The New View

Microsoft, OwnWebNow, SMB

Today was a rough day, I am knees and elbows deep in fertilizer working on the rose garden that is Own Web Now and what it represents. This is pretty difficult for me to write so please take it with a grain of salt, in all sincerity, this is the first post that I hope nobody is offended by. In order for any rose to continue to grow and bloom, some big branches have to be cut down, blooms removed right after they are the most beautiful and soil planted, replanted and refurbished from time to time.

OWN, in the eyes of many of our customers, is Vlad(tm). Truth is, there are so many people, partners, vendors and organizations that make this possible. I had never envisioned going into a business as some dark overlord of IT with the Exchange superpowers, I always thought that OWN could and would grow into being an organization that benefits businesses, big and small, new and old, and that we worked on the organization that would serve the clients, not a company that would have to put up with things, deal with politics, cut deals and agreements just to make a buck. But fast forward a few years and here I sit on my throne, looking at the incoming CID LCD and wondering if I really want the hassle. Here is how I came to my answer:

Last weeks MVP summit was a huge eye opener because I had no big agenda, I had no hunger, I had really just wanted to enjoy the company of some of the smartest people in this business, buy a few drinks and meals and hopefully learn something new. What I learned is that the opportunity to serve is far bigger than the opportunity to try and change peoples perceptions and set ways.

What I mean by that is that I got to see what Microsoft thinks is the future, I got to see my peers across all markets, I got to see the value delivery that is provided across all segments of the business – IT, services, development, infrastructure, sysadmin. Clue: it’s all the same. In every sector, there are 10% of people who are hungry, dying to have you come in and solve their problem. Then there are 90% of the others, which cause problems for you. Who in their right mind wastes their time on the 90% of the problem cases just because they demand attention instead on nurturing the 10% and making sure that the 10% are the future of your company?

Friday Massacre

OWN was a company built on partnerships, but partnerships are a double edged sword. They are great when they work, they are awful when they have to be broken. Unfortunately, today I had to go through my list and break quite a few of them. For years I have tried to be a good guy and give people the benefit of the doubt, to work with people when they are being difficult, to go that extra mile even when I know I am losing an account. No, it does not make sense financially, but I wanted to know that people didn’t hate me and my company even if we had disappointed them to the point that they virtually had to look elsewhere. I put up with a lot – deadbeats, assholes, gurus, power users, knowitalls… because my reputation was on the line whenever the company reputation was on the line.

But at this point, in 2008, as I am about to go on a leave, this company is about a lot more than me. This company is about the people that work with it, some around the clock, to make sure we and our partners can take the clients businesses to the next level. I have to, ethically, balance the equation of pleasing the partners and creating an environment that is not stress-oriented and driven by the whims of difficult people.

The primary question is – is this fair to the customer, is it fair to the partner, is it fair to OWN employees and is it fair at all?

In 2007, we solved the issue of unreliable SMB email with LiveArchive, nothing else on the market does quite the same thing with so little effort. In 2008, we aim to arm our partners up with the tools and skills they need to flourish. We look towards creating a scalable two-factor authentication offering that can be acquired and managed on demand, from one employee to thousands. We look to help the community of professionals around OWN so we can help serve more people where they are. We look to give advantages to the partners in the countries that have traditionally been overlooked.

So is it fair? Is it fair that the small group of people ruin everyone’s support experience because they crank out tickets instead of reading the documentation? Is it fair that partners cannot behave ethically, and cause us to restrict and limit the functionality of the product that could help those that need those features the most? Is it fair that partners can behave like dickheads and ruin the day of the individual that is trying to help them, so that the next person doesn’t get the spectacular support they deserve? Is it fair that my partners don’t get the kind of attention they deserve because it is being eaten up by people who are in trouble because they didn’t do their job and tried to pin it on us? Is it fair that we are spending time, money, resources and effort on dead ends instead of being open and welcoming and actually building instead of trying to find ways around stuff?

No, it’s not fair and it’s not fair to anyone involved which makes today a particularly tough day. It is hard to say goodbye to people that would rather stay and pain it through, even if we both know they would be happier elsewhere. So we’ve opened the door.

Not all business calls are easy, not all business transactions are fair. Thats life, thats entreprenurial spirit, that is the reality of any organization that looks to do better things for more people. If we have done that, and if I have to sacrifice some short term happiness to make sure we are posed to do that in the future, I will sleep very easy at night indeed.

I’d rather feed the hungry and empower the ambitious than beat myself down trying to change the minds of those marching towards their doom. In fact, that is our mission statement.

So today, I got rid of 20 service providers we used to work with, because we were no longer working together, we were working against one another. If you recall, this was the negative sentiment towards Microsoft that I took to Redmond as well. Truth is, these 20 partners accounted for majority of the support nightmares and demotivating events for my staff, and I would like to publicly thank Mark Crall from TechCare Team who took the time to help me come to this decision back in November when I first turned to him for advice, and for my homies in Karl Palachuk, Erick Simpson and Dave Sobel who always have my back and beat me up when I’m going in the wrong direction. Thank you guys.

On a brighter side, if you were looking for an asshole duel, today is a great day.

P.S. Life is too f’n short and Chris had it right when he talked about ego’s – some people really make themselves out to be 90% of the problem, even if they only represent 0.0001% of the solution. No great business gets built on trying to please that. Despite what opinion some of you may have of me, businesswise, I think we’d be a lot better off if I hired an evil sidekick that was just a complete ass. I’ve been too damn nice to far too many people and I apologize to my staff, my partners and our collective client base for having misprioritized our attention. I am trying to fix it.

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