Most of our blogs for managed services providers (MSPs) focus on business tips for sales, marketing and technology. But every time I run into Arlin Sorensen, CEO of HTG Peer Groups, he turns the conversation upside down -- always starting with a focus on life-work balance and family. And that's a good thing. Here's why, along with some of the biggest inflection points Arlin has helped me to manage -- without even knowing it -- since 2008.
My latest encounter with Sorensen was at HP Global Partner Conference, where we sat down to dinner with Intel's Eric Townsend and former MSP Tim Brewer. Sorensen arrived with a workbook in hand. The title: "Planning for Success the HTG Way: A proven framework for building and executing plans for your legacy, life, leadership and business."
Sorensen spends considerable time reminding me -- and others -- that all "this" is going to end someday. The business grind. The self-produced stress. Perhaps it's time for us all to focus on the bigger considerations:
- When you're six feet under what do you want your legacy to be?
- Did you lead a good life along the way to your final, ultimate exit?
- Did you lead by example -- at work and at home?
- And what type of business did you run -- both in terms of the finances and the culture?
My Own Inflection PointsHard to believe but it has been more than five years since Nine Lives Media launched MSPmentor and The VAR Guy. Another site, WorksWithU, didn't survive for the long haul. But we restored our winning track record with the 2010 launch of Talkin' Cloud, which tracks the world's Top 100 Cloud Services Providers.
There have been plenty of inflection points along the way. Putting them in bullet format seems a little cold, considering how monumental each life event turned out to be. But this gives you a sense of where we've been, and why I continue to heed Sorensen's advice on life-work balance. The inflection points:
- Nov. 2007: Quitting my full-time job. As did Amy Katz. Together, we co-founded Nine Lives.
- January 2008: Unveiling MSPmentor and The VAR Guy. And hoping people would show up to read the sites.
- May 2008: Launching WorksWithU, a Linux-oriented site focused on Ubuntu. I remember discussing the idea with Amy. Her exact words: "The market sounds fun. Let's go for it." She was right. It was fun. And profitable. But not as profitable as our other sites. And it didn't align with our channel focus. So we killed it in 2010.
- June 2008: Our first paychecks from Nine Lives Media. Amy and I had pumped money into the company but had never taken any out. I was a bit freaked by the whole idea of draining Nine Lives savings even by a few dollars. But Amy was managing the business and made all the finances work -- from the very start.
- 2009: Somewhere around this time we hired Kim Daniels as senior sales consultant. Amy found Kim through a trusted friend. We soon learned that we could trust Kim with key clientele -- a huge win. Also, she likes DisneyLand. A plus around here.
- August 2010: Business turns deeply personal. I learn my brother in law -- my wife's brother -- is nearing death from cancer. At the same time, a third-party approaches Nine Lives about buying our business. How can such terrible and wonderful news arrive at the same time? Amy and I ultimately decline the M&A deal when the terms don't sound quite right. I was relieved. I think Amy was, too. Please don't repeat this portion of the story to anyone. The first M&A discussion had been a well-kept secret until this blog. But a lot of time has passed... so now you know.
- October 2010: I lose my brother in law to cancer. It was the lowest point of my life. He was a hero to my kids. I delivered the eulogy. I never worked so hard to deliver just the right words. Amy and her husband drove down from Boston to Long Island for the funeral. Seeing them delivered a much-needed lift. My business partner emerged as my best friend. Days later, I attended N-able and ConnectWise partner summits. At the N-able conference, Michael Drake of masterIT and Mike Jones of ETG pull me aside and assure me time will heal the wounds. Days later at ConnectWise IT Nation, CEO Arnie Bellini behind closed doors offered some words of wisdom to help me march forward. During the lowest time in my life, a lot of people kept me focused on the brighter days ahead. I'll never forget the support.
- Late 2010: I think Contributing Managing Editor Charlene O'Hanlon joined us about this time. I honestly don't recall the date because it seems like Charlene has been around here forever. A true pleasure. Talkin' Cloud launched around this time as well.
- January 2011: Amy and I met in Connecticut. We talked about all the items we're going to need to take Nine Lives to the next level. Talent involving IT, finance and more. But we also realize we need to be ready -- we must have our ducks in a row -- in case we attract more M&A discussions.
- August 2011: Penton Media acquires Nine Lives. We were ready. Amy had four years of financial records at her fingertips. She was a natural leader at the negotiating table. I just said lots of terms like "SEO" and "community." But really, Penton was attracted to Nine Lives because of Amy's business management skills and the results she delivered. Meanwhile, Larry Walsh over at The 2112 Group congratulates Nine Lives via his blog. I should have returned the gesture sooner. Larry and I compete in some areas. But that doesn't eliminate the fact that I think he's one of the smartest guys in this market, and I deeply respect the fact that he exited Big Media to build his own company.
- 2012 -- the good: Jessica Davis joined us somewhere early in the year as contributing managing editor. Again, I don't recall the exact date because she just parachuted right into the business and fit right it. Late in the year, Debbie Kane joined Kim Daniels on the sales team. Again, another cultural fit from the start. Amen.
- 20212 -- the bad: Amy had a nasty tooth infection. It's not my place to say how bad it got. That's Amy's story. But I can say this: She muscled through one of the most difficult years of her life. But things would get worse before they got better. Amy's mother in law died suddenly. Awful times. Each day on the phone we spoke more about family and life. We continued to lean on each other amid the difficult times.
- 2013 -- the next rally: So here we are five years into the business.We're still expanding; contributing associate blogger CJ Arlotta joins the party. And we're working on some key moves with Penton's IT department.
Culture ClubSo where am I on the journey Arlin has outlined? Where is Amy? Where is the Nine Lives team? Let me give you an example of the culture around here: The first week of January 2013, Charlene O'Hanlon had double hip replacement surgery. I barely noticed because Charlene is one of the most pleasant people to be around in business. She treated work as a great distraction from her daily therapy and recovery (she's doing awesome, by the way).
The Hard Parts: Legacy and LifeAs I look back on the Nine Lives journey so far:
- Leadership and Business have been the easy parts.
- Legacy and Life are the hard parts.
I don't know what my legacy will be at home. At least not yet. I'm still working on it. I often reflect on my late brother in law's legacy. He died more than two years ago. My sons -- now ages 14, 12 and 7 -- still mention him daily. And the conversations always trigger smiles instead of tears.
That's a legacy worth pursuing. Memo to Arlin: I'm still working on it. Thanks for the workbook. I'm finally taking some time to open it later tonight. I promise.