By Paolo Del Nibletto
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.