Pax8’s Rob Rae On Scalability, Adding Security Expertise, And Having A ‘Bigger’ Impact On MSPs

“Every MSP I talk to, the first question I always ask is, ‘How’s business?’ says Pax8’s Rob Rae. “Then I start digging in a little bit. ‘Where are you seeing opportunity? What’s changing? What’s new? What are your end users responding to? What’s working?’ That’s part of our role, which is finding out what is actually working and then doing it for everybody.”

Rob Rae is in learning mode right now. As corporate vice president of communities and ecosystems at Denver-based distributor Pax8—a new position tailored to him and his strengths—he’s taking the first few months to learn the ecosystem, his new role and how it all fits together.

“With my previous company, it was just very narrow and focused on our tech,” he told CRN. “This is different. This is focusing on everybody’s tech.”

Rae joined Pax8 in February after spending about nine years at Norwalk, Conn.-based software vendor Datto, which was acquired by Miami-based rival Kaseya for $6.2 billion last year.

His sweet spot, and what he’ll mostly be doing in his new role, is talking to MSPs to see what’s working and what’s not in their business and how Pax8 can help.

“Every MSP I talk to, the first question I always ask is, ‘How’s business?’” he said. “Then I start digging in a little bit. ‘Where are you seeing opportunity? What’s changing? What’s new? What are your end users responding to? What’s working?’ That’s part of our role, which is finding out what is actually working and then doing it for everybody,” he added.

“I like gathering all the little tidbits and then putting it together into, ‘Everybody’s seeing growth here,’ or ‘People are suffering,’ or, ‘We’re hurting over here, and let’s avoid this but let’s do more of this kind of thing,’” he said. “It’s grouping all that knowledge together, which is why I ask that question.”

And when Pax8 acquires a company, like Microsoft Dynamics-Focused Bam Boom Cloud in February, it’ll be something that will help the MSP market grow, he said.

Pax8, similar to a lot of the hyper-growth vendors in the channel, finds scalability to be the biggest challenge, Rae added.

“We’re doing a phenomenal job at it compared to most vendors,” he said. “I think there’s a lot of forgiveness in our space as a result of how quickly everybody is growing. The scalability thing is always going to be a challenge to make sure that you stay on top of it and continue to deliver the service, the products, the account managers and everything else that the MSPs need from their vendors.”

Now just under three months in his role, Rae is still in learning mode while also gearing up for Pax8’s inaugural Beyond conference in June, which he is hosting, and learning how to best help MSPs throughout the ever-growing Pax8 ecosystem.

Check out what Rae told CRN about Beyond, competitors and how he’s going to be an “even bigger bother” to MSPs.

Now that you’re at Pax8, how do partners want you to help them?

Pax8 has always been MSP-driven and always been focused on the MSP market—it’s not like we’re adding more communities. It’s about actually working with the MSP community, somewhat exclusively, simply because I’ve just got so much experience in the MSP community. It allows us, as we continue to expand and grow, to just add another face to the organization so that we can engage with our partners more. At the same time, the ecosystem part of it is being out there because Pax8 [wants to know] who are the vendors we want to put on the line card, who are the vendors we should be paying attention to, what are the technologies that MSPs are starting to pay attention to because this landscape is changing. It’s changing really, really fast right now, especially with all the security vendors that are coming in.

You need more experience and more people in order to be able to look at this market and be able to assess, ‘This is something that we should take a closer look at,’ or ‘This is something we shouldn’t waste our time with.’ I’m spending the first number of months doing that, just kind of assessing where we are in the market and what we need to do.

I spoke with a bunch of Pax8 partners and the biggest question they had was how are you going to further Pax8 and its partners along to be even more successful?

We are growing very, very quickly. There’s going to be other acquisitions, there’s always going to be other emerging things that we’re going to do. The goal is to bring these technologies, or these ideas, to the MSP market so that we can fuel the MSP market growth. At the same time, Pax8 is also growing globally very, very quickly. This isn’t limited to the North American market or even the European market. We’re expanding fairly quickly in Eastern Europe. We’ve got a pretty established foothold in Australia, New Zealand, but now we’re starting to head into Southeast Asia. These are things that I used to do so I’ve got experience with working with MSPs in other markets, or that MSP journey and that maturity level of where MSPs are in other markets.

What can you tease about Pax8’s inaugural Beyond conference in June?

We do have some announcements that we’ll be making on stage. It’s still being fully baked because there’s a lot of things we’re working on. I’ll give you this, one of the things that we’re trying to establish is our security experience and tenure. We have a phenomenal CTO—he’s a legend in the security space. We have been on-boarding a ton of security vendors and putting together a security stack. We created the five profiles of individuals coming to Beyond where it’s the business owner, the sales or marketing person, the tech and the service manager. We just added a fifth one, which is going to be a security vendor about the security tech so that we can all get better and continue to look for that. We want to start putting that up front so that we can be thought of as a security expert in the MSP space.

In talking to partners, what is their biggest pain point? What are they telling you?

It’s been the same. It’s funny because being a part of this space, we do a lot of these state-of-the-market reports. I know every vendor is doing them these days. I find that Pax8 partners are no different. It’s exactly the same thing that keeps them up at night­—sales and marketing, learning new tech, client adoption of the tech, pricing, competitiveness … it’s all that stuff. What I find with Pax8 partners is that Pax8 does do a better job at making it a little bit easier. When you’re dealing with one vendor that does one technology or a couple of different technologies, Pax8 has the breadth of all of it. We look at the entire stack of an MSP’s offering versus other vendors that only have a couple of components within it. I think that’s where we come at it more from a 10,000-foot view and can focus on everything the MSPs are working on instead of just one piece.

What differentiates Pax8 from its biggest competitors?

The brand, through the entire organization, is committed to the actual channel itself, MSPs specifically. When you look at some of the larger organizations that have been around for a long time, they have their set ways of doing things and the market was ripe for a change. It needed a change—the technology changed, the landscape changed and managed service providers have changed. They’ve grown significantly just even over the last five years. So it was a perfect opportunity for somebody to come in with a new and creative way of tackling it.

Part of the benefit of where we are, and when they started the company, was it was born in the cloud. It was new age. They took everything that people hated about the whole process and did it differently. And because it’s born in the MSP, I think that’s probably been the biggest win and why the significant growth is there. That new way of thinking about distribution, the new way of approaching it, focused on recurring revenue and on MSP growth … those are things that some of the larger organizations don’t necessarily have the benefit of doing. We had the opportunity to start this from scratch at the beginning.

As the corporate vice president of communities and ecosystems, what is your goal? What do you want to do at Pax8?

I love this industry. I’ve loved this industry since I found it. I’m very blessed that I’ve been part of the growth that we’ve all seen in this space, and I want to continue that. I still don’t understand it, but it’s immensely flattering when MSPs come to me and say, ‘Hey, I watched a presentation you did six years ago and it changed my life.’ It sounds ridiculous that whatever it was that I talked about changed somebody’s life, but we’re all trying to grow our businesses and those businesses that we’re all growing feed families. There’s a lot of people that are in this space that were struggling that are now quite successful. There’s a lot more millionaires in the MSP realm than there ever has been before. I want to continue that. I want to continue to push us into places like Microsoft Dynamics, for example ... making it easy so that we can find new revenue opportunities. We can start thinking in different ways that we can start growing this business, that’s all I want to do.

When I first interviewed you when you joined Pax8, your message to MSPs was, ‘You’re not getting rid of me.’ What’s your message to MSPs now regarding Pax8 going forward?

This is a continuation of the journey, and I feel like the impact that I can have on ... managed service providers is going to be even bigger as a result. That’s what I’m envisioning. The message I would want to give is, yeah, I’m still here but now I’m going to bother you even more. I have the opportunity to do that and spend more time on a bigger platform to be able to help MSPs.