When the founders of 7-year-old Green Cloud first started thinking of cloud infrastructure and services, they thought they would be late to the party.
Already, people were talking about “the cloud” as if it was an established, mature technology and “everyone was doing it,” recalls Eric Hester, co-founder and chief innovation officer of the Greenville-based cloud technology provider.
“We expected everyone would adapt immediately,” he says. It didn’t happen that way, he says “because businesses didn’t have to change.” They saw the cloud as a technology they didn’t need, not as a solution to a problem they already had.
Recognizing this challenge, the company took a different approach. “We used other parts of what the cloud is — backups and disaster recovery — to solve problems that were right in front of them,” Hester says. While other companies were touting the new technology, Green Cloud focused on “solution-based problem-solving instead of tech-based problem-solving.”
The real innovation and risk came in two decisions: First, to sell only to managed service providers (MSPs), who already had the direct customer relationship if not the technical skill set; and second, to own all their own equipment rather than leasing from the already built-out giants like Amazon and Azure. Green Cloud also made the conscious decision to work with legacy vendors to create familiarity with existing software and help evolve its customers from fixers to solution providers.
“Innovation for us has to be moving our partners to a place where they can be innovative and not just being able to talk about it but create solutions,” Hester says. “That’s our whole business model. … A huge part of that is educating them and being a resource to them so they have value to their customers.”
The gamble paid off, and today Green Cloud is the “largest independent, channel-only cloud provider of Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) in the country,” according to a company spokesman. They’re also in their second year of hitting the Inc. 5000 list and service more than 500 resellers across the country.
In the process of achieving this growth, the company also contributed to the education and development of the next generation of IT, an evolution from break-fix specialists to proactive business partners.
Hester is a technologist with more than two decades of experience designing and developing technologies with a “cool” factor.
“Everyone is trying to become the next unicorn and create a billion-dollar company,” Hester admits. But Green Cloud knew it couldn’t compete with Amazon and Microsoft, the two giants of cloud infrastructure. “It’s less about having the coolest new product, and more about making current products more accessible, solution-oriented, and problem-solving.”
To ensure a transparent and reliable service, Green Cloud invested in their own infrastructure with space in six facilities from coast to coast. They also “very intentionally” selected vendors their partners were already familiar with like VMWare and Cisco. “We didn’t want to have to introduce partners to a whole new version of the cloud,” Hester recalls. “We wanted them to be able to reuse relationships and familiarity with existing technologies.”
But the small- and medium-sized IT providers were still break-fix focused, so along with the technology, Green Cloud had to layer in training and development. In fact, Hester doesn’t even want you to think about your technology. Think about your business. “We are trying to move technology into the background. Businesses don’t make proactive IT decisions,” he says. “But we have those conversations. We refresh our equipment every three years because our customers’ customers need that, even if they wouldn’t have done it themselves.”
“Somebody is thinking about your business every day,” Hester says. “It just isn’t you.”
But there is a problem with that. “That’s been the education we’ve had to do with our partners … how to show the value,” Hester explains. “The promise of the cloud is that nothing ever goes wrong.” But things are going wrong. All the time. “It’s just that you have hundreds of people watching your back.”
To facilitate the elevation of IT providers, Green Cloud provides a lot of information to their MSP customers. Dashboards, reports, analysis, and advocating for quarterly business reviews with clients are all part of the tools and information the company puts in the hands of MSPs so they can prove and enhance their value. “It helps them renew their contracts and maintain their relationships,” he says.
That, right there, relationships. “That’s our secret sauce,” Hester says.
Mike Windey, CEO of Birdseye Technical Services in Mauldin, has been a Green Cloud customer for four years. They are, in many ways, the quintessential client: small-business focused and experienced in technology, but solution-focused. They can take full advantage of what the company offers.
Windey praises Green Cloud’s technical expertise and customer service. “They will bend over backwards,” he says, offering several examples of challenging customer issues that required creative solutions. He turned to Green Cloud for those, and the company delivered. “They have local expertise and are willing to roll up their sleeves and help you figure things out.”
Windey says he has called in the middle of the night and gotten Hester out of bed for help. “You’re not going to get that from Microsoft [Azure] or Amazon,” he says.
This customer-centric culture, accountable and transparent, is a demarcation point for Green Cloud. “We deliver good news fast and bad news faster,” Hester notes. “We tell you exactly what’s happened, and why it’s not going to happen again. We couldn’t have had that level of accountability and control if we outsourced. … We can actually make sure it’s going to be OK, not just say its OK.”
Company size: 75 employees
2017 Revenues: $19,737,771
Data centers: The company has space in six Tier 3 data centers located in Greenville; Atlanta; Houston; Minneapolis; Nashville, Tenn.; and Phoenix
Inc. 5000 – 2017: No. 649, 54th out of 589 in IT Services
Who’s talking about Green Cloud?
National recognition has been growing for the company.
CRN, an information service for technology integrators, named Green Cloud one of its 100 Coolest Cloud Computing Vendors of 2018.
The South Carolina Business Awards named Green Cloud Fastest Growing Company in the state in 2015.
Energage, an employee engagement system provider, named the company as a “Top Workplace” in SC in 2017 and 2018.
The Business Intelligence Group, a national awards program, named Green Cloud as a “Best Places to Work” winner in 2017.
Red Herring’s Top 100, a national award that recognizes the most promising private ventures, recognized Green Cloud in 2017.