Business Development Manager
Another of the violent storms that had been tearing up South Carolina had raged through West Columbia the night before, but the day had dawned clear and cold. Andres Ortega trekked to his cat cafe on 118 State Street, passing people clearing branches off the sidewalks and sweeping debris from their front porches. Most of the street’s businesses were boarded up. Three weeks ago the onslaught of storms had forced the University of South Carolina to close its campus and send its students—the college town’s lifeblood—home.
Andres opened the door of his cafe and made his way up to the second floor, where 25 cats were waiting for him to change their litter boxes and feed them. Three weeks without income had finally brought his expenses to the tipping point: the cost to care for the cats had outstripped his income. He gently petted the forehead of one of the tabbies and realized he had to return the cats to the animal shelter for their own good. Andres closed his cat cafe in May 2019.
Andres, now the business development manager for North America at Platform.sh, had gotten the idea to open the cafe while employed as an outbound salesperson for a Columbia tire company. As he traveled across the country, he discovered cat cafes and realized they helped him overcome homesickness. Having a coffee on the table and a cat in his lap became his favorite way of working on his reports. When he was home from his business trips, he found himself paying more notice to Columbia’s population of homeless cats.
“I’d always felt bad seeing the homeless cats. I just really wanted to do something to help them,” he says. “I decided that Columbia needed a cat cafe too. I quit my job and four months later opened my cat cafe.”
For two years Andres partnered with the local animal shelter; all of the cats in the cafe were adoptable. He helped 67 cats find loving homes. But then came the storms. “It broke my heart to close the cafe. But unfortunately, there was no other solution to it. I will always hold onto all the happy memories of seeing the cats getting adopted. I also thought to myself, ‘Everything happens for a reason.’ I was ready to tackle new challenges soon enough.”
Andres’ stepping stone to Platform.sh was a sales training bootcamp called PreHired that helped people to score sales jobs at tech companies. Andres joined PreHired because he had always been interested in tech and wanted to combine that interest with his business development experience.
“I felt like I was meant to be an engineer in another lifetime,” he says. “But for the longest time, I didn’t know there was a thing called ‘engineering.’ All I knew were the roles I had grown up seeing in my small hometown: pharmacists, doctors, shopkeepers, postmen, and so on. So I knew there was a thing called ‘business,’ which is why I always planned to start my own one day.”
While studying at USC, he met engineering majors and learned about the subject. “I was like, aww, I wish I would have majored in that. But at that point, I was a senior, and it was way too late for me to switch majors. But ever since I’ve had an interest in software engineering.”
PreHired taught him everything he needed to know to enter the engineering field as a salesperson. When he came across Platform.sh, he liked the concept of helping web developers build and host applications and automate the infrastructure. “It all seemed so interesting to me. I didn’t know what any of those words meant, but I was eager to learn.”
Andres decided to email Chris Yates, the vice president of marketing at the company and an alumnus of Clemson University, a rival of USC. “I made a joke about Clemson University and said I would interview with Platform.sh nevertheless, and I guess that caught his attention. He interviewed and hired me.”
As the first sales development rep at Platform.sh, Andres was trusted with getting the SDR program up and running. With no tools, processes, or templates in place, he had to create the program from scratch. “I kept reminding myself that I had built an entire business. I had all the skills in place to succeed.”
When starting his cafe, Andres had learned how to reach out to people he had never spoken to before to pitch his ideas and get them on board with his business. He had worked out the logistics with the animal shelter and his food vendors. And he had trained his employees while teaching himself how to lead a team of people efficiently. He would put all these skills into practice building the SDR program for Platform.sh.
“It doesn’t matter if you’re building a business or a department or a team from scratch: it’s important to not only focus on the small details but to never lose sight of the bigger picture. I don’t think I would have been aware of this without having run the cat cafe.”
Andres worked with Yates to implement the first sales tools. A few months later, Jessica Orozco joined Platform.sh as the VP of sales. “That’s when things really went off,” Andres remembers. “She took me under her wing, and we ended up building a pretty solid SDR program. She’s been an incredible manager, and I can’t brag about her enough.”
His first challenge in building the program, as the only sales team member without a background in technology, was understanding the basic concepts of the tech world. Even though Andres received a detailed onboarding process, he had to cram in a lot of extra study. “Of course everybody at Platform.sh was there to help me get up to speed. But at the end of the day, I didn’t know what I didn’t know. I spent hours on YouTube learning what DevOps, infrastructure, and servers are.”
Drawing on his own breakneck learning curve, Andres built the SDR program with an emphasis on thoroughly educating his reps in web development so that they in turn could educate new customers and agency partners about how Platform.sh is changing the field.
As a former business owner with little technical training, Andres can relate to Platform.sh clients who are knowledgeable about their organizations and industries but not necessarily about cloud computing and digitally scaling an enterprise. By employing people like Andres with diverse experiences and expertise, Platform.sh ensures that we see customer challenges not through the lens of providing a software solution, but of providing a business solution.
“It’s a really rewarding experience to see the SDR program grow from non-existent to what it is today,” Andres says. “Platform.sh has been growing and thriving like crazy ever since I joined, and my team has been growing and thriving right along with it.”
Andres still thinks back from time to time on his first business success though, especially when sharing cuddles with Babu and Romeow, the two shelter cats he adopted when he closed the cafe. Through his cafe, Andres was able to help Columbia’s oldest cat shelter, PETSinc, rehome dozens of cats, freeing up its resources to rescue even more cats from kill shelters and the streets.
Even though his business endeavor has paused for now, Andres knows he will dedicate his life again to helping animals. “Once I get closer to retirement age, I can imagine doing it again as some sort of retirement project. And I know everything I will be learning until then will help me succeed at the end of my journey.”