Archive for the 'IT Business' Category
Over the past few days I had the pleasure of attending CompTIA’s annual member meeting in Chicago. While the event itself was fantastic and featured some great content, I do have some mixed feelings towards the industry in general that just got reaffirmed and I wanted to share them with you in hopes that it helps put some perspective at what is going on out there beyond the marketing fluff. Good times but lots of food for thought, thanks to all that came out and everyone that said hi!
1. There are significantly fewer delusions of grandeur among the vendors.
Last decade was filled with “the next big thing” and “the game changer” and “thought leader of the emerging change in our industry” and to a great degree the level of complexity and reality has really washed away some of the incredible hype that has been around the IT circle as it went from VAR to MSP to Cloud and beyond. The shameless pimping and self promotion was still rampant (and seemingly welcomed as one presenter showed up more than an hour late to the presentation that was seemingly nothing more than an infomercial for their app. Gotta love it baby, ABP. Always. Be. Pimpin.)….
In my humble opinion, this is a good thing. It takes vendors away from our rehearsed marketing pitches and self infatuation and forces us to answer real questions about the reality of working in IT in 2013 – it’s not about what you want to sell, it’s about what you want to help add seamlessly to the existing technology portfolio… And if you only play well with your own toys that’s pretty much the end of it…… The complexity of the solution portfolio and increased sophistication of the client base makes it harder to push incomplete products and services without a track record and that changes the conversation to focus on delivery and the ecosystem, not on the traditional features and cost.
2. Same questions, same answers, same inaction.
Some people in our industry need to buy a calendar. It is not 1993. It is not 2003. It is 2013. The game has changed. The industry has changed. The business practices and business models have changed. If you are still struggling with the same problems you’ve had back then it’s seriously time to seek employment. I know that sounds harsh but the days of easy money and borderline criminal negligence in technology now carry serious penalties.
Otherwise, it is interesting to watch the same concerns solution providers have voiced in the past make an impact beyond the MSP world. Suddenly the same problems regarding margins, scalability, financing, legal, change of business model and vendor dominance are making their way into the communities dealing with Cloud, Mobile and Unified Communications. The technical ineptitude mixed with lack of business acumen or experience is harder to excuse when the solutions are so dependent on the other technologies and vendors that are changing their product selection and technology on a much rapid scale.
For example, I had a longer conversation (than I wanted to have) with a solution provided who was so concerned about the bandwidth and needing a resource to determine how much bandwidth the client needed.
Arbitrary, right? I explained that this is not something that CompTIA can effectively deliver because multiple vendors use multiple standards and multiple compression protocols and scale their application experience based on bandwidth, latency, etc. Skype alone has over 20 different bit rates. This guy wanted a standardized list – I suggested Googling – to which he again remained hopeful that someone will just do his job for him and completely lost sight of the fact that any technical implementation hinges on client usage, budget, experience needs and fault tolerance. Companies that need real time financial data feeds have a different connection to the Internet compared to the call center or a Starbucks.
How some of our industry peers remain in business with such poor work ethic is simply shocking. Which leads me to point #3..
3. Technology business beyond buzzwords is quite serious.
Shockingly, there are still companies struggling with pricing, transition to the cloud, product expertise and the ability to translate technical innovation into true business value. Yesterday I said the following:
I was encouraged, by multiple friends, to share this with the audience because “people need to hear it” but if there is anything I have learned writing Vladville for nearly a decade is that people do not like facing the harsh reality. They are happier with polished bullshit by a CEO that is only around right before his big event and tries to pretend he cares about this quarters sales figures far more than his clients long term objectives. So I sat there and fumed until I couldn’t take any more.
Honestly, the reality is that the industry is changing much faster than it has ever before. This unfortunately only leaves the playing field open to the participants who are willing to keep an open mind and adjust as the market changes. If the one and only objective is the sales figures and revenues beyond strategic long term value then I see no reason to ever have anyone look beyond Microsoft, Google or Apple as business partners. On the other hand, there are vendor partners who understand the solution provider business and have a long term strategy that lines up – but I’m sure Steve Ballmer will answer the phone or an email when you have a problem so by all means go ahead and save $2 on Office365, I’m sure it won’t have issues. Or maybe Sergey will hop on Google Glass and take care of your billing issues.
4. Can’t someone else do the hard work?
What I kept on hearing and seeing was great research, thoughtful panel discussions, great presentations and overall a lot of valuable content.
However, the interaction with the audience left me with the impression that “we need more.. More research, more training, more industry direction” and to be honest it just all comes down to whining about why someone else isn’t doing enough to help you with your own business challenges. This is as true of CompTIA as it was for Microsoft communities, the value doesn’t come from the body that paid for the muffins and the cheese danishes – it comes from the interactions you have with the community. The amount of resources was overwhelming and if anyone was left seeking more than I really have to say I am envious of their ability to consume so much data so quickly and shame me in the ability to implement it so much faster than we can. Of course, the reality is that these guys are just whining that the information they are getting is not chewed enough for them and that they don’t want to put the effort into taking this information to transform their business. Sorry folks, nobody is going to do your job for you for free – unless they expect to replace you.
5. Don’t confuse nonprofit with charity.
While CompTIA may be moving at a very slow pace compared to the member expectations (or the snail crawl compared to the industry in general), they are remarkably quick to add a Trustmark and an education / certification revenue stream. Oh the shock and horror of a business that wants to make money!
Folks, honestly, if you have a problem with the above you need to realign your expectations and deal with the reality that these are simply communities. It is all about what we can learn from one another and what we can become enlightened on if we keep a open mind. The meeting isn’t about what CompTIA is going to say, it is about what you’re willing to ask of the guy or a girl next to you.
The expectation of CompTIA to set industry standards or affect large scale change is simply ridiculous. The communities and executive councils are not filled with CxO roles of Fortune 500 companies nor do those companies have any vested interest in anything but competition. It’s a completely different DNA and different mission. CompTIA has always been about the education and helping IT companies capitalize on the trends. They do not set them.
As solution providers we need to stop looking to the Wizard of Oz for all the answers, we need to stop chasing the big bright logos because those companies want nothing more of us than a credit card number. In some instances, they’d prefer not to have us involved even to that extent! (Took Microsoft 3 years to figure out how to let partners bill for BPOS)
Most importantly, solution providers need to look to other solution providers be it peers, competitors or vendors who are playing on the same level with the same values. Stop chasing the venture capital backed maniacs that are trying to go public and look for the ones that happen to have things that you find important on their top 10 list. How many times do you have to be hit over the head by the people who only care about your money before you realize that your business is about more than competing with the lowest common denominator?
Seriously, friends partners and competitors alike, like it or not we have to come up with these answers and stop waiting for someone to deliver it to us because by that time the answers will not matter. The good news is that for the most part most of us have figured out major parts of the puzzle and we just have to show interest in putting that puzzle together.
If there is anything you picked up from this weeks CompTIA AMM, I hope it was that we still have the advantage and that all it takes is sitting down in the same room and working together.
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I guess it’s a slow news kind of a quarter because all the focus is on the guilt and whining about this little thing called life and things that are just common sense are somehow becoming notable news stories because Marissa Mayer or Sheryl Sandberg happen to say them out loud (or make them a company policy or write a book about it).
Yes, you should show up for work. No, you shouldn’t whine about the glass ceiling or apologize for being aggressive or doing what is best for your career / company. Just kick ass and don’t apologize about it.
Most importantly, you don’t need to promote the sense of guilt because all of us have it.
Which brings me to this reverse rant: I hate whiners.
Apparently people with careers feel too guilty spending too much time at work. Unemployed meanwhile feel guilty about not contributing or working on something meaningful. The grass is always greener on the other side. At home you feel guilty about the work piling up and then when you finally start to attack that pile you feel guilty about what you are missing out at home.
Here is a piece of cheerleading for your Monday: You can’t win. So stop trying.
Since you can’t be at two places at the same time, you will miss out some opportunities that will advance your career and you will miss out some moments with your family. Often, personal and professional events will overlap.
Given the two events, which one would you regret missing on your deathbed? That’s the one you should go to.
There you go, that’s your life/work balance solved once and for all.
Feel better? Of course not.
What will make you feel better is the following:
1) Everyone struggles with this. It’s not you against the whole world so stop acting like a whiny little bitch every time you don’t get your way.
2) It is not something that you will ever be able to solve or perfect and the more you work on it the more you will think about it and the more you will feel guilty about because you’ll be aware of more stuff you’ll be “missing”
3) It is not something that is fixed with more money, better job, better house, better dogs, better kids, better cars, better weather, etc.
4) Feeling guilty and overanalyzing it and just general dwelling on the worst case scenario only makes it worse.
5) Following up on #4, consuming yourself with guilt will actually take away from the focus you need to have on your job or on your fun. If you’re at work daydreaming about doing fun stuff and then go do fun stuff and end up working or thinking about work throughout… you’re just failing all over.
There, feel better? A friend of mine wrote a book about this, check it out.
If you happen to suffer from guilt over the unfairness this world has put on your life, start a diary. Write down everything you got to do that was awesome and everything you missed out.
Keep this log for a while and two wonderful things will happen: You will find out that you aren’t doing nearly as poorly as you think you are and you will see a clear pattern of crap that you are doing that needs to stop.
Truth is, we become so consumed in dealing with our own BS that we cannot see how we are continuously contributing to the problem and making it worse.
This is why the word “balance” pisses me off so much – it just feeds into this notion that there is some hope that you will be happy if you changed your priorities, so please spend all the time dwelling on your woes and feeling sorry for yourself and blame something other than your own poor decision making. Why anyone would sit there and give a second thought to someone that would make them feel worse about themselves (for a profit) is a completely foreign concept to me but some people are into that sort of a thing.
Don’t let others make you feel bad for being yourself.
If you feel guilty about your decision making then just try logging your activities and see if there really is a problem and how you can fix it.
Remember – quit blaming everyone and everything for your misfortunes. Only once you realize that you are responsible for the decisions and situations you put yourself in can you start to make changes about stuff you don’t like. Otherwise there is no shortage of stuff that you can blame that won’t change and result in any meaningful positive impact on you. Take charge.
Or Whisky. I recommend Macallan 18.
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This is perhaps meaningless but I wanted to share because it’s a hope for how a business should be managed and the stark opposite to the reality. In reality, most problems in the workplace are fixed as a matter of a response not as a proactive process to optimize how things happen.
For example, most small businesses have that one organized person with an overweight Outlook profile that holds every invoice, confirmation email, password reset request, welcome message, fax, instant message log, screenshot collection and extensive notes.
Over time this person spends more time waiting for the search to return the results (or organizing them into a system only they understand) than working. It’s not optimal, it’s not smart but it happens.
As I have mentioned in a lot of my presentations, we use software to solve problems. Painful problems. We get pushed so hard to the cracking point that we spend incredible amounts of money and time to solve a problem that a few years later we have tons of middleware, databases, knowledge bases, SharePoint sites, defunct Doku sites, Joomla sites and apps, blogs, tickets, public folders.. collection of ancient ruins of attempts to organize knowledge.
The SMB IT industry has done a fairly good job of solving the problem of serving clients in terms of managing support requests and billable time. But when it comes to managing vendors, managing employees and HR, managing goals and careers, passwords, schedules.. it’s still a middleware nightmare ballin’ on a budget.
What I’m about to show you…
Is my humble attempt at taking ExchangeDefender (and everyone willing to use Shockey Monkey to manage their business) to unify all these concepts not as a hacked together pile of halfassed apps with no interest with working with one another… but a well thought through system for management of things beyond support tickets.
If we cared about ourselves as much as we care about our clients, we’d be in a much better place. Unfortunately, nobody pays us to be good kids that keep their room clean – our clients pay us to manage their problems not our own.
Motivation just isn’t there.
But read this post again. It’s never going to be as simple as it is now to get a handle on your vendors, notes, employees, HR policies, notes, knowledge bases and more. Your business, if it grows, is only going to get more complicated and more complex and have more people in it not less.
So here is what we did:
Organize your people (click for image for a higher resolution pic)
Setup a system to track career goals and accomplishments. Don’t make reviews an annual affair – set the goals and rewards and put it in black and white as to what you want. Then let everyone do what they have to – if people just wait to become more relevant they will never see much progress – but if they can visualize their progress things change FAST!
Get better organized about your people. I’d venture every single one of my friends would agree that their team is far more relevant than any of the PCs out in the field – yet we keep metrics and hardware specs and documentation on silicone junk far better than we track even basic stuff about our staff. Track licenses, education, certification. If they are doing it right and you’re managing them correctly their list is longer when they leave – you move them to the next level in their career!
Timesheets that are actually smart. If your timesheet hasn’t changed since 1950’s more than going from a piece of paper to a number entry on the screen then you have the same level of performance and insight that people had in 50’s. Why do you think we have biometrics, checkin, intelligent status boards.. for cosmetic effects? Shockey Monkey checkin systems track when the user shows up for work, when they go to lunch, when they come back and when they leave – they automatically adjust the timesheet for them and document when there is an exception (Are you late an hour every Thursday because you suck or because I forgot that I assigned you a BNI meeting every Thursday?)
Finally.. If your company is worth anything IP-wise, you have a process. If that process is not documented and you don’t have a way to instantly pass that process off onto a new employee… you don’t have a process… you just have a preferred way of doing something that cannot be measured, audited or trained to anyone unless you do it all yourself. Well, Shockey Monkey flips all that.
Naïve or just stupid?
I am not naïve, I know that what I have just shown you will be used by a very small number of people. Perhaps it’s just going to be us.
The reality is that people do not face their problems or attempt to solve them until the pain of living with the problem is more than the cost of acting to fix the problem.
Perhaps I just have some faith in the small business world as technology becomes simpler and more convenient. When the really big problems are out of the way – not worrying about updating Windows because your laptop continues to crash, not worry about why your phone isn’t syncing, why your email isn’t arriving, why your Quickbooks keep on crashing… you have more time to right the wrongs in your business.
In a sense, this is the optimistic take on what I see small business evolving towards.
Perhaps it would have made more sense to spend time and money on some common problems people ARE willing to pay for now – but my take is that people that are stuck in the past or stuck inside the problem so deep that they don’t see the world passing them by – will not be around in a few years.
I like to look forward.
In the meantime, I hope Shockey Monkey 3.3 keeps on pushing you there. It’s live, enjoy. If you’d like to watch yesterdays webinar, it’s here.
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Extremely long blog post cut short: When nobody cares about you, your products, your services or what you think you want to sell they still care a lot about their data. Never lose sight of what your client wants and what is important to your client and build your business around that – not around what you want to sell. To find out what that is and why it matters… well, reading required:
The chilling tale of what has been going on at Microsoft the past year or so is a huge warning sign to technology businesses everywhere that choose to stop innovating and become complacent with their cash cows. Those of us that have been in the IT world for a while can tell you that technology hype cycle moves very quickly and that while there is a great deal of money to be made staying behind on the legacy platforms, it’s hard to sustain a business looking backwards.
Microsoft (half through mismanagement and arrogant antagonism of it’s partner base, half through just lack of innovation and good products) has found itself behind the curve and outright slaughtering it’s two cash cows as they find themselves in a quick slide in popularity: Windows and Office. There are too many links to link, articles to quote and my point really is not about Microsoft except that they make a great example:
They killed Windows through a product that is too different from the predecessor to appeal to the current fan base and they are killing Office through a pricing scheme that few will swallow while not bringing much new stuff to the plate. It’s a change for the sake of what was popular a year ago with the hope that they can catch up a year from now.
Windows Phone has been through several disappointing iterations since the Nokia partnership launched with each new device being “better” than the iPhone and Android and still flunking by comparison despite massive advertising. Ditto for Surface, which Microsoft appears to be making it’s final stand on and somewhere between Pro supply mismanagement / managed “sold out” process fails to get a massive level of interest. Windows 8, despite a massive discount at launch, failed to find any excitement even among Microsoft biggest fans (present company included, bought a few upgrade boxes, installed just one begrudgingly and regretted it). As an ultimate change of direction, Microsoft is finally deploying it’s Hailstorm with Office 365: Releasing a product nobody can figure out why they want at a massive price hike with the huge reduction in rights that isn’t raising any regulatory issues or complaints because… well…
Because Microsoft has decided that it’s about consumers now and consumers only want it’s Xbox. Except Microsoft doesn’t seem to want you to pay attention to it’s Xbox which is the only thing it’s got going well, it wants you to buy it’s business software and act like a business not a consumer. How’s that going?
The Point Being…
Microsoft isn’t jumping the shark here. There is no hope of actually missing the shark and surviving on the other side. It’s jumping straight down towards the sharks mouth, ninja style, hoping to dropkick the shark in the nose and kill it before it has a chance to kill it. In a less visual language: Microsoft is hoping to change it’s business model before someone takes the opportunity to make them obsolete. For all the worries about Linux, it’s Android that dethroned Microsoft as the king of all devices, maturing to rapidly and too successfully without ever announcing itself as a Microsoft competitor. That’s an interesting lesson.
But what does this mean to you as a Microsoft partner, IT Solution Provider, worker in the IT field, developer…
1. The ecosystem you’ve gotten used to is changing. So you have to change faster if you want to survive.
2. The single dominant player marketplace where you can hitch your ride to one thing and ignore others is over. You will be forced to diversify.
3. You won’t be able to “sell” your preferred platform, you will work with the one your clients picked (for example, you don’t get to “Support only Apple” you will support Windows desktops, Apple iMac, Android Tablets, Windows Phone, Apple watch) – or you can try your lottery luck at telling your prospective client that they need to switch a platform to get your service after they have already spent the money.
4. You no longer get to choose what you support, because your clients will choose someone that supports what they got.
5. Selling on features is long gone, benefits will become harder to explain.
All this may sound terribly negative if you’ve got a massive successful business. Perhaps it is – but it’s an incredibly positive thing for business development going forward – because just about everyone out there is sitting on their hands working on the past while trying to figure how things play out. Even a blind man can tell you what’s coming: When the consumer knows more about technology than your average IT employee and knows what they want the IT guy and the sales guy lose all relevance. But all this new flawless stuff will still break and will still have to work for a business, creating a massive new opportunity to generate a sticky business that doesn’t live and earn on point releases, upgrades, migrations and the likelyhood that “Well, when it breaks we’ll be there to fix it but we manage it anyhow so it’s probably not going to break very hard either” – Now is the time to develop the glue between what you’ve already have and the layer which your client cannot live without. They may not care about your products or what you and your vendors want to sell: But they care about their data. That, dear friends, is key to the future.
Consumerization is no longer a word that Microsoft dictionary cannot recognize or some future, it’s the single largest driver behind technology spending today. You can ignore it, you can watch it, or you can start to establish your business around it.
No time to start like today. Happy Monday.
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When I started this business my goal was to make $100,000 a year which was the average college dropout salary in Silicon Valley at the time. I never quite expected the company to grow to what it has become and even at the time when I was responsible for far more than I’m responsible for today I dealt with a different kind of animal. Management of a “smart” company with a few ridiculously smart, talented and creative people is far different from managing an empire of clock-punching idiots and unfortunately the management books are written for managing precisely that. To manage and motivate smart people that can do basic math you need to study psychology, team building, organizational behavior, human behavioral decision making process.
We didn’t develop Shockey Monkey by accident. It’s not as ridiculously successful as it is by accident. It’s current development, again without accident, is built around the reality of managing a service business and not an industrial clock-punching company. Some of you are obviously going to disagree with this notion, looking to manage your business more like a carpet cleaning dispatch center that screams at employees that aren’t billing enough, but much like so many of your peers have found out the hard way.. the margins for dumb businesses are disappearing quicker than the opportunities. To each his own, I love ya either way, I’m here to help, but it’s pretty clear what’s going on out there.
With that in mind, I decided to sit down and write a Vlad Owners Manual per se.. to help people that work here understand how I work, what makes me tick, what my many faults are and how to work around them:
Congratulations on joining ExchangeDefender, you are now a part of a very talented team that manages worldwide network operations. You will be working in a high-paced, high-stress challenging environment and if you do your job right this will be the last job you’ll ever need to find. That said, your job will never be the same from day to day and it will never be done. Welcome.
Everything you need to know about working at ExchangeDefender has been officially documented in the Employee Guide and Employee Videos you should have seen by now.
My name is Vlad Mazek, I am the CEO and founder of ExchangeDefender, and you will get to deal with me directly or indirectly as your career here progresses. This document is an honest outline of my background, values, process, work ethic and will give you some insight into what makes me tick so you don’t have to base your expectations on the urban myth of “The Vlad” or the blogs/Facebook/twitter posts that are written for entertainment purposes.
Like everyone else, I have many flaws. My hope is that this document gives you an idea of my shortcomings and gives you the best possible way to interact with me and what to expect. ExchangeDefender is a team effort so the better we all work with each other around our handicaps, the more successful we will be.
Enjoy and welcome aboard.
- Role & Responsibility
- Contact Availability
- I am always right, until I am wrong
- What I actually do around here
Frequent Questions I Get
- Why are our clients so stupid?
- Is this in my job description?
- How do I get more money?
- Why do things change?
- How do I achieve career/life balance?
- Why am I surrounded by idiots?
- Why do certain employees get away with more?
- Why can’t we have consistency on expectations?
- Why is everything always broken?
- Why can’t I talk to XYZ? How do I escalate and who is in charge?
People and Activity I Like
- Personal Accountability
- Organized, Reminding, Tracking
- Transparency & Communication
- Email & Communication Effectiveness
Activity I Dislike
- Condescending Smartass Behavior
- Lack of Personal Accountability, Hygiene
- Complaints about “The Greener Pastures”
- Lack of Team Mentality
- Disrespect of Our Clients
If you happen to do an obscene amount of strategic business with us, I’ll gladly share this with you under an NDA.
I read a few business books a month (some more than once) and without exception they are written in a top down approach with the high dose of self-help. Basically, you have faults that you should fix but spend your time eliminating everyone else’s faults. OK, fair enough and very valuable, but the problem at ExchangeDefender is that I’m the least productive person here despite probably the longest hours and almost everything I do is reliant on the very people that I’m supposed to beat the shit out of. We’re just supposed to come to a mutual understanding that even though I suck they are supposed to pretend not to notice and we dance around it? Hell no.
You may be perfect, congratulations, wish I could be like you. I’m not. Rather than having the new people find that out the hard way (and troubleshoot the correct way to deal with it), I’ve decided to put it in writing as honestly as I could so that they know the best ways to manage their way to getting their job done (even if in spite of me)
The process itself is quite rewarding because when you start putting things in writing the list of things that you should be working on as an executive tends to explode. The amount of gray area is exposed and you have to explain it as well.
I encourage you to sit down and fill out your Chemistry.com-ish executive profile so your team can become more effective with you. Feel free to use my layout as a guideline.
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The easiest thing you’ll ever do in your business life is hire tons of ineffective employees. It’s easier than coming up with blog post titles that have nothing to do with the content of the post! So I’ll keep it short:
Round up all the employees you’ve got on your payroll that resist change and like their job description clearly stated in a clear bullet point list that doesn’t change… and fucking fire them right now. Seriously, don’t even bother reading this blog post: People that don’t work on changing your organization for the better, that don’t tinker/tweak/test better ways of running your business should be templated, documented and outsourced… immediately.
Business that doesn’t innovate doesn’t improve and doesn’t survive. The End.
Only keep the people that are capable of thinking and eager to make things work – better, faster, more efficiently, more effectively. Keep your creative core. Like the reliability of the person that keeps your books – fantastic, outsource it to a CPA agency where they don’t suck the life out of your organization. Like the accountability of the janitor that shows up every day – hire a custodial firm and focus the company culture on improvement, not stagnation.
Unfortunately, you better be really passionate about what you do because having a company full of passionate and creative people is like staffing a grocery store with a bunch of starving zoo animals. They will wreck the joint fast – so you have to keep them motivated, distracted, driven and constantly moving the target. A bored creative person will find a way to entertain themselves at work and that is not going to be fun, just trust me on that one.
This is the brave new world. Everyone is eager for the buck and the lazy, unmotivated, change-resistant people are dime-a-dozen, outsource your mundane tasks to the sweat shops that will hire them and keep them in check with the kinds of HR controls that would make Henry Ford roll over in his grave. In a competitive market dealing with innovation and constant change the only advantage is your ability to quickly adjust and effectively promote your gig. If it’s easy, it will be automated.. if it’s time consuming, it will be outsourced to the third world, if it’s cheaper.. well, it’s only gonna get cheaper:
So if you’re not where you need to be going there is no time like now to start moving.
This post has been partially inspired by Dell. Yes, even they realized that nobody can make money on cheap PCs and are trying to take the company private because admitting to their entire shareholder base that they need to cook the golden goose to move to the next level is.. challenging. Odds are, your problems are smaller so if Dell can do it, you can too. Or you can keep on building PCs and refilling printer cartridges for people that work like it’s 1999. I’m sure you’re smarter than Dell and more successful too. Wake the f up. : )
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The performance of ExchangeDefender and Shockey Monkey have been a fascination for many of my friends and partners and to be honest I’m the one that’s least surprised by it: which is why I’m always shocked when people ask me the following question:
Vlad, What is your exit strategy?
Cold. Feet first. Wrap me in dollar bills and stick me into a Corvette and roll that bitch off the cliff loaded with explosives and blow the motherfucker up before I hit the water.
Then collect life insurance.
Yes, I want to keep on making money even in the afterlife. Why? Because that is what I do.
I have this conversation with people all the time and it’s very, very, very simple.
Back when I started Space G (which became what you see today) I had many friends that moved to the Silicon Valley to be the .com millionaires. I f’d up and went to college. We all make mistakes. But funny thing happens when you’re broke: You learn to respect the value of money. You become weary of borrowing it, you become suspicious when someone wants to give it to you and you learn that nothing ever comes easy. Ever ever. Even Ana Nicole Smith had to work for her $ and look where it got her.
Business has a simple premise: Make more than you spend. Keep the difference or reinvest.
For the first few years I reinvested aggressively – everything I had (not just financially) went into it. It taught me a few things:
1. More or less, financial rewards are proportional to the effort.
2. Business world is not fair
3. Some people are scumbags – trust is earned
4. Given the chance, most will take advantage of you
5. There is no crying in business but there is always another day
I have lost so many deals and so many customers have fired me that if I cried over every one of them I would have drowned by now. I’ve been screwed by so many people that I could put Peter North to shame. It is what it is though – just like there are people out there that have to clean toilets – it’s a job. Just like everything else, I just try to be a little bit better the next day, the day after that, next month and next year.
I am in no position to offer advice – I’m rich and employed – find someone that isn’t either and have them coach you. I cannot tell you what to do beyond explaining what we do at ExchangeDefender and what works and doesn’t work for us. I don’t know your risk tollerance, I don’t know your work ethic, overall ethics and morals, I don’t know your skill level or willingness to succeed. But you do.
So instead of asking others what they plan to do – ask yourself what you’re willing to do and where you are going with your business. Everything else will fall in line.
Maybe someone rich and desperate and bad at math will come along and swoop your business. In the event that doesn’t happen, a huge chunk of your monthly revenues will continue to go into your pocket. Just keep stacking it.
Here are comments from my Facebook friends:
Julian Wilkinson Heart attack working hard doing what I love.
Tom Wyant Sell out to one of my sons so he can support me until I die at the age of 107.
Not for attribution: Screwed to death in a traditional harem.
Ed Mana The front door to my office.
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As I mentioned previously (and throughout 2012) we’ve just gone through the year of the big eating the small. This happened both on the big money front (through M&A) and on the small money front (clients moving from “consultants” to full service IT Solution Providers). This is good and it’s natural – once business matures it also becomes quite expensive to operate and shops that were once running on the fumes of passion turn to their owners being managers, leaders, motivators and obsession goes from technology and things like money and business performance. More thoughts on that later, all I have to say is that 2012 has been the most successful year we’ve ever had and most of it is thanks to the success our partners had.
With that in mind, I offer you my predictions for 2013. Keep in mind that I’m not a journalist, I’m not an entertainer, I’m not making this on behalf of any company / sponsor / etc. Just my humble opinion.
More gadgets, less IT
If you paid any attention to the trade rags, all the IT world was infatuated with MDM (mobile device management), BYOD (bring your own device, employees using their own computers/gadgets/phones to do work) and single panes of glass.
Here is the bitch – they have been trying to figure this out since the last century with Active Directory and a billion other bandages ever since then. They are further now than they were back in the days where you could quarantine XP machines from joining your domain until they applied all the required patches, etc.
Today.. you’ve got phones, tablets, PCs and Macs roaming the network with no shame.
It has gone unchecked – and it will just get worse.
For an overwhelming majority of tasks you don’t actually need a PC. All the modern stuff is being written for the mobile first (not .NET first) and with the cloud backend.
Design-wise, the more you can make something an app or service, the less people will get a chance to object to how you get things done so long as you get them done. As I mentioned at the launch of Shockey Monkey 3 people spend all this money just to setup an environment to run an app to get things done. If stuff can get done without all the setup, pain and investment then what’s the point of having it in the first place?
Things like security, regulatory compliance, redundancy, data retention/backups, etc sure are important but that’s not something that “employees” worry about, it’s something lawyers worry about once the company is sued. And business is all about risk, Vegas-style baby!
Expect more gadgets with more form factors, resolutions and operating systems.
Simplicity beats Support
Related to the topic above, simplicity will continue to be the name of the game.
Many IT Solution Providers made their buck in “support of IT” whether through blocks of hours or MSP. But a funny thing happened – people stopped wanting to upgrade to the next greatest thing. It became harder and harder to justify and the pain alone is not making it worth it anymore.
Speaking personally here, we haven’t updated to Windows 8 or Office 2013. No plans to either. No Retina MacBooks that I know of and we certainly don’t see anyone asking for the latest iPad or iPad mini.
If you look objectively (or call me biased, your call) – Mac has always been seen by the PC users as.. infantile. You can call it simple if you want to be nice but you get the idea. Turns out that all that power and complexity and flexibility that us PC users liked didn’t really thrill your average user.
Look for 2013 to take even more power from the MSP/VAR/IT department.
If it’s easier to subscribe to a service that can be canned at any time, don’t even expect to be invited into the conversation – it will just pop in. Ditto for the gadgets and other non-complex, sub $1,000 stuff.
Services, Services, Services, Cloud, Cloud, Cloud, No support, No support, No support, No support, Not even outsourced to India
One of the biggest Shockey Monkey feature requests (that we don’t have an answer for until the end of January) has been the vendor management control. Instead of dealing with just a few vendors we’re dealing with a ton of them and they all have portals, support sites, forums, control panels and dashboards. And the only person with the login credentials is the boss or whoever put the credit card down. Good luck getting into all these resources that different employees across the organization need to have access to.
This is a scenario that so many small businesses find themselves. They have a problem, they google for a solution, if it’s cheap they go with it. Loop closed.
Expect more and more services to pop up everywhere. Expect apps to fill the gap.
The whole “cloud” has gone from a total hype word to a backbone of all the growth behind apps and services.
Sounds terrible, where is the opportunity?
There will be more services, more apps, more gadgets – yet nobody will be able or willing to support them all. One of the arguments you’ll have to make with your clients is that it’s cheaper and more effective to have an IT person (service) around to deal with it all.
There will be more solutions with less reputation. Mark these words and glue them to your fridge: Your clients need to find out about the technology from you. Not from the App store, not from Verizon guy, not from a blog – you. This will require you to change the way you “market” things: more mail, more training sessions, more demo days and lunch and learns. The old tired “What don’t you like about your computers” is done.
DIY only makes sense until the problems pile up. As one of my partners told me “SMB doesn’t mean small & medium business, it means Small Minded Business. The only reason clients pay us is because they can’t be bothered to do it themselves”.
My argument is that simple problems will be solved by the users. Big problems – compliance, backups, data integrity, audits, employee monitoring, timesheet accountability, business continuity (when a DIY/BYOD mobile worker leaves, how does a new employee continue?) and so on – will be done by you.
Services, apps, cloud – and you. Embedding all this stuff people want into the overall solution is a huge opportunity. But it requires different staff and different talent.
Finally, the biggest opportunity might come from the economy itself. We just made it through the fiscall cliff. The Federal Reserve is printing money faster than ever, Japan is devaluing it’s currency and European Union is shuffling around debt pretending it doesn’t exist. At least for the time being, people might feel a little bit better about outsourcing – not quite committing to “building” stuff but catching up.
The opportunity is out there. 2013 will be the best year yet, so long as you remember that we’re in 2013 and not 2003.
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Apparently something rubbed a few of you the wrong way so I figured I’d offer some perspective because I can’t reply to all the emails individually. In the last email I implied that the IT Solution Providers (my term for everything consulting / reselling / implementation related to IT) had the best year ever with most of the riffraff getting eliminated in the process and our best / most profitable years being behind us.
That makes no sense Vlad!!!
It does when you think about it.
In the 90’s SMB spent a lot of money to build networks. With them came IT guys and then IT departments.
In the 00’s SMB got tired of their IT guys and cut costs by outsourcing IT to MSPs, VARs and so on. Most skilled IT folks went out on their own and started IT companies.
In the late 00’s and early 10’s we’ve seen a huge move to the cloud. Yeah, I know, there are like 4 dudes doing REALLY great selling HP & Dell but everyone else (including the two companies) are struggling to keep it going.
SMB IT was established on the back of IT infrastructure.
It grew through outsourcing.
It grew through the cloud and acquisition of the smaller guys. As a matter of fact, most of your smaller IT guys that weren’t great at business are now working for my partners. I see a lot of people that I know.. now working for someone else I know.
Growth has been easy to come by.
So what’s next?
My crystal ball is still in the shop so I don’t know.. All I know is that you’ve got to stop digging your own grave by working with companies that are trying to eliminate you. Or continuing to “be busy” without regard for where your new opportunities come from.
Business as usual has to change. You have to be a little bit more than irrationally optimistic to think that the same kind of card stock crap marketing that made it last decade is going to work going forward. Or that you’re gonna tweet your way into a goldmine.
Fact is, the IT has lost both power and sex appeal. Best Buy has really lost the shine it had a decade ago. Look at your ugly Dell and HP laptop – it looks and weighs the same as it did a decade ago. People are buying tablets, smartphones come with 5” screens with the app sophistication, speed and simplicity we don’t have on desktops and the biggest IT concern these days is BYOD – not something new to buy or implement. Look at Windows 8, at $39 for the upgrade they can’t even give it away.
Like I said about 5 years ago or so, focus needs to be on services in the all-encompassing sense where everything is taken care of. While it’s true that there will be less and less people that find IT important, those that leverage it to it’s fullest extent (or comply with the regulatory requirements, etc) will become more and more open to additional services.
In short, the best years for some of us are still ahead of us. Unfortunately, most IT businesses will certainly not be around to see it. The difference is effort, right partnerships, right solutions and ability to implement as much technology as possible to make the business operate better thanks to technology – not to make technology a burden that they cannot live with out. It’s all about the strategy.
Listen, every year I talk to less and less partners about the new stuff we are doing and every year I hear the same deadend excuse – we’re swamped right now but we’ll look at it ____ later. People sacrifice long term corporate growth for the short term growth. While you will never, ever see me criticize the spirit of a hustler, if you’re constantly passing up strategic opportunities to become more relevant for quick cash now, the well will eventually dry up and you’ll be lucky to work somewhere else.
We’ll be doing a big “2013 – Year Ahead” podcast next week if you’d like to know some specific details..
In the meantime, pimp on and keep on making that green. Thank you for your tremendous support of ExchangeDefender (and the Unicorn) and Shockey Monkey in 2012. We’re throwing more $ into R&D than ever so next year is gonna be even better!
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Just a heads up that I will be in office all week (working from home here and there tomorrow, Tuesday Dec 25) so if there is anything I can do for you don’t hesitate to contact me.
This week on the agenda is breaking of all the blogs and non-ExchangeDefender sites we run so if you can’t reach me from here, just give me a ring. I’ll be in my office.. extension 500.
This year (I’ll blog in detail if they give me permission) we managed to cram nearly 2 years of development in one – we’ve launched stuff very aggressively and we’ve received the feedback faster than ever – lots of stuff done, lots more to do. My closest and biggest partner get the idea of what we’re up to and I cannot express how incredibly rewarding it is to get so many ideas and suggestions back when we add new stuff.
Anyhow, development. Because of everything that happened this year with ExchangeDefender, LocalCloud, Unicorn, Managed Messaging and Shockey Monkey we don’t really have a very crisp line between the two years. The only real “break” between the two is financial (major new initiative launching in Jan/Feb timeline) but otherwise everything is going the same with the similar pedal-to-the-metal attitude.
Frankly, we’ve overwhelmed – but don’t let that stop you from cracking the whip – we have several areas that we are working on improving and literally all the products and services are getting a major facelift. In 2012 we formed a very good base for support (I can’t seem to hear enough good stuff about them whereas a few years ago it was just @#% nonstop), products are solid (some manuals still suck, some features need more explaining) and services just need more, more, more of everything.
Here is the good news tho – we’re the most profitable we’ve ever been, most successful we’ve ever been – and if you’re doing what I’ve been blogging about on here for years, so are you. The riffraff and crud of the SMB IT has to the large extent been eliminated as anyone could have predicted and the serious people are having the best year ever even though the economy is bad and probably going to get worse before it gets better (thanks to the jackasses in Washington and other countries playing catchup while burning up their currency to stay afloat).
As you can tell, lots of stuff on my mind, too much to do too little time – but as for the past 15 years, I’m here for you. Give me a call. Or an email (just don’t expect the response this year, I have a 4 figure unread count but I will get through it this week)
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