Autotask CEO Reveals 2011 Growth Stat, Business Plan

Autotask CEO Reveals 2011 Growth Stat, Business Plan

Autotask's new customer acquisitions (January through August 2011) are up 70 percent vs. the same period last year, according to CEO Mark Cattini. During a wide-ranging interview with MSPmentor today, Cattini (pictured) and Senior VP of Global Sales Kevin Donovan described Autotask's strategy for continued growth. Cattini and Donovan also described their views on building community with MSPs, software partners, distributors and other participants in the Autotask ecosystem.

Autotask positions itself as a SaaS-based business software platform for VARs, MSPs and IT services providers. Most partners know Autotask as a player in the PSA (professional services automation) market, which includes such key rivals as ConnectWise and Tigerpaw Software.

Cattini arrived at Autotask in December 2011, succeeding founder and former CEO Bob Godgart, who remains chairman but is no longer involved in day-to-day operations. So how has Autotask's business performed since Cattini became CEO? Until now, Autotask has been very quiet about its 2011 performance. But Cattini and Donovan shared some nuggets of information. Here are some key points from our discussion today.

Autotask's Strategy

Cattini has embarked on a multi-part strategy to shift the conversation away from traditional PSA debates and towards the following areas, I believe:
  • Open SaaS: Including SaaS-based business software; open APIs for partners to embrace, and a cross-platform browser strategy.
  • Global Expansion: The company opened an office and added headcount in the UK, and announced plans for a push into Germany. Best guess: More significant moves are likely coming.
  • Redefining Community: Instead of having one person interacting with Autotask's customers and partners, the company is striving to have multiple executives participate on the community front, with Senior VP Len DiCostanzo leading the effort.

1. Autotask's Technology

"Our core technology is good," Cattini asserted before adding, "but it could be better."

Of Autotask's 200 employees, about 100 are engaged in development, infrastructure and quality assurance, Cattini estimated.

Cattini noted that Autotask is now "95 percent browser independent." That is, all of Autotask's software modules now run in the major browsers. The one exception involves an administration module.

Meanwhile, more than 100 software companies and technology partners now plug into Autotask, using the company's APIs. (Note: I don't know how that compares with other PSA providers but we'll get some answers during upcoming ConnectWise and Tigerpaw conferences, respectively).

Donovan also said Autotask will continue to promote open workflows rather than proprietary workflows. The approach ensures Autotask can be applied to a business, rather than a business reorganizing itself to fit Autotask, he added.

Meanwhile, we didn't spend much time covering VARStreet, the IT product sourcing platform that Autotask acquired in 2010. Generally speaking, I think Autotask's core SaaS platform is Cattini's prime area of focus.

2. The Executive Team

Cattini says the Autotask executive leadership team is now in place and he doesn't foresee major changes. "We organized the team faster than it typically takes," said Cattini. "Normally it takes a year. We did it in nine months. We're only hiring A+ players. If you're not an A+ player you're not going to last at Autotask. We're very happy with the team."

During our conversation, we did not get into a name-by-name rundown of those who've joined and those who've left Autotask in the past year. But for the record, some moves we've tracked in 2011:

Arrivals:
  • CFO Vince Zumbo
  • Senior VP Donovan was previously with Pitney Bowes
  • Mark Banfield, Autotask managing director – international, is a MapInFo veteran
  • (side note: Cattini previously built MapIn before selling it to Pitney Bowes)
Departures:
  • Former CEO Bob Godgart, who remains chairman
  • Chief Marketing Officer Bob Vogel
  • Former Senior VP Jay McBain.
The Godgart and Vogel departures didn't surprise me. Both had long runs at Autotask. As soon as Cattini arrived it seemed evident that a transition was under way.

Still, McBain's exit from Autotask caught me by surprise since he'd only been on the job for about nine months. Among other responsibilities, McBain led Autotask's community efforts. When he and Autotask parted ways, both sides were mostly mum, with each side speaking respectfully about the other.

 3. Community - A Different Approach

Following McBain's departure, Senior VP Len DiCostanzo took on the added responsibility of running Autotask's community. But Cattini sees the community effort involving numerous Autotask leaders.

"I'm very pleased with Len in the role," said Cattini. "The more I got to know Len the more I see his deep understanding about how he personally build his own IT services business. People love him."

"His Staten Island accent travels well," Cattini quipped. "He's really respected."

Added Donovan: "You're authentic if you have a community leader who has run an IT services business. That's Len." (Side note: I don't think Donovan was taking any shots at rival community leaders; he didn't mention competitors at all during our one-hour call.)

Still, Cattini and Donovan made it clear that multiple Autotask executives will engage with the company's community. Said Cattini: "For me, I want us all to be involved in the community. I don't want it to be one or two people. Len will spearhead and manage the community but in the final analysis it's not just one guy."

In rapid-fire fashion, Cattini rattled off several Autotask executive names who are community-engaged, including Director of Product Marketing Bruce McEwing, VP of Marketing Scott Opiela, VP of Strategic Account Sales Jake Carroll, Donovan... and perhaps even a few other names that my ears and typing skills weren't quick enough to catch.

Donovan added: "I think we've reshaped the way we view community both internally and externally. It's also about the vendor partners participating in that continuum, so you can't funnel the community through one person."

To close our community discussion, Autotask confirmed plans for Autotask Community Live 2012, scheduled for June 10-12 at the Marriott Orlando.

My personal view: Autotask will no longer chase the user group concept that ConnectWise successfully built and mastered. Instead, I believe Autotask will continue to host educational conferences while focusing mainly on international expansion and localization.

4. Money Matters

Cattini reiterated some statements that he made to me in May 2011. He says he joined Autotask as part of a multi-year march rather than a quick exit strategy for venture capitalists. "There's nobody looking for a quick exit here," said Cattini.

There's no pressing need to raise more money, he added, but Cattini did leave the door slightly open for another round of funding or maybe a cash infusion of some sort -- though he didn't mention any specific possibilities. "The business is healthy but there's always use for more money when you're expanding. Additional capital could always accelerate a rocket ride."

5. Exit Thoughts:

I asked Cattini for thoughts on random rapid-fire questions, which included:
  • Last Book Read: Scar Tissue, the autobiography of Red Hat Chili Peppers vocalist Anthony Kiedis. Cattini is a music enthusiast at home, which houses 30 guitars and a rehearsal studio. Assuming I heard him correctly, I believe Cattini's 16-year-old son is in a band that has opened for Snoop Dogg.
  • Tech Company He Most Admires (Other Than Autotask): "That's easy; it's Apple. Their user experience is incredible."
  • Smartest Career Move: "Moving to Autotask, obviously. But they've all been pretty good moves. Lotus was great. And at MapInfo... all my success just turned on that one hire." Side note: Cattini successfully built and sold MapInfo to Pitney Bowes.
  • The One Business Move He'd Do Differently: "I would have put Len in the community role earlier. Each day he asks "what wall should I run through today." I feel like I've underutilized Len."

Bottom Line

Cattini and Donovan offered lots of answers today. But some questions can't be answered fully -- at least not publicly.

On the one hand, Cattini described how Autotask's new customer bookings are up 70 percent January to August 2011 vs. the same period in 2010. But I forgot to ask a critical question:  How is customer retention going? Also, as a privately held company Autotask doesn't need to disclose profitability figures.

Looking ahead, I expect Autotask to continue its international push, which potentially includes markets where there are few or no entrenched rivals. But Autotask won't have the international market to itself. As I wrapped up this blog, I received an unsolicited update indicating that members of the ConnectWise team were heading off to Europe for a roadshow.

Long live competition.
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