: As the pandemic went on, I had this thing where I felt a little antsy. I felt, I guess you could call it burnout. I just didn’t feel like I was engaged or as motivated. I felt like I wanted to be trying something different. Then I get one of those phone calls, where it was an old colleague who’s at a different company and said, “Hey,” this company, where he had a really good relationship with the CEO, they’re “looking for a new Director, of Sales Ops. I said you’d be a great candidate. Do you want to talk?” I’m like, “Yes, I’m always up for a conversation, it’s good to explore things,” even though, I wasn’t really planning any move whatsoever at that point. I was staying the course, starting to feel a little disengaged, but for the most part, happy where I was. Totally happy. Then I’m like, “Oh wow, this sounds…it feels like a big step up in responsibility. At Cloudera in that position I felt like I had a lot of coverage. I had many, many bosses to the top or at Single Store it wouldn’t be like that, it was a much smaller company.

I had also not answered some recruitment calls in the past. Those companies where I didn’t take the call, you know, I had a LinkedIn message saying, “Hey, look, we thought you’d be a great fit for this role,” and those companies ended up that have blockbuster IPO’s. I imagine I would have had a very great, if I’d gone over there, I would have made a lot of money. That fear of missing out was still there as well. So I was thinking, “I should go to a smaller company, a startup that hasn’t scaled yet and see if I can also do the fun work of helping it grow in scale and then you get the commiserate reward when it eventually goes public or they get an exit.” That was a big motivation as well. I absolutely loved Single Store, I had a great experience there. It wasn’t quite the right role for me, and there was some growing pains, definitely. When I made it to the year mark and Cloudera called again, it was just a really perfect opportunity to be like, “You know, I don’t think I have necessarily been a great fit, so now’s a good opportunity to go back to  an organization I love, and people I love and I’m now working with. And I loved the people I worked with at Single Store, I wouldn’t say that. I absolutely loved working with them. My team was fantastic and the executive leadership was fantastic. My manager was fantastic, who I ended up getting a VP of Finance to sit above me. Everything was great on that end. But at Cloudera, I really did feel like I was part of this family I’d been a part of for three years, all that history, I just knew the working culture, the people. I really enjoyed being there and I missed that experience. Sometimes, you go over to the grass, and I wouldn’t say I went to non-green grass. I think the grass over where I went was great, but you realize you were already sitting on the greenest patch of grass and you know you don’t necessarily have to leave, right?

 

Steven Haug: Yes, that’s good advice. Before we wrap up here, is there any other advice you’d give consultants thinking about maybe making the jump into industry?

 

Nash Springberry: Yes, I would say do your homework. If you’re going to join a smaller company, it’s okay to ask for financials. Maybe something was verbalized to you, but you want to say, “Oh, it’s this growth, not that.” Those are important decisions on the trajectory of that company. That was something someone else had told me, so I’m not saying that’s relevant to my scenario, but I thought that was good advice, so you can definitely ask for that stuff.

I would think deeply about what the trajectory of that exit would look like. If you’re going to go into something where it feels like, “Okay, this could be more pigeonholed,” or “this actually could give me a broader skill set,” I would look into that because, you could find yourself on a path you can’t really get off of so easily. If you’re going to make that first jump, I think people are willing to take more of a chance on you not having certain domain expertise. I think after that point, people are willing to do it, but you will be like, “Oh, sales ops, he’s a sales ops guy, he has sales ops experience…” and I was able to get into more of a strategy role because of the working relationships I already had. But I know that’s always a concern of will this role allow me to change roles in the future or will I be more locked? That’s something I definitely think about. Do your homework on the company you’re joining, try to understand the role better.

 

Steven Haug: Thanks for that Nash, and thanks so much for joining us here.

 

Nash Springberry: Yes, it was great. Thanks for having me. I loved talking with you.

 

 

Connect with Nash on LinkedIn and visit www.cloudera.com for more information.

 

 

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