Archive for May, 2009


MSP Week in Review
Posted: 11:54 pm
May 23rd, 2009
IT Business

I’m blogging this at 30,000 ft aboard Airtran 737 – and by the time you read this on Sunday, I will be living the Pirates of the Carribean scene: “So you just layed around on the beach and drank rum?” :)

I have been called out for not blogging as much as of late – sorry guys, business is booming and I am staying on top of it all – so I figured I’d give you all a bit of inspiration.

Over the past two days OWN (myself and Nicole made it to Baltimore in person) got to help contribute to the success that MSP University bootcamps are becoming. They are by far the best conference and the best organization that we are partnering with at least when it comes to aligning organizational goals. If you aren’t attending these free events, I’m not sure there is anything I can say to encourage you to check them out, it’s simply your loss, but let’s move beyond that:

Make no mistake, we are a business and we are a sponsor for these events. That means we give them money to pull these events off. In return, we get to chat with attendees and try to sell our stuff. Thats the goal.

This can be remarkably valuable, or incredibly flawed. I’ve blogged about the Tent of SMB Failure festival, be it on east or west coast, so I’ll just share this tidbit:

Attendees were free to roam the sponsor area. But once the sessions started, Erick and Gary were out herding people back into the conference room. This is very much the opposite of the general conference, where attendees are driven towards the sponsors and away from mediocre content. So what is MSPU admitting to here?

Simply put, these events have the attendee and the industry in their best interest. Where most conferences benefit from the foot traffic and bodies, MSPU is a subscription based business. If it’s members don’t pay attention to the content, which they came to Baltimore to learn, they will not succeed in business. They will not make it and the subscription goes away. While on some level my initial reaction is “Damn man, let me finish my sales pitch” the big picture here is that if the guys miss out on the role playing, sales training, marketing implementation, process control and service delivery…. my pitch makes no difference at all, they won’t have the skills needed to position my solution. In effect, MSP University is training my sales and support channel!

I hate to make this sound like shameless plugging but this is as close to the strategic goals of OWN that I just cannot hold back my respect for seeing this executed properly. If the partners aren’t successful, their clients aren’t successful and the vendors who partner with those VARs won’t be successful either.

This is not something that is easy to verbally explain, or to quickly quantify on a spreadsheet because relationships and success are long term proposals. For folks with incredibly short attention span, this is a terrible concept! I even skipped completely on the sales aspect of my presentation and just talked about what I do in my day-to-day and what we’re seeing. As a result, we’ve made a lot of new friends and partners than we’ve done at any other conference this year, much larger ones too!

Point is, we are in this for the long term. It’s so nice to see so many organizations that are on the same page, that’s all.

Being a long weekend gives lots of folks an opportunity to consider their direction, process and goals – take the peace and quiet to determine exactly where you want to go and what you want to do. I hope OWN is a part of that because we are still growing and very much committed to this marketplace…..

… in the meantime, I will be on the beach in Puerto Rico, having a Mojito on y’all.

Thanks for reading Vladville.

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Blogging High
Posted: 6:17 pm
May 20th, 2009
Awesome

Really high.. 30,000 feet high! I’m on my way to Baltimore for MSP University bootcamp, flying my favorite airline, Airtran. Airtran is pretty much a bus with jets, a step above Greyhound and a step below BlueJet. But when you need to get somewhere (and I mean get there without delays and broken planes or visiting mother@#% Charlotte, they are the best). 

And now they have wi-fi onboard during the flight. $9.99 for the trip, $69 for the first class upgrade. Gotta love it.

Speaking of MSPU, if you’re already up there and a fan of the blog (or better yet a client of OWN) email me at vlad@vladville.com – I’m buying dinner tonight.

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Really looking forward to MSP University Bootcamp
Posted: 4:05 pm
May 18th, 2009
Events, IT Business

I am really looking forward to the MSP University bootcamp this week. It’s in Baltimore at the end of this week and is my last big thing for this quarter before we get into the summer of announcements.

I’m excited because I’m trying out new content. For years I’ve done a variation of “Vlad Mazek, MCSE, CEO… I’m here to make you money” followed by 20-30 slides outlining our company. This typically went over the head of 50% of the audience, the other half would come and chat with me for a free tshirt and we’d get about 10% of them to try out our stuff. Worked great but at this point in our business and in the marketplace (where we are already working with just about everyone in the SMB market) it’s more about getting to the core of the problems we find in this business together than just trying to earn that next IT guy that’s never heard of us.

My new deck starts with:

Vlad Mazek, Philanthropist, Remote Viewer, Prophet.

Should be interesting. Should be unique.

For years I’ve had the benefit of observing my fellow peers / clients / victims at the events and one of the constants until 2009 has been the perpetual lack of progress. People kept on coming to events, to the extent that I doubt they ever did any actual work, only to be seen at the next event slightly disheartened about their lack of progress.

But they fixed it that night at the bar.

In the morning they were back with lack of progress, lack of a cohesive approach to their market and no concrete process driven environment that can be replicated and grown as the news of their service spread.

But they fixed it that night at the free drinks party that some vendor invited them too.

The next morning they were still going and getting nowhere, but they had more friends.

And then it ended….

2009 came around, economy fell apart and their prize 1-2 clients went out of business and along with them a huge bulk of their revenues. Dell entered the market, other shops smelled the blood and the local competition intensified. Are you the next one to jump the shark?

The tragedy here is that it didn’t have to go down like this – because for the most part the business owners had all the control, had all the opportunity, had a demanding market, had a thirsty audience with nothing but problems and broken infrastructure on hand – and so many people failed to capture it.

Why? Because it required hard work.

This is why I love Erick’s events and am so dedicated to helping folks that are part of MSP University bootcamps. They aren’t swag collectors sitting around in hallways waiting for the next snack break or for the big dinner – MSP University is a bootcamp. Classroom all day, homework at night.

It’s so easy to find out who will not be with us next year – they will be at the bar all night!

When you listen to Gary and Erick present with their minions, one thing is clear – this stuff is not difficult, but you gotta get on the ball right now. Not tomorrow.

Times are tough, for many…. there is no tomorrow. I’m accounting for so much in my presentation and not even bothering to talk about OWN and all the ways we can help produce revenues and grow the client base – because if the fundamentals and process of our reseller aren’t solid…. then we’re just wasting time setting up reoccurring billing.

Welcome to the new world.

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Coping with CPLS
Posted: 12:31 pm
May 13th, 2009
IT Business

Chronic Payment Latency Syndrome, or CPLS, is the modern version of “check is in the mail” and is something your A/R can share with you along with many funny stories. Things like:

My card was lost/stolen 2 weeks ago, Amex is shipping me a new one.

My card has expired, I am waiting for a new one.

Please try it again, I am not sure why it would have failed the past two weeks that I haven’t been paying the bill.

These excuses used to be tied to deadbeats exclusively, but the new world of credit is making us all look like criminals while banks slash their credit lines, credit cards bring down the limits and credit commerce comes to a grind. We have heard some real horror stories from some of the more established companies we deal with and the world of “corporate credit card” is slowly coming to an end.

You still have bills to pay though!

So here is a little tip.

Figure out which bills are fixed or relatively close to reoccuring. Your cable, Internet, power, rent, cell phones, wireless cards, parking, insurance, etc. Budget it.

Obtain a secured / prepaid card. You can get them from Visa, you can get them from Amex. Some will even let you earn miles. Most have a service charge, $2/month.

Now, here is the trick. You can control your credit and spending and vendors by having a card for each, or card for each industry. This way your overall credit line does not get impacted, nor does your staff have to rush to find a new card when your “business owner” card gets lost, stolen, compromised, cut down.

Banks are all too happy to issue these cards because they are backed by cash and refueled each month.

Why bother?

It takes infinitely less time and hassle to proactively manage your credit and your spending, than shifting your spending from card A to card B, risking service interruptions, disconnections and reconnection fees after the fact.

Let’s face it, this is ugly, but it’s the economy we are in. Everyone is trying to control their risk and their spending, and you should too.

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Illegal or motivated?
Posted: 4:31 pm
May 10th, 2009
IT Business

I really enjoy reading biased H1-B articles that pin the unemployment market against the evil corporations that need highly skilled workers. You can read one here, published on Friday. One notable quote jumps out:

Businesses like Google (GOOG), Intel (INTC), Microsoft (MSFT) and Cisco (CSCO), on the other hand, want them to stay, and stay permanently.

Furthermore:

Employee unions and some politicians will say bon-voyage. They’ll argue that for each foreign-born worker hired in the U.S., a local worker loses a job. It’s an argument that plays well in the current recession as millions of jobs evaporate.

This zero-sum black-or-white game is a great way to keep people from seeing what this is really about: voluntary slavery.

Yes, I know people are as afraid of that word as they are of topics touching abortion or religious choice, but when people are down they need someone to blame for it.

It’s not that corporations value H1-B because they are smarter or more qualified – they aren’t. They value them because they are voluntarily tied to the employer/sponsor and have everything to gain by staying with the employer and making them succeed. By comparison, Americans are free to demand raises, benefits, equity and more or they will go elsewhere.

The state of complacency and entitlement are ruining the American enterprise. It’s not India or China. Believe me, they are far, far, far, far, far, far, far, far more abusive of their natives and you can see evidence of it every day in your inbox. For every discussion I have with Vijay about India being a nation of highly skilled, professional individuals that are trained and competent I have at least 100-200 SPAM messages trying to sell me Indian programmer by the pound. I am not saying that to be disrespectful, that is exactly what I am being offered by hundreds of Indian and Chinese outsourcing companies – I can buy them by the hour, by the day, or I can scale them variably depending on the hour and load or upgrade them by competency. Imagine driving a truck full of computers to the Home Depot parking lot with a power generator and having them reload Windows all day long on broken computers. That is the harsh, ugly reality – on a global scale.

Yet, what it all comes down to is motivation. I have plenty of people on my staff that work crazy hours, that pull double shifts, that produce and handle stuff that nobody asked them to do. On the other end, I have a lot of people that start work at 9:01 and end work at 5:31 – their output sucks, their attitude is bad, they complain all the time – because their concern is not the benefit of the company and all it’s employees – they are most upset about THEIR comfort zone because it’s all about them.

By throwing away H1-B folks who we have cultivated to be competitive hard workers we empower the climate of complacency and entitlement and reduce competition. I have no problem with India and China getting skilled workers.

Our problem isn’t that we aren’t smart.

Our problem is that we just don’t give a ****.

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Feedback from Game Over
Posted: 3:30 pm
May 10th, 2009
IT Business

My last post titled Game Over raised some eyebrows. I got a ton of very interesting feedback from all over the spectrum (as far as I can match you to your revenue/company size within OWN via SM).

The responses fall into several categories:

  1. There is no future in commodity services because there is always someone that will be cheaper than you.
  2. There is no future in IT consulting and VAR/MSP business because it’s highly standardized and it will be owned by Dell/OnForce.
  3. There is a lot of money to be made in the IT consulting space because we are trusted advisors and our clients were already disappointed by the big guys.*
  4. There is a future with the MSP model being used to support and grow a custom solution / development business.
  5. Your usual SPF references to trusted advisor, outsourced CIO/CTO, ethical IT consultant, etc that don’t deserve a mention.

Out of the five, I think I only take exception to #3 because as history shows us, ambitiously incompetent companies rarely find themselves in the gutter. It’s the edge cases that think they are better than everyone and that the market is right that end up with a closed sign. Which I was hoping to address in the Game Over post.

I think the world is done with edge-case scenario. Things are moving mainstream very quickly and the “IT as a Service” is no longer a viable business model. Look at the carnage in our markets, who is left standing in SMB? Guys that don’t mind making $35,000 – $50,000 a year picking up hours here and there because they are completely unemployable and MSPs that are trimming costs while establishing an SLA for a company that’s used to crashing and burning often.

That’s great, we’re all kicking ass now and taking money to the bank.

Some of us are wise enough to take some money out of IT completely and take advantage of some new opportunities that we find ourselves in right now as the economy is in the tank.

However – if you are to continue to pursue an IT business or a career – you have a decision to make.

How are you going to compete with the big boys? I’m not is not an answer. They will outmarket you and eventually lock you out.

Do you have a solution comparable to Gmail/Live.com/BOPS that is flying under your flag and isn’t directly competing for your client? I don’t care is not an answer because the overall market does – and it’s a trend that is going to continue.

Do you have supplementing/complementing business lines? I don’t need to is not an answer because with the level of uncertainty we have with the direction the market is going, the rapid changes in remote access, mobility, SaaS, portals and more you can’t afford to be on the wrong side.

You can gamble.

Or you can be smart.

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Game Over Part Deux (Serious Post)
Posted: 3:28 pm
May 8th, 2009
IT Business

It’s the second quarter of the year, time to write one serious post without the Vladville act. I’ve decided to make this once-a-quarter event as to not distract the audience withe unfortunate reality (but tremendous opportunity) we find ourselves in.

awhellnahobama-1

I don’t have to tell you, you already know it – servers aren’t selling. Projects took over but that is slowing down. Even the almighty Microsoft and Google are slashing jobs, not to be outdone by every other industry other than my friends in Van Nuys and mail-us-your-gold shops. It’s a good time to be a repo man. It’s a bad time to be in anything expensive.

Now, knock on wood, things are still growing in the IT space. Unfortunately, the growth is coming on the back of things that are not scalable (projects) and on top of the minimalist solutions that do not have a high profit margin or high service footprint. The longer this goes on, the less likely we are to ever sell premium solutions because as the story goes… “it’s good enough and it’s 1/10th the price, so you go ahead and sell me on it.”

But this is not about the doom and gloom.

Let’s face it, if you’ve made it this far, you’re doing something right.

Whether you’ll be in that group six months out remains to be seen though.

That goes for everyone, OWN as well.

Yesterday I had a relatively painful conversation with a guy that got laid off at Microsoft. Here is the comment:

“ouch.  the only way to survive in this economy is to sell cheap sh*t that will break, but people can still afford.  I love hearing sales called on the floor – “product x is down y%!”.  maybe they didn’t get the memo.  in the meantime, people get the boot”

The premiums and luxuries in the technology are rapidly being slaughtered in the back yard. Gmail is replacing Exchange. Linux is replacing everything on the cheap side and that turns out to be the only thing that will sell.

Like it or not, the whole world of “outsourced CIO” is rapidly sunsetting. We first saw this as your lowest of the low, unemployed IT consultants, SPF and riffraff disappeared almost as quickly as they appeared. Now legitimate companies are having their credit lines slashed, losing good people and being forced to downsize and cut services.

What is replacing them? Why DIY of course.

You don’t need a CIO to setup Gmail.

You don’t need a CIO to order a laptop from Dell. (you apparently only need to wait 6-8 weeks)

You don’t need a CIO to purchase or install Quickbooks – I know firsthand, Intuit will do everything they can to get you going.

So….

Here comes a big question….

That will determine whether you survive or not….

Where is your version of the Gmail, Netbook or Do-anything-to-deploy-a-service that can’t be replaced by a guy down the street?

Trick question, there is no such thing.

Most people will even ignore the temptation to participate in the commodity market. I can’t blame them, if you only have short term focus and don’t care about trends or building careers for people, it doesn’t matter. Hit it while you can, stash the cash and move on.

However, the danger we face right now is rapid growth of our little company in a rapidly shrinking market. And once we lose those customers to Gmail, they are not going to come back. At least not in the volumes needed to grow a serious business.

And forgive me, but I’m an entrepreneur, not a priest. I don’t need to help people see the light, accept Exchange as their voice and so on and so forth. I want a huge market, a niche product and have people line up to give me money. It’s worked for 12+ years ;)

Now, show me the money..

One thing that most of OWN (well, all of OWN except me and the people I can reach out to smack) has been doing for the past 6-8 months has been the development and launch of a low cost all inclusive service.

Why? Well, it turns out when you remove all support, all enterprise, all redundancy and all the effort that is put into running a global enterprise network, you can create a crappy local one for a fraction of the cost. I’m a little angry that it can operate at a higher profit margin than OWN, but that’s just personal ;)

So we’re branching out and providing an answer… because, honestly… I don’t know who wins here. Cheap/free and massive or expensive and exclusive. There will be a market for both, but I am not willing to pick sides. I’m just in it for the money and service.

One warning I have for everyone is that if you pick one, and pick poorly – you are finished. I personally have little faith in the expensive and personal because it’s not like the cheap solutions are out to screw their clients – and as they improve it gets harder and harder to justify the more expensive alternative. And when it gets to the point that the next viable alternative is just a few dollars a month, switching from one to another is no longer very compelling.

Just economics and business realities.

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Vlad does Tech Support
Posted: 10:28 am
May 7th, 2009
Friends

Today is “Beat Vlad” day at Own Web Now, where everyone brings me their problems and I solve them. I haven’t really booked anything else so I’m at my desk just answering questions. I made a mistake of opening the public IM client and the following ensued. Basically, client asked for help with the FTP permissions.

Vlad Mazek says:
  ok
Vlad Mazek says:
  fixed
Bob says:
  It wouldn’t be such a big deal, but he tells me he has a 30,000.00 deal riding on this.  I don’t know how you sell that much in pictures.
Vlad Mazek says:
  porn
Vlad Mazek says:
  by the amount, I’m guessing it’s specialty porn
Vlad Mazek says:
  midgets and such
Vlad Mazek says:
  anyhow, I’m gonna go work on your Frontpage now.

Another day, another satisfied customer ;)

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Getting SAS-IIey
Posted: 1:12 am
May 7th, 2009
IT Business

I’ve blogged repeatedly about some mistakes we’ve made during the growth surge that has not yet showed any sign of slowing down. Initially, we focused on just keeping things going and fixing things as they broke. Then we fixed things, but new problems came up when folks stopped watching. Eventually, we had to overhaul how we do things and enforce process control at every step.

Say hello to Monkey Enforcer:

monkeyenforcer

This new feature in Shockey Monkey goes a few steps past the requirements set out by our SAS70 Type II audit. Specifically, it forces people to keep their records up to date. If things like addresses, contacts, phone numbers or credit cards are missing, invalid, expired or soon to expire – the system will force the user to update them.

Extending that to the phone support, surveys and process controls – It will be easier to check identity of callers, match up surveys to support requests and engineers, track activities.

So what kind of a problem does this address, other than piss off the deadbeats and people that put in fake credit card numbers? Well, a few:

  1. It makes sure that there is a financial agreement in place before any service, complimentary or billable, is rendered.
  2. It makes sure that all contact information is up to date.
  3. It makes sure that all the financial information is up to date, so it puts the burden of managing credit card expirations and modifications where it belongs – the cardholder.
  4. It secures access across all fronts – no email forges, no VoIP tricks, no support unless you can validate your phone password.
  5. Surveys tied in with tickets and crumbing..

That last one is pretty important to me because it gives me full audit control over eeeeverything. This is critical. Most of the time when I do get negative feedback I get it over something I am not able to back up with the information in my portal. In those cases, the customer is always right because I really have no concrete data to present…. till now ;)

Looking forward to the business life with a whole lot less mistakes. And yes, this is in SM3.

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Long week…
Posted: 1:44 pm
May 5th, 2009
Awesome

This is shaping up to be a long week @OWN. Here is something that brightened my day a little, I felt compelled to share it as most of my good stuff now ends up in the SPAM Show anyhow ;)

image001

Swine flu fun… enjoy :)

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