Cloudflare’s New Channel Chief Tom Evans: Partner Opportunities Set To ‘Skyrocket’

Evans, who joins Cloudflare today as chief partner officer, tells CRN the company has the ‘same growth trajectory’ as Palo Alto Networks had previously.

There’s a massive opportunity ahead for partners around working with Cloudflare and its array of security and IT offerings, including in the fast-growing area of secure access service edge (SASE), according to newly hired Cloudflare Channel Chief Tom Evans.

In an interview with CRN, Evans spoke about his move from serving as global channel chief at Palo Alto Networks to being named the first-ever chief partner officer at Cloudflare.

[Related: Cloudflare CEO Matthew Prince: Most Zero Trust Security Tools ‘Slow You Down’]

“The opportunity for me was just really too good to pass up to scale that growth,” Evans said — noting that he believes Cloudflare is currently on “the same growth trajectory” that Palo Alto Networks previously had.

“There's a huge opportunity here, and I think we can foster it in a way through partners that's going to skyrocket this thing,” he said.

Cloudflare recently reported that its revenue through the channel has grown by 174 percent during the past two years.

Evans’ departure from Palo Alto Networks was disclosed last week. His first day as Cloudflare’s chief partner officer is today.

What follows is an edited and condensed portion of CRN’s interview with Evans.

What prompted you to make this move?

I loved my time at Palo Alto. I had a great six and a half years there. And I think it's a true testament to what a great opportunity this is — to make me want to leave such a great company. I'm very proud of everything we did there and very proud of the team that we had built. This was an opportunity that I just could not pass up.

I talked to several partners and every single one of them had just overwhelmingly positive things to say about the technology and about how customers feel about it. They're already doing some pretty incredible things with the channel. For me to just come in and look at everything and figure out the next evolution, it is definitely such a great opportunity.

Palo Alto Networks also had a very mature channel organization — are you seeing Cloudflare as a chance to take a program that’s at a little bit of an earlier stage and shape it?

Yes, I’m definitely excited about coming into a company that's obviously smaller — but with the same growth trajectory I think that Palo Alto has had. In my conversations with [CEO] Matthew [Prince] and [COO] Michelle [Zatlyn] and [President of Revenue] Mark Anderson, and several other members of the executive leadership, there’s a passion that they each have around where this is going and what they want to do on the partner side. They are not only investing in the partners and in the partner community, but in the team itself. Palo was very mature. And I had, I think, a little bit to do with that over the last six and a half years. But this gives me a really great opportunity to come in and just take what they've already done very successfully and put my stamp on it, and try to replicate some of the same success [at Palo Alto Networks] in driving that business. I think the partner program is heading in the right direction. And maybe if I can just add some of my spin to it, that's really the goal here. Because I think the opportunity for scale and growth here is pretty fantastic.

Cloudflare is also obviously doing a lot in security and SASE but is also a network itself, and operating more in the same sphere as AWS and Azure in some ways — was that also attractive to you?

Yes it’s very attractive. The mission — which everyone, to their credit, brought up in our conversations — is to help build a better internet. And that’s attractive to me, to go beyond what I've done before and really look at how many different aspects across the internet that Cloudflare touches.

Obviously, you're just getting started here, but are there any specific goals you have for the role that you can mention?

I truly do believe that the value that partners bring to any technology company is really what makes or breaks the company. [The initial goal is to] come in and just listen to our internal team, listen to how the program works, listen to the system, the operation, the processes — and then really listen to a ton of partners. I'm going to spend a lot of time in front of partners, especially in the first 90 days, and really just [hear] what's working, what can maybe evolve, what could potentially be improved. And for me, I've always had this vision [focused on] what's an ideal state? And I'd love to hear from the Cloudflare partners on what's ideal for them. How can things be better? How can we make ourselves more frictionless and take some friction out of the systems, so that we’re a much easier company to do business with? I've tried to drive a lot of that in my career, and I'll continue to do that. [I want to] understand what would make them drive more Cloudflare business. And that can be as simple as the processes and the program, to how we integrate with the technology on the managed services side. My whole goal is to just get our partners to see more margins and value within the products as they start to sell more and we start to grow more.

What is another big learning that you’re expecting to bring into this role from your previous experiences?

[One is around] understanding what's potentially holding anyone back from selling more. I want them to have Cloudflare on their mind. I want them to think about how they can drive this technology to those customers, how they can deliver the services. And so my learnings are really, how do I understand what they need from an enablement perspective, a training perspective, a programmatic perspective and an ease-of-doing business perspective? [What will] drive them to think, ‘This is an easy technology to sell, I have the support from Cloudflare to provide services and it'll get me in with the customer and stay sticky.’ I'm really focused heavily on that — but also very well aware of their desire to make money and the margins needed in order to drive that business. If I can make it easy for them, they can make money and they can get support, partners are going to sell this technology.

What do you see as the big evolution right now for security partners?

I think AI is a big one. I think every partner out there is now trying to develop either an AI practice or at least have expectations around understanding how companies are going to start to leverage AI, which is something that everyone has to embrace. It's not going away. It's something the successful companies are definitely embracing. I think if I talk to partners their big thing is understanding the evolution of AI and where it's going, how they can play into that and how they can foster that through their services — and how they can develop those services practices around AI and really around all of the different threats that are out there. It's a constant evolution and customers are struggling to keep up with that, and the way they're doing that is through partners. The partners that I've seen that are the most successful are the ones that are staying ahead of it as much as possible, and really investing in trying to understand the latest market trends like AI and machine learning. So every conversation is around, ‘how do we stay in front of that?’

Overall, what can Cloudflare partners expect from you?

I think what they can look for is, I'm very open to having conversations around [how] we can always do better. As great as the channel [growth] numbers are and as great as the team is, we're always going to look to be better. We’re going to look to tweak anything with the program that will help them or anything within our own internal processes that will make it easier to do business with us. The ones that know me know that I have a track record of, I do listen to feedback. And I think it's very important with the way things are changing and the evolution of how the partners are working with customers, to always listen. There might be things that we do today that a year from now we do a little differently, because it's just changed and evolved. And I think what they're going to get with me is, I'm going to be very in front of the partners and spending a lot of time understanding and listening. But I’m also very focused on building business plans together and [having] joint partnerships.

I think they'll find that I'm very amenable to making changes to really drive the business. I think too many companies stick to what's tried and true. I'm not set on any way of how things have been done or will be done.

There's a huge opportunity here, and I think we can foster it in a way through partners that's going to skyrocket this thing.