An Interview with Duane Tharp, VP of Technical Services at Cloud Elements
Cloud Elements is a small company making big waves in the area of web application integration - for both enterprise customers and Independent Software Vendors (ISVs). In this chat with Duane Tharp, VP of Technical Services at Cloud Elements, we get a good understanding of their approach to web application integration and its benefits, what they have accomplished already, and what their vision is for the future.
HostAdvice: I’d like to start by asking you to tell me a little bit about yourself and your background. When and why did you decide to join Cloud Elements?
I’ve actually founded and been involved in several software startup companies. One of my companies, mValent, was eventually purchased by Oracle. Another company I founded – StreamStep – is the one that eventually led me to Cloud Elements.
At StreamStep we focused on DevOps, which is the collaboration required to support the process of software delivery and infrastructure changes. The company was acquired by BMC, where I then spent almost four years working on DevOps solutions. One of the things that I started investigating during that time was the APIs of various major software applications. That was when I discovered Cloud Elements, where I have now been VP of Technical Sales for a little over a year.
HostAdvice: So that means you started as a Cloud Elements prospective customer and then turned into an employee?
HostAdvice: When I think of web application integration, I think of tools like If This, Then That or Zapier.
Tools such as those are consumer oriented – they don’t really address the issues of the enterprise. Corporate IT departments are very concerned when it comes to letting go of data and application governance, control, and security. That is where we are different.
The use cases are very similar, but we don’t sell directly to end users. We actually have two different audiences:
- Enterprise IT departments
- ISVs (Independent Software Developers) who want to publish an API in order to make their data accessible to many other applications.
HostAdvice: Who is really your target customer? How do you normally reach them?
Our target customer is software developers – either in the corporate environment or at a software product company. However, developers are not usually the actual decision makers. We need to also sell to Product and Project Managers – the people who are responsible for creating value for their company.
In order to reach both groups of people, we have a direct sales force, attend many industry trade shows, and develop relationships with SaaS software vendors.
Our initial entry into this market targeted the ISV audience, which today comprises about 70% of our sales. However, the corporate IT audience is where we are seeing the greatest growth today.
HostAdvice: This is how your website describes your product:
INTEGRATE CATEGORIES OF CLOUD SERVICES
Long gone are the days of single point-to-point integrations that create confusing webs of complexity. Just think of all of the APIs you currently rely on, and how simple life would be if they were normalized into uniform APIs.
We’ve created API Hubs to integrate entire categories of services, each through a uniform, REST API.
Can you please explain that to me?
Sure. The primary purpose of our platform is to integrate categories of cloud services. But rather than having to develop a new point-to-point solution and interface for each new integration, we define common functions across categories of services. We’ve created what we call hubs to integrate entire categories of services, each through a uniform REST API.
Examples of some of our current hubs are:
- Cloud Storage
- CRM (Customer Relationship Management)
- Finance & Accounting Systems
- Human Capital
The other major component of our architecture is the Element or “connector”. An Element is a connection to a specific cloud service. Each Element knows the unique APIs, objects and data types associated with its cloud service. For example, for CRM hub, we currently have implemented about 20 different elements, including:
- Microsoft Dynamics CRM
- Zoho CRM
- NetSuite CRM
- Hubspot CRM
- Oracle Sales Cloud
Our catalog of Elements and Hubs numbers around 200, representing 200 private and public APIs and growing by about 30 Elements each quarter.
All of the different elements are accessed through a single, common API for that category/hub. We are always adding new elements so that you can offer more connection/service options to your customers.
HostAdvice: Was deciding on REST for your API interface a “given” or was there internal debate to consider something else like XML or SOAP?
HostAdvice: What is the process like if I want to embed Cloud Elements into my application? How long does it typically take?
Not very long! If you spend a day or two on training and learning the product, you can have something working in a few days and in production within a week. Our web site has a lot of great training and tutorial information. We also provide an interactive documentation and testing console to help speed up the learning process.
One of the things that shortens the learning curve is that there is no specific tool or IDE (Interactive Development Environment) that you need to learn. It is just an API platform that you simply call from within your own development environment that you are already using.
HostAdvice: What are some of the more well-known applications that have implemented the Cloud Elements API?
I am not at liberty to mention all of them, but here is a short list of companies that have implemented Cloud Elements into their product, that I can mention:
- Kiss metrics
- Swift page
- Total Jobs
- When I Work
HostAdvice: What are some of the more significant elements or integrations that you have already implemented?
How’s this for starters:
HostAdvice: Who are your main competitors? How do you feel you are better or different from them?
Probably our two main competitors are Jitterbit and MuleSoft. They are more focused on the enterprise, while we are stronger in the ISV space. For example, they are more document XML and EDI (Electronic Data Interchange) driven than we are.
However, I think that their approach is also more complex – they require that you download their components and that you use their specific IDE. We are in the cloud and more light-weight. We don’t want to impose a heavy development infrastructure on our customers. Further, once downloaded, you have to manually build up the connection to each API which is time consuming and error prone compared to our solution where this capability is already out of the box ready.
Our different pricing methods also reflect who we are primarily targeting. They go with the classical enterprise model of a large payment upfront from a smaller number of customers, whereas we have a micro payment model of earning a very small amount per interaction, across a very large number of customers and integrations. Since we charge per account using the integrations, our success depends our customers’ success. We make it easy for them to offer many integrations to their end users without a large upfront cost.
I should also mention that we can consume both Jitterbit and MuleSoft as elements in our system, and existing users for Jitterbit and Mulesoft can leverage all of our APIs from within their platform extending those solutions to include quicker time to access the APIs in our Hubs.
HostAdvice: We recently learned about Microsoft’s cloud application integration platform - called Microsoft Flow. What does Microsoft’s entry into this field mean?
It is not just Microsoft – it is also Google and Amazon. I think that this is a good thing, since it is adding fuel to the fire. It makes it much easier to publish more APIs and we strongly support that. Microsoft Flow is an enabler – Flow will connect to Cloud Elements, e.g. to the CRM or Storage or any of our Hubs and Elements.
HostAdvice: What are your projections for Cloud Elements’ future growth? What are some of your ”big plans” for the future – in addition to more integrations?
One of the things that we want to do is to facilitate more and more of a marketplace for our customers (and their customers) who publish APIs. We want to expand the web service universe and ecosystem so that Cloud Elements becomes the most widely adopted way to categorize, group, and publish, and consume API services.
HostAdvice: We don’t normally hear about a lot of high-tech companies based in Denver, Colorado. Can you talk about that a little bit?
Denver, similar to other cities such as Austin, has a lot of the characteristics that make for a great high-tech hub. There is a growing venture capital community, a lot of young talent, and major companies such as Oracle and several Telco’s in the area. It is truly a thriving and up-and-coming area, which makes it easier for us to recruit great talent than it would be in the Bay Area.
At Cloud Elements, we have a very vibrant, open office environment, with a lot of collaboration, which I find to be very positive. We just moved into an even bigger office space and everyone is super excited!
HostAdvice: These days, when people talk about Colorado, they are often talking about legalized Marijuana. Have you had to develop new corporate policies to address that?
[Laughs] No, we are still a small startup and don’t have an official policies handbook yet. I guess we are creatively avoiding it.