A great entrepreneur needs to be multi-faceted and have a unique perspective to solve difficult problems. Israel-born Eran Gil is one of those people. He co-founded Cloud Sherpas, a B2B star from Atlanta that grew to over a thousand employees and 19 offices around the world before it sold to Accenture in late 2015. Cloud Sherpas’ stratospheric rise came through little funding, lots of grit, and a fortuitous connection between Gil and co-founders Michael Cohn and David Hoff. Eran and Michael immediately bonded while attending the Goizueta Business School at Emory University.
“We talked about it for a few good months and eventually, one day, he was driving me to the airport to catch a flight to Europe, where I spent most of my time then, we said, let’s get going and put most of our nest eggs in this business. Then it began in 2008,” Gil recalled.
With a global economic recession gaining momentum, 2008 wasn’t necessarily a great year to raise funds and pursue a dream from scratch. This didn’t deter Gil from trying. “In retrospect, a downturn market is the best time to start a startup. It forces you to be more innovative. You find a way to survive. We tried to raise money, but not a lot were willing to invest in our company.”
Gil tells his story. It’s one of an international transplant growing a startup outside of Silicon Valley, who still has that persistent entrepreneurial spark waiting to ignite, invest, and advise other ventures as he evaluates his next move.
What was it like building a company in Atlanta?
The experience of doing it in Atlanta was unique. Many of the factors that made Atlanta great to start a business back in 2008 for Cloud Sherpas would still be applicable today, but the biggest difference is access to capital. Today, it’s far more accessible and for a good reason — many entrepreneurs fought their way to build businesses in Atlanta back in the day (like David Cummings and Pardot, Cloud Sherpas, etc.) and after successful exits, are now in a position to give back to the community.
As for why I believe Atlanta was and continues to be a fantastic place to build a company, I’d say there are five main reasons:
- The people. First and foremost, with such great education institutions, there is a fantastic pool of prospects to recruit. Additionally, Atlanta has a flourishing business community which creates and augments an experienced workforce to recruit from.
- Access to a fast growing technology community. In 2008, there were already known businesses that grew in Atlanta (ISS, Scientific Atlanta, etc.) but they were not as many as today. Whether they exited their business or not, the folks that assisted in creating that community are always happy to help in various ways including capital, advisory, mentorship or simply access to their own personal network.
- Low-cost of living and cost of infrastructure. Allows you to keep a cost basis that’s needed when you are in the early stages of building a company, and beyond,
- Access to the city. That’s an obvious but as most businesses grow, they begin to focus outside of the Southeast. Atlanta provides the infrastructure that enables business travelers to quickly and easily get to other major hubs in the US,
- Great business city. Atlanta is simply a great city to conduct business. There is a reason why a number of the most known business brands in the world call Atlanta home.
Starting a company, building it to the scale of Cloud Sherpas, and then being acquired — what tips do you have to stay mentally and physically focused as a cofounder?
It’s not easy to be a founder of a business. Most folks in that position lose perspective as you suggest because the work is endless and sometimes seems like it’s just not going to happen. Believing in what you are doing is the first step to “making it happen.” Then, as the business continues to grow, most founders will face the ‘founders complex’ — when you feel like you are no longer in complete control of the business you started.
To be fair, other than in rare occasions like Mark Zuckerberg, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, and others alike, most times you will have others to report to as a founder (whether you are the CEO reporting to a board, or in any other role of the business). This is the time in your business that you have to recognize as transitioned. Just remember, that’s a good thing. Growth is good and having more people to do what was once done with limited resources is great. To mentally and physically stay focused through the tough few years when resources are scarce and in the years of high growth, I recommend two things: find a way to maintain a healthy lifestyle and take time to step away, completely, once a week, preferably during the weekend.There are signs of an economic downturn. What advice do you have to startups so that they survive?
Well, that’s a great question. In fact, I spoke about it with a startup in Israel recently. I am not sure winter is in fact coming, but to be fair, the best time to start a company is in a recession.
When the market downturns, the obvious limited sources of capital shrinks with it, forcing companies to be more fiscally responsible with any amount of funds they raised. It requires companies be creative, innovative and ultimately make more with less resources. When there is an endless supply of funds and people assume worst-case scenario they’ll raise another round, it creates a sense of entitlement. My advice is to embrace the downturn, figure out how to be creative in every aspect of your business, make less stretch further and be very clear and realistic about goals, whether it’s the development of a product, sales (i.e. customers acquisition), etc.
What have you done since your exit last fall?
Although I took a good 6-month break from the business world in the first part of my trip, I stayed in touch with colleagues, and in the past 6 months, I’ve invested in several early stage companies. I look for businesses where I can provide both capital support and add-value and guidance/mentorship to the business and its founders. I’ve decided to focus my investments on companies that stem from Atlanta or Israel. Both are places where I built my career. Israel is my home country and Atlanta has been my U.S. home for the past 13 years — both are close to my heart and have flourishing startup communities. I want to focus and give back to both communities, offering advice from the lessons I’ve learned in the years building Cloud Sherpas and prior.How do you hope to leverage your experiences to help other entrepreneurs?
Serve as an investor, advisor or mentor — all of these experiences don’t only better me, but better the communities I work within. I’ve been in most early-stage and growth-stage entrepreneurs’ shoes. I know what it means to work 24/7, never take a break and lose perspective (and sleep). When you build a company from scratch or join the next rocket ship, you make it the center of your life. I am not suggesting that it’s not what I or others would expect to see from entrepreneurs, but one can’t give a company their all, and continue to be endlessly passionate without taking the time to reflect or simply gain perspective. I know that now.