ERP040 - Mergers and Acquisitions w/ Chris Day

Chris Day, CEO of Top Down Ventures

Chris Day, CEO of Top Down Ventures

On the podcast, today is Chris Day CEO of Top Down Ventures.

Chris is a well recognized member of the MSP channel, as the founder of IT Glue. IT Glue's remarkable growth curve and industry attention are unlike anything we've seen in the market. He recently exited IT Glue after selling to Kaseya. Now he's working with SaaS application entrepreneurs to provide capital and scaling strategies for their businesses.

In our discussion we catch up with Chris on the recent M&A activity of Glue and Fully Managed, the projects currently on deck at Top Down, and we discuss the current M&A madness in the MSP channel.

The products being managed by Top Down we mentioned


Backup Radar

Warranty Master

ERP037 - Cloudberry Backup w/ Doug Hazelman

Doug Hazelman - VP Technical Marketing

Doug Hazelman - VP Technical Marketing

Today's podcast is brought to you by Cloudberry. Your #1 cross-platform cloud backup platform. I chatting with Doug Hazelman (@VMDoug), VP of technical marketing with Cloudberry.

Backups are an important offering for any IT service provider. Cloudberry is focused on supporting MSPs build a flexible backup offering that protects servers and workstations, as well as cloud app data like Office 365 and G suite.

Cloudberry allows a free trial of their software, so why not sign up and give it a spin?

Doug hosts an MSP focused podcast called MSP Voice that you should subscribe to.


Todd: On the podcast today, I have Doug Hazelman, vp of technical marketing with cloudberry. Welcome Doug.

Doug: Thanks todd. Glad to be here.

Todd: So we're going to be talking about backup an extremely important topic for any it service provider as far as the things that you absolutely should be doing. Virus Protection and backup rank pretty much one and two are the things that that should be important as it service providers. So this is an important topic. You're with cloudberry and it's a cloud backup software born in the cloud type approach. If you want, give us a rundown on what excites you about cloudberry as a product offering for msps and it service providers.

Doug: Sure, so I've been in the backup is for awhile, but you know, one of the things I love about cloudberry is first they're focused on the it service provider, managed service provider market, so our managed backup service is targeted towards that and then I think what really sets us apart in his unique differentiator is the fact that we don't provide the cloud storage. The managed service provider provides the cloud storage and we support over 30 different cloud storage providers so you can go all in on aws s three if you want to or maybe azure or you can even mix and match and what that allows you to do is create offerings for your customers. Maybe they want the platinum level and they have a certain budget. Or is this someone who just needs some basic stuff and it doesn't have a lot of money. Maybe choose a different cloud storage provider that's a little bit easier on their budgets, so it really gives a lot of choice to the managed service providers and it prevents any kind of cloud lock in because even though you might choose aws to beginning, you can always move that to azure or google or Wasabi or backblaze, you know, doubt down the road. So you're not locked into any one particular platform.

Todd: Right. So the front end is yours to manage and even brand as well. And the back end is kind of irrelevant as long as the data's safe and backed up, it allows you a bit more flexibility to work with your own stack without that really affecting the day to day operations of the backup for the, for the client, right?

Doug: Yes, exactly.

Todd: And the system does image based backup as well as file based backup. Is there a distinction in the product or is that just a part of the, configuration?

Doug: It's, it's really just a part of the configuration. So whether you want to do image or file, um, is kind of up to you and what your customer's needs are. Um, you know, the Nice thing about image is it gives you quick recovery of the complete, you know, server or workstation, but you know, a lot of times if you're on limited bandwidth, file level backup, you know, you're, you're protecting the data that might be just good enough for, for what that customer needs because sometimes image level can take a while to upload to the cloud versus file level, which is usually pretty quick.

Todd: Right. And do you find people who have a different strategy for the server infrastructure versus managing maybe backup for an endpoint and can you mix and match that as well?

Doug: Oh definitely. So what we see a lot is, especially for critical servers as the image level backup, just because recovery can be so much quicker. And then for desktops, a lot of times it's just kind of file level backup or backup, the profile directory, those types of things where the, where the data is. And then the other thing from a recovery perspective is, you know, we talk a lot about the cloud and backup to the cloud, but you can also backup locally. So, you know, when I talk about that image level backup and recovery, maybe you do image level backup locally, but then file level backup to the cloud. So it's completely configurable in terms of however you want to do that. Again, based on needs, budget, bandwidth, all those types of things.

Todd: And the, I see a trend in the industry with kind of the alignment of some of the other vendors around a single stack. You guys are off obviously feature based in the fact that you are a kind of roll your own and design your own backup strategy as is. You're either cloudberry sense of this or your own personal situation or a feeling on having an appliance or not having an appliance given your history of veeam. I think there might be, uh, maybe some, uh, some influence in that. But I'd love your thoughts on appliance or no appliance. And what does that matter?

Doug: So it goes back to what I said about vendor lock in. You know, as soon as you have an appliance, you're locked into that vendor and to that appliance. And if you want to change, then how do you get that data that's on that appliance or in that proprietary cloud out and into the new system that you want to use. But actually if you've got regulations where you need to keep backups and those types of things, it kind of goes back to that whole vendor lock in. So those are. Those are kinds of things you want to be kind of concerned about. The other is [inaudible]. Not all companies are this way, but a lot of times is the upfront cost with the appliance because you're getting hardware now, some offer rental models and those types of things. But in an office of 10 people, do you really need a $20,000 sitting in their office to kind of handle the backup needs? Or is it fine just to have the backup locally installed on, on the pcs and servers and sending it to the cloud and to a NAS that you have local that you only spent a couple hundred bucks a month.

Todd: Right, So I guess to extend on that, if you don't have a local appliance to backup to, it can slow the recovery. What are the options for folks if they're gonna use cloudberry for that. Being able to do quick recovery from a local image rather than have to stream that image from the Internet, which could obviously take a few hours.

Doug: Yeah, there's actually a couple different scenarios that are. So if you're storing your image backups locally, then if you're a virtualized you can take that image and spin it up as a vm restored as a virtual machine and your, your, your backup and running that way. If you have hardware that's a desktop or laptop, you can do bare metal recovery onto new hardware. You know, and again you're, you're doing it locally so you don't have to like copy it all down from the Internet. And when we talk about cloud specifically, if you're looking at Amazon or Azure, we also have the option of recovering that image as a cloud based virtual machine. So you can recover it. You're saving it to s three. You can recover it as an [inaudible] virtual machine in Amazon or as an Azure vm and in Azure, so, and we're looking to add additional platforms to that, but that way in the event of a disaster where male, maybe the entire offices is no longer there, but you know, you still need to have people access the servers and those types of things. You can spin it up in the cloud and have people access to it in the cloud versus having to have anything locally in order to recover it too.

Todd: And is that something that's built into the software that you can ask for that image to be pushed up into the EC2 image and run from your platform and you have to do that separate from cloudberry?

Doug: Uh, no. So from a Cloudberry perspective, if you're sending your image level backup to either Amazon, S3 or Azure, then you get the option to recover that image as a vm in either of those platforms. So that was nothing. There's nothing else special that you need to do.

Todd: Cool. All right. And the other half that I found interesting about the platform as well as you guys also offer cloud application backup, so Office 365 and g suite and this is something that is becoming a lot more important a lot. A lot of people don't think that this is something that they would require back in the day of or like, well it runs in the cloud, it's managed. Someone else pays to look after this. It can be a pretty awful mistake once people realize that is not a and inherent protection for those cloud based systems. So maybe just tell us a bit more about the cloud backup functions of cloudberry.

Doug: Sure. You know, I always like to say it's your data. You need to protect it just because you're running office 365 or G-suite, they may have a backup of your email, but it may only be for the last two weeks. You know, they don't have any kind of retention unless you want to pay extra for it. The fact is it's still your data or your customers stayed at the thing. You'd be able to access it if they need to. So I always recommend even if you are running in the cloud, backup your data and you know, with our, our Office 365 and G-suite protection, one of the cool things I think is you can backup cloud to cloud. So if you're, you know, Office365, you can back up to Amazon s three if your G-suite you can backup to azure or Amazon or any other cloud. So that way you know the data's protected on a different platform. You need to recover, you can still do that.

Todd: So you guys really play the glue in the middle to shuffle stuff around in whatever cloud you choose and clouds you need. Right?

Doug: Correct. We live in a multi-cloud world, so yeah.

Todd: And that's truly the case now. I mean you often see people discussing it in forums and things like that. Asking your, you guys on Azure or Amazon and people seem to be sort of a, some things here, some things over there. So being able to be portable between those environments as you figured out your footing would be important for sure.

Doug: Yeah definitely.

Todd: And from a branding perspective, really nice addition that you guys have is that you can white label this so that it doesn't look like the vendor is using a particular piece of software in the background. Not that that matters maybe, but you know, some people really like having that brand identity and that this is our ABC, a it services backup software. So that's a nice play. Have you found people really gravitate towards that?

Speaker 1: Definitely. And the one area you know and where I see it's really valuable to have that capability is if a program prompt pops up and it says cloudberry, what's the customer going to do? Are they going to call their IT service provider or are they going to contact cloudberry? You want them to see your name if you're managing their it. And that's what this allows. So something pops up, it says ABC it, okay, I know to call my abc it guy, you know, whatever it makes it look like. Yes, this is an offering that we have. It's our brand that customers typically don't necessarily care about the back end technology. They just want to know that they're protected and it's the best way to do that.

Todd: That's a good point. The other one I thought of as you were, you were talking about that would be hopefully they're becoming security aware and if they see some prompt from a piece of software they don't recognize, maybe they would question that hopefully.

Doug: Exactly.

Todd: So in some circumstances, but if it is ABC it backup, then they're more comfortable with that piece of software running if they're somewhat security sensitive. Right?

Doug: Exactly.

Todd: Yeah. What about the traditional competition that backup faces in maybe the client where you've got a weekend warrior it guy and he you, you proposed some backup pricing for them and he does some quick Google research and says, wow, this is really expensive compared to la, la, la, whatever. Backup service. This is something that I've seen historically in the past where people don't really understand the distinction between backup services and why they're different.

Doug: So most people would probably not say that cloudberry is too expensive if you actually look at the pricing so you know, so that that's kind of one aspect that we do have going for us. But you know, people are going to shop around and they're going to look at pricing. A lot of people are very price conscious and price sensitive and again, because we're not offering the cloud, we don't have a data center, we're restoring your data. It allows us to offer very competitive pricing for the software component and then you can go out and shop around for the cloud storage and for the cloud services. So that takes kind of the pricing pressure out of it in terms of, of you know, cloudberry. But what you do see is they will shop around and, and you'll, you know, like you said, you brought up appliances and someone's, oh well give me a free appliance and then it's only so much per month. That may be the case, but then you know, what's your maintenance, what's your refresh cycle on hardware and those types of things. So things that people don't necessarily always think about it, they just look at price there. There's a lot more to it than just price.

Todd: Yeah. And I think the, the options of how you're backing up things are important. One of the distinctions that I found people didn't really understand in those scenarios where they would, they would do some research and try to compete with some off the shelf software is most of those systems or file based and that's okay if you just need to recover the files, but if you lose an entire server or a workstation, there's still the effort of recovering that machine versus just being able to restore from an image. So it's important that people educate their customers on why the backups are different and where that situation may apply. Uh, and again, advantage for you guys that you can kind of mix and match and whatever those scenarios are for sure. The other spots or you do have some PSA integration. So you guys plug into connectwise and autotask, can you expand a bit on, on what the features are that, that are allowed for by having that PSA integration directly?

Doug: Well, one of the nice things is from a ticketing perspective, you know, if it's, if it's with your psa, then it can obviously we can tie into the ticketing system and, and bring those up. The other is, you know, from a billing perspective, we could bring in that usage info from, from what they're using on cloudberry, hold that into their PSA if they're, if they're using it for billing and we even bring in the amount of cloud storage they're using. So you can set the price on cloud storage that you charge the customer. Okay. They're using, you know, this is how many gigabytes or terabytes that they're using a cloud storage, so this is going to be their price this month and those types of things. So really streamlines that process. And then besides psa we also have our mm integration with connectwise automate and we have a couple of others that we have integration that aren't necessarily on our website, but they're integrated from the perspective of that RMM vendor. So like Ninjas and example, and really deep integration with Ninja. But if you purchase from Ninja add cloudberry to it, then you get that deep integration.

Todd: And you guys have really easy deployment because you're just software and you can kind of just pop that onto whatever managed assets the, the, the vendor would need, right?

Doug: Yes.

Todd: Okay. And what about a roadmap? What are some features that cloudberry have in the archives you guys are looking to spin out?

Doug: We're always working on something and a couple of things. We're looking at expanding some of the support we have for our cloud storage vendors to offer things that, you know, currently we might only offer on Amazon or Azure. So like synthetic backup is one of those items where rather than having to do a weekly full backup, you can just keep doing an incremental and then have the synthetic backup buildup in the cloud. So that's something we offer for Amazon and Azure. We're rolling it out some other platforms as well. Also the recovery verification, I'm looking at doing that automated so that once a backup is complete, let's run through a restore scenario and verify that yes, this is a good backup. You'll be able to restore from it if you need to. So that's another thing that's coming down the road on the backup side. Very cool. And what about the vendors that you guys deal with, the cloud vendors, have you developed relationships with them or do you sort of Wade into that at all? Like red? Do you leave that more agnostic for the providers

Doug: No, we have relationships with all the vendors for most of the vendors that we support. So we have a great relationship with Amazon. Great relationship with Microsoft and Azure. There was a webinar today with Wasabi, a joint webinar that we're doing with them. We've done joint stuff with backblaze. We've done a lot of work with Ninja, so we do have a very healthy partnership ecosystem and managing those partnerships moving forward.

Todd: Excellent. And if people are using some form of backup or they're looking for alternatives, what are your suggestions for them and learning more about cloudberry? Well, first off is we offer free trials. So if you want to get in, just take a look at our managed backup service go to Go to manage backup, um, and sign up for a free trial. And once you get access to the free trial, we verify that you are a managed service provider first before we give you access I, but once you have access to it, we actually throw in some free storage. We are testing, so I just a couple of gigs of Amazon S3 storage. So you get that for free so you can test it within also that unlocks access to the pricing information. So we don't put our for our managed backup service, this targeted MSPs, we don't publish, we don't publicly put the pricing on the Internet just because we don't want our MSP customers to see the pricing, you know, they're like, oh, you're only paying this much for that, for the backup. Why are you charging me more, but once you are signed up for the trial, you can click the buy button and it brings up the menu of pricing. You can put in numbers, you can see we have very aggressive volume discounts so you know that first number you see is that just the list price, but you know you up the quantity, the 30, 50 ,100 and you'll see the discount kick in and the price drop and really significantly so that's one of the best ways to get started and take a look at it is just do a trial

Todd: And you go outside of the MSP market, you do offer enterprise backup as well, so if someone is in host it and they would like to look at this and wanting to experiment with some, some backend vendors like S3 and azure and things like that. There is options for the direct to enterprises as well, right?

Doug: Yeah. We again are managed backup. We target for managed service providers, but if there is in house it they can take a look at that as well. We do have some customers that aren't managed service provider using our managed backup service, but if you're at home and just a home user and a prosumer and you like this idea of being able to backup to the cloud, but you don't need this whole management interface. We have what I call our standalone backup, which is cloud, very backup and you can download, install that. The pricing on that is published. There's a free version and that can help you get started. You just at home, you've got a couple of computers that you went back up to the cloud. Cloud backup is the way to go.

Todd: Alright, Doug will appreciate your time here and uh, informing us on cloudberry. If people would like to find out more about the product or cloudberry itself, any social channels or other mediums they should look for you and follow you on.

Doug: Yeah, so for cloudberry, it's cloudberry lab. Which is on twitter and in other areas. So and then is the website. For me personally, I am @VMDoug across most of the socials, so you'll find me there on twitter, instagram, and other areas including reddit and then finally, one other thing that we do have is as a kind of a resource for the community is we do a podcast. I do a podcast called MSP voice and the goal of MSP Voice is it's not meant to be a podcast about cloudberry, but it's meant to be a podcast for MSPS, hearing from other MSP, so each week I interview a different managed service provider or someone in the industry and we don't talk about cloud or we talk about what's going on in the industry or know how they grew their business and any tips and tricks they have for other msps.

Todd: Yeah, it's a good one. I've listened to MSP voice. It's a. it's a fun podcast, so definitely check that out. All right, well we'll wrap up there and thanks for your time dot all.

Doug: Alright, thank you. Todd.

ERP035 - Moving from TnM to MSP


Today on the podcast, my guest is Nigel Moore, Founder of The Tech Tribe. Nigel built and sold a successful MSP in Sydney. Now he is leading a tribe of MSP owners looking to grow their MSP practice. Nigel and I talk about the evolution of the IT service company to an MSP. The mistakes people make and what makes it difficult. We also explore the idea of if you should do TnM & MSP or just go pure MSP. Nigel is a fantastic guy, and is truly passionate about the industry.

Resources mentioned

Managed Services in a Month - by Karl Palachuk
The Tech Tribe discount link here. Use this link and get 40% off your first month and the tech tribe will donate mosquito nets to communities in Africa!


Having trouble getting your techs to enter their time? I have a short training course to help MSP techs manage their time and get their time in the PSA.


ERP033 - Advanced Biometric Security w/ Ian Paterson

Ian Paterson CEO of Plurilock

Ian Paterson CEO of Plurilock

Today on Evolved Radio we're talking everyone's favorite IT topic lately. Security!

I'm joined by Ian Paterson CEO of Plurilock. His company has a really innovative approach to security. It's an advanced form of user identification that can tell who you are by how you type and move the mouse. We talk about why users hate passwords, security requirements for regulated industries, and much more.

To see a short video about Plurilock, you can check it out here.

ERP031 - vCIO Process w/ Alex Markov

Alex Markov CEO of Strategy Overview

Alex Markov CEO of Strategy Overview

On the podcast today, I'm chatting with Alex Markov, President of Red Key Solutions and CEO of Strategy Overview.

Red Key is a mature and successful MSP in the New York area. Alex and his team work hard to deliver business value to their clients. One of the best way for MSPs to do that is implementing a QBR/TBR. Alex recognized the value in the system they had built and has created a SaaS product called Strategy Overview to help others deliver effective technology planning to their clients.


Todd: 00:00 Joining me on the podcast today is Alex Markov , president of red key solutions and CEO of strategy overview. Welcome Alex.

Alex: 00:07 Hey Todd. Good to be with you.

Todd: 00:09 Today. We're going to be talking a bit about a more MSP process and specifically we're going to be talking a lot about the position of the cio or the virtual cio and the role that that plays in an MSP as well as a general it service providers. Alex, you're a particular pro at this area of the business and know that this would be an interesting discussion. This is an area that is developing pretty rapidly for a lot of MSPs as they look to provide more business value rather than just the straight up technical value and maybe just to get us started, if you could tell us a bit about your msp and your background and how a strategy overview came to be.

Alex: 00:49 Yeah, sure. So I started my career or my kind of journey as an it person. Back in 1992. My Dad got me a computer and I got on compuserve and then got on aol after that and have done nothing else except consult and work with businesses and people on setting up technology. So I really go back to the beginning of the functional Internet in 2002. I started a company in college. I'm actually did a real entity and started consulting for businesses and then eventually we switched to managed services. I merged with a partner here, those local and area, and we started Red Key Solutions and today we support over 50 different companies. We support the New York City Tri state market and we use connectwise, Labtech, it glue, bright gauge, know the full msp stack and have really invested a lot of time perfecting our vcio piece of the business and how to do qprs.

Todd: 01:51 Excellent. You launched into starting a product to actually help you out with that Vcio product process. Do you want to touch on that briefly?

Alex: 02:00 Yeah, so we, we used to have a great process that we use spreadsheets for, um, because I have to be really easy to use and we were never able to find anything in the market that was, was it is easy to use as our spreadsheets, so we had an opportunity where my brother is an enterprise quality developer and he said that he can absolutely do this and we started a different company called strategy overview, um, which basically took our process on how to do a risk analysis for clients and um, and converted it into an app that's now used by over 260 msps today on every continent.

Todd: 02:37 Awesome. So let's step back a little bit here for the people that maybe you're not this deep into the it space. A, let's help define what is a Vcio, and specifically let's talk about Vcio and the overlap between what other roles this could be defined in or maybe how they differentiate. There's the, there's the technical account manager and there's also the traditional account manager or salesperson. For Yourself, how would you define what is the vcio role that, uh, have you found success with in, in your organization?

Alex: 03:13 Yeah, so we really started the journey many, many years ago where we are trying to figure out a way how do we communicate with clients in a structured strategic way. So when we, when we all started as MSPS, we as owners is the main kind of the principles and the companies are the main people that communicate with clients, explain to them what they need to get, you know, what the risks that we see. And then as it evolves, we need to make it a formal position. Right? So we tried a number of models. We tried having an account manager, um, we tried even calling it a technical account manager. It never really worked for us, um, because they, the person that really communicates to clients really needs to be almost like a cio as the same way as we as principals. And we started MSPS, we communicate to clients as a cio would. Um, so we, we heard the term in the industry, it's a common term virtual cio and it really is a great term to define what a role does that has that type of communication with clients and that's what we call it. Again, we've tried other ways and I'm sure there are other MSPs which get the account manager model to work and for whatever reason in our MSP, our market, the way that we do it, we never were able to get that to stick.

Todd: 04:33 Yeah, I find it's, it's almost a confluence of a few different issues where it's the type of person that you have available for the role. It's the needs of the client base that you have in particular. And also what maturity level you're at in your, uh, your, your journey as an MSP. Uh, the, find the, there's a lot of components you have to get right beforehand. There's a maturity level that has to be in place before this really becomes a viable option for your business. Is that something that you see as a hindrance to people getting started on the VCIO process as well?

Alex: 05:06 Yeah, definitely. I mean, there's definitely a prerequisite. You need a PSA, connect wise auto task or any of those you need tools like an RMM, you need to get your service down, right? Um, you need to just have ideas and quoting and that stuff organized. So those are definitely prerequisites. Um, and then you definitely need to find the right person and the right team that could do that. It can't be a salesperson. We've learned that it's, it's not a sales role even though they are involved in sales, but the sales just fall out of the role. It has to be somebody that really could have a, a coherent logical conversation. Um, and in our MSP as well, we still keep principles involved in the process as well. So it's, you know, I may not go to every single meeting with clients, but especially the big clients, I'm there and I'm helping guide them in the overall strategy.

Alex: 05:57 Clients get both of the vcio and then a principal that's on the vcio team.

Todd: 06:02 And what would you say are the particulars? Like if someone is looking for that person either outside of their company or preferably inside their company, what are the qualities that you would look for in someone that you feel will be successful in that role?

Alex: 06:16 So they definitely need to be personable but not salesy, personable, just like a relatable person. They have to be sharp and be able to learn, understand technology. They have to be technically minded because the cio needs to really understand technology if they don't understand, you know, even like basics of like dns and domains and active directory and all these other things, they, it'll be difficult for them to make strategic decisions. So they definitely have to be technically minded in our company. We are. People came from the project services world, so they ran projects.

Alex: 06:51 Um, so that gave him the ability to understand budgets, understand financials, understand, you know, different companies have different needs and different budgets. And so there's definitely, it's not like a scientific black and white thing. Um, they definitely need to be flexible and be able to communicate that with clients.

Todd: 07:13 Yeah. It's an interesting mix of, um, like you said, they have to be technical to have that authority and understand the sort of, the, the issues at work and would a successful technology implementation looks like they need a bit of sales to be able to impart the value to the organization and to the client that they're speaking with, but you know, any one of these that is out of concert or, or too much on one end of the spectrum. So I think that's why it's so difficult to replicate this outside of the principle. The principle of the organization will usually know enough about the business has had to do sales in order to build their business and has that, that relationship and that authority with the client. Um, uh, do you feel that that's the Vcio role should stick with the principal before it's replicated outside of that office? Is that maybe the best approach to take there?

Alex: 08:05 Yeah. You know, what I think now that thinking about it, I think in the way that we are able to succeed in it so much as we took project people that were also comfortable speaking to c level executives and speaking financials and budgets and then they basically shadowed me for about two years. Um, and then over time, smaller clients, they were able to run themselves, but they had to invest a lot in business logic and overarching, you know, she's really explain a lot about how businesses work was important to a business. Explain concepts of what a balance sheet is, you know, cap ex and op ex explain things how P and L business would look at, um, financially burden rates, just like business fundamentals where project management understand technology, but then you infuse this business knowledge into them. And that's how I truly VCIO was created.

Todd: 08:59 I think it's really fascinating to understand who is the right person and what is the process that makes this successful. Um, and every time I've, I've sort of gone through this process and work with folks to develop their vcio practice or to help develop a Vcio and their skill set. There's always one component that that is that Aha moment where they really start to get this and you hit on a couple there. The first place I usually start, um, I'd be interested in kind of your feedback on this as well as uh, asking the person, the client if they actually have an it budget or if it's just reactionary spending. And it's surprising the number of times a client that is doing multimillion dollar business and develop, doing very well, but they have no predictive spending on there. It, they've never even thought about it. And that first step to sit down with them and say, okay, here's a draft budget. Here's all the things that I have, I have visibility to. And I've wrote this down on our spreadsheet and this is kind of what I predict as your annual spend. And you just see their eyes light up and they're like, oh my God, this is amazing. Like, we've never even thought to do this. It, it's as simple as that. And then it gets way more complex down the line. What are some of the other components of the process that you feel are really important?

Alex: 10:13 Um, so first and foremost, consistency. It can't just be something that you do once in awhile and again, reactionary. You have to build a process around it. So in our MSP, we've standardized scheduling with calendly, but there's a number of solutions you can use and we use connectwise to automatically send a ticket to every client every quarter to give them an opportunity to schedule a meeting. We call it a technology strategy meeting and then essentially they can schedule that meeting. It can pick to either for us to go to their office and to come to our office or do a Goto meeting. And that consistency behind it creates rhythm and we live in, in the MSP world. We constantly, you know, we know eos and all these other types of systems. We just have to bring that same logic to this process. Um, and just keep consistency with it and then have a platform. And a process, so it doesn't matter what platform you choose, you know, we use our platform because we really like it. Um, strategy overview and, but it doesn't matter what pro platform or process or whether you're still using spreadsheets, just some kind of process that's consistent across all your clients know,

Todd: 11:22 You must have run into some resistance as well. A certain clients that maybe don't see the value in this meeting and they're resistant to either I'm starting the meeting to begin with or keeping the pace or the consistency with the meeting. Um, any, any input from you on that client that says, I don't know. I don't understand what we're trying to do here. I don't think this is valuable, so I'd, I'd prefer not to do it. Is that something that you, you try to change their mind on or is it a, you just adapt to what the client says that they need? What's your feeling on that?

Alex: 11:54 Yeah, so I, I believe there's definitely a lot of thought leadership in the industry about you need to have all your clients consistent and have them all respect to strategy and want to focus on growth and everything like that, but when we found in our market and just an are where we are as an MSP, that there's still some clients that don't really care about growth and we asked them that question like, do you, are you focusing on growth? And a lot of times they'll say no, they just enjoy their current spot where they are. They know that growing pains is difficult and painful. Right? And it's difficult to grow. Sometimes you have to spend a lot of money to grow and some clients who are just comfortable maintaining their operation. So and we still, I would say 20 percent of our business is clients like that.

Alex: 12:39 We still have clients, if they're local, if they're friends strategic for a number of reasons, referral partners will stay still. Take them and for those clients will at least tell them about all the different strategy elements. They should pay attention to elements with their stack. Even if they don't meet with us, we'll send them a report from our software and just basically outline all the different things that they need to pay attention to and if it's like a legitimate risk, we'll mark it as a risk and then that's a risk for them and for us. So that gives us a little bit of extra, um, uh, kind of liability protection because then we've identified the risk for them and then they don't, they don't have to wonder and then if something does crash, we can just reference the email that we sent saying, look, this was the risk we identified. So at the very least, even if they don't care about strategy, we can at least limit our own liability by identifying risks for them.

Todd: 13:32 Right. So you're still doing the process, their involvement is, is, is to some degree up to them, especially dependent on the risk. Yeah, I liked that approach. Um, you know, I do a lot of work in BrightGauge and I liked the idea of setting up the monthly reporting, which I would say is we're one of the first early stepping stones to a Vcio processes, at least monthly reporting on service, uh, and the approach that I take in this I think is similar in that, um, you want to at least train the person how to read a report so that you can send it to them in an automated fashion later. So if you get them on a web session or you'd go to their office and visit with them and on the first couple of times they see this report and review it with them so they understand what they're looking at. Then down the road if they want to self serve and it just comes to them automatically, that's a less of a risk than automatically just sending them this report that they don't see any value in. So I think training them in, in the value of what they're seeing through these, uh, the, the tools and the reporting I think is really critical as well. Uh, like I said, just that first stepping stone to getting started.

Alex: 14:36 Yeah, and the way we handle that actually is so in the onboarding with every client, we add them to our app and then to close the onboarding, we generate their first report and we'll bring it to them as kind of a regroup post onboarding and most clients they'll want to meet with us at least once after that to find out even if they don't care about growth and strategy and all this stuff, they still care for their quickbooks to work. They still care for their computers to work on the Internet to work. So that's our opportunity to sit down with them and say, look, if you did want to grow, if you did want to look at all these different elements, here's what you should pay attention to, but at the structural foundational level, let's make sure that your basis covered right, because if their wireless is not set up properly, if their network is not set up properly, all of that creates issues and that's issues for us and issues for them. No one wants issues. It's a waste of everyone's time.

Todd: 15:27 So in your process, in the vcio process, how much do you feel kind of a percentage split of this? Um, a lot of the industry talks about them being technology business reviews rather than the quarterly business reviews and there's some discussion about how technical they should be versus business minded and I think there's, there's a need for both, what do you see within the clients as far as their attachment or their need for these meetings to be technical versus business focused.

Alex: 15:56 So from a business focus perspective, we just have an open conversation with the client, find out where they want to go, find out are they looking to grow and they're looking to expand and understand what they're currently doing in their business from a sales perspective, distribution, um, if they're servicing their accounts, how they're dealing with just having an open conversation about that. But then we do look at all of the technology behind it that affects that. So as we understand how they're running their business, we'll explain to them, for example, if we know that a construction company, companies doing $10,000,000 a year in revenue and they, they say they want to go to 50, right? But they're still on quickbooks enterprise, that's not going to work. We know they're going to start hitting growing pains. So at that point we start talking about the technical piece of it, that they should be looking at a larger Erp and they should be looking to streamline their bidding, their takeoff process, all these different things. Same thing for healthcare provider. Um, we, we look at all those elements, so definitely understanding where they've going into business, but then definitely relating to the actual technology and things that we do. Um, and, and then marrying it all together.

Todd: 17:04 Yeah. So it goes the technical components of the Prereq's to leveraging more business solutions. I view this sort of similar to the MSP business model before you're doing a vcio processes. You mentioned you want to make service a really rock solid because if service sucks, then your client is not going to listen to you about the other needs. You know, you're, you're standing here trying, trying to sell me something, uh, and the, uh, in the meantime, you can't get this problem fixed. That's been an open ticket for two weeks. So I feel like the, those, those, uh, stepping stones are important to get right. Work on your service, make sure that stable, then you can move into more advanced measures. Same thing with how you're managing that Vcio, processes a standardized stack, eliminate sort of the technical noise within the business and then start to look for other solutions or other issues to solve within the business. Further up the stack, right?

Alex: 18:00 Yeah, definitely. And I think service can actually be broken down into two categories, services, the managed services piece, which is everything, you know, our helpdesk and proactive monitoring and um, you know, all the different antivirus, all that other stuff. Right? And then there's the project piece and the project piece is just as critical as a service piece because you need to be able to quote the projects either if you're doing fixed fee, they have to be relatively accurate, right? If you're doing block hours, anything like that, they have to again be relatively accurate and it has to be timely. Um, that's another thing we found that if you get into a process where you're quoting things and you don't have a good structure behind it, a good scope of work process, I'm a good template in your quoting system, then it creates an issue where if it takes two weeks to get people quote, then they lose interest. Right. And then the actual project delivery itself, if that goes rocky, then it kind of destabilizes the whole process. So definitely MSPS as part of the making the process successful should focus on their service piece and making that consistent and then making sure that project quoting pieces consistent and you lay the VCIO on top of that. And then it's just value generation for everyone involved. The client, the MSP is just a beautiful thing.

Todd: 19:12 Yeah, that's really good advice. I often view the VCIO process, um, from a revenue generation standpoint, uh, as a, uh, project accelerator because how we're better can you get a funnel of projects than meeting with your clients on a quarterly basis to find out what their next need is and that's how it helps you figure out how that can actually lay out in sequence. So in next three months we want to do this and the next six months we want to do that and a year from now we're going to maybe focus on these things. If nothing else changes, then you can kind of work on that on a, on an annual basis. And from a sales perspective, it always blew my mind when people would come back from a client and say, oh, they're cheap. They don't want to buy this. And you know, you would, you would have follow up conversations.

Todd: 19:59 And what you would tend to find out is that they're not really saying no. They're more saying not now. Uh, and I think if you don't have sort of a business minded focus on this and understand how the business works, if you're not catching them at the right time where they're in budgeting cycles and doing planning proactively with them, then they can't make room for those OPEX are for those CAPX expenses if you're not planning with them on a progressive basis. So rather than do you want to buy this right now, it's when can we fit this into the budgeting cycle to make sure that this works for the business that opens up huge channels on developing your project funnel.

Alex: 20:36 Oh definitely. So in our APP, what we do is we used to do this in excel is basically do a three year roadmap for your budget and pick the quarters and where things are gonna move and we're flexible with, right? As long as they're okay with the risk of something being, you know, potential risks and having some glitches were still flexible with the clients. But we look at everything on a three year cycle. So our clients know roughly what the budget upcoming is for next year. That's the other really important thing about being consistent with the process because if you fall behind and it's really easy to fall behind, you know everyone's busy, everyone's focusing on their businesses. If you fall behind, then you may not be kind of telling clients about what's coming up and a year will pass and then the server that should be server 2008 needs to be upgraded. Then you surprise them with a bill. No one wants to surprise. Right, but if you tell them ahead of time, nowadays what we do is we never really even quote anything unless the client virtually says that this price is okay off of our roadmap, which saves a tremendous of time, amount of time on sales engineering because sales engineering is also very, very expensive time and if you can do the VCIO process right, that dramatically reduces the amount of investment that msps make towards sales engineers.

Todd: 21:49 Yeah, that's a huge point. I couldn't agree more that I'm. One of the areas of major inefficiency in project quoting is a, people are using statements of work to go fishing and a sales engineer sitting down for four hours to architect a solution when you know, they've maybe got a 30 percent likelihood of buy in from the client, but you know, hey, can I get you a quote so we can talk about this. It's not a piece of sales material, it's a definition of work that is essentially already been verbally agreed to. So that's great to be able to split that process and be able to have that person have visibility on, okay, yeah, let's go ahead with this. Okay, now we can actually start architecting and develop a SOW for it.

Alex: 22:30 Correct. That's a huge hidden cost that a lot don't pay attention to is the amount of time they spend on sales, engineering. And then where do you put that cost? You know, we classify the cost of sales engineering under service. There's a weird way that, that, you know, motivates the team and drives a team efficiency and then you really can look at the burden rates on that and make better decisions. Um, but whatever you put in whatever bucket you put, even if you put it on just sales and that really inflates your sales cost. So again, now we very rarely will quote something and do a scope of work unless the client pre approves it off of the roadmap document that our app generates

Todd: 23:08 and the preapproval like that, the numbers there are probably just like approximate approximate numbers. So you know, variations of up to 20, 30 percent once

Alex: 23:19 now we tell them that this is, you know, this is not set in stone, this is just a like a roadmap, you know, and especially if we don't understand if we just signing on with the client, you know, yeah, we'll do a full blown assessment sometimes before we sign up with the client. But sometimes we don't still. Right. And we explained to them that we can't know, we can't predict the price. Exactly. And it's also we have to have a more serious conversation with the client about where they want to go. You know, if they want to do multi location, if they, if they want to expand, if they, you know, or if they're more interested in cap ex versus op ex, you know, all these different elements. Those are conversations that we need to have, but putting sales engineers to architect something without a understanding that the client's actually going to commit to it and buy it is, it is a huge waste of time and just a huge money hole of time.

Todd: 24:07 Yep. Couldn't agree more. Um, so let's, uh, maybe we'll try it a bit about the solution that you guys have developed with strategy overview. Do you want to give us a kind of, you're a short pitch on how this solves problems for the MSP owner?

Alex: 24:22 Yeah, definitely. I mean it's basically like a souped up spreadsheet where there's a template behind the spreadsheet which create standardized dropdowns and has a budgeting roadmap component. So it allows us to analyze the client risks. We give all people that sign up our template that we use at our MSP. It's over 115 points of items that we look at for every business. And then we also have vertical specific items, so we look at healthcare, financial services, construction, we have different elements that we pay attention to all those clients once we run through this process with them. And again, it's template based so people can use our template, build their own template, we have people using it that are not even Msps, I know you guys have been using it and then kind of playing around with it. I'm just, it's a way to standardize a consistent approach to doing things.

Alex: 25:13 Um, and then it has a three year budget and a roadmap per page that's generated off of all those items. And there's an executive summary section. It kicks out a beautiful pdf report. It's just a really easy to use software. And then on top of that we have a dashboard that forecasts the pipeline pre opportunity and then gives you a total view of health into your entire stack in like a visual format. We were doing it a little differently where we're an MSP and we know what people, you know, what msps like, and now we're trying to treat ourselves like we want to be treated. Um, so anyone can get a free account, they can run it on one client and play with it, just stay involved in the project, pay attention to it, and now whenever they're ready they can upgrade. We did the pricing where it's very affordable for any MSPS at any size and it really allows people to standardize. There's a whole stack really elevate themselves to a, a larger trusted advisor perspective, standardize the whole qbr process. Um, it limits their liabilities and MSP it super fast, super simple to use. So that's what we did. We built it for ourselves and you know, we're sharing with MSP community and we have over 260 msps using it and a number of top 100 guys and then a ton of MSPS and every community huge Robin Robbins, a HTG group. So know we're spreading through word of mouth right now and everyone should check it out.

Todd: 26:41 As you mentioned, I've been using for the onboarding process, so I've taken the template and dumped all of the, well some of the MSP best practices that I like to see in, in, in the client that I'm onboarding and then use it to stack rank the, the uh, initiatives that could be undertaken to improve the, the development of, of the company processes or approach or metrics that they should be viewing for their business. So it's pretty flexible that way. I do like the, the template base and it helps eliminate, I think one of the push backs to doing a qbr process to begin with is writing these reports is really time consuming and I think that's a big piece that limits people from doing it on a wider basis to more clients. And I think having a tool like this to make it a bit more repeatable and just you pull up that template, run through a bunch of clicks once you. You've got the first one done. The iterations after the factor a ton simpler. So it really helps facilitate those meetings and eliminate a lot of the manual labor of having to create these reports and get something from the to review with the clients once you actually show up.

Alex: 27:52 Yeah, and besides the fact that we saving a fast amount of time on sales and engineering resources not being wasted, just the time to prepare the reports. That's another really important thing that you know, these reports are not prepared by your level one engineers, right? They're prepared by either you or your project engineers, you level threes. So we've cut our preparation time down from two to three hours down to about 15 minutes per client per quarter from some of our most expensive resources. And that's tremendous savings, right? Each be cio and each critical resource can support a lot more because with the software it allows you to pre-populate every answer through a template, you could always overwrite anything at any moment, but it allows you to pick from a standard list of common questions and we just keep refining and adding to that. So most of it is clicks and it just makes it so much faster. So, and it's structured like excel, so it's really easy to use as well.

Todd: 28:51 Yup. Awesome. Uh, well, uh, we'll look towards a closing up here. Um, if people want to follow you, uh, personally or reach out to you to find out more, can you tell them where they should reach out to you and, and to, to look at strategy overview if that's their interest.

Alex: 29:10 Yeah. You can connect with me on linkedin. My name is Alex Markov on the strategy overview site. There's a little chat widget in the bottom right corner. You can just go on there and chat and say hi. Go get a free account, test it out, play with it. And um, you don't get to keep building it for the community and keep adding features that our MSP runs into. We just launched a partner advisory council, so we have like 10 bigger msps that have been using the platform for like six months on there. I know you're going to be taking part of that as well with us and we're just going to keep building it for what the MSP community needs and you know, find ways to make our life easier and bring more value to our clients.

Todd: 29:50 Yep. Excellent. Well, we've talked about the VCIO and the technology advisor is definitely the way that the industry is headed. So this will be a great addition as people start to head down that road or a continued to refine their process, uh, once they're on it.

Alex: 30:05 Yeah. I think that's really the future of the MSP world. Um, I think msps eventually it will be something more of like managed strategy providers really can help guide the strategy for, for clients as services become easier. The strategy, something that I don't believe it will become a commodity. It's something that there's, you know, every MSP can have their slight flavor on it, but every msps qualified to do this. They're doing it for their own businesses today. So we just have to bring that same mentality that we bring to our own businesses to all of our clients.

Todd: 30:37 Yup. Excellent. Well, we'll, we'll close it up there. Thanks for your time today, Alex. I'm sure we'll be chatting more about the process and the evolution of the MSP industry. Awesome. Todd, thank you so much for your time and yeah, stay well.