Staffing Industry Spotlight: Jim Boyd, Founder of Cirrus Group Consulting

In this interview on Ascen’s Staffing Industry Spotlight Series, we spoke with Jim Boyd, founder of Cirrus Group Consulting, who discusses the need for specialization in the rapidly evolving field of cloud technology staffing. Inspired by his personal interest and industry trends, Jim highlights strategies of differentiation in a saturated market in staffing, such as requiring all team members to obtain cloud certifications and how to expand into adjacent markets like cybersecurity, software development, and data engineering. The talk is a powerful lesson in how staffing firms can win with focus and differentiation.
June 30, 2024

Mickey Pelletier:

What is Cirrus?

Jim Boyd:

First and foremost, Cirrus are clouds, and they are the highest-level clouds in the sky. When I started the business, I wanted to focus on cloud engineering and cloud skills, especially in the public cloud market. I want to provide the highest-level cloud folks that we can, so it made sense to name it after the highest-level clouds in the sky.

So Cirrus is a staffing and recruiting company, and our primary focus since we started the company in 2019 has been cloud engineers and architects. Lots of companies were and still are moving and automating workloads and applications into the cloud. It was a passion of mine. It was just something I was personally into, and I saw it looked like a lot of companies were going in that direction.

Mickey Pelletier:

You touched on this a little bit, but how did you find your niche?

Jim Boyd:

I had been in the IT staffing world for 17 to 18 years at the time, and I worked for three or four different firms, and most of those firms were general IT staffing firms. If it was anything IT--even close to IT--they were happy to go out and find candidates for you. When I started in the business back in the early 2000s, being an IT staffing firm was kind of a specialty. If you flash forward closer to 2020, it's not. It wasn't anymore, and it's not anymore. It is so varied and so broad and so diverse that you have to really be good at something to stand out, and it's hard to do that if you just cover everything.

At my last firm, I didn't want to be a generalist anymore. I didn't think it made us very good at what we do, to be honest, and in a crowded field with 20,000 staffing firms in the United States. How do you differentiate yourself and how do you really be good at what you do? I thought you should really narrow down and focus on some primary skills and just own those skills.

I started doing some AWS roles [around 2020]. I thought the cloud was fascinating. I did research on where the future was going. Gartner and Forrester were predicting the move to the cloud. It just seemed to line up.

Mickey Pelletier:

Do you do you do any type of recruiting or anything beyond the cloud?

Jim Boyd:

Six, seven years ago, the cloud was a little knit in of itself. Fast forward to now, and almost every company is in the cloud.  When I say "cloud", I'm talking about the public cloud marketplaces referred to as "hyperscalers." The biggest players are AWS, Microsoft Azure, and Google Cloud platform. It's moving your existing data center, all your applications and workloads, into [the hyperscalers'] cloud offerings.

Initially, it was just an AWS and Azure and some Google cloud engineers and architects to design that infrastructure to move workloads to the cloud and to optimize, automate, and secure those workloads. As more people have done that, and more workloads and applications are natively developed and designed for the cloud, the cloud itself involves much more. Applications are built into the cloud. You have a lot of software developers and applications developer types that build in traditional .NET or Java or what have you. But do you make it cloud-native? You have to integrate [the applications] into an AWS service or a Microsoft Azure service, and so there's a lot of cloud flavor to software development, right to cyber security to data when you move workloads into the cloud, you still automate the cloud environment. There's a lot of DevOps and so there's a lot of engineering and automation. But there's also the data that comes over, so you have a lot of data engineers and architects who are very cloud-centric.

After people get this stuff in the cloud, [the hyperscalers] don't do a whole lot around security, right? Maybe the operating system and down? But you, as the customer, are still responsible for all kinds of security. So there's a lot of cyber and a lot of security that are traditional cyber and IT security folks. But now there's a lot of cloud flavoring to it. For us, it's an evolution of the cloud. There are data engineers and architects, software developers and architects, cyber security folks. That's our main picture now.

Mickey Pelletier: Yeah, I was going to say, noting how the market has become more saturated in the cloud space. How are you then differentiating yourself from other firms doing cloud recruiting? Anything specialized there that you're working on?

Jim Boyd:

When I started the firm, I thought it would be really important to truly understand the technology. A lot of recruiters and a lot of staffing firms don't know the technology very well. There's an argument to be made that maybe you don't have to. You can rely on your clients to do the technical stuff. Firms can just find people with cursory skills. That's not how we operate.

All my recruiters and all my salespeople have to get a technical cloud certification to work here. Everyone is either AWS or Microsoft Azure certified, and we have one guy who has both. A couple of folks have come through-- the first month you have to get your cloud cert--weren't able to get it, and we weren't able to continue with them, unfortunately.

It's not really hard, but it's a little bit tricky, and you have to focus on it. But if you can't grasp the concepts enough to get technically certified in it, you can't work here. So, everybody has to be technically certified.

The other thing that I identified 5-6 years ago when I was planning the company was that if a candidate has heard of you in any way, shape, or form and you reach out to them about the job, I think they're about 75% more likely to respond.

My second hire was a marketing lady, and she is still with us today. We have been pumping out social media through three or four different channels and email campaigns to certified AWS and Azure folks every week for four-ish years just to get our name out and to talk about all kinds of things in cloud engineering. What's the latest and greatest containerization, serverless security? You can go on and on about the tech stuff. Do certifications matter? What are the latest hiring trends? What are companies doing with their cloud environment? Are they moving forward? Are they sitting still? Which are the third-party tools that are most popular inside cloud environments?

We've had that going for a long time. We have a big following for a company our size on all of our social media channels. We have a big network. We've invested very heavily into our internal database, and we are constantly reaching out and staying top of mind for all these types of candidates. I think that we have a very active, engaged network of these people that we can more easily tap into than most other people.  We probably understand them a little better, and they can see that our recruiters have that certification. Knowing the technology and having an active engagement with tens of thousands of these folks around the country, I think, is a great benefit for us.

Mickey Pelletier:

What inspired you to start serious and start your own firm and go out on your own?

Jim Boyd:

There's a book called The E-Myth by Michael Gerber. He calls it the "entrepreneurial seizure." You have this moment where you're working, doing your job, and you're just like, "Hey, I could do this. I think I could do it better". Unfortunately, my wife didn't push back hard enough.

I actually approached the firm I worked with at the time and said I had some ideas about how we could really focus on some skill sets and build some expertise around these skill sets. It just went a lot slower than I wanted it to. The clock was ticking, and so I said I'm gonna do it myself. I'm gonna pick these skill sets, and I'm going be the best at it.

I think my 8-year-old son at the time said, "Hey, Dad, what happened? You done yet?" I said it might be nice to run a business someday. So I gave it a shot.

Mickey Pelletier:

Take me back to the early days. How did you get those first customers?

Jim Boyd:

I laugh because I have talked to so many people who had a hard luck story when they started their businesses—the financial crisis this, or 2000 bad, or 9/11 that. At the end of 2019, the economy was good, things were moving, and I thought, well, thank goodness I don't have a hard luck story. Well, I launched in 2020, and I hired my first couple of folks. Before they even started COVID-19 hit. And so lockdown, right?

A lot of sleepless nights. We got into the summer, and I just reached out to my network. I've been doing this for a couple of decades. I've been working hard and trying to try to take care of people and people were very supportive and responsive. It just worked. The network of people that I've been supporting over those years and they were kind enough to bring me where they were. To this day, 25 clients later, at least 23 of them have just been through my network and the great people I've met on my journey.

Mickey Pelletier:

Did you build any type of custom platform for delivery to your clients?

Jim Boyd:

We've done a few things.

I got some really good advice to get some offshore support, from operations to content marketing. But we have a handful of sources that we work with who start very, very early. They are experts

One of the things we identified was that my recruiters were spending a lot of time going through profiles. During the recruiting process, you create your boolean search strings and what you are going to look for in the profile, and then you just start going through these profiles. You spend a minute to two minutes on each one. We found out that we could train somebody to do that very effectively. I now have a really great system where I have a content specialist who creates our jobs, our email marketing campaigns, and our social media and our LinkedIn campaigns, as far as the content that we want to present to candidates that we're interested in. Then, I have these sources go out and start filling the pipeline for my recruiters. My recruiters source as well, but they're generally supplemented with 10 good qualified candidates a day from a sourcer so that my recruiters can spend more time talking to candidates. That's been really effective for us.

The other thing that's been really effective is that I hired a consultant to flush out our qualification process, which is now a custom qualification process. We have a standard set of questions that are very intentional about how we engage with a candidate. We spend probably almost 30 minutes with every single candidate, even if it's a contract role. We're going to spend 30 minutes with them on the phone.

It's just to get the right process, and we have a standard set of questions. They have to tell us a lot about themselves, their impacts, and what they think drives them. We’re looking for culture. We're looking for how they fit with teams. We're looking for their technical prowess, but also, if they paid attention to the impact they had on the business. Then we have a custom component to our questionnaire. Technical questions and answers that we get from various sources so that we can then qualify them. My guys are already certified in the cloud, but now we have technical questions specific to this job that flush a lot of people out. So the sourcers help pump people in a very sophisticated, customized vetting process and form that we enforce very strictly. And I think everyone's embraced it. It really produces fantastic candidates for us.

Want to learn how Ascen Employer of Record can help you expand your staffing agency in the US? Find out more here.


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