Learning to Let Go (for the Health of Your Company)
I'm a control freak. But I'm trying to break the habit. The latest example: I'm no longer running the underlying IT platforms that drive MSPmentor's two sister sites: The VAR Guy and Talkin' Cloud. Soon, I will let go of MSPmentor's underlying technology as well. What does this journey mean? Before you jump to conclusions, here are some important lessons for MSP entrepreneurs who are growing their businesses, considering potential M&A strategies, and struggling to delegate daily tasks.
First, some background: I've been an accidental CIO for about five years now. When we launched Nine Lives Media (MSPmentor's parent) in January 2008, I had some basic IT skills and some hunches about how online media would evolve. Similarly, co-founder Amy Katz had some great business development and sales experience to help her build financial models for our business. Amy quickly took on the CEO role and I took on the editorial director role — but there was that sort-of CIO responsibility that came along with it.
Fortunately, we had a great web design and architecture partner. And we found the right platforms (WordPress, MySQL, Rackspace, etc.) for the start of our IT journey. But somewhere around year three of our our business (2010-2011), I knew I would eventually need to hand off my technical responsibilities. As the old saying goes: Hire the best person for the job. And when it comes to CIO-type functions, I was good for a Stage 1 company. That's it.
Stage 2 and Beyond
Enter Penton Media. I think Amy and the Penton management team started talking M&A around Q2 of 2011. Amy always kept me looped in on the discussions. But ultimately she negotiated the deal. Among the big potential perks I hoped to achieve: Instead of trying to build a robust, scalable content management platform of our own, I hoped Penton would acquire us so that Nine Lives could ultimately run our web sites and media operations atop Penton's web platform.
In other words: If you want to transform your house into a mansion it's smart to plug into the existing city infrastructure rather than building your own power plant. That became a central part of the plan when Penton acquired Nine Lives Media in August 2011. But the complete IT transition wouldn't happen overnight.
Our first step was migrating all the basic business operations — email, finance, accounting, payroll, etc. — to Penton's systems. That occurred rapidly, and Amy made it all happen.
At the same time we watched how Penton began to standardize its own content management system on a single platform code-named PISCES. Look under the hood, and you'll find that PISCES is built on Drupal, an open source CMS. One by one, Penton was moving its various media brands onto Drupal. We knew Nine Lives Media had to chart a similar course.
But there were plenty of inflection points. We had to get our editorial team trained on Drupal (special thanks to Charlene O'Hanlon for taking the lead on learning Drupal.) I think some peers at Penton wondered if I was ready to truly “let go” of Nine Lives' content management system. We also had to sort out how our ad serving system would work on Penton's IT infrastructure. Most of all: I wanted to see our sites running — even in a controlled environment — on Penton's PISCES platform before we pulled back the curtain on a very public migration.
Experts In the House
That's where folks like Penton VP of Internet Technology Nino Tasca and Senior Project Manager Matt Tulloch enter the picture. Basically, PISCES is Tasca's baby. And Tulloch is the migration expert who made sure The VAR Guy and Talkin' Cloud had safe passage to PISCES. Tulloch will repeat that feat sometime soon for MSPmentor (stay tuned).
Like any IT project, we encountered plenty of challenges amid our migration. But the bottom line is our sites and business continues to grow; I'm still blogging away; and Penton is now running two-thirds of our media platforms. The final one-third of the migration is within sight…
The Lesson for MSPs and Entrepreneurs
When you started your business, you likely did a little bit of everything because you had to. But as you consider potential business growth — or maybe even an M&A deal — down the road here's what I'd do:
- First, make a list of the key tasks you want/need to delegate over time.
- Second, make a list of the skills that organic hiring or an M&A deal will bring to the table.
As an entrepreneur or business owner you need to do less — not more. In some ways it's fine to be a control freak. But when you're no longer the smartest guy or gal in the room on a specific t0pic then its time to eat some humble pie, delegate fast and get back to what you love: The creative process of building a business, rather than the nuts and bolts of running a business.
As for me, I'm still doing what I love. But my job description no longer includes after-hours website support for The VAR Guy and Talkin' Cloud. That's my opportunity to say goodnight.