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As part of a strategy to gain market share and build a channel for his company, Melih Abdulhayoglu, CEO of Comodo Group Inc., an Internet security software company, invested millions of dollars to launch the MSP Consortium (MSPC).
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Using the tag line, "Built for MSPs by MSPs," the organization went public April 21.
Abdulhayoglu has spent millions of dollars to develop and build a remote management and monitoring (RMM) platform with integrated professional services automation and create marketing and technical support teams, but he's offering the platform to qualified managed services providers (MSPs) for free.
"MSPs are an important channel to us, and they've told us that they don't have the tools to run their businesses properly. They have to buy this and that. It's a lot of mix and match. So I thought, wouldn't it be great to give MSPs their own platform for free to run their business? In return, we get their trust and the ability to sell Comodo products," Abdulhayoglu said.
MSPC has six board members: Adbulhayoglu and five other members that come from MSP firms. The new organization consists of 24 regional chapters in the U.S. responsible for guidance, training, product marketing and sales support at the local level. The MSPC also hopes to leverage its membership clout to increase its buying power and save on vendor licensing costs. The MSPC is building an app store for members and an online referral network where members can connect with other MSPs for expertise and partnering on business.
Rutt talked about challenging the status quo in the MSP community by creating an organization that will help make MSPs stronger, more profitable and able to compete more effectively -- or to tackle the weaknesses and challenges that many MSPs face today, including tools, sales and marketing, profitability, and a future vision for the MSP industry as a whole.
"We want the MSP industry to take a look in the mirror," she said.
MSPC board members volunteer their time and expertise to help bring success to a diverse membership, according to Rutt.
Building an MSP channel
A leading supplier of SSL certificates and founder of the industry standards organization CA/Browser Forum, Comodo founder Abdulhayoglu is no stranger to taking on big endeavors. He's also no stranger to the channel and described Comodo as a channel-friendly company. Comodo, a global business founded in 1998, has more than 1,000 employees. More than 200 employees are located at the company headquarters in Clifton, N.J.
"We built our business with the channel. The channel is in our DNA," he said.
Abdulhayoglu is referring to about 13,000 Web hosting provider partners, hundreds of whom he guessed are MSPs. What the company hasn't done, until now, is build an MSP channel in a structured way. These new partners will sell the company's security products, which include antivirus, internet security and firewall.
"We want to replicate the success that Comodo has with Web hosting companies," he said.
The Comodo CEO said that the company has a full channel program that's ready to go: people, tech support, marketing and leads. The program is open to MSPs as well as other partner types, such as value-added resellers (VARs), system integrators and service providers. The initial target market for product sales is small and medium-sized business (SMB) customers.
Will a one-size-fits-all channel program work for multiple partner types?
"We expect to learn things as we grow and tweak the program based on what partners need," Abdulhayoglu said. "Our interest is in getting our channel partners making money, to make them profitable," he added.
Comodo does have a direct sales force that Abdulhayoglu said would provide leads to partners. "We have no intention of competing with our partners," he said.
However, he stated that the direct sales team would sell to customers in instances where there's no geographic partner coverage, rather than lose a sale.
Comodo will also put its products and competitors' products in the app store -- no discrimination, he said. The company will make money on the sale of any product in the app store. "Just like Apple does," Abdulhayoglu said.
Free platform for MSPs
The free platform that Comodo built for MSPC members includes RMM, patch management and service desk. A Quality Security Assessor (QSA) tool that will sit on top of the service desk is currently in development and will be ready by year-end. Members will also have access to developers and a technical forum to air issues and make requests.
"This is about MSPs deciding how the platform should be built. It's their business, their workflow and the problems it will solve," Abdulhayoglu said.
Melih AbdulhayogluCEO, Comodo Group Inc.
Comodo developers have experience building a remote management platform. They built one and use it for Comodo's 85 million end user consumer customers, most of whom use free versions of the company's security software, according to Abdulhayoglu.
A free RMM software just might be a big draw for MSPs, some of whom complain that existing MSP business tools are too expensive, too complicated and often don't meet the needs of MSPs.
"The [industry] all-stars -- N-able, Autotask and Connectwise -- are difficult to work with, they're expensive and these vendors only innovate based on what they think MSPs need," said Rutt. "They're a mind-numbing waste of time," she added.
[Attempts by SearchITChannel to reach the MSP business tool vendors were unsuccessful.]
MSPC board member John Lazo, president of LazoTek Computer Solutions, agreed with Rutt.
"I've tested several well-known RMM products, and support for these products isn't good," he said, adding that many products for MSPs are created with the vision of only making money off of the MSPs -- a sentiment that's shared among other MSPs that he's talked to. "They're not listening to our needs," he said.
The free tool will replace the two to three RMM software products that Lazo has pieced together to meet his company's needs.
Both Rutt and Lazo said that the money they save by using the free MSPC RMM platform could be reinvested in their businesses for other things, like sales and marketing, for example.
MSPC members won't be required to use the free RMM software, but board members expect that, in time, members will migrate from existing RMM tools to the new MSPC platform.
But swapping out an existing RMM platform isn't quick and easy. "We're an N-able user, and I don't expect that we'll move to the MSPC RMM platform tomorrow. But will we move to it at some point? Probably," said Bill Yagiela, president at The Computer Guys Inc., Farmington Hills, Mich., and MSPC board member.
Abdulhayoglu understands that not all MSPC members will adopt the free RMM software, but when they do, they'll need a migration plan. He will provide one, including technical support, which is currently available.
According to Abdulhayoglu, MSPs have told him that between 5% and 15% of their revenue is spent on RMM, QSA and service desk. "If I'm a $1-million company, then I'm spending $100,000 on these tools. That's good incentive to migrate," he said.
Leads and certification
Providing MSPC members leads is also a key part of the organization's mission, as is sales and marketing training, a well-known weak link in the MSP community.
"We've issued two million digital certificates to customers worldwide, and there's a good chance that these customers require MSP services or other services from VARs. … We want to provide these customer leads to qualified MSPC members," Abdulhayoglu said.
The MSPC board members agree that they're looking for qualified MSPs to advance the industry and didn't give any indication about how many members they'd like to see in the MSPC. Abdulhayoglu said that the MSPC currently has about 100 members. At some point, the consortium plans on offering an MSP certification to vet out industry players.
"MSP firms are all over the map. We're not a unified industry," said Steve Ferman, president of Compunite Computers Inc. , of Pine Brook, N.J., and the recently acquired Cloud Nation, a provider of cloud desktops. "Having certified MSPs will be good for the industry and good for customers," he said.
Original MSP Consortium board members resign, but work will continue