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Bvoip CEO On Talent Shortages, A Potential Recession And How ‘Mega MSPs’ Are Being Formed

CJ Fairfield

“There’s this perfect storm all coming together at once [in the economy]. ... The only way people really know what’s going on instead of speculating … how about we actually talk to people and say, ‘What’s working and what’s not working? What are you seeing and what do you think you’re going to see?’” George Bardissi, CEO of bvoip, tells CRN.

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George Bardissi wears many hats. He’s an MSP, a vendor and heads an organization that educates MSPs in the channel community.

He is the founder and CEO of Hatfield, Pa.-based VoIP and Unified-Communications-as-a-Service company bvoip and founder and president of Bardissi Enterprises, an MSP also based in Hatfield. He also heads up MSP Initiative, based in Philadelphia, a community that serves to educate IT service providers and MSPs.

Bardissi Enterprises was founded in 2000 and bvoip, where he currently spends most of his time, was founded in 2014.

With being in the channel for more than 20 years and having both an MSP and a vendor perspective, he has a finger on the pulse of what’s happening in the channel right now and where he believes it’s going.

What are you hearing from partners? What do they want from a vendor and how is bvoip providing that to them?

First is the business model. They don’t want to get locked into long-term agreements. If on the other side, their end customer splits up with them, they don’t want to get stuck with a balance of time on the left when their customers are not paying them on the right. MSPs keep on getting sandwiched in between the rock and the hard place.

No. 2 is minimums. If somebody is meeting a new company for the first time, they don’t know if it’s great. The pitch sounds good, but they need to live it. So if they’re going into a minimum in order to stay active and they realize, ‘Hey, maybe this isn’t for us,’ or maybe. .. it takes time to go and make that work for them and across their customers. They’re stuck on the hook. That’s a barrier to moving forward.

No. 3 is they really don’t like their customers being marketed to without them being in the loop. If I’m bringing my customers, my book of business, to the table as an MSP, that’s really my customer. Then Mr. vendor comes along and they’re like, ‘Well, now they’re our customer who wants to sign up with us.’ There’s this rub that goes the wrong way. The vendor and the partner is a one-to-one relationship, there’s a line there, and then there’s the end customer and the partner.

One of the biggest things after all the things I just said is, can I actually get a hold of someone? Am I confident that when I need help, I can get it? We’re in a unified communications business at bvoip. We literally pick up the phone. The great reason why people end up in Reddit land and discord land and Slack channel groups is because they can’t get a hold of the vendor. Why didn’t they just go directly to the source and solve their problem? There’s just a severe disconnect between the expectation of the MSP and the vendor and how they’re supported.

So what is your biggest pain point?

People. There’s technology and you’ll probably hear people say security and all this other stuff, and I’m not saying those other things that pop up aren’t valid, but to me, people are in the middle of the whole story. Technology is just a tool. But everybody is just so different in the way that they view the world and the lens that they view it in. There’s a balancing act that is constant. Those interactions are not the same and I know that that’s going to be the case forever. There’s no secret sauce on how to engage every person and the way they need to be dealt with. No one size fits all, it never will. Everybody kind of needs to be handled differently and it’s a little bit problematic from a scaling standpoint.

With a potential economic downturn, what are you doing for your companies and how are you helping partners recession-proof their business?

A lot of people on different layers are super concerned about things tightening up. Then also on the other side, the supply chain is still an issue. The vendors are still raising their prices while people on the other side don’t want to spend more. There’s this perfect storm all coming together at once. So here are the things that I suggest. One, you need to talk. The only way people really know what’s going on instead of speculating … how about we actually talk to people and say, ‘What’s working and what’s not working? What are you seeing and what do you think you’re going to see?’ Let’s actually download that information and collaborate with the people in the trenches. That’s the real data. I don’t care about all of the forecasting and the companies out there that create modeling and think and suspect that’s great for enterprise. But in this bucket, the people on the street are the information.

No. 2 is I think helping these guys and girls understand where to put their net to catch their fish. So, yes, their existing customers may shrink or may hold or may start to compress their resources but that also means if you go a layer or two up, these larger organizations are going to now compress, their employees are going to start getting cut. And IT is usually in the top five roles that get cut down. So if they throw their net in the right place, and they’re prepared, these companies can’t stop using technology. They need the technology, but they’re trying to cut down their costs. They’re going to have to outsource some of that and if they’re positioned properly they can capture the things coming downstream to offset whatever’s happening at the other side with their existing client base.

 

What market trends are you watching right now? What do you think is coming in 2023?

Cybersecurity is not going away, I think that that’s just going to keep on going up and up. However, I think that there’s a lot of noise and the decision-maker who has to decide where to spend their money isn’t quite sure if their dollars versus what their security requirements are are lined up. There’s so much focus on that right now and I feel like there’s a little bit of sensationalism around it. I think there needs to be a little bit more practicality there. At the top level, there’s still a lot of outside money coming in both on the vendor and the MSP side when it comes to VC [venture capital] and PE [private equity] and acquisitions and mergers. However, we see this every two or three years, that cycle where people who are working on internal IT that got laid off turn around and say, ‘I’m going to start an IT company.’ Then thousands of new companies pop up for the hundreds of companies that get acquired. More people are starting these companies on the bottom side than people that are getting acquired at the top. So I think that from a forecasting standpoint, for the next two or three, maybe even four years, you’ll see net-new growth in IT MSP land than you will see shrinkage.

So what do you think of all the M&A in the market right now?

Mega MSPs are being formed. Top-of-class, really large MSPs are being collapsed into becoming mega MSPs. And when you’re talking about the hundreds of thousands of endpoints, it’s exciting, they’re the big guys. Those guys are being very particular in the way that they’re approaching the market and how they’re doing business. But here’s what we’ve learned from the companies that came before us that have done this kind of thing. If you don’t have the localized support, you can try and centralize as much as you want. If you don’t have the localized support, it does break down. I think that that’s the challenge on the top side. They need to figure out how to keep that home feel in each of the regional or local markets, and I think that that’s the struggle that nobody’s really figured it out to the point where it’s just gangbusters.

No. 2 is I do think, on the other side of the equation, people have started to realize that if they rubber-band four or five or six of them together, their valuation as a group coming together as a merger is bigger than them individually. But there’s no outside funding coming in to do that. They’re effectively coming together and crowdsourcing a larger entity, and that’s starting to happen now. So I find that once the business owners and decision-makers that are in the room understand how they can parlay on the market that’s been set from the VC/PE guys coming in doing what they’re doing, they can take advantage of the same thing, but at a smaller level.

How are you handing supply chain and talent shortages?

So my MSP started in 2000 and we went remote in 2005. For a guy that hates to sit in traffic I found no benefit to have somebody drive to an office, then have to maybe go to the customer, then come back to the office and then drive home. You’re burning a lot of time behind the windshield. When we started bvoip, each metro had their mega companies that raid the colleges at graduation. You’re fighting the corporation as a small company when it comes to talent, which has always been a problem. I’ve always thought ‘go where your talent is.’ There’s really smart and clever people all over the planet. I‘ve met people that came up with ideas that I thought were absolutely brilliant, and I would have never thought of that because I didn’t experience things from their way, but it was an awesome idea. So I think you’ve got to be able to reach out, not just inside your state or your country but maybe even internationally and be able to build out your teams. Remote work has definitely been able to make that happen, but ultimately speaking, remote work 100 percent of the time has its pitfalls. You still need to be able to bring those people together on some sort of interval because you will never be able to change the in-person dynamic. That is still the absolute best way to move the needle forward. When I bring my teams together in a two- or three-day window and then send them back home, the amount of progress that happens in that two or three days could be two or three months of screen time. It’s almost like energy is flowing into the room that you just can’t get through the monitor. So that’s a big thing.

What can we expect from bvoip and MSP Initiative in 2023?

So from a bvoip perspective, I have a feature list probably 300 deep on things that people raise their hand and said, ‘It would help my business if you did this. My end customer would love to see this.’ So we’ve had it literally on the floor building out maybe 250 new features a year and we’re going to continue down that road. I think that’s part of our success story. We’re just catering to the MSP and making sure that they’re successful and doing what they’re supposed to be doing.

For MSP Initiative, our goal there is just a straight community approach. We think we can do really cool things, create really great experiences and basically create an environment where these people will talk with each other and network and learn.

CJ Fairfield

CJ Fairfield is an associate editor at CRN covering solution providers, MSPs and distributors. Prior to joining CRN, she worked at daily newspapers, including The Press of Atlantic City in New Jersey and The Frederick News-Post in Maryland. She can be reached at cfairfield@thechannelcompany.com.

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