MSP 501 ‘MSP of the Year’ Finalist Pioneer-360 on Necessary Pivots and Evolving One’s Business Model

CEO and founder Joe McCartney talks about anticipating client needs and making difficult, but necessary, shifts.

Allison Francis

December 18, 2020

7 Min Read
Business model

The award for MSP of the Year works a little differently from the other special 501 awards. These shops demonstrate a willingness to take risks and pivot when necessary. They exhibit a deep familiarity with the MSP market and willingness to consider a business model evolution. These two characteristics are critical to channel companies looking to stay ahead of the curve, and Pioneer-360 has them in spades.

These special awards are part of the 2020 MSP 501. We narrowed the field of contenders down to three finalists that we feel represent the modern channel and display excellence in business efficiency and business model innovation.

This essentially means these folks have the nimbleness to pivot to meet industry trends, the guts to make risky moves today to position the business for tomorrow and the discipline to structure operations to achieve maximum efficiency in service delivery. 

We sat down with CEO and founder Joe McCartney to chat about Pioneer-360’s business model evolution, and how the company has weathered the roller coaster that has been 2020.

Structural Organization

For starters, the pioneering provider has a pretty robust business model. It’s a model it has grown and evolved to reflect industry dynamics, customer needs and emerging tech trends.


Pioneer-360’s Joe McCartney

“In the last several years, we have seen a push for companies needing more security and more structural organization for IT compliances,” said McCartney. “Once we started to truly understand compliance, we realized that there was a gap of doing best practices versus security versus compliance. These are not always synonymous, but when orchestrated together and properly, efficiency and stability increase along with overall security.” 

Compliance, My Dear Watson

Many of Pioneer-360’s clients are heavily steeped in regulatory compliance. Previous MSPs had somewhat glossed over this aspect. It was here that Pioneer-360 saw a wedge in the door.

The 2020 MSP 501 recognizes the top managed service providers in the world. See the full list. Then check out our brand-new Hot 101 and NextGen 101.

“Many of our clients are compliance/regulated to the highest degree, which of course creates a bit of a headache,” said McCartney. “Many of the organizations we entered into a contract with — their previous MSPs were doing the IT, but kept clear of the regulatory and compliance aspect. That puts the true IT burden on the back of the client, which is not what you want. We recognized this as an opportunity and jumped on it.” 

Pioneer-360 was able to anticipate its clients’ needs before the regulatory changes occurred, and was able to implement them before their audits. They did this by creating what Pioneer calls “The Calm.”   

“Anyone can do the IT portion, but if you’re not tackling the other headaches that IT creates, you’re not advancing your organization forward,” McCartney continued. “We are currently working toward our Soc2 Type 2 certification, understanding that we are an extension of our clients. Based on recent breaches by large scale MSPs, the auditors are only a click away from knocking on our doors, so our goal is to get ahead of that.”

Business Model Evolution

It’s not always easy to see the writing on the wall when it comes to evolving one’s business model. Pioneer-360 saw the need to evolve about five years ago with the advent of cryptocurrency. 

“About five years ago, our eyes were opened to the true evolution and growth of crypto and its devastating effects on business,” said McCartney.  “We basically took the stance of, “if this happens to us (our clients) we would not survive the fallout.” So we dug in, fortified our stack, re-engineered our internal infrastructure and took best practices to heart. Those practices led us to create an internal team called SAT, Pioneer-360’s situational awareness team. SAT’s sole mission is to organize, gather, create, distribute and train clients on how to be safe from cybercrimes — not only in the office, but personally.”   

Pioneer-360 even buys and …

… distributes SEIM as a part of its stack. They also have a small SOC internally to truly understand what data comes from within.            

“We will never say we can keep all intruders out; no one is impenetrable,” McCartney continued. “But we have taken the approach of best practice/security/compliance to keep our clients as safe as we can make them.”

Necessary Shifts

So what operational shifts was Pioneer required to make in order to support this evolved business model?   

“We had to create a NOC and a help desk, all while retraining techs on how to think about cyber safety. Simply patching a quick fix was no longer acceptable. Our company is rural, but we venture deep into managing many larger cities around us. This helps us keep our overhead significantly lower than our big-city rivals. Small-town living is a mathematical con/pro for bringing in talent, but when we do find that talent, we take them.”

Growing Pains

With any pivot and stride toward progress comes inevitable stumbles. Everyone has at least a couple of good “well, we’ll never do that again” stories. According to McCartney, he’s had his fair share of hiccups along the way. 

“There’s one example in particular that stands out,” recalls McCartney. “About seven or eight years ago, we used a DR technology we thought could revolutionize backups for MSPs. The problem was that the manufacturer didn’t understand the market or the tech and tools needed. They had a wonderful product; they just chose to go another direction with it. As a result, we had to re-engineer our DR solution, which was extremely costly. 

The takeaway? 

“Never try to reinvent the wheel. Don’t take technology and try to make it something it wasn’t really meant for. Stay away from the bleeding edge; it will cut deep. Stick with proven tech and remember that it’s about results and efficiencies, not the new cool shiny gadgets.” 

Agility and Operational Transformation

When it comes to being able to pivot, it’s interesting to take a look at the technological or operational developments a company has been through. Especially this year, with – you guessed it – COVID-19.  

The most challenging development Pioneer-360 is currently undertaking is its Soc2 Type 2 certification. In this sense, pivoting is an understatement.

“This is a complete shake-up. It is truly a full 360°, and still you get hit in the face with the ball,” said McCartney. “And of course, COVID-19 has changed my old-school mentality (you “go” to work and do your job, period). Having many folks working from home has been a tough challenge for me. I like being able to walk into an office and ask questions, see reactions and get genuine responses. Being unable to have those interactions has really affected me this year for sure.”

MSP of the Year Status

So, what makes Pioneer-360 truly different? 

“I guess our primary difference is how we offer our stack,” said McCartney. “We stopped thinking about selling hardware and just incorporated it into our stack. That includes PCs, servers, switches, routers, APs and the DR as part of our stack. Also, unlimited labor for the current environment. We sell by the seat, and the client has an exact picture of what IT will cost them per person. We control the Infrastructure, hence the security and compliance, and we become an extension of our client’s organization, not just another vendor.”

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About the Author(s)

Allison Francis

Allison Francis is a writer, public relations and marketing communications professional with experience working with clients in industries such as business technology, telecommunications, health care, education, the trade show and meetings industry, travel/tourism, hospitality, consumer packaged goods and food/beverage. She specializes in working with B2B technology companies involved in hyperconverged infrastructure, managed IT services, business process outsourcing, cloud management and customer experience technologies. Allison holds a bachelor’s degree in public relations and marketing from Drake University. An Iowa native, she resides in Denver, Colorado.

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