Once upon a time, in a land far, far away, young Vlad set out to write a free PSA. He failed, big time. The longer he kept on lying to himself about the next beta being useful, the further away the competition moved. Eventually, the goal of building a free PSA and a tool for IT Solution Providers died an uneventful death.
Now with the apologies to the British Empire, estate of Charles Dickens and the fans of A Christmas Carol, I proudly present a (hopefully) inspirational message of what happens when you follow the best in people and focus on doing something nice.
Our story begins in 2008 in Orlando. The trade show exhibit hall area is empty, nothing around but a few Freeman employees running around in forklifts destroying thousands of dollars of marketing material. Ebenezer is busy stuffing the marketing collateral and display booth in boxes where out of nowhere, the Ghost of CPA’s Past appears. He sits in the new IKEA chair and starts to tell a tale of what the life could be for the young Ebenezer:
“You know Vlad, if you tie in your billing together you’d be years ahead of the other guys”
Imagining the life of Maserati’s and someone else tearing down his trade show booth, Ebenezer opens up the window and asks his development staff just how far along the billing integration is. They look up at him as if he’s lost his mind; even in the API’s were there and we could do it, the mess on Ebenezer’s side is far too great. “When I come back to the Office, this is the first thing we’re talking about. Forget that PSA thing we’re working on.”
It’s a cold Nashville morning in spring of 2009 and Ebenezer is long over his PSA days now. Sitting in his booth, exhausted from handing out t-shirts and talking about LiveArchive, Ebenezer is visited by the Ghost of CRM’s Present. Dressed in a t-shirt and a suit jacket, the ghost tells an entirely different future – one filled with social media, interaction, looking beyond a town square and all it’s small trade.
“Imagine a marketplace filled with experts. I don’t know anything about building a VoIP system, but I can find one in the marketplace. We both use the same process control so we can sell a single solution professionally. Then extend that marketplace to the cloud, to Linux, to anything you can imagine.”
Ebenezer awakens in Orlando, looking at the blueprints for automating cloud services.
It’s spring time in Dallas and the land is green and orange. The Ghost of CPA’s Past is back and he’s bought every turkey in the marketplace. Everyone is rejoicing at the feast with the busy farmer working from before sunrise to after sunset to keep the villagers happy. Although the times are hard, everyone is working and trying to earn some more coal for the fire.
The Ghost of CPA’s Past sits down with Ebenezer again:
“I’m ready to blow this thing world-wide. Cloud is the real deal. I don’t know if you’re the guy or not, but if you tie in your cloud services to where we are going…”
Ebenezer calls the office and yells at Bob Cratchit: “Take all the gold off my desk and send it to Dell. We’re tripling the size of our network.”
Ebenezer triples the size of the worldwide network. Spends countless gold to get the system working with both the Ghost of CPA’s Past and the Ghost of CRM’s Present. Earns great praise in the marketplace, people rejoice.. yet.. there is little follow-through behind the festivities. It’s nearly fall of 2009 and neither of the worlds described by the ghosts are quite as nice as they have seemed.
Ebenezer sits down with Bob Cruchit, Tiny Travis, Fred and Mrs. Cruchit:
“Perhaps we are onto something else here. We’re now living in the world that the ghosts showed me. Yet, the marketplace I see is far broader. We meet villagers every single day who don’t have the tools – working with other villagers, other artisans, other crafts people that could use what we do every single day. Perhaps if we gave it all away, we could get them to use our cloud? Maybe if we started thinking about everyone else and what they could do with our software first, for free, we could make a true difference.”
It’s Summer of 2010 and Ebenezer is in Dallas at a huge dinner. It’s the launch of Shockey Monkey, the biggest turkey anyone has ever seen. And everyone is invited. Everyone gets a free meal.
The End? The Beginning.
Editors Cut & Deleted Scenes
Everyone needs a villain. Competition is an easy motivator and it helps polarize the parties so that the few really driven people can move the whole group forward.
Shortly after building Shockey Monkey in 2006 I realized that it is nearly impossible to run two businesses well. Even harder in the same house. It’s hard work trying to be the best. Best at two different things? I don’t know how GE and Philip Morris do it but in my 20’s I couldn’t figure it out.
One difference in the way the world turned in 2006, and how it changed as a result of the ghost’s visitations, is that my attitude towards what I’m building as the CEO turned into something positive instead of something competitive.
When the Ghost of PSA’s Past asked me if I was the guy to build the worldwide cloud, I jumped at it without hesitation. My team spent a lot of frustrating hours to make it happen because it benefited our partners. Our partners embraced us around the world, despite the problems, and we all benefited. Did I know that the ghost was also having that same talk with another guy from San Diego, only to see that deal die last winter and show signs of resurrection recently? Of course, but we pushed forward and built an even better billing tool for it. When the ghost chose my competitors product to protect his cloud and it crippled him for days, I offered to help for free. When he then invited that same competitor to speak for free in front of his user group and later asked me to pay for the same privilege, I still sponsored his party and still keep on developing for the platform. Business world is not about social justice – it is not about what others are getting that you aren’t getting. It’s about what you’re willing to do yourself, your effort, to earn the business.
No matter the roadblocks, you have to stay positive if you actually believe in what you’re building every day. Imagine the negative stance on all of these: They want to buy a different cloud company so we’re going to stop writing software for their platform! They are using our competitor, endorsing and showcasing them to our partners for free so we’re going to do something bad to them instead! Think about it, where does that leave you? Business is not a war in which you kill your competitors, there is no profit in that. Business is about building a better product so you can win your clients trust and business. Plenty of profit in that!
When the Ghost of CRM’s Present heard my presentation about giving away Shockey Monkey for free, he stood up in front of a whiteboard and started drawing up ideas for how my ideas may be able to grow. He broke down my dreams one-by-one and told me just how much effort went into building a professional quality system, saving us literally years worth of effort. This makes sense, this doesn’t make sense, this doesn’t turn the needle, have you thought of licensing that, how about this? I showed up in Albany with a few dozen slides of half baked ideas and I walked away with a business plan.
Both ghosts have been phenomenally encouraging and inspiring in my effort to bring something valuable to the marketplace.
There are plenty of negatives in every business relationship. If you focus on those, all it can do is destroy you. Sure, it makes for an easy motivator and a great story whenever there is public conflict. But how do you win? By focusing on running someone out of business? I have never met anyone like that in my time as an entrepreneur and I’m not sure how one even shows up for work if they are wired like that.
So given all the bad blood in the tragedy that is the IT reseller channel, I have given it the past 13 years. In that time, I’ve always focused on how do we make things better for everyone that relies on us. When we decided to look at Shockey Monkey again, we didn’t frame it in the IT world. We asked ourselves – how can this thing benefit any kind of a business out there. When you boil it down to the basics, all businesses struggle with the same problems so why can’t there be a single simple way of dealing with customer relationships, invoices, work orders, projects, tasks, communications. Delivering the service, charging people for it and then paying your staff is 90% identical in all service organizations.
We set out to build the simplest tool we could imagine.
We are now on a cusp of technical expertise not being a service for emerging technology or a professional skill needed to deal with technical pain points. We are now in a world of mature technology and simplicity, that partners us up with our clients on tying technology to process execution and vice versa.
I hope you find this inspiring. I’ve had every opportunity in the world to be angry, to feel mislead, to be jealous, defeated and feel like I was being lead on. Lucky for me, I failed myself at the very beginning by building a tool that I wanted. When I focused on the needs of others, Shockey Monkey was born and in the 5 months since it’s birth it’s been the most successful product I’ve ever had with the brighter future than I ever thought it could have.
Focus on the positives, take every bit of encouragement you can get and think about more than yourself.
P.S. All the characters, events and similarities to real world persons or events are coincidental. Again, sincerest apologies to Charles Dickens and Merry Christmas to all.