Ted Elliot Transcript

Clint Betts

Ted, thank you so much for coming on, being a part of the show, sharing your wisdom with our community, and everything that you've been through. Tell me about the company you're the executive officer of now and how it got started.

Ted Elliott

Yeah. Well, first off, Clint, thank you for having me. I'm the CEO of a company called Copado. It was originally started by two guys in Madrid who were trying to do deployments of Salesforce and Veeva, which were two pieces of enterprise software. They were staying up all night and they hated their jobs and they were finding out that it was really difficult to deploy software without it breaking.

So, they decided to start a company that would automate the process of deploying software and found out that everyone had the same problem who was doing the same type of work they were doing. They brought this idea to the United States in 2019. I met them first as an investor, and then as we got talking, I became interested in this idea of people getting to go home for dinner on release days.

Why is that important? A lot of times, the IT department or the developers have to stay at the office all night. When things break, they're the first people you call in the morning, and that creates a lot of pain. I had lived through a lot of that pain over the last 20 years building software, and so it became, really, a fascinating idea to me to be able to solve that problem. I kind of fell in love with the idea of what we were doing.

I think, today, the way I think about Copado is we are basically allowing innovators to spend more of their time innovating and spend their time fixing things. We do that by basically giving them a process for how they consistently deliver their work product. That sounds probably really arcane and boring, but to me it really just comes down to you get to go home for dinner and less divorces.

Clint Betts

That's a great way of putting it actually is like, "Hey, you're home for dinner." Copado, it works with software like Salesforce, Veeva, nCino, MuleSoft, Heroku, SAP, ServiceNow.

Ted Elliott

Yeah. All these pieces of software that you use for enterprise applications, that's really the area that we focus in.

Clint Betts

Isn't it incredible how many companies have been built on top of Salesforce or with Salesforce integrations? I know. I was seeing that. Prior to this, you were the CEO of Jobscience and working with Salesforce. It's interesting. That's such a strong ecosystem and so many companies are a part of it.

Ted Elliott

Yeah. I think the reason why is because it allows people to innovate faster, and therefore you invite a whole group of people to the game of innovation who previously haven't had a seat at the table. You create a whole new set of problems by allowing the neophytes to come to the table and participate, but we're about to go through another one of those Salesforce-like revolutions with artificial intelligence. We're going to invite a whole bunch of people to exceed their potential by leveraging AI.

I think it's a fascinating time to be in tech, and Salesforce just happens to be one of those places where if you know the business problem you're trying to solve, you can solve it a lot faster leveraging their ecosystem. I think that's what attracts a strange brew of people to build there.

Clint Betts

Yeah. How is artificial intelligence going to affect your business and more broadly? I mean, this is top of mind for everyone right now, just generally the business world, the tech world, and Earth itself.

Ted Elliott

Well, I think, for me, this is the biggest innovation that I've seen since 1994 when a friend of mine showed me the first website for AT&T and Woodstock that he was building on Marina Boulevard in San Francisco at his house, where he had some SPARC servers stacked from the floor to the ceiling and told me the internet was coming. I was like, "Huh?" And I haven't seen anything that, I think, is this big, but I think we're fundamentally going to change our relationship with our work, because I think we're going to be able to talk about our work for the first time and converse with our work.

It's interesting. I've been interviewing people for technical writing positions lately and I start off the interview with, "Your job is not going to exist as you know it in five years." They're like, "What?" I'm like, "Yeah, people need you to write stuff, but they're not going to read it in books and they're not going to read it in manuals. They're going to have a conversation with the information that you're feeding to the engine."

I was up camping this last weekend with some folks who are lyricists and playwrights and they're very threatened by the concept of AI. And I tried to explain it to them as, I think, it's all about exceeding human potential and the ability to allow people to do more than they were able to do in the past. I think, if you think about it, almost like digging up a trench for your lateral sewer line, a human being is not going to do that with a spoon anymore. You're not going to do it with a shovel. You're going to get a backhoe. A backhoe allows a human being to do the work that would take them three weeks in the afternoon because a machine's assisting them.

I think very much AI is a similar concept, where if you think of your brain as a muscle, your muscle is going to be able to do a lot more if you know what you want to achieve. When it comes to building code, when it comes to testing code, when it comes to documenting code, when it comes to taking the steps and the processes that people don't really want to do that are very repetitive... I think, when you combine robotics and artificial intelligence, you're going to see a fundamental shift in the next three to five years in how to do that. And you're also going to change how you engage with your technology.

You're going to have, really, a conversation with your software, and that is going to, I think, just accelerate our entire experience with technology. It's going to be scary because a lot of people think that it's the Terminator or the Matrix, but I think it's going to really allow people to exceed their potential.

Clint Betts

How do you think that artificial intelligence is so good on the creative aspect already? Like you said, you just mentioned like, "Hey, we went camping with the playwrights and lyricists." That's really interesting. It was fascinating to me when I first used ChatGPT-4, how already good at that it was, and not great, by the way. They're going to be fine for now, but isn't it fascinating how good it is at that?

Ted Elliott

Yeah. Sometimes when I'm on calls that are going long and I need to distract myself so I don't interrupt people with all my great ideas, I have a laptop on the side and I've been working on a screenplay. I'm not a screenwriter, but I always thought it'd be cool to write a screenplay about New Orleans, where I live. I've been able to get 106 pages cranked out.

I gave it to my mother-in-law who didn't know it was written by a machine, and she was fascinated about the screenplay me, how did I find the time to do this? What am I doing? I gave it to my mother who was a little more critical and was like, "What is this? I can tell this is not something you wrote." I think what I saw was, "Hey, all of a sudden someone who has no business doing something can participate in something they didn't have a seat at if they have an idea."

One thing I found most fascinating is, in our internal teams, we have people all over the world who work at Copado, and they all think that they speak English perfectly because our business language, and they don't. But with the power of using generative AI, they can actually work in their own native language and then they can submit their work and it can be translated into a common language, English. We are seeing a massive impact on our productivity, specifically in our support teams by building our own LLM that contains all of our materials. We're now reducing our case close time by 60%—

Clint Betts

Oh, wow.

Ted Elliott

... and that's less than two months. What we're figuring is that the people who are on the frontline support didn't have the time to think fast enough to go read through all of our documentation, search all that documentation, give people a rational answer.

Now, in ChatGPT... or sorry, CopadoGPT built on the OpenAI model and our own private LLM. Now, they can take that information and they can rapidly assess it and provide an answer to the customer, and the answer quality they're giving the customer is 3 to 4x better than what they could have come up with on their own. And in one-tenth at the time, these are not having to go for multiple people to weigh in on what the problem is.

The other example, sorry if I'm getting too deep here, is taking log files. That would take a very smart person with a lot of sophistication weeks to interpret. You can drop it into this model and it will tell you in 30 seconds what your problem is and how to fix it.

Clint Betts

Yeah. That's incredible. Are you surprised by how quickly this is all and rapidly the technology's advancing?

Ted Elliott

I think what I've been surprised by is what I'll call the pockets of access to innovation. My father died last November and I go and have lunch on Fridays with a number of his friends in New Orleans. They were talking about OpenAI and ChatGPT way before my friends in Silicon Valley. Then I spent the summer in Silicon Valley and there's a meetup every night in San Francisco talking about this stuff. I feel like it's caught wind, but then when I go talk to people who are not at ground zero on this stuff, they don't even know what's coming.

I've seen this happen before with the internet back in the '90s, but it is very interesting to have a seat at an event that you've seen this happen before where people are accessing the hype curve and the creativity curve at different stages in its evolution. I find it fascinating, but what I know is coming is going to really change how we work. That's fascinating.

Clint Betts

Yeah. Yeah. It's incredible to be alive at this time when something like this is becoming so widespread and, really, will change society in fundamental ways. I wonder, as you think about your role as CEO and a leader, how do you lead your employees and talk to your employees about this? Like you mentioned, "Hey, I've been interviewing technical writers and tell them like, 'Hey, their job's not going to be the same as it was five years from now.'" That might be true of everyone's job.

How do you imagine leaders and you yourself will manage this with your employee base?

Ted Elliott

Yeah. Well, first off, I don't believe we control anything in life. I think we can only influence things. That largely came out of getting cancer four years ago, my third month on the job here, and realizing how little control I have of things. It also taught me that everything is changing constantly. The question is whether you want to be writing the change or being driven over by the change.

When I have these conversations with the technical writers, I start off with, "Hey, I think your job is going to not exist in five years, but here's what your job is going to look like. That's going to be a completely different job, in which you are going to be the person who feeds the mind of the machine. You're going to be in more demand than ever before, and here's why you're going to be in demand. And you want to know what's going to be even cooler? All that stuff you've written for years that no one ever read, they're not going to use it. And how much smarter are they going to be because of your work?"

That's kind of how I look at it is, yeah, our job's going to get changed absolutely, but I believe that what's going to happen is they're going to get changed in ways we didn't imagine, but we're still going to need people to define what it is we need to accomplish. I had a conversation yesterday with a professor from the UC system who's working on AI and he felt very strongly that it's important that this technology... The driver of the ask, the driver of the decision needs to be a human, and we need to have a clear idea of the purpose that we're trying to use the technology for, not, "Hey, I can just set it, forget it, and go play golf."

I think that's the way I would look at it with our employees. I'll tell you, my employees have come up to me over the last three or four months at different meetings and said, "I have not been as excited to be at Copado in the last four or five years until what I've seen us produce with this technology over the last six months."

They were excited before because they like this idea of people getting to go over dinner and not get divorced, but now they're excited on a completely different level, where they believe that we can really make that transformation to business analysts and low-coders and people who didn't have a seat at the table of being innovators have those seats. That gets them excited. I don't think it's a matter of we're going to lose jobs. I think we're going to eliminate jobs that are going to be replaced by better jobs. No one is fawning over digging ditches. No one's like, "Oh, I wish that we could get rid of the backhoe so we could dig those ditches." I think it's, "Wow, can't we go back to the day before running water because that natural spring was so great? Hey, let's bring the lead back to paint." No one's asking for that.

I think it really becomes what are we trying to do and how are we going to better the human condition by using this technology? I think we tend to go negative and we fear Dr. Evil is going to somehow get AI and we're all going to become zombies. But I think the reality is that what we really want to figure out is, how can you be a productive contributor to mankind and to still, at the same time, not break your back?

I think about 1798 and I think about Boston and I think about women not being able to be part of the workforce. All the people who ran the workforce were tradesmen or craftsmen that were members of guilds who made sweaters or shoes or cobble horses. All of a sudden, you have these factories around Boston populated by women who are now part of the workforce that were producing mass quantities of commercial goods that created an industrial revolution.

What is that industrial revolution ahead of us for? Maybe it's how we solve some of our environmental issues. Maybe it's how we solve some of our political issues. I think we need to think about what the positive is going to be from this technology. It's going to happen one way or the other, so let's figure out how to make the best of it and solve some of our real problems. I think that's what fascinates me is, what problems can we solve to really make people their best and better than their best? That's the cool concept.

Your parents were always like, "I just want you to be the best you can be. Clint, we want you to do the best podcast you can do." Imagine if the technology allowed you to do better than your best.

Clint Betts

Yeah.

Ted Elliott

What's wrong with that?

Clint Betts

Yeah. Yeah. I think that's a good point. Ted, I have to ask you, what did you learn from your experience getting cancer so early on and taking this job as CEO? Wow. That must've been life-changing.

Ted Elliott

Yeah. Well, I mean, it's been an odd couple years. I was just driving with my daughter today and we were talking about the last four or five years. My wife had a heart attack in 2018. She asked me to go find a job because she didn't like me being around the house. She told me it stressed her out, so I joined Copado. Within three months of joining Copado, I had stage three colorectal cancer. I went to a board meeting where I said, "Well, the good news is we just closed this deal with Google. The bad news, I might not be here by the time it's implemented."

I joke about stuff like that because that's the only way I can deal with it. But it really was a moment where, all of a sudden, I could make very clear decisions because I didn't care about the repercussions. One of the problems in life is we're always so worried about the repercussions of our decisions that we make no decision.

When I got well, I really hoped to keep it together and stay positive and be grateful for things. My body was healthy, but my mind wasn't as healthy as my body. When my father died last November, who I worked with for 18 years, I was once again reminded that we can't control a whole lot. So, you've got to really decide, "Hey, what do you want to achieve? What do you believe in?" It doesn't have to be something that everyone understands, but it's got to be something that is meaningful to you. What are we doing to make a contribution?

You have to be at peace with yourself. That's been the biggest gift I could have ever gotten, because you can make a lot of money and you can have lots of things, but you can't find peace. That, I would say, was the big lesson of cancer. Who knows if the cancer will come back. I'm going for a colonoscopy on Friday. I don't think I'll find anything, but that's what you have to do. You just have to look up in the sun every day and be happy to be here. I think that's really hard to accomplish. I mean, do you imagine what a gift that is to be at peace?

It makes it a lot easier to pursue your dreams because it's all going to work out or not work out, but you're going to do your best. I don't know if that's the answer you're looking for, Clint, but in my mind it's really about there's so many things in life that are artificial blockers that are in our heads that we create as artificial blockers because we're concerned about what people think of us. We're concerned about what the financial ramifications are going to be or we're going to do. Imagine if you lived your life thinking that this could be your last day or your last week. How would you live it differently?

Clint Betts

Yeah. Drastically different, right? Most likely.

Ted Elliott

Yeah. Yeah, totally. That doesn't mean that you're a better person or you make the right decisions where everyone agrees with you, but you can at least live with yourself. And that's actually a gift.

Clint Betts

How's your diagnosis now? It sounds like they got it but you get checkups all the time.

Ted Elliott

Yeah. Well, I mean, the first thing is that my anatomy's a little different because they have to cut certain parts of your body out. I don't drink anymore alcohol because they told me that I probably got it because of eating too much barbecue and alcohol.

I'll tell you a funny story. Last summer, I was on a camping trip and I told a guy who was about my age about what had happened. He kept on asking me questions like, "How did you know? What were the first signs?" And I said, "You should just go get a checkup." He called me about three months later and told me that he had the same thing and that he was getting treated.

I think one thing that's really important is for people to make sure that you don't wait around to go get checked up, especially men who are very uncomfortable with their health and going to see the doctor. It's really important that if you ever have a stomach ache or you don't feel right that you go get tested, because it's really something that is very fixable but you have to not let it get too bad.

In my case, I was Stage 3-plus, which is not a good place to be. I think, when I woke up from my colonoscopy, they told me that I should get my personal affairs in order. That's not something you really want to hear when you wake up from a fentanyl- induced sleep.

I'm doing great. I got to go swimming this morning. I got to go for a walk. I mean, Jesus, that's the best thing ever.

Clint Betts

Yeah, that's incredible to have to go through something like that. My son was just diagnosed with cancer three or four months ago, sorry, and it's just rocked our family. It's so intense to hear that someone you love or you yourself, I'm sure, has cancer and how the whole family would deal with it. It must've been trying even for your family and friends and your board at the company.

Ted Elliott

Oh yeah, it was. It's very hard, but I think that it's important that cancer is like any other disease. Everyone doesn't die from it. It's not the end of the world. You just have to be your own best advocate and you really have to work and have a positive attitude. What's going to happen is going to happen and it can be very empowering.I know that sounds weird, but it's how you choose to take it on.

I'm very sorry to hear about your son. Maybe after the podcast, if there's anything that I can do to help you, I'd love to talk to you about MD Anderson and Sloan Kettering and how great I think those places are. There are lots of great cancer hospitals, but it's a real challenge. I mean, my wife ended up having a stroke after my cancer went to remission. You're never really cured. That was just another gut check. She's recovered, but some of these things bring your family together and set your priorities in ways that you would've never done naturally, you know?

Clint Betts

Yeah.

Ted Elliott

I guess what I'm saying is, in life, just like with AI that we were talking about before—how I would tie this back to what we were talking about before is everything can either be the end of the world or it can be an opportunity. We don't get to control how long we're here. We don't get to control what happens to us, but it's what you choose to make of it that ultimately defines your life.

Clint Betts

Yeah. How hard was it to stop drinking alcohol?

Ted Elliott

Easy.

Clint Betts

Really?

Ted Elliott

I just stopped. It would almost be like if they told you, "This is a chalice of poison. Would you like to have some?"

Clint Betts

Yeah. Yeah.

Ted Elliott

You know what? I think I'll pass. I don't think I need any more of that chalice of poison. You have a lot more energy. I can tell you that much.

Clint Betts

Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. I also wonder, Ted, just why New Orleans is so important to you. I get a sense that you love that city.

Ted Elliott

I moved here because my parents had moved back to New Orleans where my mother's from in 2018. After I was ill, I had a surgery at MD Anderson for a hernia and I decided to come to New Orleans to see my parents. This was sort of on the backside of COVID and my father looked horrible. My wife said to me that when I was really sick with cancer, I said, "If I'm not going to make it, we should move to New Orleans and be with our family."

When she had a stroke and she woke up from her stroke, I said, "What do you want to do?" And she goes, "I don't think we need to die to be near our family. Why don't we get down to New Orleans to be around our family?" For me, New Orleans really represents where my family is. I do spend some of the summer in California because it's hot down here in the summer—

Clint Betts

Yeah, for sure.

Ted Elliott

... like today, but I think it's really about family. It's a very family oriented place.

Most people think Mardi Gras is for college kids who want to see things in the French Quarter. I have always thought about Mardi Gras as a family event where kids go out and sit on ladders and get free beads. It's the most fun a six or eight- year-old or a 10-year-old can ever have. I think it's very much a family culture. That, at this point in my life, has become a priority.

Clint Betts

How is the city holding up from a business tech ecosystem, startup ecosystem? Are there other big CEOs like yourself that have headquartered there? I'm interested in just the whole general business scene.

Ted Elliott

Yeah. I think I'm probably the oddball in the mix. I decided during COVID that everyone from Copado was going to work from home. We're a completely distributed business, and so that allowed me to also distribute myself to where I wanted to live, which was New Orleans. Like I said, I spend some time in California, probably two months of the year, but I also spend a lot of time on the road because we have people in Amsterdam, Helsinki, Madrid, Chicago, really all over the place. So, I travel a lot to see people who work for us.

New Orleans has been fine as a Central Standard Time Zone location for me to be able to operate a global business from. I would not say there are a lot of tech companies in New Orleans today. I do think that it is ripe for development, but for us, we're a remote business. So, it's been a very convenient location to operate from. I can have the best of both worlds, which is I can work with lots of smart people all over the world and I can also have a family lifestyle that is very conducive to what I like to do in my life.

What's been interesting to me in New Orleans is the number of people who are in their late-40s to early-60s who are relocating to New Orleans because they want a place where their kids will want to come see them. It sounds odd, but they want a—

Clint Betts

That's awesome.

Ted Elliott

... destination where their families will come visit them. It's never hard to get people to come visit you in New Orleans. I live right down the street from Commander's Palace. It is never hard for me to get someone to come to town and want to go for dinner at Commander's.

Clint Betts

That's incredible. I didn't even think about it like that. This work from home and being a entirely distributed workforce now and distributed company, what have been the challenges of that? You know as well as anybody, just kind of the discussion and debate that's happening around that now post-COVID, and how much time should be spent in the office versus working from home. A lot of companies are going to a hybrid schedule. How have you thought that through? It sounds like you've stayed just completely distributed.

Ted Elliott

Yeah. It's hard. It was really easy during COVID. It was the most productive days when no one had anything else to do, but it is really hard when you have competing things to do and when you don't have to be at your desk all the time. What I found is that we've been able to achieve our goals and be productive regardless, and that has really made it work.

What we're doing probably more of today than, I would say, we were doing six months ago or 12 months ago is spending a lot of time having regional meetings. For example, next week in Houston, we'll have 250 people come to Houston for three days to do a second half of your kickoff. And we'll follow up in Amsterdam at the end of August and then we'll fall up in Jaipur in September.

I have told my teams, "You've got to go out in the field and spend time with your colleagues. I don't care if it's going to have lunch with them. I don't care if it's having a team meeting. You have to get on a plane, find a location to meet up, but you've got to press the flesh with your people because people have to see people in order to be invested in them."

Do we need to have a physical office or a water cooler where people sit around the water cooler to be connected? No. I think you do have to invest a certain portion of your time in getting out there. I had made a goal of mine for the year to at least see a third of our people by four months into the year, and I achieved that goal. I've tried to say to people, "Just because you work at home doesn't mean you work alone. We've gotta get out there and see each other." Honestly, I think that that's the most important part about working as a group.

I also think that teams need to come together when they're planning. I think they probably also need to come together at the end of a project in person so they can do a postmortem that's not just a 15-minute phone call. But I think you can be very productive working from home and I think a lot of people in sales have worked from home forever and these other jobs. It's really hard, honestly, to be a young person in the current workforce because the mentorship is very hard to achieve from a distance.

One thing we have done is set up an office in Chicago where our younger SDRs and BDRs go in a couple days a week to work with each other. I think that is extremely important, but it's different for different types of workers, different stages of their careers.

Clint Betts

We end every interview the same way and you've been super generous with your time, Ted. I really appreciate it. Everything you've said to us is fascinating, and the things you've gone through and who you are as a leader is inspiring. At CEO.com, we believe the chances one gives are just as important as the chances one takes on themselves. I wonder if there's anyone who gave you a chance that stands out when you hear that.

Ted Elliott

I've been very lucky in that I got to work with my father for over 20 years. We got to go to lunch two to three times a week and we got to start three businesses with each other. I would never have achieved the things I believe I've achieved without starting with him as my foundation and my Rock of Gibraltar and my big support.

It gave me a great deal of pleasure at a very hard time in my life to go to his computer the day he died and look that his last email was to his best friend and the last file he ever opened on his computer was a project we were working on together. I would say that chance has really been something that... I'm a member of a group in San Francisco that meets, once a month, CEOs to talk about how our business is going and share ideas with each other.

A number of years ago in my old company, I came in and complained about my father keeping me down and holding me back and he didn't really want to be there and what was I going to do about that? They all sort of gave me a hit in the head and said, "Hey, Ted, do you know how lucky you are?"

For me, I would say that that was a real big advantage in life was having my dad there. Not your dad to cover you every time, but really to have a business partner who had no preconditions, who wanted to help me be my best. I didn't always live up to being my best and he told me.

That, I think, has probably been the most valuable thing in my life and something that is a blessing. I tried to take that when I work with senior members of my team, figure out what are they trying to achieve and how could I potentially help them achieve what they're trying to achieve based on the blessings I was given. I don't know if that's not a typical answer you get, but—

Clint Betts

No, that's beautiful. Yeah, exactly. Yeah, that's exactly right.

Ted Elliott

It's something I didn't completely understand until I understood it. It's kind of like when I was with my daughter today having lunch. She's a sophomore in college and she just finished an internship. We're talking about her life. I was like, "How do I set up the conditions for her to realize her own success but support her?" I think a little of it is to step back and see how it goes but always be there to try and support her being the best she can be, which is not always what she's going to want. That's a big lesson that my dad was really great at was stepping back and letting me fail on my own, and it's a hard one to learn.

Clint Betts

Right. Ted, thank you so much for joining us. Congrats on the remission for the cancer and living every day to the fullest and everything you've accomplished with Copado. It means a lot to have had you here. Thank you so much.

Ted Elliott

Thanks for your time and prayers for your family and for your son.

Clint Betts

Thank you so much. I appreciate that.

Weekly Newsletter

For Leaders

Subscribe to the weekly newsletter read by the world's most influential CEOs.