Business never sleeps. It used to be nine-to-five, Monday to Friday – no weekends.
Then along came the Internet and with it, emails and things changed forever.
“We started out selling technology into businesses in the 80s,” president and managing director of ConnectWise International David Bellini reflects whilst welcoming CIE into the company’s spacious new London office. “Back then we would take computers into companies; we helped them write spreadsheets with Lotus 1-2-3, so they said: ‘you should put a computer on everyone’s desk and we can run WordPerfect and Lotus’ – and that was all we were setting up.”
Fast-forward to 2015 and David and his brother, Arnie – chief executive officer of ConnectWise – are offering a hell of a lot more.
Today, ConnectWise is known for its leading business management software solution for technology businesses, and with over 100,000 users, it is now the IT industry’s most widely used professional services automation software worldwide.
Leveraging the cloud, the platform fully integrates business-process automation, help desk and customer service, sales, marketing, project management and business analytics in order to dramatically streamline a company’s operations.
“Our typical company is a small business, but we are basically selling to the technology companies that are re-selling their technology to other businesses.”
ConnectWise’s typical demographic is a technology company that is anywhere from 25 employees to 500, although the company doesn’t have any minimum number of users. “We sell to anyone,” David clarifies. “The partner who is a five user today can be our next 1,000 user partner.”
Starting the business as two brothers in their early 20s, the pair could never have predicted the success they would one day achieve and the way they would change the way businesses operate.
“We were 21 and 24 years old, but in the industry they looked to the young people because no one old knew how to use a computer yet.” David nods. “What we did was just buy the PCs – not build the computers – and we would put them into small businesses that didn’t have an IT department – they didn’t know how to do it, they were surprised that PCs could help small businesses!”
The brothers had a strong interest in IT from a young age – encouraged by their father, who worked at computer hardware and software corporation, IBM.
“That was a big help to us,” David explains. “We used to say: ‘we’ve got the very first IBM PC in Tampa’ – because our father was the branch manager at the time. He brought it home, we started playing with it,” – and the rest is history.
The next 10 years saw the brothers put PCs into local businesses, overseeing local area networks, wiring them in, replacing word processor systems and installing accounting applications.
Taking into account the company’s monumental success, it’s hard to believe that the brothers never initially intended to sell the ConnectWise product, however after many enquiries for their services the pair recognised the technical support requirements PCs would place on businesses and quickly moved to establish a full-service IT company.
By this point the company was made up of 16 people, with David and Arnie finding that they were working most weekends and finding it hard to keep track of everything.
Hence ConnectWise software was born, created for the sole purpose of managing the Bellini brothers’ own accounts.
“We never planned to re-sell the product, we wrote it for ourselves,” David laughs, looking back. “We started in 1982 and about 10 years after we were writing our own software! We had a lot of people ask for copies of the application and we said no because we knew that then we’d have to support them, and at the time that seemed like too much work for us – but people kept asking.”
What changed their minds was when a now billion dollar IT distribution company approached them. “We caved and said, ‘okay, but you’ll have to buy it as it will involve support people.’ I think we sold eight copies the first year, the next year we sold 35, the next, 300 and now look where we are.”
From there, the business expanded rapidly, keeping pace with the evolving technology at the time. The brothers found that almost every small business wanted what they could offer, which makes sense, as it was the first time small businesses could compete with large ones.
“Suddenly, they had the same technology that you used to have to buy for a million dollars,” David reveals. “Now, that same technology was less than $6,000 – and now it’s less than $1,000.”
After local businesses started showing interest, David was keen for the software to be used to its full potential, but was halted by taking it to the masses prematurely due to making constant refinements.
Speaking warmly about his brother, David reveals that he “knew we could open it up to more, but Arnie is a perfectionist. We are the Yin and yang; I think I was more of the CPA – I didn’t just want to build things and not make money. I insisted on ROI and profitability, while Arnie was more the type to say ‘we’ll make this really great system, build it and they’ll come.’ I was more of the opinion that yes that’s a great idea, but let’s build it in such a way so we can actually be profitable, so I think we make a good mix. He’s more of the ‘big picture’ side and I’m more fiscally conservative. In some ways we are switching roles now, and it works.”
It certainly seems to have; the company has grown dramatically in North America since its inception, where it occupies parts of four buildings in Tampa (the studio is run by younger brother, Mike Bellini).
Always striving to achieve more, it was decided that David would oversee the company’s new UK sales and support office.
“I feel like we’ve been underexposed here and for us the UK is an important market that we feel is untapped.”
Outside of the US, ConnectWise software does particularly well in Germany, South Africa and Australia, as well as in a number of non-English-speaking countries in EMEA through a network of independent software distributors.
“We have to be here [in London], we have to be a critical mass here,” he enthuses. “There are 60 million people here and they all have computers – that’s the way we look at it. I feel like the economic environment in England and Europe is on the up swing and that it’s really starting to hit its stride.”
“The recent elections was such a big pro-business thing for the UK; I even think that in some ways the UK will really start cranking it.”
“What I mean by this is that I think that there is such a good business environment here right now; I think that businesses have really woken up to the idea that they need to put more technology into their industries to make them compete better in the world.”
David has found that he really enjoys working to grow the UK business, although he admits that the company has had to tackle it with a whole new approach compared with the US.
“We learnt kind of the hard way over here that you have to have a presence, but we thought: ‘they speak English, they do what we do’ – but you’ve got to be here and have British people selling and supporting for you.”
“I think that some Americans will throw money at things and cross their fingers, whereas I see that British people are a lot more like me; you have to prove that you have value before I buy from you. So there’s a bunch of people just like me here, which is great.”
Naturally, ConnectWise uses its own software internally, or “eats its own dog food,” as David puts it.
“We’ve dedicated ourselves to targeting technology companies, but we are beginning to realise that the opportunities open to us are immense. But our code is a million lines so it’s a little more complicated than that!”
When asked what he would say to British companies hesitant to make the leap to investing in ConnectWise software, it is clear that David doesn’t plan on forcing it upon anyone, rather letting the software do the talking.
“We have a 90-day satisfaction guarantee; if you like it you’ll figure it out and if you don’t see results within 90 days you can leave, no problem, you get your money back.”
Investing In Partners
ConnectWise has tremendous support from its community of partners (David likes that word, partners – meaning, customers), because he believes that it is a partnership. “We want to help you, not just on software, but we are going to teach you best practices, provide seminars and build peer groups to educate on how to become better at doing what you do – we are always trying to make them better.
“We try to come to our partners and say: ‘let us help, you’re only making 10% of the bottom line – that’s not bad, but lets shoot for 20%.’ If you’re going to run a business, make it profitable. I see a lot of technology companies that just aren’t that profitable so what we do is we come in and we can teach you how to achieve greater accountability, operational efficiency, and profitability.”
One of the reasons the software has gained so much traction thus far is because companies are starting to notice that their competitors are using it, and with ConnectWise continuing to move with the times, businesses are keen to invest in solutions that can keep them at the cutting edge of technology.
“We’re always trying to grow, and we feel that we have a good product that can really help a lot of companies be successful. Most companies don’t have their own IT departments to manage everything, so that’s where we come in.”
Coming up in November is ConnectWise’s annual three-day conference and educational event, IT Nation in Orlando, Florida.
“The nicest thing about going to IT nation is that I’ll have partners that I haven’t met yet come up to me saying: ‘your software has made us so profitable, we had two users and now we’re a 25 user company, we’re making lots of money and I just bought a new boat’. And I’m like: ‘great!’ I’m proud that I was able to affect someone’s life.”
“A lot of people never imagine themselves ever owning their own business, they didn’t grow up thinking that; I call them accidental entrepreneurs – a lot of these people accidently step in it and then they find us and we can help make them profitable,” says David proudly.
“Then they come back to us and say ‘we own our own company.’ We call that the American dream. Why? Because you have the freedom to take time off, control your own fate. I never really consider it work, personally.”
CIE can’t help but point out that David and Arnie are accidental entrepreneurs themselves. “Exactly!” David laughs. “From where we started, I never in a million years thought we’d be where we are now. If you sit there and think: ‘one day I’m going to have 800 employees’ – doesn’t that sound intimidating? Yes! But we grew into it.
“There’s an old saying, if you put a frog in water and start heating the water up he’ll never know that he’s boiling to death.”
So you were a frog in boiling water without even knowing it, asks CIE? “Exactly! We gradually got bigger and bigger over time. I never thought anything like this would happen, that we would have almost 800 employees.
“I used to know everyone,” he points out. “I would study all of their pictures, being the COO, and I would walk amongst the company and try to remember everybody’s names, but now that’s impossible. I know everybody over here though – when I go back, I just say hi to everyone, I don’t know if they’re an employee or not – I just wave and say hi!” he laughs.
David is certain that the UK is going to accelerate a lot quicker in terms of the technology and innovations, and there is no sign of business slowing down. “Yes I’m still answering emails late at night. If I could change one thing, I would change England to the Eastern Time zone!” he jokes.
As if on cue, a gentle knock on the door reminds David that he is imminently due at an ‘intimate dinner’ made up of 45 ConnectWise partners and staff members ahead of a day of seminars the following day.
“Business never sleeps,” he shrugs.