Colin Knox describes his entrepreneurial journey so far in two words: Crazy and stupid. But the founder of two highly successful businesses: XCEL Professional Services and Passportal also acknowledged the creative part of his journey as well.
Knox, after spending a little over a year at SolarWinds MSP which acquired Passportal, is at it again with a new company called Gradient MSP. This time, Knox will be using his talents to help the MSP and vendor communities better understand themselves. The goal is to lead both communities into building profitable monthly recurring revenue streams.
The spark for Gradient MSP came while he was reading Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action by Simon Sinek. “This book spoke to me,” he added. While reading the book, Knox began to envision how he could solve more MSP industry problems by helping the community compete on a level-playing field. Knox also realized the industry is a two-way street and will have Gradient MSP work with vendors as well to “level them up” to better understand MSPs.
Currently, Gradient MSP is working on its offering; planned for launch sometime in this year.
During the Jolera Interview Series, Knox talked about how he started as an entrepreneur by catching insects as a kid and putting them into his own “Bug Zoo”. As crazy as this sounds, neighborhood kids paid Knox to see his collection. And, from there it sparked a lifelong passion to create things that others can enjoy.
“I thought it was cool. People paid me to see my bugs. It comes down to creating something that others can enjoy and make their lives easier. I think the most rewarding thing for me is when I hear stories about how things I have created that has impacted others. This is what drives me to keep going and try new things,” he said.
Knox’ biggest claim to fame is Passportal, a password security and documentation management solution that he sold to SolarWinds MSP in 2019.
“We created Passportal at a time when many MSPs were embarking on trying to find a solution. We’d gone out and looked high and low and found a ton of enterprise or consumer grade products, but none that were suited for the mid-tier,” he said.
After posting several queries on platforms such as LinkedIn, to find out what others were using to solve and manage passwords without any luck, Knox decided to build it on his own. Passportal came at a time when several MSPs had no answer for challenging issues such as compliance audits or even simple matters as a password change when an employee leaves the organization.
Then those LinkedIn queries turned into several replies for other interested parties wanting to know if Knox and XCEL found anything. Knox saw opportunity and created Passportal in 2011. And, with zero marketing effort got more than 300 MSPs to use it almost instantly. At the time of the SolarWinds MSP acquisition more than 2,000 MSPs were using Passportal worldwide.
Knox credits entrepreneurs such as Robert Herjavec of Dragon’s Den fame and Apple co-founder Steve Jobs for his inspiration as an entrepreneur. Knox said without having read Herjavec’s book Driven: How to Succeed in Business and In Life he would never have started XCEL. “Herjavec’s story showed me that I could build an IT business in Canada.”
As for Jobs, several of his career case studies gave Knox the confidence to know that a small, gritty team can be world class and create solutions that can be used by the masses.
Also, during the Jolera Interview Series, Knox described what his experience was like starting Gradient MSP during a worldwide pandemic as well as what entrepreneurs can learn from failure.
The worldwide COVID-19 pandemic has put more focus on digital transformation and the as-a-service market not just in North America, but also in Europe.
The Jolera Interview Series talked to one of the top leaders at Veeam Software in Europe, Africa, and the Middle East (EMEA) in Riccardo Sbarboro, the head of professional services for Veeam in EMEA about the state of the as-a-service market in Europe and surrounding areas. Sbarboro, who has been in the IT sector for more than two decades, said the market in Europe for as-a-service has become a real revolution since the COVID-19 crisis. Sbarboro, who is based in Milan, Italy, only knows too well what COVID-19 and the subsequent lockdown did for the Italian region.
According to Rabo Research, Italy’s gross domestic production volume shrank by about 17 percent and it is believed that the economy will not fully recover until the year 2025. This on top of the more than 100,000 deaths because of COVID-19.
But those companies that took to the cloud immediately and provided remote working solutions or were well on their digital transformation journeys more than weathered the storm in Italy.
“In these days, all the companies have IT at their core now. And they are speeding up their innovation plans, while still limiting upfront costs. The anything-as-a-service business model, for many partners, are showing benefits,” he said.
One of the many challenges Sbarboro and his team at Veeam faces covering Europe, Middle East and Africa is that this region is the greatest melting pot of languages and culture in the world.
“In EMEA there are many groups with diverse cultures and differences,” he added.
At Veeam, the organization realized from the start that the COVID-19 pandemic was going to be a tough period for all involved and they put their focus on health and social interactions with staff, partners, and customers.
“I was lucky to be at Veeam during this time because we made it easy to grow in the difficult months. Veeam was fair and supportive and did not make it all about business,” he said.
One of Sbarboro’s many duties is running the channel partners at Veeam for the EMEA region, and this has provided him with great perspective on how COVID-19 has impacted the channel in many countries. Those partners that aligned with Veeam have experienced some of their best quarters in their history, even during the pandemic and lockdowns.
“Those that invested in digital transformation and Veeam benefitted because our offerings are 100 per cent aligned to that. We are aware of this particular situation and the impact is real, but those who reacted sooner and stayed on the right side of innovation were safe,” Sbarboro said.
For Sbarboro it is too early to talk about lessons learned from COVID-19. He says in an emergency you try to survive and minimize the impact and then look back on anything you may have learned later on.
“We are not there yet, but one of the things I’m sure about is those companies that were ready with as-a-service and digital transformation activities better sustained their business and the communities around them than those that did not.”
One of the strategies Veeam adopted was to enrich its portfolio of solutions by strengthening partnerships with leading providers in the as-a-service market. The partnership with Jolera has enabled Veeam in Europe, Middle East and Africa to continue to support its position as a 100 percent channel-driven organization while enhancing the technical skills to deliver value-added and reliable professional services for Veeam product portfolio implementations.
Jolera was one of a select few that were chosen by Veeam to be part of its Accredited Service Partner program also known as VASP.
“VASP is the special forces for projects about data management. We had several hundred applications, but just 50 were selected and Jolera is one of them. Jolera was since the beginning of this process one of the most promising partners we had, and the deeper the analysis the more the capabilities and the technical knowledge was evident. We are very happy to have found such a partner and we are looking forward to develop further this relation,” Sbarboro added.
Also, during the Jolera Interview Series, Sbarboro spoke about his passion for mentoring and coaching and about a unique endeavour called the Gentleman’s Ride in Bergamo.
Kevin Peesker has been at the helm of Microsoft Canada for three years now and, in that time, has spearheaded the subsidiary’s transformation into an as-a-service power. He has also taken a significant number of channel partners along with him on this ride.
But he is not stopping with the channel. Peesker is also driving an agenda to skill-up Canada’s future leaders by investing in a digital literacy agenda that focuses on three key areas: students, new entrants in the workforce, and current jobseekers. He believes that this will not just transform business, specifically small business, but also key sectors such as healthcare.
The current COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdown that occurred throughout Canada may have put a halt to several industries but that was not the case for Microsoft Canada and many members of the channel community.
“We are in an incredible industry,” said Peesker during the Jolera Interview Series. “The impact on Canada and globally that we are making will be memorable.” But, Peesker added that this journey is a two-way street, and while he and his team at Microsoft Canada are fully engaged, it’s time for everyone to get involved and participate.
It’s clear that this journey is an as-a-service endeavour. According to Peesker, the as-a-service market has become a value-driven engagement that brings about consistent annuity revenue streams for business while delivering a better level of service to customers.
“It’s a proactive way to engage in the mid and long-term. Microsoft has moved to this model at scale globally. In Canada, the vast component of our revenue is as-a-service, more than 70 percent. We are committed to providing a scalable development of offerings and innovation that gets into the hands of the customer as soon as possible,” Peesker added.
Microsoft Canada surveyed 670 business decision-makers across Canada. Some of those polled are from companies with ten employees or fewer to large enterprises. It looks like most Canadian business leaders, big and small, agree with his optimism. Approximately 69 percent of Canadian business leaders recently surveyed by Microsoft Canada say they are confident that their business will survive the pandemic into 2021, and just over half (54 percent) believe their organization will be able to adapt to whatever the upcoming year might hold, this includes a second wave of the pandemic.
“There are several bright spots from this research. I’ve been calling it our Darwinian moment. Those organizations that have leveraged the benefit of technology are not just surviving but thriving. In contrast, those stagnant organizations or those that did not respond to digital transformation have been impacted. Those that put in place a digital strategy, anchored by cloud and data, were able to scale when the pandemic hit their business,” Peesker said.
Also, during the interview, Peesker talked about one of his passion projects: Digital literacy in Canada along with artificial intelligence, the Microsoft Surface, and find out what Satya Nadella, Microsoft CEO, said to Peesker about flexible, hybrid work strategies.
As the year 2020 gets kicked to the curb, and we usher in 2021, we collectively look into the crystal ball to figure out what may occur during this year in the IT industry.
To do this, we talked with Diane Krakora, founder of Partner Path in Silicon Valley, to make five bold predictions for 2021. Krakora is one of the most influential channel strategists in the industry. In more than two decades of work, Krakora has crafted some of the more progressive channel programs for some of the industry’s biggest names, such as Cisco, Citrix, Dell, Dropbox, Microsoft, SAP, and VMware.
Krakora, along with her colleague Jay McBain, Principal Analyst, Channels, Partnerships & Ecosystem for Forrester Research, developed these five key predictions for the IT marketplace. During the Jolera Interview Series, Krakora reveals the top 5, while providing insight on each.
McBain was a previous guest on the Jolera Interview Series, and you have to watch that video here.
5 Predictions for the 2021 IT Marketplace
Marketplaces will be integral.
This was a 2020 prediction for Krakora and McBain. B2C marketplaces such as Amazon, Alibaba and eBay are making moves to solidify themselves in the B2B sector. But with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, growth in marketplaces soared. Find out how marketplaces can add to or compete with other indirect channels.
Non-transacting partners will drive an ecosystem approach.
Non-transacting partners are organizations a bit unknown in the marketplace but yet are driving cloud-based technology purchases. “The old partnering models, frameworks and programs won’t fit the future constellation of partner types,” Krakora said. The reality of the situation is that these channels such as dealer networks, wholesale distribution networks, resellers, retailers, franchises will all be a significant factor in 2021. Find out how this trend is impacting the as-a-service market.
Methodologies will develop to influence the influencers.
This prediction stems from the trifurcation channel model of 1. non-transacting advisors or influencers before the sale, 2. transacting partners and 3. services partners that implement and integrate solutions. What this means is there will be five different partner influencers guiding a customer through their primarily digital journey, on average. The challenge here is to influence as many people as possible. And, there could be a fourth methodology in play for 2021 to go along with non-transacting, transacting and service partners.
Partners will be rewarded based on customer adoption.
In subscription or consumption-based business models, what are the true measures of success? Well, Krakora predicts it will be “adoption” for 2021. Similar to other subscription models, the measures of success will not be revenue or profit, Krakora predicts, but “adoption.” If you get adoption of your product, you get retention and renewal. So which partners are driving customer adoption? How do you measure and reward that adoption, will all be key questions for 2021? However, if you get adoption of your product, you get retention and renewal. Find out how to best drive customer adoption with this prediction.
You will know your ecosystem multiplier.
It’s time to promote your ecosystem multiplier, says Krakora. The marketplace needs to figure out every dollar of hardware, software, and services created or enriched because of the dollar of product sold. “They want to hear there is a big enough pie to make it worth their while to join your program, get certified and direct their mindshare towards your products,” she added. Expect to see about 80 percent of your future partners becoming non-transacting partners. This means you are going to have to make it worth their while, revenue-wise, to join your program, get certified and direct their mindshare towards your products.
During the interview, Krakora summed up the unforgettable year of 2020 and provided key takeaways for the channel community.
Tiffani Bova, the Global Customer Growth Innovation evangelist for Salesforce has done it all in the computer industry. She was one of the first women channel chiefs, for Gateway Computers, Bova then transferred her skills to the field of market research for Gartner Group. It was there that she made bold predictions such as “Cloud Service Brokerages”, which aggregated multiple cloud services from a single source. She also furthered Gartner concepts in the market such as every company would become an IT company and Bi-Model IT.
And Bova continues to think beyond the near term and into the future of the IT industry. Today, Bova says the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdown has become a catalyst for digital transformation.
The 2019 member of the World’s Top Management 50 Thinkers list, Bova said during the Jolera Interview Series, in the face of a terrible crisis, digital transformation and the as-a-service solutions market is leading the way.
“The as-a-service market has cracked the front office and into customer facing resources such as sales, marketing, and customer service. These areas are now using as-a-service technology and cloud in special ways; in light of what’s going on,” she said.
Just a year ago, digital transformation and the as-a-service market was looked at as a “nice to have” or put in place for cost reasons or if an organization was modernizing its data centre.
COVID-19 is driving all this acceleration, she added. Bova described the pandemic as “a black swan event” in the world that has moved businesses to help people work from anywhere; safely. This activity also includes new ways to service customers, while also modernizing the supply chains.
“Do I think COVID-19 is the ultimate catalyst for all those that did not make an investment in digital? Yes! And, for those that were slow to adopt digital fully it too accelerated their progress over the last year. All because of the pandemic,” Bova added.
While at Salesforce, Bova continues to make strategic bets on where the industry is heading. For example, a new piece of research from Salesforce indicates that there are three areas that will dramatically change the way people work.
Health and safety of employees;
Providing up-to-date tools and capabilities for people to do their job; and
Staying connected with customers.
The best-selling author of Growth IQ: Get Smarter About the Choices that Will Make or Break your Business, Bova believes businesses need to work on stabilizing their business while developing a path for workers to return to the offices – and in many cases back to actual work – safely. From there, the business also needs to focus on a get back to a growth strategy that sets the right tone and message for an already weary base of people that have gone through the pandemic.
“It’s amazing how quickly we’ve all rallied around the employees to keep them safe and productive. But it will be time to begin to put people in place in each area and these people should be from all aspects of the business,” Bova said.
Also, during the interview Bova talked about new ways to improve customer experience, her take on diversity issues and what’s in store for the channel and IT overall in 2027.
The Canadian Business Unit Leader and National Director of Services for Dell Technologies Canada, Marc Mondesir describes himself as a customer advocate, but most importantly a problem solver.
Since the start of Mondesir’s career at Dell Canada in 1998, he has always focused on helping customers remove obstacles to better achieve their goals. Some of those obstacles can be more daunting than others such as the recent COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown, while others more traditional, like digital transformation. But regardless of how challenging the obstacle can be, Mondesir always works in customer’s point of view rather than basing his strategy purely on his past successes.
And the marketplace today admittedly is like no other time in modern history because of COVID-19. In the last 200 days or so of the pandemic, Mondesir has had to switch gears in terms of his customer approach. He has been positioning digital transformation as a competitive advantage for business for five years, but the pandemic and subsequent lockdown has accelerated that push to transform.
“Digital transformation has gone from providing a competitive advantage to a necessity. And as-a-service solutions compliment that as it helps the customer consume in a flexible way,” he said during the Jolera Interview Series.
Mondesir displays a large quote on his LinkedIn page: “Be the change you want to see in the world.” That quote is from Mahatma Gandhi, Indian social activist.
“I take this quote seriously, and it’s an ode to being anti-consumption, and it speaks to the sign of the times. Things are complicated now with politics, diversity, inclusion issues, and it can be overwhelming. Words are like jet fuel, and it sparks a lot of emotion in people. What I tell myself is happiness is to focus on what you can control. You can look at the world’s problems, but what can I control? I can control my actions and show up every day, and this quote reinforces that.”
Mondesir has his own take on diversity too within the industry. Certainly, he says, there are inequities in pay and power, but there is also an unconscious bias that both fascinates and scares him too.
“There’s a quote out there that ‘software is eating the world,’ and it’s true. Software is everywhere, and it is automating a lot of the aspects of our lives. Software is a series of algorithms. People program those algorithms to interpret the world, so the person who builds these algorithms, if they have inherited biases, may end up coding them into the software. What does that do to the fabric of our society? Could we find ourselves going back to the drawing board in terms of the progress we have made this far?”
During the interview, Mondesir also talks about Dell’s innovation, the long-term impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, and reflects on his time running an all-ages dance hall.