Sometimes, success in business is all about being the right people in the right place at the right time. That certainly seems to be the case for Zennify, a consulting firm specializing in financial services solutions built on Salesforce, whose venture finance arm became a seed investor in 2019. That relationship in turn led to an introduction to Tercera, an investment firm that focuses on cloud consultancies, which today announced a $7.5 million investment in Zennify.
Zennify didn't start out in financial services. It cut its teeth in health and life sciences (HLS), after a pro bono project working with UNICEF in Haiti to build a cloud-based Salesforce IoT solution that helped protect crucial vaccine supplies in the wake of the island nation's catastrophic 2010 earthquake. But when Salesforce was building out its industry cloud strategy in 2015, the team's reputation, aided by a key account win at a leading financial institution, opened up a new market opportunity. Manvir Sandhu, Zennify's CEO, explains:
They invited us to be a strategic partner in this financial services space. They knew us as the Haiti guys, these quirky innovative guys that have this great culture. We definitely raised our hands and said, 'Yeah, we'd love to be part of that opportunity.' We just built from there and really became one of their strategic partners in that space.
Zennify has since grown to more than 200 employees with over 620 Salesforce certifications and is recognized by Salesforce as a Financial Services Cloud expert. It is also growing a practice in nCino, the Salesforce-native banking platform that forms a core component of Salesforce's retail banking cloud solution. But it still maintains an interest in health and life sciences, which make up about a tenth of its business. Sandhu says:
We've continued to keep the spirit of how we started alive through an initiative called Zenn for Good, where we take on two or three pro bono gigs a year, and oftentimes they're in the health and life sciences space, or the education space.
For its push into financial services, Zennify emulated Salesforce's strategy of hiring industry expertise. That's essential for success, says Sandhu:
You actually need some of that core industry expertise, people that understand the cultural norms of that business. What's the difference between a credit union and a bank? Why do some banks have their own wealth management, insurance and mortgage entities, versus a standalone wealth organization? All those things require that context, as far as, what's the right solution for these clients? And what's the right way to build that out for those clients?
But it has also sustained expansion by recruiting talent from communities that are traditionally underrepresented in the tech industry. Sandhu elaborates:
When you're starting out and you're bootstrapped, and you don't have money, you have to be very resourceful. You have to find talent, you can't just go out and make these crazy salary offers to these people. Early on in the company, you don't have the money.
So we figured out early on that there is this group of individuals out there that are incredibly passionate about technology, they're incredibly driven, they're incredibly bright, they just haven't had the opportunity. Maybe they had kids at a young age, maybe they didn't get their college degree, maybe they're coming back from the military. Maybe they're a single mother. They don't have the typical pedigree on paper that you would traditionally look for, as you're hiring people in these sort of technology roles.
He says that one of the company's top enterprise solutions architects originally "happened to work at the Pizza Kitchen across the street." This individual was very passionate about Salesforce, got his certification, and became employee number four. The online learning that Salesforce and other tech companies provide is a big contributor, he adds:
If people are hungry, and passionate, they can actually elevate their game and get all these certifications in this very efficient way.
The company now works with local organizations that focus on underrepresented demographics and regions, including Grow with Google, Code Black Indy, Merit America, and Salesforce Talent Alliance. He explains:
We're actually accelerating that trajectory. Now you can go from, 'I'm just learning about Salesforce,' to 'I am working on a really strategic engagement,' within 12 months. That's pretty crazy, that period of time, to be able to do that and change that person's life. Now they can make more income, they have more opportunity, they're enjoying their careers. Now the work is virtual, so they have some creative options with their kids at home, so it's a win-win.
We really want to continue to scale that across the globe, where you've got pockets of, again, under-resourced regions and areas that we can really make an impact.
This strong culture was one of the attractions for Tercera, says its CEO Chris Barbin, along with the vertical focus, growth potential and the IP it has developed through its in-house incubator, ZennLab. Much of the innovation here is around building packaged integrations and accelerators tailored to the financial services industry. Sandhu says:
Originally, the intention of ZennLab was to give some of our top technologists some runway and a gym to exercise those innovative muscles. While they love the configuration aspects of Salesforce, they have these other desires to tinker and build and be dynamic.
Integration of multiple data sources and end-to-end processes has always been an important aspect of Salesforce's financial services offering, and therefore it's a key part of Zennify's services. Sandhu explains:
That's where we specialize — connecting those banking cores, for example, to the applications that need them ... The integration readiness of these assets, time and time again, ends up being the Achilles' heel of many of these transformations. What we're really doing is shoring that up, working with Salesforce and MuleSoft and the Jack Henrys, the Symitars, the banking core world, to make sure that those integrations are done in a very seamless fashion, so they end up becoming a strategic advantage.
In the wake of the pandemic, which has accelerated the adoption of digital banking, there's now enormous demand for the technology and change management expertise of consultancies like Zennify, with its proven track record. The Tercera investment will help it to scale to meet that demand. Sandhu says:
We've established our reputation now as a specialist that's got this very strong track record of success, that we can get plugged right into that whole motion.
The transition to digital working has also changed Zennify's own operations and enabled it to expand its geographic reach throughout the US. With its new funding, it now plans to expand into Canada and Mexico, and has it sights on future expansion into Latin America.
At the time that Salesforce launched its industry cloud strategy, I assessed the Financial Services Cloud against a benchmark defined by Emergence Capital's Gordon Ritter, an early proponent of (and investor in) industry cloud ventures. It's interesting to see that Zennify performs pretty well against the five hallmarks he identified. It has hired domain expertise. It focuses strongly on integrating multiple data sources. It has built a strong reputation in the industry. These factors have helped it build strong market share. With its growing nCino relationship alongside its existing Salesforce strengths, it is covering a broad set of functionality.
No wonder then that Tercera has identified this as a worthwhile investment, in line with its thesis that today's digitally connected 'third wave' of cloud computing demands a new generation of cloud consultancies. Salesforce may not be as youthful as the likes of Okta, Twilio and Snowflake, among whose partners Tercera has previously found its investments. But its foray into industry cloud is a more recent development, and therefore this is a segment of its partner ecosystem that still presents opportunities for growth and innovation.