MSP 501 Profile: The Fulcrum Group on the Entrepreneurial Spirit and Being Service-OrientedMSP 501 Profile: The Fulcrum Group on the Entrepreneurial Spirit and Being Service-Oriented
Founder and CEO Steve Meek on changing technology and evolving operations, and being the Spock, not the Kirk.
December 21, 2020
Company Name: The Fulcrum Group
Company Hot 101 Rank: 11
Founder and CEO: Steve Meek, CISSP
Headquartered: Fort Worth, Texas
Storage & virtualization
Voice over IP
On-premises & cloud
SPOT managed IT services
SMB Hot 101 honoree The Fulcrum Group is doing big things. Founder and CEO Steve Meek operates by several principles that drives the business and has put them on the path to success — ultimately landing them on the new SMB Hot 101 list this year.
The Fulcrum Group’s Steve Meek
Meek stresses the importance of caring for and helping the people you work with, and the ability to exchange ideas. These may sound simple enough, but the ripples from these principles touch a whole host of things.
We sat down with Meek to get a sense of how The Fulcrum Group is evolving and growing their MSP business.
Channel Futures: What do you love about the IT channel? What do you dislike about it?
Steve Meek: There are two key things I love about the IT channel.
1. The people. As a population, I believe vendors, business owners and team members are progressive and always looking forward. Many of the basic human beliefs in a service provider represent how I see myself and things I want to see in others. A general care for people we work with and the desire to help others, even if we do not directly benefit, are essential. Something about the combination of entrepreneurial spirit and service-oriented function means I have met many like-minded people, many of whom I now consider friends. Some of these people I have known for over 20 years through multiple organizations, and we stay in touch and see each other (though not as much as before COVID-19).
2. The ability to exchange ideas. It is easy for business owners like me in smaller organizations to fall victim to cognitive biases. Thank goodness the various communities allow us to engage with others on similar quests for learning, growing, understanding and research. Most channel people are willing to exchange ideas, and I’ve found three common areas:
Technology is always changing. Disruptive technologies frequently sneak out and other firms can act as early warning systems. Sometimes it is for tools that help us work better, smarter or faster. Other times it is new technology to help end users. Either way, clients get more value.
Our operations. Corporate and MSP IT are constantly challenged to provide a great experience, project manage and document every day. They are also charged with looking to the future and to staff reasonably, and respond quickly. Oh, and to secure everybody. Comparing thoughts on how other firms operate can help tweak something, or light up a completely new idea. Whether they are larger or smaller than we are, there is something to learn.
Client business ideas. When we talk, we may not share a specific client’s name, but we do discuss solutions and industries. This is a great way to uncover new innovations and trends that might apply to our own client base, as well as compliance experiences. It extends one’s management team to anybody who will take a minute to chat. How cool is that?
CF: What is one thing you wish vendors would do that they don’t?
SM: I think an opportunity for improvement with vendors is ramping up new partners and getting their solution deployed properly. For MSP engineers, we support a variety of technologies, and sometimes challenges get in the way of best practices. Their solutions would benefit from a simple list of settings (so partners could create their preferred settings). Or, a good-better-best or common setting for 10-50, 50-100 or 100+ employees (targeting solutions in the SMB space).
Vendors invest lots of money in facilitating video training or webinars on their solutions, but rarely offer …
… basic direction. They typically point us in the direction of long white papers instead of making any actual recommendations for settings. Vendors want to avoid their solutions being the source of an issue or breach, but actually contribute to the issue by not offering practical advice.
While there are tests to certify people in technology, there isn’t much real-world advice for partners on where to start. There are dangers from end users finding the information and implementing on their own. For example, I like what SonicWall did with its recommended setting for ransomware protection. It shares some key settings and helps partners protect clients consistently, until we build more expertise and are able to tweak settings even more.
Further, Microsoft has something similar with the security defaults setting it created for Azure AD. It turns on a collection of settings that are in your best interest as a tenant. They also have their Secure Score functionality that goes deeper into the choices you might want to make in Office 365. This is similar to their premises-based tool for various server roles, their Best Practice Analyzers. These features don’t solve all your problems, but help make sure partners get off on the right foot and vendors help build their partner networks with hard-to-replace skills.
CF: Why are you a MSP business owner instead of working for someone else? What is the allure of entrepreneurship to you?
SM: I never actually wanted to be a business owner. I have a business degree but was not originally pursuing entrepreneurship. I had also been in various leadership, management and executive roles over the years, and fully know the stress of ownership, finance and people management. But, at a young age, I always preferred to be the Spock, not the Kirk. I preferred quietly figuring things out and solving problems, not being in charge.
In college, I developed a love for being part of teams. I changed from an academically and intellectually curious person to one more driven to apply knowledge. As I entered the world of commerce, I kept getting promoted for being able to manage technical people, understand and document processes, and quickly learn new technologies.
Finally, in the world of network integrators, I got the chance to make my mark. I brought order in the midst of chaos, and was usually given free rein to lead and manage as I saw fit. As the book eMyth pointed out, I was valued for operational and managerial skills to allow the owner to enjoy the technical stuff. Consequently, as I began to understand more of the technical side of things, I became disheartened with the impact of bad ownership.
I was a managing partner post-Y2K when the majority owners sank the business. After that, I became a non-partner VP at a different firm where the majority partner tried to buy out his minority partner, which failed. As a result of this, I became afraid of partnerships and the struggle to hold ownership teammates accountable.
I started Fulcrum 2002 and turned 50 hour weeks into 60+ hour weeks for the next five years. A past partner joined after a year, and we developed a joint commitment to hard work, built a rhythm for splitting duties and shared in revenue and delivery responsibilities. To be clear, I’m not against working for someone else. But I reached the age where I wanted to do it with someone with similar values and better management experience than our current team brings to bear.
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