THE FOUNDER’S STORY: A Q&A WITH MARK WENSELL
What prompted you to start Terazo?
In my previous role as the CIO of a large colocation hosting company, I was constantly looking for development resources for new work. We had a great internal team, but they had their hands full building things we were already committed to and we needed more resources to grow as a company. We partnered with various software development companies but found they were either very project oriented, or staff augmentation oriented. In both cases they weren’t invested with us on the outcomes of the programs we were working on. They also approached problems as either app-focused or language-focused, rather than platform-focused.
I wanted a different kind of partner, one that took a holistic platform approach because we had chosen APIs as a strategic element of our growth strategy. We wanted to join the “API economy” but we couldn’t find any software development companies that had a background in that, who could build something that was truly scalable and scale their own approach.
Taking what I learned from that, I wanted to start a company that would have been the vendor I was looking for, but couldn’t find. A software development company that would understand our business and be with us for our whole journey. A professional services firm to help clients build the platforms they needed with API-first technologies, and be with them on the next steps of the journey to run, maintain, and grow as the needs of the business evolved.
Why do you think being API-first is so important in today’s digital world?
It’s really about the speed of innovation. Things move fast in a digital world, and that pace is only going to increase. To compete, stay relevant and meet customers where they are, businesses need to take a builder-mindset.
With an API-first or programmatic approach, customers can evolve their business processes and introduce new capabilities faster. APIs allow businesses to expose the back-end of their operations and systems programmatically to customers and partners, which means they can build whatever they need. With APIs, systems can talk to other systems, automating data and transaction flows between companies. This frees up the people to focus on other things.
With web and mobile apps, and even SaaS, you are much more limited to the defined functionality of these apps. SaaS applications are still valuable to businesses. They take a lot of risk off the table for companies, but it’s a prescribed solution. Eventually companies hit a limit with the “out of the box” functionality of these software packages. They find themselves innovating in lockstep with competitors because they are working from the same playing field. Thankfully some SaaS applications also expose APIs which can help businesses include them within their overall enterprise platforms, beyond just what the SaaS UI offers, in an integrated way.
With a programmatic approach, there is no limit. With the right skills and strategy, a company can create new offerings and new ways to engage with customers and partners that are truly differentiating. APIs make this far easier. For example, it used to be that if you wanted to build even the simplest SMS service from scratch, it was a huge undertaking. Now it is trivial to get up and running on a platform like Twilio in minutes. The capabilities you get day-one with any of the cloud-first or API-first platforms like Twilio cover a lot of heavy lifting and groundwork, but that last mile is still up to you. And that’s where the real magic happens.
What’s your mission and why are you so passionate about it?
Our mission is really two-fold: To help our customers in a way that generates real business value for them, and to be a great place for people to work and grow their careers.
We’re a values-driven company, and one of our core values is “Level the Field”. There are a lot of companies out there that are not the Googles or Amazons of their industry. They don’t have thousands of developers. Our job is to infuse aspects of a tech company mindset so they can be more competitive because that is going to be important for the long term. Not just for survival, but to give them the ability to thrive in the new world we’re in where these capabilities are a necessity.
The other side of it is creating opportunities for our team to learn and grow. I really want people to look back on their time here and say, “I learned a different way to look at business and to grow personally and professionally during my time at Terazo.”
Terazo has won a number of Top Places to Work awards. What do you think makes the company and team so special?
Going back to our values-based approach, I think it’s not just how we do what we do, but who we work with and the type of project we do. One of the things we talk about a lot is the value of “Seek Meaningful Work” , which means we have to go find interesting work and work that really moves the needle.
Great developers, great data analysts and great engagement leads all want to help people at their core — that’s why they got into technology. Technology is a means to an end, so we’re constantly trying to find ways to connect them with engagements where their talents can change outcomes. Ultimately that’s what gets people excited about working here.
It has a virtuous cycle effect too, because our clients see the outcomes we’ve achieved, and they ask for more. I look at a lot of development shops that have a much more transactional project-minded approach to things and when a project is done, it’s done. Ultimately that becomes a bit of a grind, both for the clients and for the employees. That’s a negative cycle we work to avoid.
What three words would you use to describe Terazo’s culture?
If I had to pick three words they would be confidence, humility, and fearless.
With the track record we have and the results we’ve piled up, our team has earned a level of confidence that is deserved. Our team really knows their stuff. They have both a philosophy and a method of execution that they know gets results. But I think we’re also very humble for the skill sets and capabilities we have. We pride ourselves on being approachable, team-oriented and extremely easy to work with. Clients leading big transformational projects want to work with a humble but confident team.
Lastly, fearless. This isn’t cookie cutter work. Every client is different, every implementation is different. This requires us to be OK trying new things, pushing the envelope, even going out on a limb a little bit. I think our clients want that. Competitive edges are not gained by playing it safe.
You’ve been building and leading services organizations for 20 years. What do you think is the secret to building talented, highly motivated teams?
First, you must care about people and see people as the solution, not technology. And then you must find people that feel the same way. I’d say that’s one thing that’s really a hallmark of Terazo. People here really do care about others and they come to work, finding a way to put that care into action.
From a “technical work” standpoint, some people want to stay behind the scenes creating a product, and not talking to customers. I think we’re very different. Being a services business gives our team opportunities to talk directly to customers and clients and understand things that allow us to grow our capabilities at a higher rate. We want to build a culture that attracts and rewards that kind of thinking. We’ve built a recruiting process that brings people in and gives them insights into how we think. That’s enabled us to build a pretty powerful team of intellectually curious people who are eager to find the solution to any client challenge.
Why did you decide to partner with Tercera?
It was pretty straightforward because Tercera was clearly looking at what’s coming in the same way we did. They were one of the very first people to not ask us “What product are you creating?” They valued services business for what they were, not for what they were doing in the interim before creating some product.
The Tercera team also saw the promise of how disruptive what’s coming is going to be, where the value is created, and what needs to be done to create that value. The partners had personal experience working with Salesforce, which was probably the very first, cloud-first, programmatic platform. They had incredible experiences from their work at Appirio before they formed Tercera, which ultimately gave them insights into what that would look like going forward with other platforms like Twilio. So, I think from an investor standpoint, their hands-on, first-hand experience growing a company in a similar space was very compelling to us.
On our own, we’d have to grow organically to meet a need we think is greater than we can fill today otherwise. So honestly, it’s the right meeting of somebody who believes in the same ecosystem and capabilities we believe in, and sees the immediate need for us to scale up to meet that need. We see a wave coming that, if we’re not a much larger company, we’re not going to be able to handle. We see larger client opportunities with deeper and more complex needs than ever before. We’re going to have to “level up” Terazo to take advantage of that opportunity, and Tercera came along at the right time and was clearly the right strategic partner to work with to help us grow.