About the Episode
What does it take to build a great business? Tim and Sara Hale, co-founders and managing partners of Coastal Cloud, believe it’s breaking away from the norm. From recruiting consultants with incredibly diverse and nontraditional backgrounds to building a workplace focused on providing a better work-life balance, Tim and Sara share the ways they’ve strategically shifted away from “business as normal” to produce something better for employees, partners, and customers.
Meet Our Guest
Tim and Sara Hale have more than 25 years of experience working in tech consulting with clients across the globe. This husband-and-wife team has accomplished something few people could do on their own and even fewer could accomplish alongside their spouse: running a successful business. They decided to chase their dreams and launch their own Salesforce consulting agency, Coastal Cloud, after building exceptional careers at large consultancies. In less than 10 years, they’ve grown to an organization of close to 350 employees that serves nearly 1,000 clients around the world.
Chris Byers: Building a thriving, customer-focused company with happy, engaged, and highly skilled employees takes more than hard work, it takes strong leadership, commitment, and experience. Sarah Hale and Tim Hale are managing partners and co-founders of Coastal Cloud, an award-winning IT consulting firm. Combined, they have over 50 years of experience focused on building industry-specific technology solutions, while their business has developed as a leader in the space. What's unique is their mantra to live at the beach. Work in the cloud. What's the driving force behind this mentality and how do they breed this into their company culture? That's what we'll unpack here on this episode. I'm Chris Byers, a form stack and this is Ripple Effect, a show celebrating the positive impact our decisions create. Sarah, Tim, welcome to the show.
Sara Hale: Thank you. We're excited to be here.
Tim Hale: Thanks for having us.
Chris Byers: Before we get too much into the conversation, can you share a bit of detail into what coastal cloud does?
Sara Hale: Coastal Cloud is an IT consulting company. We work with cloud-based solutions, and the biggest platform that we work with is a product called Salesforce.com. So we help businesses grow and solve their problems through using technology.
Chris Byers: You, too, have a unique story in that you work together, and not everyone can work with their kind of significant other. How did you guys get into that? What happened that made all that work out?
Sara Hale: Well, I still wonder about how it happened. We do work together and it can be a lot of fun and it can have its challenges. But when we were looking to start Coastal Cloud, Tim had retired from a big consulting company and we were looking at ideas on starting something up. And he said We should start this and I was like, You and me together, and he's like, Yeah, and I start thinking through, Hmm. You had 500 people working for you when you left this big consulting firm, and now you're going to have one person. This is not sounding good for me. So at first, I said I did not think it was a good idea. But as time went on and we realized the possibility, we realized that we could actually do some great things with forming coastal cloud and we wanted to create the company that we would have wanted to work for. And that's how we started it and it's still working.
Tim Hale: I think it also helped that we met at work to Chris like we were at this same global consulting firm together, and that gave us this kind of shared experience of there were great things about these huge firms, but there were also some not so great things, particularly the balance of our personal life with our work life. But basically at the time, those organizations demanded. So I think that shared experience and then our shared experience as a family helped us shape what we wanted to do with coastal how to be different.
Chris Byers: Let's dig in to that just a little bit more. We shared that very visionary kind of phrase at the beginning of how you guys think about things that may have pulled up your website. You're all standing on the beach, a man. I've got to change my life. Maybe start us at the beginning, though. What kind of got you into this particular like it consulting and then even tying yourself to Salesforce
Sara Hale: leading up to where we live now in Palm Coast, Florida? We lived for two years in Hawaii and living in Hawaii made us realize that it's pretty great to live where you want to live, not necessarily be outside of a major metropolitan area, at least for us, that was our preference. So after our stay in Hawaii, we made what was going to be our vacation home, our full time home and moved here. And we started a different company which did some high level strategy consulting. And in that work, we got familiar with Salesforce. We actually used it on a project and implemented it and specifically myself and two other women who also had elementary aged kids in the household. We're working on this with us. They were both people at a global consulting firm, and I couldn't believe the power of the platform and that I could do it from home. That's actually why I left consulting was that I had to be and I traveled for seven years straight and had to be on site where the servers were for the companies, and I didn't think I could raise a family that way. And when we realized the power of this platform and that you could do it from anywhere, I could do it from a soccer field as my kid was doing practice that it was a very powerful and then so fast to build and configure on that experience. So that first company made us realize that we could launch this and we could launch it from the beach and have this motto of live at the beach, work in the cloud, which people live everywhere now or that work for us with people in 31 states right now. But it's just symbolic of you can do it from wherever, and that's been great.
Chris Byers: What were some of the challenges you ran into in those earlier days?
Tim Hale: I think one of the first ones was just how we would get above the noise of the Salesforce partner ecosystem. There were eight hundred registered Salesforce consulting companies out there. And how would little coastal cloud from a town called Home Coast Florida get above that noise? How do we differentiate ourselves both in winning clients, but also in growing the best team in the business at the end of the day? It really is just the people business and what we're doing. We spent a lot of time trying to figure out what would be unique about our value proposition to clients and to people. And what we really discovered was this work life balance where a lot of people seeking the same kind of balance of Sarah and I were seeking, which is how can we have engaging, rewarding professional consulting careers, but also have a good home life and be able to coach our kids soccer teams or what have you? And what we found out is that helped attract talent because a lot of people were looking for a different balance. But I think what we didn't expect is it also. A native with clients, because very often we would talk about the business model we set up and what our culture is about. A lot of senior executives of big companies will say, Wow, I'm seeking the same balance myself, and it would become a very authentic sort of personal discussion with people that really, I think, created a different bond between us and our clients and our team in general.
Chris Byers: So I would think somebody who's listening might say, Oh, that sounds great, but I feel like I'm going to give something up. I'm going to give up growth, I'm going to give up the profit, whatever it happens to be. How do you balance that one to give people the balance in their lives, but maybe moments where it feels like the business loses because of that?
Tim Hale: To me that it's you can't really get away from it, like, how do we engineer it to be better? That's really the point. Like, the nature of work we do is just demanding. No, it just is. But then how do we reduce any friction? There is around that outside of it. That makes sense. For example, we do video communication since day one. Now we all operate in this post-COVID era where we're very comfortable with all this virtual work, but we were already built that way from the beginning. So it meant that people could be very dedicated to client work and project work, but very instantly switched to their personal lives without a whole lot of kind of transition. Between that versus, we lived in the Washington, D.C. area and I had, you know, our commute each way, every day, for example, and just eliminating some of that as best we could.
Sara Hale: It was very intentional on the way we set this up that we can use technology to really help with all of this. So I need to go run and pick up kids and do activities from three to five p.m. I can mark that as blocked in my calendar. What we try to do is measure our people on the deliverables that they're delivering and they can figure out in their schedule when they get that done. We give them the freedom and the flexibility to control so that they can balance the things inside and outside of work better. And this is what I think is so important for companies like how are you measuring your people and make sure that the way you're measuring them allows them to have that flexibility and that accomplishment when we still have to get our work done? We have to deliver to our projects and our clients. Otherwise it won't work, but we can do things that don't necessarily save you physically have to be in the office 10 hours a day to show that you're really dedicated to our team. You can define it all differently and measure it differently. And then having said that, you try to understand what people's priorities are and understand. Some people do want to travel. Some people don't want to travel with some people. It's just difficult because of the logistics that need to get scheduled in their household to travel. Trying to understand what people's preferences are help. And having said that, these are goals and we don't always achieve it because certainly anyone who's on our team that's been working with our vaccine management solutions would say we maybe aren't achieving our best work-life balance right now, but it's for a really great cause and that makes them motivated to work hard for it. There's goals and measures that you can put in place, but then sometimes you've got to seize the moment when a lot of opportunity of work is coming your way.
Chris Byers: Having had the broad ability to work anywhere, do you think that's actually brought you a different set of team members than might have been if you had been in an office only environment?
Sara Hale: Absolutely. It's funny. We actually started out with a lot more women than men early on because we tapped into our old network of people that had left consulting. Due to these exact reasons, people go through different phases of their life, and the way we've set it up has attracted them. And then also, they're so appreciative of it that it has helped us retain those people. And so it's worked.
Tim Hale: We really went after pockets of talent, Chris, that we thought were not being given that channel into these sort of careers. So a lot of it was moms that have been consultants that were raising their kids. But then once their kids were in school, some hours of the day, they had some flexibility. So we designed a path that would work for them. And it's been great. Similarly, we target spouses in the military. If you step back and get very intense about wow, how many other diverse sources of talent are there that people are not really going after mainstream? There's just a wealth of talent out there
Chris Byers: since you guys have built a great, diverse team at love for the audience to hear. What are some of the values that you think your team brings because of that diversity that other people don't get to experience?
Sara Hale: So I think the biggest thing that people need to realize is that it's not just because it's it's good or it's the right thing to do. It's very profitable. There's all kinds of statistics that show that if you have a more diverse workforce, you'll be more profitable and serve your clients better. And I present on this topic and show it. So it's actually that it's good business to do that. And I think the reason why is that, you know, even as Tim and I both co-lead this company together, we're both coming at it from different perspectives. And then that allows us to create better value for client employees or different clients or different and we can. Assembled different teams that sort of match up well with those clients and achieve their goals, which ultimately makes us profitable.
Tim Hale: I agree. Again, it comes back to it's a people business to me. We need to be able to connect with our clients to really earn a trusted adviser relationship. And our clients all come from very diverse backgrounds and experiences and what we need to reflect that. So I think it just is the way the world is headed and it's great and we should all be embracing it because it's more rewarding. But it's also very good business results, too. And it comes up and measurable things like we have a super high win rate, for example, of subsequent projects with clients. Chris, we have an 85 percent win rate. Once we work with the client, they're likely to select us again, and it's phenomenal. Similarly, on our team, we have only a seven percent attrition rate that's very low for the industry, and that's one half to a third of what many others are. And I think it's all about that connectedness of the people.
Chris Byers: Let's take a moment and imagine we could all drop into a company meeting or kind of a company experience. Obviously, you've brought Work-Life Balance, but a more diverse team to the table. Are there some other things that you think people would notice that look a little bit different about how you define success or how you communicate about what life looks like?
Sara Hale: Well, it's interesting because we just brought in someone who's worked with a lot of different places, and he was going to help us build out a strategy for one of our business units. So he was going around and interviewing all of our people and then checking things out, and he came back and said, I've never met a group of people working together that are is collaborative and and focused on teamwork and doing the right thing. So I don't know what you're doing, but there wasn't a single person that was trying to outdo the other person. So I think whatever we're trying to do is trying to make sure the whole company benefits if we're all working well together and not necessarily working for yourself within our company.
Chris Byers: As you look back and reflect on some of the success you've had. Can you think of a key decision that you made somewhere along the way for the company that's really gotten you where you are today?
Tim Hale: Yeah, 2020 was a challenging year and we grew 50 percent in that year because we were able to be nimble and adjust to what the market was doing, but also because we were already built to be very productive in a virtual environment. I think the other thing is that we tend not to go after, like the global 2000 companies, we tend to be more middle market, enterprise focused and those organizations, they just move faster and they don't want to pay, frankly, for you to have armies on site every day and traveling even in a pre-COVID world. We're just designed to be able to work in a more remote fashion, but still a very high touch, high velocity, high value delivery to sort of mode. And I think that's really helped us out, helped us navigate COVID. And this helped us just grow in general,
Chris Byers: running a remote organization also and having done so for a number of years. One of the things that I always tell people is what you tend to trade off when you go remote is you actually tend to have a much more productive workforce because they tend to be less distracted, et cetera. But one of the things you tend to give up is some of the collaborative moments that you get in an office environment and to meet some of the ways that plays out is around innovating your offerings and what you offer to customers. I'm curious, how do you stay on top of innovation with what you offer?
Tim Hale: We're organized in almost like different pods, criss around different clouds from salesforce or different industries and things, and each of those keep very close to their associated clients. So I think we do a good job of of giving constant feedback from the market. And then where we can abstracting those into common solutions that that we can help deliver faster because we we pre build some accelerators we call them that allow us to go after recurring problems much faster. Now, every one of those gets tailored to the unique needs of again client, but just that we can walk in with pre-built sort of innovation. That's just a win win. The client gets value faster and then we are able to deliver faster with frankly less cost and less risk of that delivery because it's more repeatable. It is a challenge for us to continue to do that because at the end of the day, we are a services company, not a product company. It's hard to be both. But we do try to drive more and more repeatability to these high value solutions. Sarah has done a ton of them in public sector. It's going great.
Chris Byers: Well, I love that idea of pods because I've noticed your team looks like it's grown to a pretty decent size. And I know in a remote world, especially when you move away from that moment, things can get a little bit more difficult. How do you think about happiness of those employees and staying engaged when you probably struggle to know all their names these days?
Sara Hale: Well, we're. Trying to do is create businesses within our business, if that makes any sense, because, you know, it's like a family right now, and we do know most of the people, but we aren't going to as it continues to grow. But we're broken into eight different business units now, and we are encouraging the executives that leave those business units that now their responsibility is for their group of a smaller set up of the people so that they still feel that they're a part of something and know each other's lives inside of work and lives outside of work if people want to share that. And so that's what we're doing so that it does feel that way. But that's going to be our challenge because we love knowing everyone and everyone's stories, but we'll need to push it to the next level of our executives to keep that culture,
Tim Hale: you know, in their early days, Chris there and I recruited everybody ourselves, I think like any startup does. And then sometime probably last year is when I would say we we let go of the reins or they were taken from us. But there were then people coming into the organization that we hadn't been part of the recruiting process for. So over the holidays, we said, let's do something that we love. We are in this because of our team and the stewardship we feel on their individual careers and lives. So now every month we sit down with all the new joiners of that month. We just did it earlier today, in fact, and it's a blast. They all get to know Tim and Sarah personally. We get to hear about their personal stories, and they also become virtual start group together. All the people that started in that given months. And it's a way for us to one kind of expose why we started coastal and the key values that we we hope to continue on and make sure they feel connected and aware of that. We like to still feel small despite being big and make sure that personal connected culture that has been our hallmark continues
Chris Byers: as you serve your clients. Obviously, your technology is a big part of what helps you live out your mission and how you allow people to work in a really creative way. What are some other ways that technology helps you just be productive at work and be effective in your work?
Sara Hale: One example is just we run our whole business on the Salesforce platform from marketing all the way through accounting and invoicing, and we can do that with very minimal people. People that come in and look at how we're running it can't believe how little support staff that we have because we are really enabling technology to run it all the way through and understand our customers, understand what we're winning. And so we target the right customers. Which opportunities are we losing? So we don't necessarily spend time going after that, making sure we aren't selling new work to customers that maybe haven't paid us. The ability to see all the data on one system and do it very quickly has been a key part of why we've been able to grow successfully, especially in the services business, where you're tracking the utilization of a whole bunch of resources. We can use technology and tableau specifically to really help us understand who's not getting utilized, what roles have demands and where we need to hire people. So it's been very powerful in that if we had not put that in place early, it would have significantly impacted our ability to scale.
Chris Byers: You've been in business for for more than 10 years or around 10 years now. What are some of the great lessons you've learned, and we'd love to hear from both of you on that.
Tim Hale: There's just unlimited potential out there, Chris. We are living in an incredible time where the combination of both technology and I guess I would call it the entrepreneurial spirit is at all time highs so that small companies can make a huge impact at a pace that I think we never used to be able to do. Like, there are just so many enablers. So if you have good ideas and a good team that anybody can do anything and I mean, I think we see it in the pace of how the largest companies in the world have turned over so much in the last few decades versus the past. Just the acceleration of innovation and opportunity is amazing. And now there's a lot of risk in it because you can't sit back. If you get a lead, you can't rest. But I do think that what we've seen over the last 10 years is you can go out and start like we did coastal in our garage basically and grow into a 300 person shop in a matter of years while still doing it very efficiently and serving some of the best brands in the world. When I just I wouldn't have thought that was possible a dozen years ago, but I think the accessibility of information and the technology tools and so many supporting entrepreneurs, we were speaking to a to another entrepreneur this morning that is that is raising his options for getting financing or phenomenal these days from just the traditional banking options, for example.
Sara Hale: Well, I agree with all those things. So it can be, I guess, the lesson. Learned would be do continue to get support and get people to help you. You're only going to grow if you get leverage and hire people at the beginning. You do everything yourself because you're small and every research, the health plans and all these things that aren't a part of your core service that you're trying to sell that have to get into place and you get you do that. But then as you grow, we would slowly take those operations off our plate. OK, now we're going to hire someone to help us hire people. We're going to hire someone who's going to help us with our finance. We're going to hire someone that's helping us with our contracts. We're going to hire people to run these different business units. Just continuing to do that at a fast pace and then trusting them and giving them responsibility is very important.
Chris Byers: And you said something that reminds me of some earlier days in my time, which was I remember having seven people and thinking 20 people sounds like a good landing spot. And it sounds like you've had a similar experience of exceeding expectations. So what keeps you going? What keeps you headed forward?
Sara Hale: When we started the first business in 2008, we had just moved to a beach resort that and the previous year had the highest growth in the state of Florida. And this year had the highest unemployment number in the state of Florida. So when we moved here, the real estate bubble has burst and the stock market had gone down and our community was really hurt by it. The traditional tourism and real estate community was very impacted and it was really sad. And what we realized we could do is we could start a business and employ people in an industry that's not one of those. So that was the beginning of a starting. And as we've continued to grow, it's been great to give people that did not come from a traditional background or technical background opportunities in this ecosystem. That's been very rewarding. And in addition to that, we hire high school interns that we've been very involved with the school district to make sure we helped get a technology flagship program set up so that our children in our area are also learning about careers that are outside of what they're seeing every day. Florida traditionally might lose some of their talent to go to these larger areas, and it's important to realize that they can stay here and have really fulfilling careers, and that's been super rewarding.
Chris Byers: Tell us more about some of the people you think you've positively impacted over the years. I think you started to unpack that, but would love to hear more
Sara Hale: help start with the ones top of mind. I mean, even just the intern. So we've been doing that program for six years now. Some of them have come to work for us full time, some high school interns, so some of them are in college now. And with all this vaccine management, one of them has a Haitian background. So she speaks Haitian and we needed to provide this solution and Spanish, Haitian, Creole and English. So from her dorm room up in D.C., she gets on and does user does testing for us to make sure that in this other language, it's flowing correctly and we can continue to employ them, and they are now looking at technology as a career opportunity. And then there's been other people that used to do either home automation and one person did mold remediation. And then we would say, if you can go get certified, then we'll consider hiring you. And that gave people a chance to go, prove it and see if they liked it and if they had good communication skills and other things, we would take a chance on it. And it's been fun and they are very excited to have the opportunities that they now have.
Chris Byers: I love that idea, too, of really impacting people who haven't gone to college yet. And I think that there's so much conversation this past year about college degrees and how they can be a blocker to people taking jobs. I love that way. You're thinking about engaging people very early because I do think there's so many opportunities these days that really do not require the college degree. I think there's plenty that might, but I think a lot that don't. And so love that you're thinking that way.
Sara Hale: I waited tables in college, so I love that people can have can do this part time from their dorm room and probably make more money and do it in safer environments, potentially. And so that's that's great, too, if if they do decide to go to college, they can still work part time and make some money along the way.
Chris Byers: Tell us what's next for coastal cloud? What's going on in the future?
Tim Hale: Yeah. What is next, Sara?
Sara Hale: I'm hoping to sleep now. We are super excited. We are continuing to grow and we believe that how we've set this up is working. So we're a little bit more focused in the east, southeast and east, and we want to take this strategy and get more geographic coverage in the West while continuing to focus on these middle clients, mid-sized clients or just lower end of enterprise. And I get so excited when we can bring people from nontraditional backgrounds into a great collaborative working environment, whether it's women that left the workforce for eight years. We on our new joiners call today. I think twenty five percent of them have come out of the Vet Force program that Salesforce offers, where they're training former bets on the Salesforce platform. They're being retooled to do this work and. And they've been great.
Tim Hale: I think there's just great market demand for what we're doing. I think it is this whole kind of low code, no code revolution, of which sales force is a great example of it means anyone can compete with anyone, any size company or organization with any other one. And also transforming things like our local governments work and engage with people. It's just there's just unbelievable opportunity to apply these technologies to a range of organizations, not just the big guys anymore. And I think that's going to unleash tons more innovation and hopefully a better quality of life for all of us.
Chris Byers: So tell us if you could give some advice to our listeners, how can they unlock their genius to strike a more balanced approach to life and work?
Sara Hale: I would start with question the normal just because things have been done one way look for opportunity to do it a different way and see if that will work. We were doing a lot of different things early on about how we let people work and traditional hours and how many hours they would work, when they would work. And I think you just always question things and keep looking and reevaluating what's available today that can change how you're doing things.
Tim Hale: People need to be mindful, though, to that's not just about like getting a story of the work life balance they want. They need to think about how that can add value to whoever they're serving to. The real secret sauce is when these new ways of thinking and then flexibility and things are drives more value for our customer and drives a better experience. It doesn't need to be like a zero sum game thing to me. It's thinking not just about what you want to achieve in your own life and the balance you want, but how can that add value? Why would that be attractive to someone else's, too?
Sara Hale: Well, and I loved that during the pandemic, I had a couple of clients after we were two to three months in into this and their workforce was now working remotely. And they're like, OK, Sarah, I know this has nothing to do with what we've hired you to do, but can you tell me how you manage your remote workforce? Because I need to look at things differently, and I know you've been doing it for a long time, and we just went through a whole bunch list of things that we do and gave our ideas on how she can still check in on people, give them things to finish, how you manage your tasks and everything. And it was fun because it's not why we were there to be helping them, but we could still provide them some value and tactics on how to do that.
Chris Byers: Well, as we wrap up the conversation, what do you want people to think about when it comes to defining success for themselves professionally?
Sara Hale: I really believe as a mom that I am only successful if everything around me is successful, and although work is very important to me, it won't mean anything to me if I haven't done what I could to provide my children a good life and set them on on their path to be successful. So I only feel successful if all things in my life are going successful and then just trying to find the balance. That's not as much a professional success. And if I feel good about everything, then I will be more successful in my professional life.
Tim Hale: People just have to get aligned around what is their purpose, whether they get genuine satisfaction from the financial aspect of things. That success is fleeting, right? Meaning the rewards you get, you got to figure out what really motivates you and you get satisfaction from. And it is, I believe, often through the impact you have on others. And we talk a lot about the stewardship of our team. And a lot of our competitors have sold a lot of these other big firms and stuff, Chris. And since we were already in that movie, we don't want to do that again. So we really get great value out of out of creating these other career opportunities for people and hopefully a culture and environment that makes them really satisfied and fulfilled in their families and achieving holistic success in life.
Chris Byers: I love that idea of purpose. How do you think you can encourage other people or as people are listening, what can they do differently to help create a better, positive impact for other people?
Tim Hale: Listen to those people and understand what they're trying to achieve, and there are moments these days where our culture gets a little self-obsessed, some things and self achievement and really stepping back from that and understanding the bigger impact. I do think it is probably a silver lining of COVID that this probably reframed people's thinking in a much more healthy way. But I think they're seeking to understand what others want to achieve and how you can help them achieve that. It's really what it's about. We all have our own compass of what we believe, but really testing that with others and exploring that with others and making sure you understand. Like Sarah said, we run the book together, run a business together. We still come at these things very differently.
Sara Hale: But I also would add to that that just actions speak louder than words. Take action on the things you believe in be a role model. Model for that, and you will find that others will follow or will also take actions on what they believe in.
Chris Byers: In recent episodes, some guests have brought up the way they view or have experienced failure as a lesson learned. How do you view failure?
Sara Hale: You won't know unless you try it. You just pivot. You learn fast. You pivot. You got to try the idea and see if it works. And if it doesn't work, you stop doing it and you move on to the next idea.
Tim Hale: And I think you've got to explore it, but not punish it. And I think a lot of people come from cultures where they're worried about failure on things like we'll lose projects or proposals. And then Sarah and I dig into those to understand not the pun, but to make sure we are all learning from that experience and very often will explore that learning with the the customer themselves that didn't pick us. And those are some of the richest conversations we have because that we take the time to truly try to understand how we can do better in the future.
Chris Byers: To learn more about how people are reimagining their world of work. Head over to practically genius.com also linked in our show notes. Thanks for joining us on this episode of Ripple Effect.