Build-a-Bear CTO builds a cloud army

  • Build-a-Bear's CTO Dara Meath said a lack of cloud expertise was a key hurdle for the $324.45 million retalier

  • Meath argued focusing on one cloud rather than pursuing a multi-cloud approach made life easier while the build up its cloud muscle

  • She also discussed the company's plan for cloud education and where it's headed in 2024

When Build-a-Bear Workshop's (NYSE: BBW) CTO Dara Meath joined the company in January 2023, she walked into an environment ripe for cloud transformation. Indeed, the company had taken some initial steps to begin its journey, selecting Microsoft Azure as its cloud provider. The only problem? No one on her team was Azure certified.

“The education wasn’t there. What would happen was whenever they started a new project they weren’t able to stabilize the project…or [outside vendors were] charging them five times as much as what their own talent could do. And then those vendors would leave and they were stuck with a product that didn’t work,” she told Silverlinings at the Cloud Executive Summit in Sonoma, Calif., on December 6, 2023.

“I think the company was not unlike many,” Meath said. “People think that they’re in cloud but they’re not really because they don’t have the infrastructure set up for cloud.”

Meath said this issue was among the first she addressed, pursuing a budget allocation to send staff members through certification programs. This year, that budget figure was around a quarter million dollars. For 2024, she’s aiming to double that money, she told the audience.

Meath said she plots out the budgeted courseload based on what different teams within the company need. So the cloud courses the retail team takes may be different from those the data and corporate systems teams need.

The trick, she added, is stretching those dollars as far as they can go by utilizing every training program that’s offered for free with its Azure contract and then just filling in the gaps. So, for instance, if governance training is offered, going and pursuing other training to round out the full compliance picture.

The CTO said another secret to Build-a-Bear’s success has been focusing on building its expertise in one cloud to start with. While she did evaluate other cloud partners when she started the role, Meath said the decision to stick with Azure and only Azure rather than jumping into a multi-cloud environment was intentional.

If an Oracle and 451 Research study from earlier this year – which found 98% of enterprises using public cloud are pursing a multi-cloud strategy – is to be believed, Build-a-Bear is a minority in this approach.

“The challenge is they weren’t even good at one. When you start to add complexity in having multiple ones, how do you get them to ever be good at something,” she said. “In the future, maybe we’ll spin out other things based on how our globalization goes and how we grow, but for us it was a success model of focusing and doing one thing at a time…I think that’s practical for any business.”