Starting by selling technology into small businesses with brother Arnie in the 80s, president and managing director of ConnectWise International David Bellini never would have imagined that one day the company would morph into an 800-strong, multi million-dollar organisation. CE Pro Europe catches up with the MD to find out how the company is turning its attention to the AV install sector.
Business never sleeps. It used to be nine-to-five, Monday to Friday – no weekends. Then along came the Internet and with it, emails and things changed forever.
“We started out selling technology into businesses in the 80s,” ConnectWise president and managing director of ConnectWise International, David Bellini reflects whilst welcoming EI into the company’s spacious new London office. “Back then we would take computers into companies; we helped them write spreadsheets with Lotus 1-2-3, so they said: ‘you should put a computer on everyone’s desk and we can run WordPerfect and Lotus’ – and that was all we were setting up.”
Fast-forward to 2015 and David and his brother, Arnie – chief executive officer of ConnectWise – are offering a lot more. Today, ConnectWise is known for its leading business management software solution for technology businesses, and with over 100,000 users, it is now the IT industry’s most widely used professional services automation software worldwide.
Leveraging the cloud, the platform fully integrates business-process automation, help desk and customer service, sales, marketing, project management and business analytics in order to dramatically streamline a company’s operations.
ConnectWise’s typical demographic is a technology company that is anywhere from 25 employees to 500, although the company doesn’t have any minimum number of users.
Starting the business as two brothers in their early 20s, the pair could never have predicted the success they would one day achieve and the way they would change the way businesses operate.
“We were 21 and 24 years old, but in the industry they looked to the young people because no one old knew how to use a computer yet.” David nods. “What we did was just buy the PCs – not build the computers – and we would put them into small businesses that didn’t have an IT department – they didn’t know how to do it, they were surprised that PCs could help small businesses!
“We never planned to re-sell the product, we wrote it for ourselves,” David laughs, looking back. “We started in 1982 and about 10 years after we were writing our own software!”
Always striving to achieve more, it was decided in 2015 that David would oversee the company’s new UK sales and support office as the company sets its sights on the AV integration sector.
“I feel like we’ve been underexposed here and for us the UK is an important market that we feel is untapped. ConnectWise has been in the IT services business for more than 30 years. Our Professional Services Automation (PSA) solution has been deployed to over 100,000 users in IT service companies worldwide, including some forward-thinking leaders in the AV industry. Their success leveraging our software, systems, expertise, best practices and community makes it apparent that the broader AV industry could also see similar success.
“We want to take the same thought leadership and community focus that has made us so successful in the IT MSP space and bring that to the large and growing community of AV integrators and dealers. We want to focus on creating a robust network of AV integrators the can share best practices with each other and get the most out of our suite of solutions.”
David has some very clear ideas about the way installation companies can benefit from using ConnectWise, explaining that the company’s business management software is about driving success for IT integrators – including those integrators in the AV space.
“Driving their success could mean increased profitability through better time management and efficiency, better cash flows by getting invoices out and paid faster, or increased freedom from the business issues because of the workflow automation inside of our platform,” he elaborates.
“But the ConnectWise PSA software is really the basis for a larger suite of solutions: LabTech is a remarkably robust remote control and automation solution, ScreenConnect is a top performing remote access tool and Quosal is an industry leading quoting and proposal solution. Together these products represent the very powerful ConnectWise Business Suite; a tightly integrated package of business automation tools designed specifically for the growing IT service industry. And we always say: ‘We are way more than just software’. We do not believe in just providing an incredible business automation software tools, we believe in also delivering best practices, knowledge and the context the AV integrators will need to stay ahead of the curve.
“The AV integration space is evolving and rapidly growing globally and we are excited to be a part of that growth,” he adds. “Specifically, on a macro level we all realise that virtually everything digital is becoming networked and automated with the onset of the Internet of Things. The definition of an ‘IT service company’ is evolving and becoming more homogenous. Projectors, monitors, lighting control, digital signage etc. all have a pulse and have to be connected and networked now. This provides an immense opportunity for AV integrators to provide a deeper and wider set of solutions to their clients while at the same time developing automation and remote control capabilities that make the AV integrator much more efficient. We want to be there to help them sell, manage, automate, and service the new business opportunities these trends represent.”
One of the reasons the software has gained so much traction thus far is because companies are starting to notice that their competitors are using it. “We’re always trying to grow and we feel that we have a good product that can really help a lot of companies be successful. Most companies don’t have their own IT departments to manage everything, so that’s where we come in.”
David states that ConnectWise considers itself to be a “servant of the IT nation. We believe that the scope of the IT service industry is changing and growing; many new segments are becoming important players in the IT nation. Due to the expansion of the Internet and networking capabilities, we know that IT services and automation extend well beyond the realm of desktops, servers and network equipment – and our partners clients are looking for solutions that can help with all technology in the office or home.
“We know that a lot of the problems that we have seen in the IT MSP space extend to AV integrators, from sales to business automation to service delivery. Our passion and purpose as a company is to help these IT solution businesses solve these problems, and help them reach greater levels of success and profitability.”
EI asks why ConnectWise only just turning its attention to the AV industry now. “Well, we got our start as an IT services firm and originally created the platform for ourselves,” David replies. “It was just natural to talk to firms that were exactly like us, but then we realised the problems and opportunities in the AV and low voltage integration space are the same. As we dug deeper we realised we were already working with companies in the AV integration space, that we had already brought a significant amount of integrators onto our platform – and that the problems we solve are problems the entire IT nation faces. So in a way, we have been associated with at least some part of the AV industry for quite a while.”
Now, in part due to the expansion of networking and automation in the IT space, ConnectWise is trying to leverage that successful association with AV integrators and bring its suite of solutions to an even broader audience within that industry.
“A lot of people never imagine themselves ever owning their own business, they didn’t grow up thinking that. I call them accidental entrepreneurs – a lot of these people accidently step in it and then they find us and we can help make them profitable,” says David proudly.
“Then they come back to us and say ‘we own our own company.’ We call that the ultimate dream; to run your own business. Why? Because you have the freedom to take time off, control your own fate. I never really consider it work, personally.”
EI can’t help but point out that David and Arnie are accidental entrepreneurs themselves. “Exactly!” David laughs. “From where we started, I never in a million years thought we’d be where we are now. If you sit there and think: ‘one day I’m going to have 800 employees’ – doesn’t that sound intimidating? Yes! But we grew into it.
David is certain that the UK is going to accelerate a lot quicker in terms of the technology and innovations, and there is no sign of business slowing down. “Yes I’m still answering emails late at night. If I could change one thing, I would change England to the Eastern Time zone!” he jokes.
As if on cue, a gentle knock on the door reminds David that he is imminently due at an ‘intimate dinner’ made up of 45 ConnectWise partners and staff members ahead of a day of seminars the next day
“Business never sleeps” he shrugs.