Archive for June, 2011


The End of You; The Start of YOU
Posted: 8:09 am
June 29th, 2011
Uncategorized

Office 365 to Partners: “Lower your shields and surrender your clients. Your culture will adapt to service us. Resistance is futile.”

There, I saved you an hour and a trip to Los Angeles for Microsoft WPC.

Several years ago when Microsoft first announced their cloud ambitions they briefed the press using the term co-ownership. Under this new concept, Microsoft and the Microsoft Partner (ie, you) would co-own the client: Microsoft would service, bill, support and well.. do everything – you would get a 6% commission for nodding when the client asked if the product would fit their needs. Effectively, it was a license to kill the Microsoft Infrastructure Partner.

If you didn’t tune in to the Office 365 launch here is the summary:

hollywood-1 

The eulogy was delivered by Ballmer himself who no fewer than 14 times repeated that Office 365 is something you don’t need an IT department or an IT person to do. The message to the partner base was clearer than ever:

There is an opportunity to build a business around migrating clients from their old “need IT help” solution into the Microsoft cloud. Then climb on in and close down the lid.

Take it on and it will be your last IT project ever. This is the end of you.

The Start of YOU

The introduction to this post isn’t meant to smear Microsoft or shine a negative light on their business model, frankly this is the best option they have and in my humble opinion the correct one. It’s also nothing new. The world of technology is turning towards services – you don’t get to pad a cell phone bill with a 100% margin. Unless your clients are unusually bad at math – you don’t get to lease them hardware at an insane margin or the kind of interest rate that required the act of congress to limit banks from charging. You don’t get to build an enterprise network in a small business and make them pay Fortune 500 fees for running their IT. We have all built our businesses on that but there are two problems with it:

1. The pool of stupid people is shrinking. Ten years ago you needed an associate degree in MIS to send and print an email. Now your grandma does it from her phone.

2. The number of options and alternatives is growing. Ten years ago you had to build a network and you had a choice of one telco provider. Today you have at least four and that’s just in your pocket. And you don’t need to read an O’Reilly book to get to the Internet, you can go to a Verizon store.

Don’t take it personal, Microsoft didn’t build this coffin for you. Microsoft built it for Google Apps. Google Apps on the other hand built it to support their search business. The string of .com’s and Web 2.0’s and giant telco and media and entertainment companies that benefited from connectivity that we all wanted and we all willingly paid for.. for the simple human need for a sense of belonging (in geek terms: connectivity).

For all intents and purposes, this is a good thing. It’s time to accept it and move on – don’t sit there asking for Microsoft to let you bill the client, don’t sit there and blame them for excluding you from their products and most of all – don’t wait for someone else to solve the problem that isn’t theirs.

But some of you can’t let go of Microsoft. Here are Top 10 reasons why Microsoft should not allow partners into Office 365:

1. Control of experience: This isn’t a matter of controlling the billing, it’s a matter of controlling the experience. Microsoft is responsible for the promotion, sale, support and upselling the clients through their system.
2. Upselling: Microsoft has not been extremely successful with it’s partner base loyalty beyond what they built: Office and Windows. If Microsoft pulls off #1 well it stands to reason that it’s other properties will do much better without partners trying to pull the client towards the solution they get most margin on. (Hint: Notice how many times you saw Windows Phone yesterday?)
3. Cross Selling: Microsoft is more than Office 365. It has always had the ambition of becoming everything to everyone but it has always had partners that stood in their way – from infrastructure to hardware to service provider – everyone always wanted their logo there. If Office 360 works out, it would be easier to position hardware, services, consulting and more.
4. Ground Rules: In the traditional network, IT department calls the shots. In Office 360, Microsoft does. Their terms. Their rules. Their features. Their network maintenance levels. By removing intermediaries, things become much simpler.
5. Patents, Patents, Patents: Microsoft is the richest software company on the planet and thereby the biggest target of patent lawsuits. When you’re playing in an open market you have to step on some toes to gain share – when you police the ocean (Office 365) you can easily keep others out.
6. Revenue Flexibility: With Microsoft controlling the billing and the client, they can control the price and the offering. Microsoft’s entire business model is built on multiple revenue streams off the same code base. With ultimate control comes the ability to tier the cloud and make even more money as companies get bigger.
7. Migration non-interference: Microsoft’s name is on the bill – it’s who you call when you have a question or need advice. Microsoft will never sell a migration from Office 365 to IBM’s hosted Lotus Notes solution.
8. Identity: Remember Microsoft Hailstorm? By having complete control of the client they have complete control of each licensed seat’s identity: One that extends to their Xbox, Bing, Windows Phone, etc. At this point features become irrelevant: You’re more likely to buy something that fits than something that looks cool or fits the business model a little better.
9. Simplicity: Microsoft beat Apple by being open and allowing everyone that could write drivers to use their system. By locking out partners here Microsoft becomes that trusted advisor: Recommending apps, solutions, implementations and even suggesting your vacation. They don’t have to fight their way past the IT department to roll out ActiveX controls or the next technology they want to.
10. Borg: The collective has not been growing. Look at Microsoft’s 10 year stock chart and you can see why people are starting to demand Ballmers head and why so many in the Microsoft’s leadership have been sacked. Cloud bet is huge and partner resistence is futile – Microsoft wants to own SMB computing. At 90% they pretty much fulfilled Bill Gates vision of every computer running a Microsoft OS – but for the price to climb to fulfill Steve Ballmers vision of maximized shareholder value – everyone must be assimilated.

You’ve got the same story over at Google. So go ahead channel, resell Microsoft and Google – I dare you!

Of course, things are only this simple if we ignore the reality.

The Reality

Picture is worth a thousand words:

office365

You see, the Google & Microsoft & Apple vision only holds up in their marketing.

In the real world where most computers are s#@(, applications are written in India and business owners are cheap trying to save $100 on their Internet connection the same day they have to decide if they want to drop $8,000 for the Dayona seats in their Ferrari (don’t hate, I told you this stuff was gonna happen in 2007) the computing experience tends to suck.

Yet, millions and millions of people bought an iPhone despite the fact it’s the most locked down solution and just about the only phone whose worst feature is it’s ability to place a phone call.

The point here is that there are years upon years of profitable IT business to be done if you stop focusing on what everyone else is doing and start thinking about what you can do.

Now to all my Microsoft friends and their managers that got this forwarded to them, here is your problem.

Your partner base feels they brought you to this point and that you’re being outright rude to lock us out of your success because we’ve been abused as your customer service department for years. For us, the argument is more emotional than it is factual. You’re dumping us and telling us that you’re gonna marry our best friend at the same time that you’re asking us to pay for your honeymoon trip in Tahiti.

Now that we all understand each other, let me say something that I’ve been saying for years.

The Start of YOU

Let’s face it friends, we’ve had it easy for years. Microsoft spent billions of dollars in marketing and making our clients want the solutions they were building. All we had to do is set it up and hope it doesn’t blow up at 9AM. Which it did. Again and again. But things got better.

As big of an opportunity as Microsoft sees in the cloud, I see an even bigger one for each and every one of us. What you sell now is not Microsoft or Windows or Android.

Now you’re selling you.

The focal point is no longer the solution. No longer the price. No longer the business card with the trail of software vendors and certifications nobody but IT staff has ever heard of. The focal point is you.

“I’m going to get you everything you need. If you don’t like it, I’ll bring you something else. The point is, you’re paying me so you don’t have to do it yourself. And my time costs a heck of a lot less than yours and I’m going to make sure it stays that way.”

In the Fortune 500 marketing, Microsoft is fighting with Google who is fighting with Apple who is fighting with Samsung and they are all fighting for a market dominance 10 years from now.

My name is Vlad and I’m here to help you build your cloud business today, the same way I do for over 20,000 other IT businesses. Go here. Then email me at vlad@ownwebnow.com. We let you control the billing, the solution, the features, the implementation and if you’re insane enough – the maintenance cycle itself. It’s the cloud on your terms on your brand and your price. We just take on the responsibility to keep it up, back you with an SLA, financial and legal liability and one more thing – We’ve been doing it for 14 years.

It’s time we all thank Microsoft for a great ride and amazing software and solutions. But now it’s time we take it from here ourselves and accept that partnerships don’t last forever and business is a game of strategy and opportunity – and in my unbiased and humble opinion – I’ve got one.

Who loves ya baby?

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Ironman: The Business Design Challenge
Posted: 10:40 pm
June 27th, 2011
Boss, Friends, IT Business, SMB

At a recent conference I was asked if I’d consider doing the ironman push again.

For those of you that aren’t devoted Vladville followers, I worked 90 days straight from January 1st – March 31st. No breaks, no vacations, no days off, no Nyquil. It was a brutal schedule that allowed me to break through some crazy personal and professional obstacles and reach new milestones.

I’ll never do that – but allow me to offer some perspective. If you’re squeamish you might want to skip the next section. Scroll down to The Business Design Challenge.

The CEO

Best job in the business.

Flexible hours, obscene pay, minimal supervision and unlimited opportunity.

Then you kind of wonder how shit like this happens:

vladwin

To all my friends in business and those who want additional responsibility: be careful what you wish for. While it’s easy to only see the nice parts of the job, there are those emotional aspects of it that you don’t get to leave at work at 5:30. Most employees think their bosses are awful and that work can ruin their day. Then again, most employees can find another job in a few months and they are only accountable to themselves.

Slightly more pressure on the management. You see, a crappy toxic employee not only sucks at their job but also happens to antagonize everyone else they come in contact with – both employees and clients alike. In a way that would affect that business for a while. It’s a domino effect that affects the performance of the entire organization – if the manager has a bad day, so does everyone that works for them. And everyone those people touch as well.

The job of the CEO is two fold – deal with the employees and deal with the customers. Defend your team, listen to your customers. Represent your customers and argue with your team over the right direction of the company. Empower employees while guiding them. Guide them while attempting not to lecture them. Take their feedback while dismissing their concerns and opinions of the overall direction. Line up the marketplace demands with the client expectations with the employees ability to do their job in the goal that the company delivers on it’s promises at a scale that generates a profit.

Oh yeah, try not to offend anyone while doing it.

Maintain composure throughout this process while that nagging little voice of no confidence and risk aversion keeps on whispering: “If you fuck up, you don’t just fail and move on – you affect thousands of jobs, companies and business relationships that have taken a lifetime to built.”

The Business Design Challenge

Every small business owner has an idea and a passion. That’s how it all starts.

After you reach any reasonable level of success the ideas you’ve had as the entrepreneur take on a life of their own, different employees take on the vision and drive the delivery of those ideas and solutions to the marketplace. But because you’re so disorganized and relentless in pursuit of your dream in it’s early stages, little cut corners and “problems that will be fixed later” snowball at this stage: The Avalanche.

The Avalanche: Trouble with problems in small business is that they never get smaller. They only get bigger. And more complex. And involve more people. And require more money. Oh – and end up distracting the whole company to get resolved.

I’ve seen most of my entrepreneur friends crack and burn out in this stage. They either fire everyone around them and attempt to blame everyone but themselves for the issues or throw their personal life in an repairable disarray.

The trouble with the avalanche is that the person that caused the problem must both be strong enough to let those around them in on the issues and help own the problem and fix the solution – while the person also admits they created the problem while showing confidence that they know how to fix it.

Describe the problem. Explain it, solicit input, delegate, lead through the fix.

As the company grows from being a small business / startup mode in which everything goes, growing up takes forever. Designing a large business is not the same as a small business maturing – it’s about sustainability, mentoring, delegation and elevating your game to the next level.

Most people crack here. Personally. Professionally. Mentally. At the end of the day, is all this hassle worth a few more million or am I bored with it?

This is where most small businesses end. Either in a tailspin out of business, or an acquisition… or hopefully something better.

Motivation Process

My Ironman was an admission that I couldn’t deal with the pressure of fixing the problems I’ve caused in designing OWN for a full year that it would take to address them. So personally, I decided I could do it in 3 months if I absolutely focused and did nothing but work. I was right. So here are some tips:

1. Recognize the problem.
2. Admit it’s your fault.
3. Ask others for ideas how to solve it.
4. Ask inside / outside. Employees and clients.
5. Draw up a plan.
6. Sell the plan.
7. Cut the plan up and delegate it all away.
8. Draw up reporting.
9. Design milestones and rewards for reaching them. Start here.

You wanna line up a lot of witnesses to you don’t wuss out. What people often make a mistake of doing is hiding what’s going on – it’s easy to quit when you don’t have a bunch of people that will watch you fail. Call it motivation.

My Challenge

I’ve been fortunate enough to be around some great people while building Own Web Now. I’ve seen some succeed. I’ve seen many fail. Those that flunk out and get jobs aren’t going to be writing books about it. Those that succeed have businesses to run. I on the other hand don’t sleep a lot.

You’re not gonna read a book about it. But boy will you know when the problems you’ve created in your business are bigger than you or your ability to solve them yourself.

My problem was that I had a lot of really wacky ideas that I built into products and services from 2003-2007. Then as the cloud stuff started picking up steam all of my crackheaded ideas turned into big products. Then from 2008 we had to focus on service and grow up fast – away from grunt work of infrastructure and data centers to a mature business model of delivering services. It was a huge transition. And while we figured out all aspects of the business – running a business is more than just making it through the day. That’s business management. Running a business is about taking it in a direction. At the beginning of the year, we had a hustler problem – we could do everything but you needed to know someone. That doesn’t scale. So my challenge has been to document the business, delegate it away and dedicate more of my day-to-day on what the business needs to do next.

I made it through my ironman and my company, my team and everyone we serve is much better off as a result of it. Own Web Now is operating on a different level in June of 2011 – instead of at some point in 2012.

That, I hope, makes all the difference. After all, I now play in the big leagues.

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What are you working towards?
Posted: 11:30 pm
June 19th, 2011
Boss

Issue of happiness often comes up in peers at events and discussions with employees during quarterly reviews. As company owners we have to pay attention to people around us – if you need people, you’re in the people business.

Some people are workaholics – they need to be taught when to stop working. Some people are slackers, they need to be told how to motivate themselves to get the job done.

This post is about neither.

It’s about the motivation for happiness and whether that motivation is realistic or just a hopeless optimistic dream – the best case scenario that rarely pans out.

Money or Happiness?

Taken to the extreme, it’s a polar issue.

You can work yourself to death and have money to buy happiness. Don’t listen to broke people, money can buy you happiness. Beatles said money can’t buy you love. Notorious BIG said “Mo money, mo problems.” – which is true, everyone has problems. But with money, many problems can go away – fast.

The question isn’t really whether money can buy you happiness, it’s how much money do you need to buy said happiness and just how deferred it may be.

There is nothing wrong with sacrifice. But you don’t need a Ferrari or millions of dollars to be happy.

There is plenty wrong driving a Kia while waiting for your company to become the next big .com.

Ever wonder why plumbers, painters and every other handyman occupation demands on seeing the job before they offer you a quote, even when it’s something simple? It’s not because they can’t figure out how much it will cost to paint a 10×10 room with an 8 foot ceiling. It’s because they want to see what kind of house you live in and what kind of a car you drive.

So how is it that these uneducated laborers are smarter than your typical dreamer employees?

Mostly because employers are really good liars. Think Dilbert’s pointy haired boss times a thousand. Think you’re going to get a massive payout when your company gets bought? Ask Skype guys how that worked for them. It’s typical – but rarely discussed. Because it’s easier to let everyone think they will get a really big payoff at the end if they just break themselves in the process. It’s almost like an afterlife proposition – for your career. Yet it rarely works out. Which at times leads to Dilbert apathy:

dilbertgloating

You see, most companies I deal with are multimillion dollar businesses that are on the brink of being taken over for 2000x their value. Yet their CEO typically drives a Yugo or a pickup truck. I guess they are too busy to shop for a car. Or someone is full of crap.

Belief towards a supernatural corporate acquisition better be fueled by some real life corporate miracles – like Christmas bonuses, paid days off, vacations and your boss actually liking you enough to take you out for drinks outside of business hours. If you aren’t seeing one, what makes you think you’ll see another.

What you’re willing to buy, I suppose, is up to you.

Here is my advice

Having driven a Honda Civic HX for nearly quarter million miles, until it got towed away because I left it on the street without a license plate (that I moved to a more expensive car) I know a lot about sacrifice. So I will admit, I was wrong – you need to enjoy some of your hard earned money.

Life is a lot nicer with nice cars, nice vacations and nice clothes. Millions will come eventually.

But if you push 20 hour days, you may not be around to see that day.

If you push 2 hour days while in the office for 8 hours, you definitely won’t see that day.

The difference is slight but it’s a matter of motivation. Allow yourself to be happy and little annoying things in your life will become a lot easier to tolerate or ignore. Refresh, refocus, reengage.

You only have one life and only 24 hours in a day. No, you can’t fill them all with what makes you happy because you probably gain some level of happiness from not being homeless – so being good at work is a must. But you can’t fill them with everything you hate either – because that will make even the stuff you do like less enjoyable.

Screw Balance

Again, personal experience.. I don’t do balance. I don’t know where it is, I don’t know how to achieve it and I’m pretty sure if I could I would only kick myself in the ass for not striking it perfectly which pretty much nobody can do. You’re always screwing someone.

So you know what… work hard.. play hard. Take it to 11, take a nap, get back to work on Monday.

Have a great Monday folks, and work on your happiness too.

For bosses and monkeys alike. We all want that bannana. Mine comes in Rosso Corsa DS 302. Smile What color is your banana?*

* (Title of a self help book I promise I will never write)

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To WPC or Not?
Posted: 9:59 am
June 16th, 2011
Microsoft

Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference is the defacto number one ticket in the business software world – has been for nearly a decade. If there is a high profile meeting you need to have or want to get your message across, WPC has been the place to do it. Year after year it breaks the attendance records and serves as a launching platform for Microsoft’s strategy for the year and for years to come.

This year marks the first time that many of the partners I work with will not be making the trip. Not just IT Solution Providers but (sponsors) technology companies as well. There are the typical excuses:

1. I have too much on my plate right now
2. We don’t see a reason to go
3. I don’t like where it’s at (Los Angeles)

This year there is a new predominant message I keep on hearing: “I just don’t see the point.. Too much $$$ for too little value.. No ROI for the small partners..”

If partners that Microsoft depends on to deploy their solutions see no value in attending Microsoft’s conference, then can Microsoft really be blamed for building business models that not only exclude but force the exclusion of Microsoft partners from the Microsoft solution chain?

Granted, most of my discussions are with the infrastructure partners who do not do enough business with Microsoft to be a part of the strategic discussion – but they all do depend on benefits they receive from Microsoft in terms of promotional marketing collateral, (nearly) free software to run their computers and networks with and licensing help.

This can be a dangerous path separation for the two parties. Microsoft, from their cloud business development standpoint, typically sees infrastructure partners as deployment assistance / setup laborers kind of like your cable TV installer. Meanwhile, infrastructure partners tend to be the gatekeeper (think “internal IT”) for small businesses that run Microsoft networks, they aren’t exactly the cable guy. So between Microsoft deciding they will handle the sales and billing and partners deciding that there is no value in working closely with Microsoft, what happens to the Microsoft software during the next refresh/upgrade decision making cycle?

Many (myself included) have criticized Microsoft for spending too much of it’s focus on crushing competition themselves, instead of counting on the partners. Let’s see if that message changes this year – because Microsoft has found out on Windows Phone and BPOS that without partners it’s not really able to get to the business customers on it’s own great marketing.

Time will tell.. but we’ll be at the Microsoft WPC as both attendees, sponsors and Looks Cloudy as press. I hope we can offer some insight of what it’s like to be there from all 3 angles.

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Duke Nukem.. Forever
Posted: 10:15 pm
June 14th, 2011
Programming, Work Ethic

In development for over a decade.

You don’t really need to say much more than that. Duke Nukem 3D was the culmination of the generation that grew up on Rick Dangerous, Commander Keen, Doom, Quake… and eventually got to play the filthiest, nastiest most vulgar video game known to man kind.

Then they decided to build a sequel. You have to feel it for that team. If you’ve ever been a part of a product development you know the feeling of trying to balance perfection with your fear of what people may say if you ship something terrible. For the 3D Realms, that stress carried on for over a decade, through delays and engine changes, all the way to the eventual bankruptcy. Duke Nukem Forever became the norm for vaporware, even beating out Al Lowe’s Leisure Suit Larry 4 – The case of the missing floppies in the category of disappearing sequels.

Vaporware or not, lines from the Duke Nukem franchise are still quoted by geeks and it’s become a part of the geek vernacular.

duke2

Reviews

After the rights were purchased for Duke Nukem Forever the new company had a very short timeline to ship the product. Gotta hand it to them, they made it out fast. The reviews for the game were terrible – although most focused on irrelevant things such as how this FPS didn’t really fare well against the Call of Duty franchise – or how the game was somehow too profane and filthy.

Being somewhat of a product manager / enterprise architect, I wanted to hold the game in my hand and play it, regardless of how terrible it may be.

Secretly, I hoped the studio would have put a molding cheese sandwich in the cover as the final, ultimate prank, to all that bitched about the delays.

It’s time to kick ass and chew bubble gum..

Pack lot’s of bubble gum folks, levels take forever to load. Even by Xbox standards.

From there, forget what you know about 1080i and AI, the motion of human characters in the game hasn’t made it out of the 90’s.

But the animation of unloading a shotgun into the nuts of a pigcop falling from the ceiling – all 2011 baby!

That aside – The game is absolutely phenomenal.

If you like Duke Nukem… it was worth the wait.

No, it’s not as polished or as smooth as Call of Duty. It’s no Halo. It’s Duke Nukem, he’s back and he’s as filthy as they come.

Throw a pipe bomb towards your to-do list and kick some alien ass.

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Shockey Monkey Update
Posted: 9:21 pm
June 13th, 2011
Cloud, IT Business, Shockey Monkey

It’s been a few months since I’ve offered you an update on Shockey Monkey. Since last fall the product has been very solid and in a few months we will be celebrating our first birthday!

Over the past few months I’ve been ignoring overjoyed by the amount of interest for Shockey Monkey among software vendors. To be honest, I believe Arnie Bellini (of ConnectWise) deserves more credit for that than I do, but I will take the compliment. While I have listened to some offers (mostly VC) I have not seriously considered any for one simple reason: Shockey Monkey is about you, not us. That’s why it’s free. We’ve helped more people enter the MSP business without spending a dime than I think anyone else around and it’s been my way of saying thanks for putting ExchangeDefender on the map. Personally and truly.

What does one thing have to do with the other? Well, shortly after launching Shockey Monkey many of you told us that in order for it to fit in your portfolio it had to play nicely with the stuff you’ve already invested your money in (primarily RMMs) – so the focus of the first quarter and second quarter has been on developing integrations rather than stuff from Vlad-thinks-this-would-be-cool™ pile.

Which is not as easy as it appears. It’s like dating. When you’re in kindergarten. It’s hard to make a case for someone to integrate with you when you’ve been on the market for 8 months. Yet folks took a chance on us.

I’m happy to report that you’ll see some major integration announcements soon (some are kind of obvious since we’ve actually been at their conferences to demo the product).

Now…

Over the next month or so I’ll be going to three different countries to talk to potential suitors that have shown interest in Shockey Monkey. I think our solution has a lot of potential outside of the PSA marketplace and I want to explore some ideas about my opinion of where the MSP marketplace is going with the cloud.

Like I said, much of the interest has come on the back of the moves ConnectWise has made with their investment portfolio. With each bag of cash they drop, the more complete their solution becomes (which now includes a world class PSA, RMM and a quoting tool) and comparatively puts the other competitors at a disadvantage.

You can’t hate capitalism.

But if you compete with what they acquired you also can’t stand still and just stay in your comfort zone of the solution you’ve developed because the client now expect more than just a point solution and a token integration.

It’s really not so different than the world that the solution providers find themselves in – you’ve got to be the jack of all trades.

Like I’ve said before, we’re not going to be competing with ConnectWise, Autotask or anyone else. I feel they are in an entirely different league and frankly I don’t have the budget nor the motivation to help people learn how to run and build an MSP. My business is the cloud.

But if the licensing of our technology can help fund monkey’s development, bring some features to the market faster, reduce or eliminate the fee for the Pro feature set and help many aspiring MSPs and VARs step up their game… that’s good news for me, you and by tangent even ConnectWise and Autotask. With every Shockey Monkey portal out there, the pool of clients looking for a PSA grows, the utilization and time billing is improved, spending on supporting MSP tools increases and our entire MSP community ultimately benefits.

Or I’m dead friggin wrong and Shockey Monkey is still free to you just for the asking Smile

Who loves ya, baby?

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Opposing Business Models or Solution Variety?
Posted: 1:49 am
June 12th, 2011
ExchangeDefender, IT Business, OwnWebNow, Pimpin

MSPs and IT Solution Providers have an inherent business model flaw: They can’t compete on both price and performance at the same time. Your solution cannot simultaneously be the best and the cheapest because the cheapest is always getting cheaper and the best is exceedingly difficult to accomplish.

So how do you compete? I don’t know, and I know exactly. Allow me to explain ;) I recently got an email from a long time ExchangeDefender partner who was asking for further volume discounts of our product:

“Can you also look at my account and see if you can do anything about the pricing – we continue to bring on more ExchangeDefender accounts and I don’t want to have to downgrade the accounts to the lighter versions to help us maintain our margins in the face of more and more competition.  Thanks.”

Sociopath Enterprise Architect

To succeed in this business you need to be able to wake up each day and shift mindsets quickly.

I myself had to face the line above – many times. As a matter of fact, I and other OWN sales folks have been approached about meeting BPOS pricing – which we just cannot do. I think we lost most if not all of those deals because quality of service doesn’t matter to many – only price does.

So my options are cut all the vendor sponsorships we have, kill all the partner programs, stop answering my phone and try to compete with BPOS until Microsoft realizes they are doomed against Google and give it away for free (and run me out of business in the process). That’s one option, but I honestly would not wake up and drag myself to work each day to build a crippled product.

So we launched CloudBlock – You can now buy hosted Exchange with more storage than Own Web Now provides for $2.95 / month.

We’ve also been approached time and time again to compare our ExchangeDefender product with Postini, AppRiver, MX Logic <insert antispam product here> and asked to compete on price for their lowest tier antispam solution. Now, when you look at ExchangeDefender it’s $2 a month. For that you get the base antivirus/antispam but you also get 1 year of LiveArchive on Exchange 2010 with no storage limits, you get web filtering, web file sharing, encryption, integration with your PSA and RMM tools and even a free version to use on your own stuff. But after hearing “I just need antispam” a billion times, I allowed the team to create an ExchangeDefender Essentials offering for $1 a month: spam and virus filtering.

Do we spend a lot of time thinking about the Essentials offering? Not at all. There isn’t even a product ID for it in our billing system – all 5 people that have ordered it just have ExchangeDefender with a 50% discount. The offering has been as successful as a flying brick.

On the other hand…

When we decided to publish Shockey Monkey as a commercial product, we decided to give it away for free. No restrictions, no catches, no limited time trials, no approval process at all. You just fill out a form and 60 seconds later you have a full blown client management portal.

If you want some of the advanced features, you can sign up for the Pro.

This is the exact opposite of the ExchangeDefender and OWN business models: of writing really, really, really great and profitable stuff.

Why is it different? Because there is no “markup” on a solution that you’re going to use to run your own house. But I don’t know a single MSP that doesn’t charge at least $5 for ExchangeDefender. Either all of my partners are total crooks, or they are great at sales.. or there is a valuable addon that comes with deploying these solutions, one that (when managed properly) businesses are willing to pay for and support their business on.

Skitzo enough for you?

It all just comes down to what kind of business you want to run, what kind of solution you want to offer and what motivates you to work to please your clients.

For me, it’s all about ExchangeDefender, Shockey Monkey, OWN. But I’m an entrepreneur and I’m willing to take anyone’s money with CloudBlock, ExchangeDefender Essentials and anything else from folks that are willing to compromise. I would never sell those to a client but if that’s what you need to build your business that is your decision to make.

Do you want it good or cheap?

That is the only question that matters.

When you build your solution stack, do you want a good one or cheap one?

My name is all over ExchangeDefender. I go to trade shows all the time. If my solution was terrible there would be a line of people waiting to beat my ass. I have seen CEO’s that have since stopped going to shows for having their butt chewed out by their clients. I never want to be in that situation or put my people in that kind of a position. That is why all of my VPs go to these events, answer the phone and work with our partners. That is why our partners sell our products and know someone is behind them.

But if you need to cut costs to remain competitive.. That is a race that goes in only one direction. Whether you have your successful business model figured out (like Shockey Monkey) or are just serving a wider market (like CloudBlock).. I hope there is a method to the madness.

And to answer the original question.. No, ExchangeDefender price is not going down. It’s going up. If that’s not for you, I understand and I got options. You can have Essentials for $1 or you can have CloudBlock Antivirus/Antispam for $0.35. Just remember that there is only one solution I stand behind, and while I will feel sorry for you when the 35 cent one doesn’t work out, I’ll only offer 35 cents worth of compassion. Now.. roll the vartruth video.

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Best Buy dislikes their product, hires lawyers that don’t know trademark law
Posted: 4:22 pm
June 9th, 2011
IT Business, Legal, SMB

Have you ever been to a Best Buy and just left the place floored at how knowledgeable or expert the staff there is?

If you have, someone must be reading this post to you because there is NO way you can read.

Best Buy is to computer experts what Apple Genius is to a winner of a Nobel Prize in Physics. But when you need a power cord or an Xbox controller today, Best Buy is awesome and their college dropouts stuck working retail and living with their partents Geek’s sure know how to point in the right direction (sometimes).

Which makes the following cease and desist letter even funnier (click on the thumbnail for the full size).

cd1cd2

Here is the best part:

“We also recently learned that Newegg is running a commercial on television and Youtube depicting a blue-shirted salesperson in a store with a similar layout/color scheme to a Best Buy Store, so as to represent a Best Buy employee. The fake Best Buy employee is depicted as being slovenly and uniformed about computer products, in contrast to your employees who are portrayed as “experts””

Oh boy.

This is a textbook case of how not to settle a dispute.

First, no matter what you do, every cease and desist letter your company sends will be blasted all over the Internet – and mind you that this is not a real dispute – it’s one bunch of marketing weiners upset about being picked on by another bunch of marketing weiners. It could have been solved by putting the two parties in a room for an hour or so with a gallon of water – they would have reached a settlement in record time after realizing that a room full of marketing people can’t figure out how to work a door knob. But I digress.

Second, Best Buy owns a trademark on the Geek Squad. They are trying to shut down a Newegg marketing campaign that uses the word Geek (power icon) On. Umm. That’s not how the trademark law works.

Third, “Best Buy is concerned that Newegg’s use of the Geek On Logo is likely to create confusion among consumers and to dilute the distinctive quality of the Geek Squad Mark..” – Come ooooon! Now I know this was written by a marketing person. There is no distinctive quality to Geek Squad, it’s a laughing stock of the IT profession. If there was a confusion over Best Buy (overpriced and outdated electronics vs. other defunct business models of: CD store, DVD store, etc) and Newegg model – which focuses on low price, feedback from thousands of other people that bought the item, direct links to the manufacturers and prompt shipping – it would only help improve Best Buy not hurt it.

Competition

The competition that Best Buy has with NewEgg is something that we as IT Solution Providers need to think about and watch closely. For the most part, cloud solutions are newegg – fast, agile, low overhead. IT Solution Providers on the other hand are brick and mortar, local establishments that work in the community.

But if your community is not aware of your effort, and the cloud thing is cheaper.. then what’s your value?

While the dispute between Best Buy and NewEgg is somewhat comical, the background is a real concern on the mind of many MSPs that I talk to on a daily basis – Microsoft’s launch of Office 365 will put a lot of MSPs on defense because direct marketing is so powerful. The whole notion of a “trusted” advisor is very difficult to assert when your client starts thinking that you’re robbing them when you provide so much more than the supposed flyer seems to be charging for.

Options seem clear: Start sending C&D letters with full assurance that you’ll be mocked for them online or start marketing your local expertise and value that delivers. I (and we) get a lot of our partners marketing materials and it’s shocking how few (almost none) of you stress the local part.

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Microsoft Tablet vs. Apple Office: Which idea is worse?
Posted: 11:52 am
June 8th, 2011
Apple, Microsoft

One of the biggest signs of success and opulence is losing respect for money. If you have trust-fund-baby friends out there that have never had to work for a dollar (or euro or pound to be fair to my readers), you know what I mean.

But when corporations do it it’s like a thousand times worse.

First, shareholders must cringe when they read about what their profits will be going to. Employees aren’t far behind – as they are both the shareholders at times and probably feel they ought to get a better bonus structure if the company is doing so well. Stock markets follow this stupidity and don’t reward companies that make foolish decisions (buying of Skype, partnerships with Nokia) so even Microsoft is seemingly going away from rewarding it’s employees with stocks and using cash (“cash” sounds better than “salary”) instead.

Bad Idea Faceoff

First of all, relax. This rant is meant to be a joke, even though it draws on the facts.

Apple wants to build a 12,000 employee building that looks like a spaceship without an inch of flat glass vs. Microsoft branded tablet.

spinnersThis is the kind of stuff you expect to hear come out of Donald Trump’s mouth, or maybe on an episode of MTV Cribs. But when two of the biggest software companies on earth get together to collectively put spinners on their stock value you’ve got to wonder if Shaq is now a corporate strategy consultant.

Now I don’t want to get on a rant, but come on Microsoft – haven’t you proven that putting Microsoft on a label doesn’t instill any confidence? Remember how hard Apple worked to destroy Microsoft and Vista trademarks? The constant taunting, jokes and ugly realities that people have not forgotten. Why in the world would you want to piss off all your partners that currently make devices using your OS? I know, I know.. because Google did it and they failed and Apple did it and they rock. Except Apple is a consumer electronics company and you are not. You’ll have the same level of success Google has had with their Nexus devices – nobody wants a “proof of concept” device. That is called “OS emulator” and you already make enough of those. Do your employees and shareholders really need to watch you launch another pot without a bottom like your Windows Phone that keeps on eroding in every metric available? Why can’t you just be happy that you get $10 (approximately) off every Android device HTC makes due to your patents and just retire to Florida like all the other retirees?

And Apple. Do you really want to put all of your employees in a glass prison? Don’t you have enough egg on your face from your Foxconn drama featuring suicides and explosions? Does Curpentino really need another Steve Jobs Penitentiary and correctional facility? And making a building out of glass? Go ahead and tell the world that the reception on the iPhone will suck so bad for the next 6 years that you had to build your headquarters in a way that everyone was working next to a window so they can get some cell bars. Seriously? What are you thinking? People can see through the glass and find out what you’re working – what about the corporate tradition of murdering people (ahem, suicides) secrecy?

MappleHQ 

Just take The Simpsons advice and build it under the sea.

Now back to being unfunny..

Respect Cash

There is nothing wrong with cash. It’s beautiful. The poorer the culture, the more beautiful their money is – it’s like a work of art.

Yet when companies grow their management seemingly gets bored and instead of perfecting their products and listening to their customers they decide to pitch a spaceshuttle styled glass building in California.

To everyone outside of your ears it only seems like you’re taking your eyes off the ball. To your customers, it sounds like you’re not really focusing on their problems. To your shareholders, you’re wasting money. Even your employees may feel slighted and boy do you have a problem on your hands when that happens.

It’s not a good recipe, no matter the size of the company.

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Apple iCloud Relives Past Mistakes
Posted: 11:21 am
June 7th, 2011
Apple

Apple is slowly taking over Microsoft as the dominant software company both by mindshare and by revenue. It has hung it’s hat on being the leader in the post-PC (read: no-Microsoft) world. It’s actually a quote straight from Steve Jobs.

Yet, after their announcement yesterday, Apple stock tanked. With the new OS announcement, new iOS with tons of new APIs, new cloud service splash.. not helping Apple – and with the record shipments revenues and profit – Apple has not moved an inch in 2011. Why?

Those Who Ignore History Are Doomed To Repeat It

Once upon a time, Apple was a leading software company that had a winning platform and actually started the PC revolution. It manufactured it’s own PC, it’s own OS and everything in between. But as the other software and hardware companies came to market and worked with each other, Apple was left in the dust. IBM, Microsoft, HP, Packard Bell, Acer and countless others worked together and kept on innovating leaving Apple in the dust which it wouldn’t recover from well until Apple’s iPod became a hit in early 2000’s.

Seemingly similar stuff is happening today. Google’s Android took off after the iPhone and has blasted right by Apple in terms of market share. Apple keeps on sliding because it lives in a closed world where they make the handset, the OS, the cloud service and virtually everything in between. Their cloud pitch:

“Competition will never be able to make it ‘just work’” – Steve Jobs

Apple is making a bet that their control and restrictions will get more people attached to their cloud and that they will just win. But if that was the case, Android wouldn’t stand a chance. Furthermore, Apple has no NFC, no 4G phones, no flexibility in their device selection whatsoever. That is not a winning recipe, there is only so far that great marketing can take you.

Right now Apple is making the same mistake it made in the 90’s. Instead of opening up it’s cloud and it’s platform an licensing it’s OS and it’s massive library – it’s closing things down. It’s trying to make the “cloud” a feature of the iPhone/iPad/iOS which is something that will ultimately only appeal to the iFans and not to the overall marketplace.

Let’s remember that Apple’s resurection was thanks to Microsoft’s investment and iTunes on Windows. If Apple made their iPod capable of taking music files only from their 7% desktop PC, they would be long gone by now. Yet, they are ignoring that now and instead of applying their massive mobile dominance and experience to gain market share they are clamping down yet again.

Except they aren’t the sole player now. Look at this PC Magazine comparison of Amazon Cloud Player, Apple iCloud and Google Music. Apple is more expensive than anything else out there and it needs friends.

Apple owes it’s success to the massive army of developers who built tons and tons of apps for the first really good smartphone and tablet. Now as Android takes Apple over in those categories with an open approach, and has a larger audience, guess where developers will start to look to? Developers made Microsoft and they made Apple in the mobile world. But with Apple falling back, will they learn from their history on how to embrace the open cloud or will they stick to what has failed them before?

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