Cloud Sherpas' Cohn: Go All-In On Cloud--

Instead of trying to juggle existing businesses while transitioning to cloud, the leaders of VARs trying to make the change should start brand new companies.

That's according to Michael Cohn, co-founder of cloud advisory powerhouse Cloud Sherpas. Cohn gave this dramatic piece of advice to a packed room at the Channel Company's Best of Breed Conference in Orlando, Fla., Tuesday morning.

Running a cloud business is too difficult, and potentially too damaging, for companies to try to launch tem alongside their traditional offerings, Cohn said.

"For VARs in transition, for channel leaders, cloud changes everything," Cohn said. "It's not enough to hire a new sales guy to go sell that cloud product. It's not enough to hire a whole new division to go sell cloud. You'll be cannibalizing your existing business if you're successful."

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That conflict can be overcome by the entrepreneurial spirit, Cohn said, but it's going to require major changes.

"It's time to start a new company. I don't believe you can do it inside the walls of your existing business," Cohn said. He said savvy chief executives should set up "skunkworks" operations to develop their cloud businesses and prepare for a complete transition.

Cloud Sherpas was "born in the cloud," but Cohn is no less familiar with the risks and anxiety around establishing a new cloud business. The former IBM marketer quit his job in the depths of the Great Recession to start the company in 2008.

At the time, Cloud Sherpas was pitching "moving your corporate email to a solution we had no right to resell, and a solution we couldn't deploy," Cohn said.

But within three years, the company had become a leader in the Google ecosystem, and through a series of mergers and acquisitions, it has grown to employ about 1,000 people in 13 countries.

Solution providers serious about transition to cloud should keep a few of Cloud Sherpas' key principals in mind: Focus, team, alliances, transparency and the pursuit of excellence.

By focusing on "going really deep with a couple of cloud vendors," solution providers won't spread themselves too thin, and will be better able to meet the needs of high-value customers.

Your team has to be more than just a group of co-workers, Cohn said. "It's really critical for us to have our own areas of expertise. It's important that you have separation of duty on your team."

Alliances are both dangerous and rewarding, Cohn said. "It requires investment from both sides. You both understand why you're getting into this, what the commitment of the partnership is."

Transparency is a big part of Cloud Sherpas' corporate culture. Its business strategy is discussed openly with employees. So are its deep financial details. "We're a private company. We've made a point of sharing this info with employees, perhaps to a fault to a point," Cohn said.

A company in which all employees are trying to do their best work keeps everybody on the same page. "And it's reflected in customer satisfaction scores," Cohn said.

To BoB Conference attendees, Cohn's message was on point.

"You can't fight change, you have to go with the motion," said Armando Binelo of Trust Technology Solutions. "I paid attention when people said, 'Hey, you'd better pay attention to cloud.'"