AWS Partner Oak Rocket CEO Says It’s On Track For $250M In Sales By 2025

‘We grew 87 percent year over year last year,’ Oak Rocket CEO Dao Jensen tells CRN in an interview.

Editor’s note: The original version of this story misstated Oak Rocket’s projected sales goal. The company aims for $250 million by 2025.

Dao Jensen, CEO of Oak Rocket, said that even with global economic uncertainty and a shockwave for her startup clients with the collapse of Silicon Valley Bank, the Amazon Web Services partner is still on track for a sales goal of $250 million by 2025.

To get closer to that goal this year, the Austin, Texas-based partner is investing in more professional services, adding more machine learning (ML) and artificial intelligence (AI) capabilities, more security services and locking down more multi-year contracts with AWS clients, Jensen told CRN in an interview.

“We grew 87 percent year over year last year,” Jensen said. “We’re looking to be one of the biggest woman-owned AWS cloud partners in the country, if not the world. Shooting for a quarter of a billion dollars by 2025. And maybe being the next SHI” – No. 13 on CRN’s 2022 Solution Provider 500 and co-founded and led by President and CEO Thai Lee.

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AWS Partner Oak Rocket Taking Off

Oak Rocket – No. 400 on the same list – has about 20 full-time employees and offers services around cloud cost optimization, cloud migration, digital transformation and an AWS well-architected review.

With March being Women’s History Month, Jensen also spoke with CRN about her career path to leading a partner business. In the 1970s, she and her family left for the United States from a Vietnam still scarred by warfare.

“My mom already had five kids and felt that this was not the place for her kids to have a great opportunity after all the ruins and political situation that was going on,” Jensen said. “So that’s why we left.”

Jensen posted tributes on LinkedIn to her parents – her mother passed away in 2020 and her father this past February.

Originally aspiring to go into politics, Jensen found her way to the channel after tenures with Veritas, Symantec and CommVault.

“The biggest suggestion I have for people is always asking why,” Jensen said. “That question for anything is always the most important. And so when I went into technology, why is it important to have a fast E10k (The Sun Enterprise 10000 server) and a large E10k … And why does a customer care? I would always go look and find four really good specialists who understand how to say it in business terms.”

Here’s what else Jensen had to say to CRN.

How did you start working in the channel?

I thought I was going to run for president in the United States growing up in Minnesota. I was a youth governor of my state when I was 17. Was really big into debate and law and wanted to change the (U.S. Constitution) to allow immigrants to run for president. … But life had it that I became a mother really early and fell in love and needed to find a job that actually paid money instead of politics.

And I got into a finance role … at a company called Sun Microsystems, where I didn’t know what they did. I didn’t know what Java was.

And after doing finance for a couple of months as an intern, I realized that if I want to be CFO or CEO of the company one day, I should probably understand what they do.

So I was trained at (Sun co-founder) Scott McNealy’s sales training program … came to San Francisco, California, for the first time in my life and started doing training and loved sales and never went back to finance. … Being in sales forces you to work with the channel, especially when you work with large companies like Sun Microsystems, Oracle and Symantec.

Would your family be surprised with your current role?

Part yes and part no. I think they expected me to be more political. And I’m the last thing from being really political the last two decades with four children.

But on the other hand, having started my own company and being a competitive A type, not really accepting the glass ceiling – which I ran into in tech as well as in politics. … Those parts don’t I think surprised them, that I was able to get into tech, change the roadmap of my life.

How have you adjusted to the different roles in your career?

The biggest suggestion I have for people is always asking why. That question for anything is always the most important.

And so when I went into technology, why is it important to have a fast E10k (The Sun Enterprise 10000 server) and a large E10k … And why does a customer care?

I would always go look and find four really good specialists who understand how to say it in business terms – not just because it’s the best Unix solution out there, and etcetera, etcetera.

That’s been the most valuable thing in my career – is finding people like Tom Kyte (an Oracle employee for 22 years until his retirement in the 2010s) , who owned the blog, as well as any technical engineers.

Or when we got acquired by Symantec when I was at Veritas (in 2005). Not knowing how to sell security, bringing some of the best security guys in to help sell with me to clients until I really understood the business value proposition, not the tech value proposition.

Does the channel offer a lot of opportunities for owning your own business?

Absolutely. It’s the way to entrepreneurship. Being able to go to a corporation and be able to say, ‘Hey, I’ve learned the ropes. Now I want to be able to put that career in my own hands and figure out where I bring value from having been at all these corporations and having worked with all of these companies.’

So the channel is an amazing place to be able to add value and become your own boss and create a niche.

And there’s just so much to go around in any industry and technology – whether it’s hardware, software, cloud – that you can do really well just having your own niche company.

Are there efforts you think are helping bring more women and underrepresented groups in the channel and tech?

It comes down to opportunity and education, education being No. 1. Since the very beginning, when we had Oak Rocket, and Kaizen Technology Partners before (Kaizen rebranded into Oak Rocket in 2021), we always brought in a woman who didn’t know anything about cloud.

It’s just like, as I told people, virtualization. When no one knew what VMware was, people had to be retrained whether they were men or women in IT and the business space.

So giving someone an opportunity when there’s a change in an environment, in an economy, like crypto, etcetera, and you bring more people in that are non-white-male or not typical of the industry, you give them an opportunity to open a door to freedom and a way of making a future.

So we brought mathematicians, people who worked in the hospitality space at hotels, and we just said, ‘Come work with us and learn through example. And do some studying.’

So education is No. 1. And then No. 2 is the opportunity to allow people to – whether it’s an apprenticeship or a full time job, but maybe at a lower pay – but long term, it makes their livelihood much more valuable. … Some of the best salespeople are teachers and athletes, people who’ve competed in college or professional.

They know how to sell. They have a great work ethic. And teachers know how to teach others.

And so why are we not also bringing others in who might be wanting to learn? The biggest problem we have is we always want to go from one job to another and have a horizontal pay or a higher raise. Quite honestly, I had to take a cut in pay for several years to start this company. But long term, it was better for my children and my family. … There are a ton of resources out there depending on what level you’re at.

I went through a program called Women Unlimited, for middle management females who are looking to go up and become VPs (vice presidents) and executives.

I found it really valuable to have a mentor and have your boss bought into the program where they could come in and get more involved.

The biggest piece is having a network and being around people who you can aspire to. I don’t think I did that as much when I was younger, in my early careers.

And if you are able to, as a young individual in a career, be open to talking to others. Ask about your partners, what they do, how they do it.

(In) the early days … explore and try things out. I don’t think it’s any different for Asians, except for maybe the part of culture. Asians tend to be not as aggressive typically. They have an ability to assimilate, sometimes, (with) more difficulty. … I had a Vietnamese woman who just came in from undergrad to work, and she goes, ‘I’ve never seen any Vietnamese females in tech yet.’

I said, ‘Oh, my gosh … I’m happy to introduce you to five other ones that I’m aware of that own companies. … Organizations like EO (Entrepreneurs’ Organization), Women Presidents Organization, WBENC (the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council).

There needs to be a little more cross-culture of universities and these organizations to prep(are) and get people involved to understand what’s out there in a career than just applying for jobs in big companies.

Do you think about the resources available today versus the resources you had earlier in your career and even the resources available to your parents?

Yes and no. My family were immigrants. And we didn’t have a lot of resources. And she (Jensen’s youngest daughter, who is interested in the business) has the ability to meet so many people in my network that she never had met before, especially entrepreneurs.

Actually, my parents discouraged me from owning my own company because it’s so much work. But on the other hand, Minnesota has a great school system. You don’t realize that debate and government is a great stomping ground for sales.

It’s a great way to talk to people and be able to figure out how to best sell people on ideas and stuff. And she has that probably not any more than I do.

What she has, though, is the ability to have the network my parents didn’t have as immigrants, to get started earlier. And encouragement to become an entrepreneur earlier. Because a lot of women like myself don’t start until after they’ve had four kids.

And that makes it difficult sometimes to be able to get into networks like Young Presidents Organization ( a chief executives leadership community of more than 30,000 members), where you can’t get in until you’re 45, typically.

It has been great to see YPO be able to allow women to join at 54 instead of 44 because they are aware that women don’t get funding as early, take time to take care of children and be daughters to mothers and fathers who are ill.

So it’s great to see that change in some of the focus of some of these organizations who are helping us become leaders is opening the door for later stages of life careers.

What other advice do you have for young people trying to get into tech?

They’re not failing as often as they should. People are scared of failure. And so that would be the one thing I encourage others to do is to test and try things out.

You’re your worst enemy. Your brain and what you think is possible are the things that keep you away from growing. I was as scared as could be to be an entrepreneur and to start my own company. … We’ve been encouraging at Oak Rocket to the underserved and underrepresented. Live a life powerfully. Be yourself. … Inspire others so that you can be a role model for those of generations coming behind you.

And that’s what we’re trying to do for the young women out there. Having me go speak to a lot of events – and having my staff who’s practically over 70 percent women – do the same.

What are Oak Rocket customers demanding lately?

Everyone’s trying to do a lower cost of business. Amazon is trying to have a lower cost of business and moving a lot of business out to younger salespeople.

The economy is kind of shaky at this point. And so we find that we’re trying to help with our years in the market. The great thing about the channel – and I talk to this about the channel a lot to people – is, sales reps, if you’re trying to do really good numbers, use your channel. Use your partners who have been in the industry.

Typically those partners are in the business because they’ve been selling to that industry, like ourselves, for 20-plus years.

Here, for me in the Bay Area, 18 years. But when I was new to the U.S. from London at Veritas, I couldn’t make 180 percent of my numbers if I didn’t use partners.

How is Oak Rocket investing in growth in 2023?

We grew 87 percent year over year last year. We’ve been one of the fastest women owned companies in the United States in the Fast 50 for WPO for the last several years. I think we commit to keep investing and focus on more professional services now that we’ve done a lot of large, multi-year contracts with AWS clients.

We have a little more stability. … And we’ll be doing more professional services, machine learning, AI work for our clients, as well as security concerns that people have in the cloud. … We’re looking to be one of the biggest woman-owned AWS cloud partners in the country, if not the world.

Shooting for a quarter of $1 billion dollars by 2025. And maybe being the next SHI, woman-owned cloud business by 2030.

Does Oak Rocket have any verticals it specializes in?

It tends to be startups and digital native or lower enterprise.

It’s when someone really is wanting more optimization in their cloud bill. And they go, ‘Hey, I’ve been working with Amazon for a while. But I’m still looking for that other 3 percent savings to 5 percent savings, and I can’t get it much more.

They don’t all realize – having been direct with AWS for so long – that there’s extra money out there in the partnership channel that can help them save money.