Partner-Turned-Provider: ThinkGard’s Paul Franks Embarks on New Venture
Five years ago, sensing a change in the channel winds, Paul Franks sold his pure play managed service provider (MSP) business to spin off ThinkGard, an MSP focused solely on disaster recovery as a service (DRaaS). Franks understood that while his customers still passively wanted someone to manage their IT needs, what they were really desperate for was data protection.
“If you go back and look at MSPs as a whole, they do end-user support, firewall support, wireless networking — and oh yeah, they’ll back up your data,” says Franks.
The most important thing to a client, he explains, is protecting their data.
“That’s their IP. It’s what they own. If they lose that data, the chances of their business recovering is pretty low.”
ThinkGard’s focus on backup and disaster recovery is designed to make it an offering that stands on its own two legs rather than integrate it into a more complex and cumbersome service offering.
Now, Franks is spinning off again, this time as a solution provider with its own IP rather than a managed-services shop. He’s recently launched PlanITDR, which aims to help MSPs with crafting customer-specific disaster recovery (DR) plans.
The genesis of PlanITDR lies in ThinkGard’s own struggles with the DR plan headache. Franks says that that creating the necessary templates was a lot of tedious work, and the company wound up making the same mistakes over and over again, such as leaving elements in the plan that were applicable to other clients. So the company decided to develop a software system to write those plans.
As one of Datto‘s top ten global partners, ThinkGard has a lot of touch points with the backup and disaster-recovery vendor. Franks sits on Datto’s advisory board, speaks at events such as DattoCon and leads training sessions to people who want to resell Datto products. When Datto’s Rob Rae saw the program ThinkGard was using, he encouraged Franks to begin selling it to the channel.
“We didn’t want to give up our secret sauce, but the timing just made sense.”
Planning for the Future Channel
Franks explains that what’s driving this evolution for him is no different than any MSP that wants to plan for the future and grow its practice to the next level. All MSPs leverage tools from providers like Datto, Kaseya, Autotask and so forth. If something happens in one of those companies that changes their arrangement with ThinkGard, it would put the company in a tough position because managed services is no longer a cost-price game. If a provider triples ThinkGard’s cost, it can’t just triple its price for the next customer. It has to look for another vendor and rip and replace all of its systems, and the cost associated with that is enormous.
Instead, ThinkGard has to compete on value, and with the consolidation happening in today’s channel, it can’t just hold its own on basics alone against the much larger companies investing in MSPs. It has to offer something those bigger shops can’t get their hands on. That’s where PlanITDR comes in.
The ThinkGard-PlanITDR arrangement is another example of channel convergence, the blurring of lines between traditional silos. Franks is now operating as both a partner and a provider, participating in channels with ThinkGard and building its own channel with PlanITDR.
“We decided to sell PlanITDR because we were concerned what the MSP world is going to look like in five years,” Franks says. “I don’t have a crystal ball, but I want to continue to grow ThinkGard. So we’re putting PlanITDR out in the channel world so we have some IP.”
Franks thinks that a lot of MSPs will be acquired or merge with other service providers in the next few years, and that in order to remain competitive, MSPs have to create ownership of a space, technology, industry or line of business. For his money, DRaaS provides an immediate value for which ThinkGard can charge premium prices. After all, it’s hard to put a price on peace of mind when you’re a business owner worried about a data breach taking down your organization.
For now, PlanITDR only integrates with Datto products, and Franks is leaning heavily on his high profile with Datto to build out his channel. He’s also hired managed sales professionals to start an initial call campaign for demos with potential partners. He’s not sure exactly how it will all play out, but his “crazy thought process” is to build out his channel with fellow Datto partners, then show other providers like Barracuda and Veeam what PlanITDR can do.