Born-In-The-Cloud Startup Affinity Cloud Connections 'Connects' VARs Intent On Capturing Cloud

With the many opportunities, and sometimes unfamiliar territories, of public, private and hybrid cloud, it can be difficult for VARs to break into the cloud industry, and today the hype around cloud is certainly warranted.

Singer Judy Collins once sang, "I've looked at clouds from both sides now," and for Maureen Lindsey, 25 years of experience in technology has allowed her to see "both sides," too. The result is Affinity Cloud Connections (ACC).

As the founder and "chief connector" at San Diego-based Affinity Cloud Connections, Lindsey's company works with VARs to formulate strategies and provide their own portfolio of cloud solutions by "connecting" them with the right resources.

Lindsey initially wanted to be in an industry that was technical and dominated by men and now refers to herself as an "accidental technology expert." In the past, she has worked extensively with Microsoft and Citrix and gained experience as a consultant for software licensing and compliance. Affinity Cloud Connections has been launched as a "born-in-the-cloud" company.

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In an interview with CRN, she talks about launching her business, breaking into the cloud industry, and how more women are needed in the channel. Here are some excerpts from the conversation.

When did you start Affinity Cloud Connections and what does the company do for its customers?

I founded the company in October 2013, and we are a technical consulting company that helps technology providers become cloud services providers. Everything we do is related to the actual infrastructure, technology deployment and software applications. We accelerate time-to-market and revenue-generation opportunities. Partners rely on ACC to formulate strategies, create the plan and move it forward by bringing together the right technology and solution portfolio partners to drive it forward -- fast and efficiently.

I began to see a common pattern, that service providers struggled with where to start and how to bring the pieces together and that’s when the dream of Affinity Cloud Connections was born. ACC is here to connect people, create partnerships, and align strategies and technologies.

When you say you are connecting people, companies and opportunities within Affinity Cloud Connections, what does that mean?

Many, and perhaps most, technology companies want to offer cloud services and the window is six to 12 months. Those who aren’t preparing now are woefully behind, but many companies don’t know how to get started. That’s where I come in. The time is now, and Affinity Cloud Connections can bring companies to market with cloud services in as little as 30 days. I’ve been building an extensive network since 2005, so you don’t have to build the platform from scratch. I like to say that you only need to know Affinity Cloud Connections, because we know everyone else.

NEXT: Advice For Women Seeking To Get Into Technology

You run one of very few women-owned businesses in this industry. How can we bring in more women to the cloud computing industry, or the VAR industry? What advice do you have for them?

There are not enough women in my industry, and this presents a tremendous opportunity. From my personal experience, the most successful teams are made up of both women and men, because problem solving requires different perspectives and balance.

I think the entire channel is clearly missing out on the competitive advantages that come from employing women. We could start by getting the word out to every young woman on every college campus and every military installation in America, that there are amazing opportunities waiting for them in the field of technology. Industry leaders and company owners need to advertise, promote and pursue hiring. Leadership needs to authorize HR and talent teams to expand the scope of their search beyond computer science and engineering majors, to include the untapped talent in business, English, liberal arts, journalism or education. It seems to me that any woman who can perform in a grueling, hostile military environment surely has something to offer our companies.

My only advice is this: Technology permeates every aspect of our world, and it's not going away. It is a field that is built on ideas, opportunities, challenges and new ways to accomplish old goals. Our industry endeavors to make life better for every industry and every person on the planet. It is dynamic and ever-changing, made up of some of the most interesting and creative people in the world. And it doesn't matter what you studied in college; you can add value and apply what you've learned and what you love in a million different ways, and you can have a blast doing it.

How fast has your business been growing, what is driving business, and what has prompted growth?

We’re only six months old, but what’s driving the business is the need for speed. For cloud services, the winning ticket is how fast you get to market with subscription services and applications. It’s all about retaining and growing your customer base, about increasing stickiness and revenue for the long term.

And that’s exactly what Affinity provides. We turn your vision into a reality, and we do it quickly, with no headaches, no retainer fees, and no vendor biases.

Why are subscription services and applications necessary today?

The old notion was that companies gained competitive advantage by owning hardware or writing their own software apps. The world has evolved to an on-demand, ever-changing plethora of options and devices. Subscription services and applications delivered from the cloud provide the most scalable, cost-effective and secure platform.

How does Affinity Cloud Connections get paid?

Affinity is not an old-fashioned consulting company, a cloud services broker or a referral company. ACC offers several programs, but our primary revenue stream is a percentage of MRR after the customer is in market. Affinity is dedicated to achieving success with our customers because our revenue is tied to theirs.

NEXT: Watching The Trends

You've been in this business since 2005. What trends do you see, and how would you advise VARs and MSPs?

I suppose you could say that subscription services and public clouds are trends. But I would submit that we are really witnessing a more strategic approach to how technology providers deliver services to their customers, and this includes enterprises.

The shift to an increasingly mobile, user-centric, BYOD world requires that MSPs and VARs fundamentally change how that gets accomplished. This is about how to deliver a portfolio of high-value business services to their customers.

The customer base for cloud services is going to go somewhere, so technology companies like VARs and MSPs have to ask themselves, 'Don’t we want a piece of that market?' Few people have the breadth of understanding and the contacts that we do in this marketplace.

It seems today the lines are blurring in the industry as resellers become MSPs or distributors can be solution providers as well. Do you think everybody needs to turn to cloud to stay afloat?

That is true, the lines are blurring, but I think it doesn't matter what you call yourself. The only thing that matters is how soon and how well MSPs, resellers and distys can provide what their customers want in this new-world order.

The underlying issue here is that users are demanding access to their applications on the device of their choice, and they want it on a subscription basis. The only viable delivery vehicle for that is cloud. The tough part is execution, so that is where Affinity comes in.

So as MSPS and VARs are trying to break into this industry, how do you help?

We offer a program called ACC SAID, which stands for Strategic Assessment and Implementation Design. After a detailed assessment, we work together to formulate strategy and create a plan around what they want to deliver to those customers. Every engagement is unique, so we determine which partners and tools to map and sequence.

What kinds of VARs are coming to Affinity Cloud Connections? What partners are you looking to work with?

Every partner we are working with understands there is a clock ticking, and they realize the urgency to get to market. Inertia, internal politics and just plain confusion of overwhelming options are a few of the reasons they call us for help.

We work with VARs who embrace our vision of how to stay relevant, meaning that they recognize the need to add cloud services to their portfolio. Affinity will help them achieve that in short order.

What kinds of plans are you formulating, and how do VARs choose what they want to deliver to their customers?

NEXT: Affinity's Top Vendors

Who are your top vendors?

We have developed a portfolio of world-class technology partners. I am very proud to announce that Affinity is now a Citrix Ready Partner. Other partners include, InterWorks, Sepago, Ensim, Aurora Blue Technologies, Nimateks and Waypoint. We also work with Microsoft and Verizon Cloud, as well as other partners who fulfill software apps, such as SAP, Microsoft Dynamics and others.

Are there are a lot of companies like ACC?

The cloud ecosystem is constantly growing, but, to my knowledge, there is nobody like Affinity, because of my history in this business, the fact that my revenue is tied to my clients' revenue and the extensive partner relationships I have.

What drives you personally?
I love making meaningful connections and finding innovative ways to help customers achieve their goals. I’ve built this business, and my entire career, on credibility and integrity. It's about long-term relationships, smart strategy and transparency. I advocate for my customers; my success is their success.

What is your road map for 2014, and what are you hoping to see?

We are a young company for whom the opportunities are developing rapidly and in a way that is difficult to forecast. But I believe it's going to be a great year for us, for our clients and for our partners. I predict that many of the success stories in the cloud space will involve unlikely partnerships across the country, and across oceans too.