About the Episode
When you become a leading Salesforce expert at the age of 18, what challenge do you tackle next? For Seamus, it was launching his own Salesforce consulting business, Carabiner Group, while also chairing the nonprofit Michael’s Way. How does he manage such a large load? It comes down to his can-do attitude and ability to build strong relationships. Listen now as he shares his tips for success, from the importance of mentorship to how to not take no for an answer.
Meet Our Guest
Forget 40 under 40, Seamus Ruiz-Earle belongs on a 25 under 25 list. At 18 years old, he was the youngest known Trailhead Ranger and Trailblazer in Salesforce history. Now, he’s leading the fast-growing Salesforce consulting agency Carabiner Group as the Founder and Managing Director. His drive, passion, and focus have propelled him to huge success early on in his career as not only a Salesforce expert, but chairman of the nonprofit Michael’s Way as well. From presenting at Dreamforce to leading a team of nearly 15, Seamus proves that age is just a number when it comes to chasing your dreams and building a business.
Chris Byers: At 18 years old, he was the youngest known Trail Head Ranger and Trailblazer in Salesforce history. Fast forward, Seamus Ruiz-Earle leads Carabiner Group with a single mission to be the most successful, creative, and groundbreaking Salesforce consulting agency in the United States. While he has accomplished much in the business world, he's also founded a nonprofit organization called Micheal's Way. What drives Seamus to push forward as a leader in the Salesforce space and an advocate serving children? Well, that's the story we're going to talk about here. I'm Chris Byers of Formstack, and this is Ripple Effect, a show celebrating the positive impact your decisions create. Seamus, thanks for joining us and welcome to the show. Before we get into more details, we'd love to understand how you got started with Salesforce and what drew you to pursue the training.
Seamus Ruiz-Earle: Yeah, it's an interesting story, really. It kind of started when I was 17 years of age and an investment banker came to speak at my high school and he had an interesting career. He was able to be a social entrepreneur. He was able to do all sorts of various things that not only made him financially successful, but also worldly, successful, changing people's lives. And so I said, all right, from that point forward, I wanted to be an investment banker and I went out at 17 and cold called about 25 investment banks in San Francisco. All of them said the same thing. You know, you're too young. Come back when you're an adult and we'll talk. Number 26 said, hey, we like the fact you're calling us. We can't give you a financially related job, but we do need a Salesforce administrator. Have you ever heard of Salesforce before? I was 17. I never heard of the thing other than their giant buildings all around the place. But that was sort of the start of my journey. Over the next six months, I trained myself up through Salesforce Trailhead, went to work for that bank. And the rest is is history, as they say.
Chris Byers: Well, it's a great story. And in fact, what I love about it is we talk a lot about this no-code world that we live in today. And I actually think it's amazing, this opportunity where a lot more people can think about skipping, maybe going the traditional way in terms of university, etc., and think about just jumping in and learning some skills that are extremely useful to businesses.
Seamus Ruiz-Earle: It's fascinating when you think about it. I mean, I grew up in the Bay Area, Silicon Valley, everybody and their mother codes in some way, shape or form. But it never really called to me. It wasn't my driven sort of career path. And the more and more that I get involved with Salesforce and learn, the more I'm surprised that Salesforce isn't something that people learn about from a younger age. So when you think about it, it is as ubiquitous as PowerPoint or Excel or word in the world in which we live today. But us high school students or even college students or what it is, and nobody can tell you a thing about it and nobody can tell you how to work in it.
Chris Byers: I learned about a carabiner way back in high school and I went for eight days on an Outward Bound expedition where you're thrown into the mountains and you get like 30 minutes to pack your bag and you have no idea what you're doing with enough stuff to survive for the week. But in that we did some some climbing. And of course, the carabiner comes into play and we'd love to hear your thoughts on how that came to be in terms of the name of the organization. But I love how integral it is is so much more, even though it's such a small piece of equipment. But this is a really powerful piece of equipment.
Seamus Ruiz-Earle: Yeah. So the name Carabiner Group kind of came about from the origins of the company itself. I realized very early on, obviously, I was doing this at 17 and I'm not unique. There are very talented college age students out there who are doing things and who have the skills to make a real impact on business. And so the original idea was to connect college students with companies who could use their skills. And so we were intending to be the carabiner between those two groups, those individuals connecting the people with the talent, with the companies that needed the talent. But now we view it as a the fact that we serve as the lynchpin between this integral technology. Right. That when used correctly, can transform a business and the actual business leaders themselves who may or may not be technical, but know that they need to make a change to better their business.
Chris Byers: Will talk to us a little bit about it. There's probably a group of people listening who they definitely know, Salesforce. It's a fairly well known name, but there's a lot of language in there. Trailhead Ranger, Trailblazer that is very Salesforce specific. Talk to us about what some of those things mean and why they're important.
Seamus Ruiz-Earle: Salesforce is is an interesting tool, but very few spend the time truly to become experts in it because it can be vexing for them. And so Salesforce has recognized that and they've established an online training program called Salesforce Trailhead. It's completely free, but they have various different learning modules and courses on there that you can go in and take to start on your your trailblazing path, if you will, to be a much more successful, quote unquote, power user. Over time, you graduate up to be a trail head ranger, that's when you've done one hundred of those courses and now that's officially the highest rank. But as you keep going, you double it or you triple or quadruple it and people keep going up as they continue to to train more. But realistically, that entire sort of training path is meant to empower kind of people to to get the most out of the system. As a sales representative or a VP of sales, you often don't have the time to spend digging through forums or trying to find the solution to every single problem. But if you can take half an hour out of your day every day and learn these small, integral pieces of expertize, we're hoping that that will be able to kind of head off some of these problems at the pass, leading you ultimately less reliant on experts like myself and my team to deal with these everyday issues.
Chris Byers: Well, talk to us a little bit about what's the advice you would give if someone you've experienced this kind of moment where somebody might have maybe a lot of those equity firms said maybe you're too young or something like that. What's your advice to people who say things like you're too young for whatever?
Seamus Ruiz-Earle: Ultimately, we're living in a day and age where, for better or for worse, people are empowered to do what they like, despite the challenges that are in their way. And one of those challenges is, of course, public perception and age has a big thing to do with that. People who are young and also people who are more advanced in their career both have that same challenge. And that there are is a public perception that you need to fit a mold in order to be successful. My advice would be to find something where the need is so great that they can't really ignore you. Right. Salesforce, by twenty twenty two is supposedly going to have somewhere in the region of two million new jobs that need Salesforce expertise and not enough people who have the salesforce expertise to fill those jobs. Ultimately, when you combine sort of in an instinctual desire to be successful and a desire to learn and do something that you're passionate about, you're not going to let a no get in your way. Right?
Chris Byers: Definitely love that idea that really inserting yourself just in the answer to a problem is all of a sudden going to get you a lot of credibility because a lot of people are waiting for that permission and really taking a proactive stance. Let me just go solve a problem and then I think I'm going to create some great value. What's your pitch for Salesforce itself? It's obviously a huge product in the sales world. But but why would you sell it to to other people thinking about how should I as I'm building my career, why? It's important.
Seamus Ruiz-Earle: Everybody has different motivations for installing a system like Salesforce. The value ad really depends on industry usually. So when we're talking with an industry like financial services in general, with rare exception, everybody is offering a similar service and similar performance. What really sets a firm apart from another firm and what allows them to retain their customer base is that they have a personal connection. And as you grow and as you scale or even as you intend to potentially have an exit, it is very difficult to maintain that personal touch without a system to assist you. Right. We're all human. Even though I advocate a system that tracks everything digitally. I personally keep notes in a notebook and then I transcribe them into Salesforce later. But realistically, if you're trying to do that with somebody five hundred, a thousand different clients that you represent and a wealth management perspective, for example, you're not going to remember the details that really make you stand apart nine months later when you meet with that person. Again, having a system that helps you keep that organized helps, you know that, hey, somebody's son just graduated from college or somebody's daughter just got into med school or what have you. These types of details enable you to have a much more personal connection that you can pivot into a stronger relationship that makes your firm stand out, even if your service offering isn't that much radically different from everybody else.
Chris Byers: Well, tell us what made you take the leap into starting your own business?
Seamus Ruiz-Earle: I've been a serial entrepreneur in some respects from I think I started my first venture, an eBay store, at the age of 10 or something like that. But when it comes to the Caribbean or group in general, we just recognized a real need for high quality Salesforce consulting. It's one of the fastest growing sectors in the marketplace right now for enterprise technology solutions. And yet the support network to really provide the level expertise that is needed despite its 20 year history, is not as developed as it needs to be to support the growing market. So the rising tide raises all boats. Analogy is really applicable here and I recognize that and decided that it was time for me to jump in with both feet.
Chris Byers: And what do you think it is that's made you successful? It's tough to build a business and a lot of people try and it doesn't work out. So what do you think?
Seamus Ruiz-Earle: Given that so I think that there's two things, one is that the value add proposition that we have for our clientele I think is unique. And basically it boils down to the fact that we're all us based. We all have a passion for serving our customers. And finally, we're all looking for kind of an ongoing relationship with every client that we bring on. So we're not really interested in just a two month engagement where we might set up a system and then disappear. That might be the best way from an economic perspective to generate the most revenue. But for us, we're looking to grow with a company over five, six, seven years until they can reasonably afford to hire somebody to do it full time, all the way proceed to seriously even we can add value. The other part about why we've been successful so far is that, to be quite honest with you, I'm very upfront. When I don't know what I'm doing, I go and I rely on my mentors and bring in people who do know what they're doing so that we try to avoid the pitfalls of potentially trying to figure out something. Just through the school of Hard Knocks, we bring in experts who know the correct way of doing business and then we can learn from them and implement their best practices into our own organization.
Chris Byers: I love that idea of transparency, which is of course something it feels newer than, say, 20 years ago. I wonder if it was always fine to be transparent, but just nobody realized it was OK to share that. You're not quite sure what to do, but you can figure out the people to do it. It takes me to another question, which is how do you overcome the fear of failure and what are your thoughts on failing in general?
Seamus Ruiz-Earle: Failure is a part of life. I remember very distinctly when I was going through the investment banking interview cycle. One of the favorite questions is how have you failed? And tell us a story about how you failed. And I've been relatively fortunate in that my failures are not overt. It's not like I've burned something to the ground and had to deal with that on a on a public way, at least so far. But realistically, every failure that you have is a learning experience. And if you can view it as such, then those takeaways can inform the rest of your professional life or personal life or in whatever sphere that failure is related to. Every time that you make an error with a client that happens, we learn from it and we know how to resolve it in the future, and we work extra hard to ensure that it never happens again. And if you learn from that process and integrate it and make a better foundation for yourself and for your organization, then really the only thing that failure does is it helps build you up for the future. There might be some short term effects, but in the long term, if you have the right mindset, it can really serve as something that propels you to the next level.
Chris Byers: Well, let's take a brief kind of a side to this discussion. We would love to hear about Michael's way and what kind of got you started with it.
Seamus Ruiz-Earle: Yeah, Michael's way is an interesting subset of my life. I my family started doing a similar program, I believe, because we're at our thirty fifth year now. So I've been involved in Michael's way informally since I was born. So our flagship product or drive, if you will, is a toy drive for child victims of violent crime. And we deliver on Christmas Eve. So I was four months old, strapped to my mom and we were out there on Christmas Eve delivering toys and the dead of night to deserving children. Since that time, we've evolved and really the need has just gotten larger and larger. It's very difficult to imagine what these children have experienced and the challenges that they go through. But we try to just be there and let them know that at least despite all that, there's still some element of hope and that we can bring just a little bit of joy during these times that can often be challenging for the families.
Chris Byers: Tell us a little bit about what you see going on in the lives of children who have been victimized by violent crime. What do we not see from the outside?
Seamus Ruiz-Earle: The actual crime itself may happen in an instant. It may happen over the habitual and happen over a period of time. But no matter kind of the duration of the crime itself, the impacts will be felt way down the line. Right, for their entire lives potentially. And oftentimes the system is designed to address the immediate need of a child, potentially. And hopefully if everything is working correctly, put the perpetrator at the hands of the court and deliver judgment there. But realistically, that support just just falls away most of the time due to a lack of resources from the state or just the systems that are currently in place. And these kids can fall into a cycle, whether it's going down the path of crime themselves or poverty or just having mental trauma over this particular event and anything that we can do to really keep people on the right path, letting them know that, hey, someone is thinking of you, someone does care, someone's here to support you. That's a really important. Part of what our mission is because whether these kids end up going into the foster care system or having to be relocated or or anything to that effect, it's a serious impact and the effects can just be felt way down the line and almost a domino toppling over into another domino type effect.
Chris Byers: Well, as you think about the years going forward, I'm curious, are there some bigger things you'd like to see or some changes you'd like to see as you kind of continue to grow Michael's way over the years?
Seamus Ruiz-Earle: Yeah, it's one of those ones of how to manage growth efficiently. We we serve a very specific subset of the population in some respect and that we're serving child victims of violent crime. And we don't obviously want for that population to increase in any way, shape or form. Right. So ideally, if 10 years from now, we can shut it down because there aren't any more child victims of violent crime, that would be fantastic. But we probably won't get to that point in the near future. Realistically, it's all about getting more support, getting more donations. I think we may see a pivot in the future to very specific, actionable items that will make true tangible impacts on people's lives more than just a toy or obviously toys will be still part of it for the children. But from a structural perspective, we may be able to pivot slightly so
Chris Byers: that you've taken this idea of in the nonprofit world, this very explicit mission to help people. But but I think you've done that a lot. And it sounds like you've done that a lot in the way that you think about your business. How did you decide on the mission of Carabiner Group and how do you think about impacting the world with your company?
Seamus Ruiz-Earle: Well, I think that there's a combination behind Carabiner Group. Obviously, we want to be a profitable company. Obviously, it's good to be able to grow something from the ground up and have success in it. But we really recognized at the start of this whole thing that there's a real need for assistance right now, particularly in the demographics that we serve, kind of in the small scale financial services, startup space and nonprofit space. There's demographics there that aren't always catered to by the larger consulting firms. And we're able to offer our services at a rate which can be affordable for a small business while still providing sort of that expert level of qualification. And to be honest with you, that allows us to really make a difference. Right. It's a gratifying feeling to say that our services have directly led to somebody else's success in a way that at least in the small scale, we can really feel good about and proud about. On the nonprofit side, we're also able to offer our services at an almost at cost, which is really gratifying because some of these these services feel crucial roles in society that potentially aren't being met by other corporate needs. And so we're able to have this this sort of tangential relationship to those social effects through our services.
Chris Byers: What are some industries or maybe job functions that you tend to feel like that's your ideal spot to help people?
Seamus Ruiz-Earle: Generally speaking, the rule of thumb that Salesforce always talks about is something in the region of of one full time administrator should be hired by the company to support every twenty five users in the space. And I can tell you that almost never happens. We were recently, a couple of months ago, hired on for a very large commercial bank in the Bay Area. And we got on the phone with with the executive team to and our first phone call. And the the issue that they raised was effectively they were so used to consulting partners coming in and immediately recommending a solution without ever having learning about the business. We were able to make a real solid connection with the executive team. But in those first couple of weeks, we ended up talking with the accountant who had been pushed into running the Salesforce administration for a seventy five person company. Each of the division managers and each of them had their own challenges with Salesforce that we're now developing a game plan to address. That accountant didn't enjoy being the person on the hot seat for Salesforce, and it wasn't really part of his job description, but he was doing it because it needed to be done. Now he's able to get back and do what he went to school for, what he enjoyed doing in a much bigger way. And each of those division managers now have a resource in us. They know that they're going to have an expert on hand rather than trying to have to figure it out themselves.
Chris Byers: Well, I love that really. As a consultant, you're coming in and helping really lead people and really encourage them and getting back to helping them find ways to get back to their core work. Can you think of somebody in your own life or tell us a story about someone who's giving you advice and been a part of getting you where you are today?
Seamus Ruiz-Earle: Oh, goodness. I mean, there's there's such a litany of people. It's interesting because whenever we have these types of conversations, I know my story is unique and I know that we've been able to accomplish a lot of things, but literally none of it would be possible without a support network. Everybody is kind of. A role to play in the success so far, the small connection points the times when you put yourself out there and make an impact on somebody's life, even though it's not overtly business related or it's not overtly going to lead to your own success. It always has a way of paying back dividends. And in the long run.
Chris Byers: Well, you know, each conversation we have on the show kind of ends up highlighting innovative ideas and fresh perspectives. I love this mix of impact that you talk about between business pursuits and nonprofit. If you could give advice to our listeners, how can they unlock their genius and really create a positive impact?
Seamus Ruiz-Earle: You know, I think that everybody has their own footprint to play and to leave on the planet. Right. There's so many different ways to make a positive change. And the nice thing that as people become more experts in their specific marketplaces, whether that Salesforce or HubSpot or Microsoft Dynamics or form stack. Right, all of these things can be applied to change people's lives, whether it's working for a nonprofit that specifically serves homeless individuals or it's working for an international NGO who's trying to distribute medicine, each of those organizations have technical needs that even if you're not somebody who wants to get on the ground and actually serve people by serving up food or something to that effect, your technical talents and your unique abilities, no matter what industry you're in, have the ability to make a serious impact on people's lives. And I think that that's something that people often overlook. If you can empower ten thousand aid workers with the typing of your keyboard, that's going to have such an impact on the lives of potentially hundreds or thousands, if not millions of people.
Chris Byers: Well, as we wrap up the conversation, I've got a handful of questions for you. One is, what do you hope people take away from your story? You've got this great background and what do you hope people can learn from your journey?
Seamus Ruiz-Earle: Yeah, I hope that people learn to a certain extent that it doesn't really matter what path you've started out on, you can always pivot. So I would always encourage people to be very flexible and open to change when the opportunities present themselves. The other is to the ability that you have be open to taking some reasonable amounts of risk. It's always a risk to kind of go outside of your comfort zone, but that's often where the greatest potential for success exist. If you pick something that you really enjoy and you're you're passionate about and you're successful and you're not going to lose from taking that leap, you're going to, at the very least, learn something seriously beneficial from it, and you'll be able to carry that into your future pursuits, whether or not the current one is successful.
Chris Byers: Tell us more if you have some examples of what some mentors have done for you in your life or who they are.
Seamus Ruiz-Earle: Mentors take a lot of different shapes and sizes, right? Some are built in potentially. So the first one I would say is as my dad dad's worked in business for a long time and drove me to school every day. And we like to joke that I got a mini MBA in the passenger seat as we were driving to school because I got exposed to all these various different complicated manufacturing cycles and how to sell and all of these elements of business that 14, 15, 16 year old normally wouldn't be exposed to. So he's been a really big mentor and helped me kind of grow my business to this point. Some mentors you seek out and they end up being there for the longer term. My my first, quote unquote, boss, the guy who hired me for that investment bank, I ended up working with him for three years. Twenty five hours a week, something like that. And when I found in my business, I asked him to continue to advise me and be a mentor for me. And so we talk on a regular basis and he has the experience and the expertise that he sees things that I don't see, and he is able to give that to me in a way that's constructive and allows me to take that feedback and implement it in a way so that I don't have to necessarily cross the same bridges that he had to in terms of various different challenges that I can now avoid unless type of mentors are the accidental ones. Some of the best mentorships that I've made and connections that I've made have simply been talking with people on airplanes. I went to school in Boston and I live in California, so I would fly that route 10, 12 times a year and so on those flights I would sit next to one time. It was a lecture at the Harvard Medical School and we just got started talking about what was being playing on the the in-flight television monitor. And we ended up talking about how we should build his business in my business. And I stayed in touch with him. Another time. It was next to a managing director of an investment bank. And I got started to talk and he gave me some fantastic career advice and offered me an internship if I was ever up to that. These sorts of accidental connections not only have the ability to be the most potent mentorships, but they also, even if they're for a short duration of time, can provide a lot of. Clarity for you, and if you take the time and really try to build a genuine relationship, if they're open to it, that can be very fruitful in the future. Well, tell
Chris Byers: us how you if somebody is listening and you're giving us some inspiring reasons to make sure we've got mentors in our lives, how do you go about making that ask or getting involved with them how much you encourage someone to do that?
Seamus Ruiz-Earle: Realistically, we live in a world that is so connected. We wake up, we check our phones, we go to sleep, we put down our phones. And in between, the phone is usually pretty much on our person the entire time, which gives young people or pretty much anybody the opportunity to connect in a way that that previous generations just didn't have. Right. And the advice that I would give is just to go at it from a a genuine point of interest and a genuine point of of making a connection. If you're genuine about your intent behind wanting to develop a relationship with someone, you're going to do your research first. You're going to understand where they went to school, what activities they were involved. When you're going to find synergies, companies that you're interested in, that they worked at those connection points that really make a foundation for a much more fruitful mentorship opportunity later on, coming in there with an open attitude to learn and really understand the value that they're bringing to the table, being able to go in there with potent and intelligent questions and being prepared, not asking for an interview right off the bat, because that's just self-serving and it's not something that people are really going to be drawn to. It's all about laying the foundation. It's like planting a seed that eventually can grow into a much bigger and fruitful relationship. And it also can go both ways.
Chris Byers: To learn more about how people are reimagining their world of work. Head over to form stack dot com forward slash, practically dash genius also linked in our show notes. Thanks for joining us today on this episode of Ripple Effect.