Arnie Bellini: ‘It's Time For Some Good Old-Fashioned Competition To Shake Things Up’

‘I'm really excited to come back because there's real problems that I feel like I can help fix,’ says Arnie Bellini, ConnectWise founder.

Arnie Bellini has a lot to say.

And after a five-year noncompete agreement ending in February, he’s officially back in the channel and ready to make a splash.

‘I'm really excited to come back because there's real problems that I feel like I can help fix,’ Bellini told CRN. “I think that it's time for some good old-fashioned competition to come in and maybe shake things up. That's the whole thesis of Bellini Capital and how we're making our investments. A lot of it's in cybersecurity because everyone's making that way too difficult.”

Bellini founded Tampa, Fla.-based ConnectWise in 1982 as an IT service provider. Over time it transformed into a software vendor and was sold in 2019 to private equity powerhouse Thoma Bravo. Since 2019, Bellini has been a managing partner in Bellini Capital but has not been officially in the channel due to a five-year noncompete agreement with ConnectWise. That noncompete ended in February.

“No one's advanced this industry in a way, in my opinion, that it needs to be advanced,” he said. “The average managed service provider has 40-plus applications that they use to run their business. Very few of those talk to each other and so we've got silos of chaos. That data shouldn't be in its own silo. I need that data and I need it related to other data that runs my business.”

With 40 applications and another 15 security tools, Bellini said it’s very hard for the MSP to grow their business.

“I think it's time for someone, and it's going to be me, to come back and say, ‘Let's double your revenue with cybersecurity services,’” he said. “But in order to do that, I feel like someone has to step in and start consolidating these silos of chaos so that you actually start bringing this information into a central location and/or through a central set of connected applications. This will allow you to scale your business and allow you to have much better service and support of those clients to do a way better job of defending their digital borders.”

In his newest venture, he invested $9.2 million into TechGrid , a quoting, procurement and billing tool.

“MSPs are being held back by a dated approach to the tech stack,” he said. “There are too many siloed solutions that trap them into specific vendors. We’re at the start of a journey to bring back choice so MSPs have more solutions to choose from, can work across silos and can double their productivity and revenue.”

CRN spoke with Bellini about the channel, changes he feels need to be made and how cybersecurity is a goldmine for MSPs.

You said everyone is making cybersecurity way too difficult. Why?

Because it's not that hard. You talk to managed service providers, half of them are doing it, half of them are doing it okay. Some of them are doing it at a very good, high level like the biggest of companies that can somehow deal with all these apps and hold it all together.

But it's incumbent upon somebody to bring the capability of really good cybersecurity hygiene into managed services of smaller sizes. Most managed service providers are doing 70 to 80 percent of the job of proper cybersecurity. They may or may not know it, but they are.

They put in two-factor authentication, that’s step one. Step two, virus protection. There's six things you’ve got to do. Proper backups, there's three things right there. You’re halfway there. User awareness training – and I want to come in and make a difference in user awareness training because I think it's too expensive. I think it's crazy that small to midsize businesses around the globe have to pay so much for basic user awareness training. It should be affordable, ubiquitous and scalable. The fifth one is vulnerability scanning and the sixth is proper policy and procedures in place in the company. They're making sure that they're in compliance with whatever standards it is that that particular MSP’s customer has to adhere to. If you can say yes to those six things and are doing them properly, then you're in compliance with your cybersecurity insurance policy, period. This is what's going to drive the industry.

After watching this space from the sidelines for five years, what is the one thing you learned or noticed?

If you've got 40 different apps and then another 20 different apps with cybersecurity, what's the real opportunity of the future? To me, the opportunity of the future is to have artificial intelligence. Look at all of this as if it were one data lake and then find patterns in it that will be useful for us to service our clients better. Some of those patterns can be, ‘Hey, we're seeing things that are happening in their infrastructure that are patterns we've seen before that indicate they could be in the midst of being hacked, because this is the same pattern we've seen over here.’ Humans see very large, obvious patterns in data. Artificial intelligence can see the minute patterns in the data, the ones that could be highly correlated to being hacked. It’s imperative that someone's got to bring this data together in a meaningful way so that you actually can then leverage that data with artificial intelligence to get to the next level of service and support.

That's the path that I see the managed service provider of today taking, adding cybersecurity if they're not already doing it, simplifying their existing operations by consolidating silos of data and then defending the digital borders of each and every one of our customers. We’re thereby contributing to the greater good of defending the digital borders of the nation that we live in.

What do you think of the top three players in the MSP space: ConnectWise, N-able and Kaseya?

I love all of them and I think they’re all doing a great job with what they have. I think that they need to focus on what that next thing will be that they need to be getting to. It’d be great if they could help solve these problems of connecting everything together. My concern is the incumbents, typically in any industry, don't have a large desire to change the way things are because, well, because they're the incumbents. There would be a natural tendency in any organization that is the incumbent to just add titles to their suite and say, ‘Here's an answer for this. Here's an answer for that.’ I think that's fine, but I also think that it's very important to provide choice. That means choice outside of your suite, outside of your realm, and you should provide those choices and be willing to have your applications connect openly to other solutions. Those solutions could be competitive to yours, but people should have the right to choose. I think they should pay attention to that.

What's it been like watching ConnectWise from afar?

It's been great. I think Jason [Magee, ConnectWise CEO] (pictured) has done a great job. I've been very happy with the work that he's done. I am not a founder/ inventor that looks at my former organization and says, ‘It should have gone left when it went right.’ It evolves as it evolves and Jason has done a very good job of evolving it to its natural next step.

When I talk to partners, some say that ConnectWise, and they say this about other vendors too, is all about the money and that they don't care about the partners. What is your response to that?

As an MBA in finance, yeah. Private equity is very focused on providing a high return to their investors, so yes, they're going to be focused on that. They should be focused on delivering commensurate value with the prices that they charge. That's up to each one of the private equity firms and the companies they own to decide if they're going to do that or not. I guess I would say it's okay to be all about the money if you're providing high value and choice and you're doing it by virtue of competing fairly. Sure, you should be able to make money. Maybe, just maybe, there needs to be some new fresh competition in the space, shake things up a little bit.

We did that at ConnectWise in the early days. We made our investment in LabTech to completely shake up the remote monitoring and management industry. At the time we felt there was predatory pricing that was too high and we came in and just crushed the price structure. We just brought it way down, like, to one-fourth of what was being charged at the time. We changed the industry and made it much more affordable so more managed service providers could then afford remote monitoring and management as it’s an absolute necessity in order to become a service provider.

I think that there is some of that going on today and I think that it's time for some good old-fashioned competition to come in and maybe shake things up. Maybe, just maybe, I will be able to get everyone back on their toes. It would be really nice. I'm going to come in aggressive and I would like to see everyone else get a little bit lighter on their feet, a little bit more nimble, maybe a little bit more innovative, maybe a little bit more price competitive, maybe a little bit more choice-friendly. So, if I have the opportunity to do that, I certainly will.

I have been reporting on a possible sale of ConnectWise for a year, and Jason Magee said an IPO is an option. Would you want to see ConnectWise go public?

You know, it's not for me to say. But yeah, for sure. I would love to see my company go public. I spent $9 million taking it public. When I got right to the altar I ran out of the church. We got right there, we had our bankers in line. It was always a goal to take the company public, but I don't really know that that's a good place for tech companies these days. The marketplace doesn't necessarily understand tech companies, but I don't know. It really depends on the current environment. You're talking to a guy who swam the English Channel. Throw a challenge out there and I'll go do it. It’s like, ‘Yeah, I want to take the company public.’ But that's a very complex decision.

You talk about coming in and shaking things up. Do you think a new ecosystem should be created in the channel?

I think ecosystems are always evolving in the channel. So the channel itself is an ecosystem of solutions, and the ecosystem needs to have some evolution inside of it. It needs more choice, more connectivity, more innovation, and perhaps more aggressive pricing to allow MSPs to scale. There's two ways to make money: You can have a high price and sell low volume or you can have a low price and sell high volume. I like selling low price at a high volume because everybody wins on it. Not everybody is in love with that idea, but I do believe that's also the way to maximize profitability in the long run, if you're willing to put yourself through that rigor.

That's what companies should be doing especially because you've got to defend the digital borders, so that has to be affordable. Why are small to midsize businesses not secure? The answer is, it’s expensive to secure them. Until the price comes down, or the regulations come on board that say you have to, you're not going to see small to midsize businesses volunteering to spend the extra money they need to spend in order to be secure.

Where do you think the biggest opportunity is for MSPs to make money?

Cybersecurity: double your revenue, double your fun with cybersecurity. You're on the hook for it. You're already doing probably four or five of the six things you need to be doing. Finish the job. Whatever you're charging for managed services, you can almost double that by adding cybersecurity services on top of that. That's the opportunity. Why are they not doing it? There's not enough talent out there, the solutions are too expensive, there's not enough choice and there's not enough connectivity of those solutions.