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MSP Partner Community Rises on the Hudson River: Build IT Live 2021 Recap

Credit: Joe Panettieri

Where do the largest MSP communities gather? Sometimes, the answer to that question is "right in your own back yard" -- or at least in a nearby neighborhood.

A recent example: The Build IT Live 2021 conference -- hosted by IT By Design -- a few days back gathered several hundred MSPs and industry influencers in Jersey City, which is a short train ride from my Long Island home. Frankly, I wasn't quite sure what to expect from the face-to-face conference. Among the questions on my mind:

  • Would the industry show up amid the COVID-19 Delta variant? (The answer for this particular location on this particular week: Yes)
  • Does MSP industry optimism remain high -- despite labor shortages, rising inflation and continued pandemic challenges? (Answer Again: Yes).

Good People Attract Good People

Kevin Blake, CEO, ICS
Kevin Blake, president and CEO, ICS
Gerwai Todd, CEO, TimeZest

IT By Design's core focus involves talent services for MSPs. Need to outsource your NOC (network operations center), help desk or specific technology tasks? IT By Design has roughly 600 employees who help MSPs to fill that void.

My first stop at the conference involved catching up with ICS Solutions Group President Kevin Blake and TimeZest CEO Gerwai Todd. Blake has built one of New York's most successful MSPs. And Todd is leading one of the MSP software industry's fast-growing upstarts. On the side, the three of us also do some angel investing together. Roll all that together, and it's safe to say I deeply value and trust their opinions.

As I navigated the expo hall and hotel lobby, I asked Todd and Blake why they thought the conference had a strong turnout. They both gave me the same answer: "Good People Attract Good People." Indeed, Todd and Blake have each known and trusted the IT By Design executive team -- led by CEO Sunny Kaila and President Kam Kaila -- for multiple years. Tuck in Director of Channel Partnerships Todd Billiar, and the "Good People Attract Good People" mantra continues to hold true.

Build IT Live 2021 Recap for MSPs: What ChannelE2E Observed

Sunny Kaila, CEO, IT By Design

But what exactly happened at the Build IT Live conference? The short answer involves MSP education, a software platform launch, back-hall conversations about more industry M&A, and some buyouts actually surfacing at the event. Here's a rundown of my meetings and learnings (organized chronologically) from my first to last meeting or session of the event.

1. The American Dream Is Alive And Well: That sums up Sunny Kaila's keynote, during which he explained his immigration from India, humble start pumping gas and driving cabs in America, and emergence as an entrepreneur leading IT By Design's growth to 600 employees.

2. The Expansion From Services to Software: IT By Design is perhaps best known for its  talent pool, NOC and help desk services, and pure focus on MSP partners. But take a closer look, and you'll see how IT By Design is also developing software.

One key example involves Team GPS, a cloud-based platform that Kam Kaila and Chief Product Manager Vikram Kanitkar demonstrated at the conference. The software helps MSPs to manage their employees; job performance and satisfaction; workforce culture; and overall business planning.

IT By Design Vikram-Kanitkar-Kam-Kaila

In some ways, Team GPS sounds like a Human Capital Management (HCM) software. But there are some key differences to note. For the most part, I believe HCM takes a "Top Down" approach (from HR to staff) to talent management. In stark contrast, Team GPS appears to take more of a collaborative approach to align employee or team performance with organizational goals. And don't forget: HCM is general purpose HR software, while Team GPS is purpose-built for MSPs that are seeking to align business goals, customer outcomes and staff development goals. The ultimate goal: Help MSPs transform from a tech-centric mindset to a people-centric mindset.

Admittedly, Team GPS is still under development so I can't say whether the software will fulfill IT By Design's vision. But we'll be watching for status updates and key learnings from early MSP adopters.

Build IT Live Recap: ChannelE2E's Meetings

Outside of the keynotes, ChannelE2E put aside plenty of time for one-on-one meetings. Here's a sampling...

3. Huntress CEO Kyle HanslovanHuntress specializes in MDR (managed detection and response) designed for MSP partners. Hanslovan broke all the rules (in a good way) during a keynote that described Shady Corp., a hypothetical dark web cybercrime solutions provider. While mixing in a few good-natured jokes, Hanslovan ultimately got down to business -- offering a pre-incident checklist along with an incident response checklist to help MSP attendees (A) drive down risk and (B) recover  more rapidly and effectively when an incident does happen.

Kyle Hanslovan, CEO, Huntress

Major funding reinforces the fact that Huntress has MSP partner momentum. But during our sit-down, Hanslovan posed one question to me in multiple ways. It went something like this:

  • "What can Huntress do better for our partners?"
  • "What are we overlooking?"
  • "Where are we missing the mark?"

What explains Hanslovan's attention to detail? Perhaps the answer involves his earlier work at the NSA -- where one employee misstep could have implications on U.S. national security...

David Setzer, founder & CEO, Mailprotector

4.  Mailprotector CEO David Setzer: Mailprotector is an email security company focused purely on MSPs. Even before raising funding in 2020, Setzer was focused on responsible, partner-focused growth rather than chasing every possible business opportunity.

Fast forward to present day, and Mailprotector has been expanding its MSP base while also building patented intellectual property. Among the nifty developments: Check out Bracket, a "painless" email encryption solution. Keep an eye on the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. We sense that Mailprotector is preparing to play an encore...

Dan Wensley, CEO, ScalePad

5. ScalePad CEO Dan Wensley: Welcome (Back) to America, Wensley. The Canadian business executive spent nearly two decades navigating MSP conferences worldwide. But the pandemic left him unable to visit U.S. events for nearly two years. For Wensley, the return to American soil began with Build IT Live.

Not familiar with ScalePad? I suspect you're mistaken. ScalePad is the former Warranty Master. The company's SaaS-based platform allows MSPs to automate asset lifecycle management across hardware, software, and warranty services. More than 8,500 MSPs have embraced the platform worldwide.

ScalePad is backed by Chris Day, the founder and former CEO of IT Glue -- the MSP document management software platform now owned by Kaseya. Take a closer look at ScalePad, and you may notice a well-known IT Glue veteran joining the team. (Congrats to Luis Geraldo.)

Craig Donovan, Pax8
Rex Frank, Pax8

6. Pax8 Senior VP Craig Donovan and VP Rex Frank: How does a SaaS-based marketplace and cloud distributor build and empower an MSP community? The short answer Donovan, Frank (and other Pax8 team members).

I first met Frank in January 2008 when I co-launched MSPmentor with Amy Katz. At the time, I identified Frank as one of the world's first VPs of managed services. He earned the title at an MSP called Northwest Computer Support (NWCS).

Fast forward more than a decade, and Frank continues to be an MSP market leader and educator. Pax8 acquired Frank's company -- Sea-Level Operations -- in May 2021 to offer business, sales and technology coaching to MSPs and channel partners. Pax8 Academy, the company’s center for IT education and resources, features instructor-led courses and digital content designed to accelerate cloud business, Donovan explained to me.

Pax8's ambitions extend well beyond the United States. After raising $96 million in funding in January 2021, Pax8 acquired Microsoft Azure cloud partner Wirehive and announced a UK leadership team for expansion into Europe.

Todd Jones, AutoElevate
David Bellini, CEO,

7. Password Boss CEO David Bellini, VP John Timko and Director Anthony Bellini; and AutoElevate President Todd Jones.

During the conference, Password Boss announced the acquisition of AutoElevate. What inspired the two companies to come together? The answer to that question emerged during a private hotel room briefing with John Timko, Anthony Bellini and Todd Jones in New Jersey. David Bellini dialed in from Tampa, Florida. One or more additional deal influencers and well-placed sources were also in the room -- but we'll keep them safely anonymous.

So, why did Password Boss acquire AutoElevate? The simple answer from all parties in the room and on the phone involved Endpoint Protection -- both the physical endpoint (example: a PC) and a personal endpoint (examples: A person, employee, partner or contractors).

Password Boss is now a single company that offers MSPs both (A) password management (B) privileged access management, David Bellini and his team members pointed out.

Still, the story doesn't end there. Poke around Tampa, Florida, and you may find an incubator for MSP-centric technology companies emerging. David Bellini is involved. As is Liongard Chief Revenue Officer Adam Slutskin. ChannelE2E hopes to share the more complete details soon.

Rob Rae, SVP, Datto

8. Datto Senior VP of Business Development Rob RaeWhat word or phrase best describes Rob Rae? I'll boil it down to two words: MSP Optimist.

Instead of hyping the MSP market to me, Rae always finds a way to describe how and why the the MSP market will continue to march forward, expand and evolve. Sure, we spent some time discussing DattoCon 2021 scenarios (the 2021 event will now be purely online, Datto has since announced.)

But we also discussed a bit about Datto R&D -- and the forthcoming launch of Datto Continuity for Microsoft Azure. Perhaps not surprising, Rae echoed recent statements from CEO Tim Weller -- who said MSP beta testers are extremely impressed with that platform.

The Azure-focused product development is extremely important for Datto and MSPs. For Datto, it represents another step beyond traditional appliance-based backup. And for MSPs, it's an opportunity to extend beyond SaaS-centric backup for Microsoft 365.

Enterprise-focused data protection companies have extensive experience with Azure workloads. Now, Datto believes, it's time for MSPs to gain similar experience.

Charlie Tomeo, chief revenue officer, Axcient

9. Axcient Chief Revenue Officer Charlie TomeoI can boil down this conversation in three words: Direct-to-Cloud. The longer story goes something like this: The pandemic accelerated the shift to remote work. Instead of backing up customer and employee data to on-site appliances, businesses increasingly need direct-to-cloud options.

Tomeo and Axcient have been hammering home that point for several months now. MSPs apparently are listening. Based on multiple check-ins with MSP partners, ChannelE2E believes the latter months of August were extremely strong for the direct-to-cloud service. When asked about the service, Tomeo's answer involved two things: Silence and a confident smile. Read between the lines, and it sounds like direct-to-cloud has gained real traction with MSPs.

Arlin Sorensen, VP, ConnectWise

10. ConnectWise VP of Ecosystem Evangelism Arlin SorensenSorensen and I tend to cover a lot of ground when we catch up. It usually starts with faith, family, friends. And then on to business. And the business talk usually involves IT Nation Evolve peer groups.

MSP industry veterans are familiar with the peer group model. Compare business, finance, talent, technology and other KPIs with a few industry peers and you'll likely wind up improving the operational maturity of your own business.

So what comes next? Scores of MSPs worldwide are now backed by private equity investors and/or private equity owners. For many entrepreneurs in the MSP market, the private equity journey represents uncharted territory. That's why IT Nation Evolve now features a group specifically for PE-backed MSPs.

Still, the peer group journey doesn't end there. When an MSP owner eventually exits his or her own business, they may wind up directionless. That's why Sorensen is preparing a group specifically for former MSP owners. The new group's name? I don't want to steal Sorensen's thunder on that. Reach out to him directly for details.

Ted Roller, CEO, GetChanneled

11. GetChanneled CEO Ted Roller (Representing Zomentum and ConnectBooster): You've heard of a virtual CEO. What about a virtual channel chief? That's where Roller enters the picture. For the past eight years or so, Roller has pioneered and expanded the virtual channel chief model -- helping upstarts such as Mailprotector and others to formalize and execute an initial partner program, before moving on to assist the next startup with a similar journey. Roller's latest focus areas include Zomentum and ConnectBooster.

Zomentum develops a sales automation and acceleration software platform for MSPs. The team includes ASCII and Continuum veteran Shannon Mayer as VP of customer success.

Meanwhile, ConnectBooster develops a payment automation system for service providers. Take a closer look, and a related Rev by ConnectBooster allows MSPs to generate additional monthly recurring revenue (MRR) without taking on any additional talent or associated expenses, Roller says.

Christine Gassman, Blackpoint Cyber
Bryan Hauptman, CRO, Armor

12. Armor Chief Revenue Officer Bryan Hauptman and Director of Global Channel Engagement Christine Gassman: Hauptman and Gassman, two Datto veterans, have reunited at Armor to drive a complete cloud-based cybersecurity solution to MSPs. Potential use cases involve Managed Detection and Response (MDR), cloud workload protection, cloud security posture management, and others.

Hauptman carefully studied Armor -- striving to ensure the company would go all-in on MSP partnerships -- before joining the business in July 2021. Then, Gassman surfaced at the company a few weeks later.

Armor doesn't need to overhaul its software for MSPs. Poke around the company, and you'll discover that Armor's technology team includes service provider heritage.

Abe Garver, Focus Investment Banking

13. Abe Garver, MSP team leader and managing director, FOCUS Investment Banking: Garver is one of the key influencers driving successful MSP M&A activity. In 2020, FOCUS closed MSP transactions with 22 parties -- including serving as advisor to five of the 10 MSP private equity platforms that were created in America as announced by ChannelE2E.

So what's next? What if FOCUS Investment Banking found a predictable, repeatable way to match MSP buyers, sellers and investors? I don't want to steal Garver's thunder. But keep an eye on FOCUS Investment Banking's next moves...

Michael Roth, CEO, EVO Security

14. EVO Security CEO Michael Roth: EVO is focused on identity and access management (IAM) for MSPs and MSSPs. The multi-tenant solution consolidates Multi-factor Authentication (MFA), Single Sign-on (SSO), Privileged Access Management (PAM), Elevated Access, and Password Management. EVO, founded in 2018, is relatively new to the market. But we'll be watching to see where Roth takes the company.

Jamison West, chairman, TimeZest

15. ConnectStrat Strategic Coach Jamison WestThe serial entrepreneur, who also holds an ownership stake in TimeZest, continues to build out a strategic coaching organization for MSPs. Familiar names like Brett Jaffe and Acronis Chief Channel Evangelist Amy Luby are involved in the effort. During a brief in-booth conversation, West briefly mentioned a few "next move" surprises for the organization. Stay tuned.

Whom Did I Miss?

Admittedly, I had a few dozen additional "hallway" conversations along the way. I apologize if I didn't work you into the recap above. But I look forward to potentially seeing you at such upcoming events as Kaseya Connect IT Global 2021 and/or ConnectWise IT Nation Connect 2021.

PS: Looking ahead to next year, Build IT Live 2022 is scheduled for July 26-28.

Joe Panettieri

Joe Panettieri is co-founder & editorial director of MSSP Alert and ChannelE2E, the two leading news & analysis sites for managed service providers in the cybersecurity market.