When a friend convinced Mitch Gatewood to “go into computers” back in the mid-90s, being an MSP wasn’t exactly what he had in mind. “I should have invested in Dell,” he says.
Instead, Gatewood, based in Dallas, Texas, hopped on the Microsoft bandwagon, traveling around the country to train customers in how to use the software. Through word of mouth referrals, he built an IT consulting company and soon realized many small to midsize companies didn’t have anyone to direct them on their IT needs.
“So in ‘98 or ‘99 I became an MSP. Of course, we didn’t term it that way back then,” says Gatewood. “But my first client, a local law firm, didn’t have anybody, so I stepped in. They started turning me on to other companies, and I moved on from there.”
Back then, Gatewood’s typical package included all things Microsoft like a Windows NT server and Office applications, and a sad little mail server called Microsoft Mail that couldn’t “do much of anything at all.”
While his offerings stayed pretty steady throughout the early 2000s, the way he had to manage things evolved. Before remote access, Gatewood and his employees had to physically travel to his clients’ sites. Then came pcAnywhere, remote desktops, and--finally--remote monitoring and management. RMM provided him with a helpdesk tool, allowed him to audit his clients’ machines and devices, and gave him the capability to manage updates remotely.
Gatewood calls the advent of RMM “a godsend” and credits the technology, which he gets from Kaseya, with his change in business model. He eliminated his excess staff and moved from an hourly billing model to a monthly recurring retention fee--easy to do since he never relied on resale revenue to drive his business. Sometimes the client would buy the hardware he recommended, and sometimes Gatewood would buy it for them, but he never saw big margins from it.
“I don’t make much money off of hardware; it’s rare that I do, and I never did,” he says. “Today I make spiffs off of some telecom sales and stuff like that. But the space has changed a lot. IT and telecom are almost the same--I can’t tell you the last time I saw a non-VoIP phone system.”
This is good news for Gatewood and his customers, because the IT solutions they go with aren’t based on price or a high-pressure sale from a telco agent. The ‘trusted advisor’ role isn’t new to Gatewood. It’s the way he’s always operated. Gatewood goes to the company and learns about it before proposing any solution: What technologies are they using, and where do they hope to grow? It’s a highly-personalized approach, and one that he admits is becoming antiquated in a cloud world.
“I don’t have that ‘solutions in a box’ template for customers. Someday I’ll work toward that--things would be a lot easier for me if I did.”
He has a steady stream of business and a solid network built on word of mouth referrals, but he’s looking to retire his business and focus on completing his degree in electrical engineering.It’s been 20 years since Gatewood became an MSP, and he’s ready for a change of pace. Being on call for clients 24x7 is getting old; it’s been two years since he’s had a vacation. And, he says, he’s “getting too old to deliver PCs and get under people’s desks.”
He'd like to expand his staff to take over the day-to-day operations so he can focus on building a business that will help him transition into retirement. He'd like more time with his family, and he'd also like to expand his horizons past the same solutions he's been providing for years, to breathe new life into his technical knowledge.
"It’s time for something new.”