Looking for a new breed of cloud-driven professional services firms

While Tercera’s mission centers on empowering the people and businesses that make technology work, our investment thesis is a bit more focused (we believe strongly in having focus). More specifically, we invest in professional services firms that are defining and driving the next wave of cloud computing. We call this next wave, the Third Wave, and it’s why we named the firm Tercera (Spanish for third).

We believe the Third Wave is the biggest wave yet now that cloud technology is no longer the new kid on the block. In the last 20 years, cloud computing has fundamentally changed the way we do nearly everything, and the days of arguing whether enterprises are ready for the cloud or which cloud is better are long behind us.

Since the 2000s, when the First Wave hit, companies have been wading into the cloud in varying degrees. That first wave, driven largely by the bust and 9/11, was mainly focused on SaaS applications, department-centric apps that were focused on improving productivity. Think Salesforce for sales teams, ServiceNow for service teams, Workday for HR teams, and Concur for finance teams. You get the picture.

During the next decade the cloud’s Second Wave formed, fueled at least partly by the 2008 recession. In this wave, cloud platforms took root in the enterprise. Productivity was still important, but with businesses struggling, profitability and performance became more important. In this wave, we saw the rise of Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure, and Google Cloud, while First Wave software vendors acquired and developed their own platforms to expand their foothold in the enterprise.

We’re now in the Third Wave, which like previous waves builds on those earlier waves. Productivity, profitability and performance are all driving forces for cloud adoption, but now it’s also about creating connections and optimizing existing processes in an increasingly digital world. Companies of every size that are no longer new to the cloud are finding new ways to create their own unique, customer-centric digital experiences using hundreds of cloud building blocks. And they need help.

Digital experiences aren’t created with the snap of a finger. They require people. People who have the insight, skills and proven knowledge to design, develop, implement, test, manage and evolve these experiences, and those people are not easy to find. It’s one of the reasons why we’re already seeing an influx of capital investment in training programs and people-based businesses, and it’s why we believe the Third Wave is going to be huge for professional services.


The Opportunity for Cloud Professional Services

The cloud professional services category is already a $460B market growing north of 20% YoY. Nearly 7500 systems integrators already call this category home. And with 34% of companies planning to accelerate their cloud migration plans post pandemic (BCG) and enterprises speeding up their digital business initiatives by three to six years, we believe those numbers are poised to grow — opening up a huge opportunity for new software vendors and their partners.

The software vendors that led the first two waves of the cloud – companies like Salesforce, ServiceNow, Amazon, Microsoft and Google – will continue to play a big role in this Third Wave. One only has to look at the amount of M&A activity among these firms to see that.

However, there is a new set of software providers experiencing huge growth in this next wave. Vendors like Okta, Twilio, HashiCorp and Snowflake(just to name a few) are giving enterprises the tools they need to manage their increasingly complex hybrid-cloud environments, to fortify their security position, and to take advantage of the innovation happening in DevOps, AI and RPA (just to name a few). And these vendors have just begun to build out their partner ecosystems.

Together with our capital partner Trilantic, Tercera researched 30 of these Third Wave vendors and discovered that while Salesforce, Amazon, Microsoft, and Google all have thousands of service providers in their ecosystems, many of the emerging vendors have fewer than 300 partners. Until recently, many of them have been able to rely on a bottom-up adoption scheme, which works to a point. But in order to embed cloud systems into an enterprise, you need people who can handle everything from the integration and implementation to the training and ongoing maintenance.

It’s here where opportunity lies. Especially for the cloud-driven professional services firms that can bring the technical chops, delivery models and outcomes that these new vendors need from partners.

Just as Salesforce looked to the first generation of cloud-driven services firms — that delivered faster results, had more agile processes, and teams with specialized skills that the Global Systems Integrators didn’t yet have — this new generation of vendors will demand a new breed of partner.

These are the partners we are looking to identify, to partner with and to empower. If you believe your firm is part of this new breed, hit us up here.

Empowering growth-focused businesses and people

We’re on a mission to change the equation for people-based businesses.

Companies and leaders come to a certain juncture in their journey when it’s necessary to rethink the approach that gotten them to where they are. Growing to $5M in revenue is not easy, but in those early stages, a powerful vision, a few talented people and customers and sheer brute force can get you pretty far. However, what might fuel initial growth spurts cannot necessarily sustain a company in the long-term. Growing an organization north of $100M takes a different approach and a different set of skills.

Not every leader is ready to scale their company beyond that first plateau, which is why the world is packed with hundreds of thousands of small professional services firms that do amazing work, but never get beyond $5M or $10M. As experts agree, it takes a growth mindset and more process-oriented approach to build something that goes beyond that, something that endures.

Our goal at Tercera is to identify those who are ready, who do have that growth mindset. And then to empower them with the capital, counsel and connections they need to grow bigger and faster than they could without help.

We believe capital is the easy part. There are plenty of equity partners out there, but finding one that really understands your space and can provide the specific counsel and guidance you need to get beyond those first few plateaus of growth is difficult. This is where the magic of our methodology and advisor community comes into play.


Tercera’s 5 Elements Methodology


We developed Tercera’s 5 Elements for Scale based on decades of experience operating and selling professional services businesses. It is the framework we use when evaluating potential portfolio partners, the methodology we use during our first 100 days of working with a partner to prioritize where investments can make a difference, and how we look at building out our Advisor network. Over the years, we’ve found that most companies are great in one or two areas, good in a couple more, but could use help in the others.

Our 5 Elements for Scale are broken up into (this should not surprise you) 5 areas:

Leadership & Talent: The people piece of the puzzle, always integral to the success of any company, is critical in a professional services company. In this area, we look at everything from the strength of an organization’s culture and diversity, to its recruiting and onboarding capabilities, to its leadership development and overall talent management processes.

Corporate Strategy: In early stage growth mode, many leadership teams lean more towards execution than strategy. For sustainable growth, you need both. This element looks at a firm’s strategic planning process, brand and marketing capabilities, sales and account management strategy, and how M&A and international expansion come into play.

Solutions & IP: The professional services firms that will lead in the cloud’s Third Wave will offer a different set of skills and delivery models than those who led in previous waves. Expertise in cybersecurity, AI, DevOps, and hybrid cloud operations are needed more than ever, and vertical IP and productized solutions are no longer nice to have, but must haves. This element looks at a firm’s overall portfolio, reusable assets, product roadmap and more.

Channels & Partnerships: For services companies, success often depends on going to market with the right ISV as well as creating the right partnerships to grow revenue, attract customers, and expand awareness. This element looks at a firms’ overall market positioning, alliances strategy, channel marketing and adjacent partnerships.

Operations & Processes: While this element may be listed last, we find it’s the one with which most younger services firms need the most help. Startups tend to look at process as a bad thing, but when it comes to scaling, having solid processes matters a lot. Those firms that are buttoned up in how they manage their financials, delivery operations, talent, marketing and sales processes have a big leg up on the competition.


Growth comes from all directions

While we believe this methodology can make a huge difference in preparing leaders and their organizations for that next phase of growth, if it falls upon deaf ears, it’s of little value. This is why we look for potential portfolio partners with a growth mindset — specifically, founders who are coachable and open to change. Not because we want to change everything about a company or tell founders how to run their business, but because every great company goes through periods of change, transition, and even reinvention. And we want to work with great companies.

When we say coachability, it means people who are open to feedback, self-aware, good listeners and lifelong learners. You’d be surprised at how easy these traits are to recognize, even in first meetings. Coachability is a key trait shared among leaders with the highest potential and it’s integral to building trusting relationships. People want to work with and for leaders who know their own strengths and limitations, who can acknowledge problems when they arise, and who surround themselves with others that have that same mindset.

If that sounds like you, and you are ready to do bigger things with your business, hit us up here.

Tercera’s belief in founder-led businesses

We believe strongly in the power of founder-led businesses for two main reasons.

First and foremost, we believe in founders because founders believe in their companies. Their business is personal to them, and that gives them a unique combination of vision, passion and mission that is essential to building something that lasts.

Secondly, data shows founder-led technology businesses tend to outperform companies who are led by hired guns. It isn’t always the case, but it’s the case more often than not. Studies featured in HBR and Reuters (among others) show that companies that still have a founder at the helm often do better in price performance, profit growth, innovation and recovering faster from a crisis.


Founders have a passion that fuels their mission

Founders will run through a brick wall to see their mission come to life. Whether it’s their entrepreneurial mindset, personal connection to the mission, or sheer perseverance, they’re virtually unstoppable, and that kind of passion is contagious with customers, partners and employees.

You can feel it in leaders who still helm the companies they founded: Jeff Bezos’ obsession with customer-centricity, Marc Benioff’s dedication to making Salesforce a platform for change, or Reed Hastings’ quest to reinvent entertainment. It’s not just the big guys either. Smaller technology players like Twilio, Okta, Slack, HashiCorp, who still have an active founder continue to outperform their peers and see huge valuations.

It’s this mix of passion and mission that keeps a company going even when there are only a few wins to celebrate — a situation every company goes through no matter how great it is. It’s what inspires other people to work hard, stick around, and treat every customer like the business depends on it. In professional services, where hundreds or thousands of consultants might be customer facing, and where recruiting and retention is a KPI, this mix is even more important.

Don’t get us wrong, the 1s and 0s are still important, and you still need to find great technologists, but people aren’t loyal to bits and bytes. They’re loyal to people. And founders — the exceptional ones — care about the people and the culture that binds the company together.


Freedom for Founders to Build and Lead

We don’t just look for exceptional founders, we also give them the freedom to do what they do best – build and lead. This is one of the reasons we typically choose to take a minority rather than majority stake in our investments.

As former operators and founders ourselves, we take more of an entrepreneurial mindset, not a strictly economic one. We’ve been there. We know the challenges and opportunities that come with scaling a professional services business. What it takes to grab market share and break through those plateaus of growth – getting beyond $10M or $50M to $100M and beyond. Breaking through those first few plateaus can be tough and many people do it, but the decisions and sequenced investments needed to navigate beyond $50M are considerably more challenging. We know what it takes to scale a services business, and how to sustain profitable growth over time. Part of that is capital, but that’s only a fraction of the equation.

Our role as invested operators isn’t to take over that journey for our portfolio founders, it’s to give them the guidance, capital and connections they need to navigate the journey for themselves.

Tercera balances the world of private equity in that we provide guidance to operationalize and scale a business, and the world of venture capitalism in that we come in early and help founders and ideas flourish.

If it sounds like the kind of partnership you’re looking for in your journey, hit us up here.

Prepare for a flood in 2021…of capital and M&A in professional services

In a year that started out like this one, with a global pandemic increasing in strength and riots at the U.S. Capitol (and we’re only on Day 12), it seems only natural to start my first blog of the year with a reference to a flood. Luckily, what I’m talking about is a surge of a different kind.

We believe 2021 may finally be the year professional services (especially in the cloud space) gets its due from the investment community and strategic acquirers. Professional services firms in the cloud space are being acquired at a rate we haven’t seen since the early days, despite the efforts of many companies to conserve their cash reserves in a down economy. We believe this is just the beginning of a flood of capital investment in people and people-based businesses, especially those that have the expertise for what’s to come.

Here’s why.


The Cloud Just Got More Important

The year 2020 highlighted many things for business leaders — the value of empathetic leadership, the importance of diversity, the delicate balance of real-time inventory, and that remote work is possible and even preferable. It also proved to business leaders the real value of their cloud computing investments.

When COVID-19 reached pandemic status in March and the world closed up shop, nearly everything moved online — meetings, commerce, learning, entertainment, banking, events, dining “out”, socializing, even tourism. With little to no notice, millions of employees were sent home with just their laptops. More than 9 months later, most of these employees remain working from home (possibly for good), yet work continues to get done. Cloud-powered tools and systems like Zoom, Slack, Okta, Box, Twilio, Google Docs, Microsoft Teams, Salesforce, ServiceNow (and hundreds of other apps) have kept employees productive, customers engaged and the economy running.


2020 proved to business leaders the real value of their cloud computing investments.


COVID flipped a switch when it comes to how work and business gets done, and that light is going to stay on and increase in intensity over the next few years. The term digital transformation is so overused I hate to even put it here, but 2020 highlighted that fact that businesses needed to rethink and redesign a good number of their processes and do it fast. Some businesses adapted quickly and some didn’t, but even those who reacted quickly need to sustain, fortify and expand those efforts. To systematize and optimize the new processes they put in place. And that takes more than technology. It takes people.


Cloud Success = Professional Services

Redesigning systems and processes, especially in complex enterprise environments, doesn’t happen overnight and it’s not easy. Companies need strategic thinking, specialized skills and domain expertise, and unfortunately the people who have this expertise are becoming harder and nearly impossible to keep.

The IT skills gap isn’t a new problem but COVID has exacerbated it. The cloud providers get this. It’s why Amazon recently announced an ambitious plan to train 29 million people to work in cloud computing by 2025. It’s the reason Salesforce invests millions in its Trailhead learning platform every year, and continues to introduce workforce development programs as a big part of its corporate strategy.


The IT skills gap isn’t a new problem but COVID has exacerbated it…It’s also why major professional services firms continue to grow in a down economy.


It’s also why major professional services firms continue to grow in a down economy. Accenture’s Q1 FY21 results were up 4%, with “strong double digit” growth in cloud services. Annual FY2020 revenue for Deloitte’s Consulting Division increased more than 7%. Even the small and mid-sized professional services firms that we spend a lot of time with are growing in double, and in many cases triple, digits.

This demand for cloud and digital talent is also driving a significant amount of M&A volume in cloud services.


The M&A Race for Talent

Dozens of acquisitions in the cloud professional services space have gone down over the last few months, including three yesterday alone — IBM’s acquisition of Salesforce consultancy 7Summits and Cognizant’s acquisitions of Australian analytics firm,Servian, and ServiceNow consultancy, Linium. In the last 12 months, Cognizant has made 11 acquisitions and invested what many estimate to be a $1.4B in cloud, data, AI and digital services.


In the last 12 months, Cognizant has made 11 acquisitions and invested what some estimate to be $1.4B in cloud, data, AI and digital services.


IBM has also been extremely acquisitive lately as its new leadership looks to refocus on hybrid cloud computing and AI, and build up its iX business unit to compete with Deloitte Digital, Avanade and Accenture. The acquisition of 7Summits, which is estimated to be ~$175M, approaching a 3.5x multiple on revenue, is just the latest. In late 2020, IBM announced plans to acquire SAP consulting partner TruQua for its hybrid cloud and financial workflow expertise, Instana for its AI-powered automation capabilities, and Nordcloud for its cloud-native tools, methodologies and talent.

And then there is all the activity in the Salesforce space, including Salesforce’s own $570M acquisition of Acumen.

But it’s important to note these acquisitions aren’t just about adding more consultants to the roster, it’s about gaining a competitive advantage from the specialized expertise, approach and assets these next-generation firms bring. All of which are needed to meet the evolving needs and escalating demands of customers.


These acquisitions aren’t just about adding more consultants to the roster, it’s about gaining a competitive advantage from the specialized expertise, approach and assets these next-generation firms bring.


Here are four attributes that we believe will become even more in-demand in PS firms over the coming year — by customers, software providers looking to build their ecosystem, and by other firms looking to acquire.


Hybrid & Multi-Cloud Expertise: Whereas earlier cloud waves required firms to specialize and go deep on certain platforms, next generation firms have to work across clouds and in hybrid enterprise environments. This is an imperative for inter-enterprise business requirements like multi-modal e-commerce and real time supply chains. DevOps expertise is a must and full stack knowledge is essential. Talent within teams that can support infrastructure and data layer providers like AWS, Hashi, Twilio, Snowflake and Datadog, will be as important as the application layer skill sets.


Integrated Offerings for Accelerated Transformation. Note, accelerated transformation not digital transformation. Digital transformation might be as overused as unprecedented and the new-normal these days. Customers want partners who can help them in ways beyond just implementation and integration. True transformation requires a blend of strategy, design, delivery, ongoing change management, optimization and maintenance, and it doesn’t (or shouldn’t) happen all at once. It’s an iterative process. The firms that offer an integrated portfolio that crosses these different disciplines, that can deliver those services seamlessly and quickly, are a lot more attractive to customers who want a long-term partner. COVID forced everyone to move much faster and proved transformation can happen in months not years. Customers need partners who understand that and continue to meet that standard going forward.


A Globally Diverse and Enabled Virtualized Workforce. The workforce looks and operates very differently than it did a decade ago (or even a year ago). Customers are much more open to remote work and now expect, and can have access, to diversity in their consulting partner teams. The partners who have built effective workforce models in these areas will have a leg up in recruiting and retaining top talent. Firms built from the ground up that embrace remote working and truly invest in collaboration technologies, policies and processes will outrun and outperform those saddled with significant commercial real estate and old school collaboration approaches.


IP Driven Industry Solutions. The verticalization of the cloud continues, and customers are looking to partners who have proven expertise in their industry and who can bring reusable, productized IP to hit the ground running. This is especially important when it comes to AI/Machine Learning, automation, data and integrated commerce.


As the next wave of cloud adoption takes hold, we believe these are the characteristics of the services firms who will lead this wave. Because 2021 is shaping up to be the year for cloud talent to scale to new heights and move in new directions.