The History, and future, of Kicksaw

The Start

Kicksaw got its start unexpectedly. 

One evening in April of 2015 I received a message from a former co-worker who needed help with Salesforce.

At the time I was running Business Ops for a startup and wasn’t considering SFDC consulting as a career but like all good things, they often show up unexpectedly.

The call went well and we agreed that I’d help on nights and weekends configuring their Salesforce instance for $75/hour. I was stunned that anyone would pay me anything for a few fields and reports created in Salesforce.

Over time, this client talked to a few friends who also needed help; those friends talked to more, and before I knew it, I was making as much on nights and weekends as I was from my day job. At that point, it became clear that I could do this on my own.

What this was was a little unclear. I jumped on a call when my clients needed it, I helped them talk through the problem they faced, I’d build out whatever needed to be built and send them an invoice. No problemo.

If I could get to 10 customers, I’ll have it made!

Often, being inexperienced is a bad thing because you make avoidable mistakes. In other situations, being inexperienced is an advantage. Much of the work I was willing to do on behalf of my clients wasn’t something other consulting firms wanted –  The projects and tasks were too small, the budgets weren’t fixed and it would be difficult to forecast the value of a given client.

As a sole proprietor, I could do what I wanted: Client needs something knocked out quickly? No problem. I’d meet as often as a client wanted to, billing every second along the way.

Before starting to consult, I had never really worked with a consulting firm. I didn’t know how engagements ought to be run. I was mostly focused on solving the problems my customers couldn’t. Having no experience consulting meant I made avoidable mistakes, but I also formed the DNA of Kicksaw based on that naivete. 

My dad told me growing up, “do what you love, and you never have to work a day in your life.” And what I loved most about consulting was that I got brand new problems, every day. I didn’t want a job, what I wanted was to solve problems.

As an internal employee, I was stuck solving the same problems, for the same people. These people often had a bias or agenda. As an external consultant, I was always the hero, the good guy, coming in to save the day. As an employee, any faults were mine.

Having your company’s DNA and core values focused around solving problems on behalf of your customers, and trusting everything else would work out in the end, was completely different than what my customers were used to facing and what the competition was doing.

If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together

As I toiled away on nights and weekends cleaning up excel spreadsheets and doing data loads a former customer of mine came out of the woodwork. He had been a sales ops manager at a client of mine and had little experience administering Salesforce. He was sharp, and a hard worker, but really couldn’t take any projects off my plate.

Instead, he took off the tasks I didn’t want to do. Excel sheet needs to be cleaned up, he’s on it. Data load went sideways; someone’s gotta clean it up.

For Kenny, it was trial by fire with little support from me. From my perspective I had someone eager to learn, the last thing I wanted to do was get in his way, and the most effective way to teach in my opinion is OJT: On the job training.

Kenny, being the hard worker that he is, spent hours and hours researching solutions to the most mundane tasks. Tasks that’d take me 5-10 minutes at most would take him hours, but in my mind, that was ok. He was learning, and learning how to teach himself. My mentor had done the same for me. It was grueling googling answers over and over, but it taught me resilience and that if I put enough effort into something, I could figure it out myself. Kenny caught on in exactly the same way.

As Kenny’s skills grew, the tasks became more complex, and I took my hand off the handlebar little by little. One day I couldn’t attend a call and asked Kenny to take lead on it. To no one’s surprise, Kenny crushed the task, and the one after that and the one after that. Before I knew it, he was running projects end to end which included the onboarding, solutioning, scoping, build and deployment. My hands were completely off the handlebar.

This is a real thing

One day, Kenny set some time on my calendar and said, “I want to be a 50/50 partner with you.”

I had not been taking Kicksaw very seriously and had my eyes on another prize. Kenny, on the other hand, was seeing how much potential there was for us at Kicksaw. He’d built out a partner program with Salesforce which dramatically changed the trajectory of the business. He was doing better and more complex integrations than we’d done in the past. We were exceeding the expectations of our customers and it was clear we’d found product-market fit.

Kenny’s pitch to me to make this a real thing and really step on the gas caught me off guard, Kicksaw was an afterthought, it was a thing I did to pay the bills while I focused my real energy elsewhere.

Kenny saw Kicksaw for what it was: The opportunity to build the type of company we want to work for.

Competition

In the Salesforce consulting world you generally have two options when it comes to finding a good partner:

  1. Work with a Simplus, Traction on Demand, Deloitte, etc.
  2. Work with a Kyle and Kenny

Typically, the Kyle and Kenny’s of the world struggle to find new business. After all, who wants to work with two dudes with laptops who live in different countries and had never even met each other?

On the other hand, your options of working with the big players meant you’re spending $100k minimum, you’ve got to scope everything you want done up front and any changes are going to be expensive.

It felt like most companies that needed Salesforce help needed something in the middle. They wanted experienced people who get their problems and realize that requirements change as you build

There are times where requirements change minute-to-minute and lumpy waterfall-style project management doesn’t work well. The established firms out there have hundreds of sales reps with mouths to feed. They need money up front. They need to know how much and what their margins are. Your Deloitte’s, Accenture’s, etc. want predictability.

In our world, predictability meant nothing. At the end of every month we knew our clients could/would cancel. This meant we had to focus on delivering value, ultimately nothing else mattered. It doesn’t matter how technically mature your solution is. If it doesn’t add value to the customer, they’re 1) not going to adopt it or 2) resent having to have paid for it.

For Kenny and I, we spoke to our customers on a weekly or daily basis. We set up slack channels to make it easier to communicate. We scoped and rescoped and then rescoped again. If our customers needed it, we did it.

Scaling

Being extremely customer-centric works best when you’ve got your ear to the ground and you’re hearing the problems of your customers each day. As our customer base grew, our champions changed jobs and brought us along with them. We doubled, then doubled again, and again. 

To match this growth we had to bring on additional support. We needed someone who knew Apex, someone to take on admin tasks, someone to run implementations. It was a slippery slope to growth: the more we doubled down on working the way we wanted to work, the more value our customers got out of it.

It was as if the other models of consulting were wrong, and we had clued into the right one.

In 2018 Kicksaw did $450k in revenue; in 2019 we did $750k, in 2020 we did $3MM, in 2021 we’re targeting $12MM.

With this growth we’ve had to adjust how we do things. Of course, Kenny and I can’t be involved in every meeting (though Kenny still tries). We’re no longer the best-positioned person to pull levers on internal tools; we’re not the best people to do most of the things Kicksaw does. 

What we’re currently best at is identifying the people who align with our culture, and our values, and getting them on the bus. We may need to adjust where they sit on the bus, but for us to maintain the quality, consistency and core values of the company we run, we have to let go of tasks that historically fell on our plate.

True North

In 2016 it was really just Kenny and I doing work for customers, so he and I were easily aligned on how the company should run. Today, we’ve got over 30 people working at the company and more on the way. Kenny and I can no longer manage every aspect of the business, we have to set out a clear vision for the team.

Setting a clear vision isn’t always easy; Do we want them to focus on making the company more money? More logos? Better logos? Better implementations? More complex implementations? How do you do this?

First, Kenny and I had to align on what our personal goals were for the company. Kenny and I were both in agreement that Kicksaw can and should set the standard for how consulting companies operate, specifically in the Revops and SFDC ecosystem. We have an incredible opportunity to take on and win against the bigger entrenched and antiquated competitors. We have advantages in being small, nimble and able to react to our customers’ needs better than the Simplus’ of the world. We have more talent, experience and time in the saddle than any of the smaller companies competing in the same space. 

We had clarity on what the company could do. What we didn’t have was a True North, the direction we wanted everyone in the company to pull towards. 

We want Kicksaw to be the company we would want to work for

Here at Kicksaw, we’ve been lucky to find people who want to work at the type of company Kenny and I want to create. There are certain people whose personality does not jibe with how we work. Some folks want consistency and predictability, some want a fancy office and some want a more robust career path. 

Kenny and I are aligned that we want Kicksaw to be the place to work on 1) the most interesting projects with 2) the most interesting, supportive and positive people we can find. We have to pay well, offer great benefits and give people the freedom and flexibility to solve interesting problems and help them when they get stuck.

Like anything, we’re trying to make it more-perfect every day. We have a ton of room to grow as it pertains to personal development and dozens of other areas of the business, however, we try our best to be clear and consistent with our team that we are trying to make things better and ask them to do the same.

The byproduct of this is a strong, inclusive and extremely supportive culture. One where team members, who’ve never met before, work hand-in-hand, offer spare rooms in their homes for others to visit and ask questions they’re embarrassed to ask in our #safe-space channel.

Again, Kicksaw isn’t perfect, it never will be, but each day our goal is to make it 1% better and Kenny and I feel incredibly fortunate to have team members who feel the same way.

What’s next?

Back in 2015, I couldn’t have dreamed Kicksaw would grow into what we are today. In 2018 I couldn’t have imagined we’d have 30 people by the end of 2020 and it’s difficult for us to imagine where we’ll be next year, or five years from now!

All we know is that we must keep our customers’ needs at the forefront of everything we do and  with the team of talented, strong, motivated and good people we have today, we can accomplish anything we want.

In short, I’m so motivated by what’s in front of us in 2021(and behind us in 2020). I feel incredibly fortunate to be working with such good people on such interesting problems.