Craig Fulton boasts a career of more than 20 years in the industry and is currently the SVP for ConnectWise's IT Nation. He oversees the support, consulting and onboarding of teams.
IT is a fundamental part of all companies, and while some are able to have their in-house IT departments, others rely on third-party companies to get the job done.
If you are not familiar with IT Nation, its a global community of “peers, thought leaders and experts dedicated to pushing the industry to new heights," although our talk with Craig Fulton goes beyond IT Nation itself.
In other words, if the IT sector is something that holds value to you, your business, or your company, then by all means, read away.
Spotlight: ConnectWise reported that “small and medium businesses (SMB) will create over $90 billion of new spending toward managed IT services between 2021 and 2026.” What does your company offer and why should SMBs partner with your company?
Craig Fulton: Whether it is a multinational corporation or a small company, IT touches every aspect of a business, from communication and customer relationship management to data management, management information systems, and beyond.
Today, it has become imperative for organizations to employ it services companies and methodologies that allow them to stay ahead of the competition and meet or exceed their customers’ expectations.
However, choosing the right IT solution provider is not an easy task. This is mainly because of the cost associated with these services and also the lack of tailor-made and cost-effective services.
This is where ConnectWise comes in.
ConnectWise is a platform that connects businesses to an ecosystem of best-in-breed solutions that helps them deliver exceptional service and productivity. […] The company’s success is due in large part to its beginnings as a managed service provider (MSP), making it uniquely positioned to understand the needs and challenges of its partners.
Looking beyond customer satisfaction, SMBs should partner with ConnectWise because we have been (and always will be) committed to the immediate success of our customers, partners and the ecosystem as a whole. As chief customer success officer, I oversee the ConnectWise global partner community and ensure that partners are growing their businesses and exceeding their goals.
And to prove just how dedicated ConnectWise is to the success of our SMBs and MSPs, we even refer to our customers as partners. We make sure to provide more than just the software they need to run their business, but also the tools needed to contribute to their success.
The company has been in the industry for over 40 years now. When and why did you decide to build a global IT community?
ConnectWise started in 1982 as an MSP itself and by 1995 had developed its own remote monitoring and management (RMM) tool, which it then used to morph into a provider of technology solutions to other MSPs.
When ConnectWise came together, it was about community first. It was about working together to grow our businesses and protect the space that we’re in.
This is why ConnectWise invests heavily in this community and strives to deliver solutions that allow partners to provide exceptional service more efficiently, around the globe.
In 2005, two years before I joined the team, ConnectWise really hit the ground running with its global community.
From the early days of the MSP movement through today, ConnectWise has been building, nurturing, and facilitating the most engaged IT community in the world (also known as “the IT Nation”).
The IT Nation is a worldwide community of IT peers, thought leaders and experts ready to share, educate, and connect with a focus on collaboration and commitment to push technology forward. The community initially started with conferences, user groups and events then ConnectWise started building The IT Nation.
Today, the IT Nation includes 100,000+ IT community peers, thought leaders and experts dedicated to pushing the industry to new heights.
Building a community like IT Nation takes time. What are the main challenges you encountered and when did you first realize its success?
The world of business today is fast-paced, quick to change and tough to predict. Business owners and leaders are looking to not just stay afloat but to get ahead in the market, and they are looking for the right approach to longer-term value-creation success.
MSPs catering to the SMB market are facing many of the same challenges simultaneously, particularly around attracting and retaining talent and managing increased risk, but also challenges around accelerating recurring revenue, conveying the business value of managed services, how to grow sales and how to scale staff productivity.
The ones that are succeeding in this difficult environment– even growing through market downturns– are doing so because they have advanced their operational maturity to build resilient, differentiated businesses.
Other main challenges we’ve encountered while building the global IT community include migrating to the cloud and hybrid cloud infrastructures as well as the constantly evolving cybersecurity threat landscape. How do we move to managed services and stay profitable? How do we still add value with the great migration to the cloud?
And with cybersecurity, it’s all about keeping threats at bay and protecting. Thanks to the incredible ecosystem of support we have in place, product development and technological innovation teams and deep industry knowledge, we’ve successfully managed to navigate around these challenges with relative ease over the years.
Based on member insights, how important is constant training and being a thought leader in the IT industry?
Aside from networking, this is the number one reason ConnectWise’s partners seek us out and join the IT Nation.
The education and thought leadership pieces are super important in the IT industry because everything is constantly evolving and IT leaders need to stay on top of these innovations or risk falling behind.
Because ConnectWise interacts with such a broad range of companies; has numerous partnerships with other tech innovators, organizations and government institutions; and houses its own Cyber Research Unit (CRU) that investigates, analyzes and collects inside knowledge, we can see a broader scale of things and see where the future is leading.
We’re then able to condense all that information and expertise and make it available to everyone. We work with our partners to drive everybody forward. Everyone's winning.
IT Nation has members all around the world. Who are some of the notable members and how do they contribute to the community?
There are so many notable IT Nation members from around the world that have contributed to the community that it’s challenging to only name a few.
One who comes to mind is Jessica Rich of the Walker Group who manages an MSP out of Connecticut.
I met her seven years ago when her company’s owner was going through some business challenges, and she came to the IT Nation community to help seek out solutions. Jessica came to multiple conferences, continued the conversations afterward and brought the community into a whole new territory of peer collaboration and involvement.
Another notable member is Matt Dryfhout, CEO and founder of Scout Technology Guides, located near Vancouver in British Columbia. I met him at an IT Nation user group in Seattle, and he had such a strong impact on the community that he ended up changing the way MSPs operate. […] He came to us and said: ‘Hey, I think there's a better way of billing managed services–maybe not so much by device, but by the user.’
As a product management team, he was feeding us gold and we collaborated with him to develop thought leadership about the way MSPs provide support services, price and package those services and bill for them. And because of his contribution to the community, we saw this shift happen from ‘by device’ to ‘by user’ pricing structures.
I saw him work with other partners and work with ConnectWise, and he's since grown his business into a thriving 25-plus-person company. He's met his personal goals as well including adopting six children with his wife, which wouldn’t have been possible without his thriving business that helps support his family.
The third and final notable member I’d like to mention is David Birk of Network Doctor in Englewood Cliffs. When they joined the IT Nation peer community, they learned a lot from others, made several acquisitions and had grown from a company of about 20 people to over 120-plus.
David Birk is very active in the community and has been around for a long time. And when we talk about education and learning, David is one of the partners who stand out to me most because he was one of those owners that was highly passionate about getting a handle on the business.
He wanted to become a system admin and started showing up for training, learning the product, getting it set up and teaching it to his own colleagues. It's been great watching how he's interacted with the community to get the business where he has it today.
What role does IT Nation play in your marketing efforts and long-term plans?
ConnectWise’s success has been founded on deep interactions with partners through several key events and peer groups.
We leverage the IT Nation and our community as a way to communicate with our partners. We share our culture with them, our mission and vision, and product roadmaps. We’ve built Advisory Councils within the community as well, and we’re continuing to expand the community every day.
Now, ConnectWise’s IT Nation includes 100,000+ IT community peers, thought leaders and experts dedicated to pushing the industry to new heights.
Our IT Nation Connect conference last year attracted about 2,700 attendees, including MSPs, vendors and channel thought leaders, and IT Nation Connect 2022 on November 9-11 in Orlando is expected to attract more than 3,000 attendees.
Aside from events, you also produce a podcast. What are the reasons for their launch and how do you measure its success?
We launched the podcast to keep the conversation going outside ConnectWise’s IT Nation events. This was especially important when the pandemic began and we moved into a more virtual world.
We wanted to create a public forum to showcase the subject matter experts that we meet in the IT nation community and give them a place where they could share great notes about what they're doing and the fields of expertise they’re in.
We've had partners come on the podcast that are cybersecurity experts, experts in endpoint management, experts in marketing and sales, finance experts, experts in any operation– you name it.
And while the IT Nation now also encompasses a very robust, collaborative online virtual community, the podcast is still an excellent way to showcase our different subject matter experts, keep partners up to date on the latest industry news and delve into deeper discussions about the topics and issues that are important to our community and partner ecosystem.
Cybersecurity is one of the pressing topics you’ve covered in the podcasts. What are the opportunities and threats businesses should know in the next five years?
There’s an ongoing opportunity to use technology to scale cybersecurity protection. As machine learning, artificial intelligence, and more advanced technologies come into play, companies will have the opportunity to deliver it cost-effectively.
In the beginning, SMBs were wondering how they were going to pay for these enterprise-grade tools because they couldn’t do the enterprise price. As this technology comes in, and they scale and companies like ConnectWise add cybersecurity, the portfolio will make it accessible for them.
But the threats are just going to continue to grow as well.
The findings of our 2022 State of SMB Cybersecurity Report revealed that the growing number of attacks is fueling investment in cybersecurity, particularly with MSPs. Key findings show nearly three-quarters (73%) of report respondents agree that their organization has reached a tipping point where cybersecurity concerns demand action.
This year’s report also confirms that the cybersecurity threat landscape continues to grow larger in both size and complexity, raising the alarm for SMBs who no longer feel cybersecurity can be considered a secondary thought after other priorities.
Specifically, over three-quarters (76%) of SMBs report they have been impacted by at least one cybersecurity attack in 2021 – a considerable increase compared to 55% the year before. Consequently, 78% of SMB respondents say their organization is set to increase investment in cybersecurity in the next 12 months.
However, a key challenge identified in the report is that two in three SMBs lack the expertise in-house to defend themselves against cybersecurity threats; additionally, many SMBs are also feeling disillusioned or challenged with current partners tasked to provide the help they need.
ConnectWise recently acquired Wise-Sync, adding to your growing IT marketplace. How do acquisitions like this impact your long-term vision?
The first questions you must consider are: where do we have gaps that shouldn’t be in our platform, and where is acquiring better than partnering with someone?
Because we take the partnering route as well to fill gaps. However, there are certain things within our core and our wheelhouse that we’re passionate about and where we had those gaps, and we’ll say, ‘Is that a build, buy, or partner aspect?’ and then put it through that process. And we’ve got a framework to determine which is the right approach for us and the partners.
Everything that we’re looking to do is to drive operational efficiencies, increase productivity and make our partners more profitable. Just make them better at everything they do, i.e., more mature, more profitable businesses.
In terms of the Wise-Sync deal, financial technology is an understandably huge hot topic since everything in the tech sector is becoming so transactional and usage-based, and ConnectWise needed its partners to be able to move with that change.
We saw the Wise-Sync acquisition as an opportunity to get tighter control of that gap. It was aimed at helping our MSP partners automate invoicing and reduce accounts receivable costs, which is a major value add for them (and hence, for us).
When exploring an M&A deal, there is much to consider from a buyer and seller standpoint. Understanding valuation, the deal components and what is involved in an M&A transaction can help you make better decisions no matter which side you are on.
An important driver of value in an M&A deal is achieving synergies.
Synergy is the concept that two companies, when combined, are worth more together than they are when valued separately.
Understanding these synergies is important for both the buyer and seller. Synergies are often found through the elimination of costs from overlapping roles, systems, offices, and so on. They are also found through new sales and marketing capabilities, brand identification, and more.
Thank you for your time, Craig Fulton! Best of luck to you and ConnectWise!