The Channel on Reality TV: Tech Advisor Shares Experience on Startup ShowThe Channel on Reality TV: Tech Advisor Shares Experience on Startup Show
Going on a show for entrepreneurs showed how the technology advisor channel is one of the business world's "biggest secrets."
September 22, 2023
For Oppuous CEO Dante White, pitching his channel business on a reality TV startup show gave him the challenge technology advisors have faced since their industry’s inception: explaining their business model to people who have never met an agent.
White and his startup recently appeared on the seventh season of The Blox, a TV show where entrepreneurs share their business plans, receive coaching and mentorship, and hope to connect with investors. Reality TV veteran Weston Bergmann, known for his tenure on The Real World, created The Blox. Dozens of business leaders convened in Kansas City, Missouri, for a boot camp of sorts – living together and competing with one another.
A variety of companies appear in season seven of the show, covering a multitude of industries, such as fitness, roofing and even candles. And White was flying the flag for the channel.
Oppuous’ Dante White
Yep, That’s Me
you’re probably wondering how I ended up in this situation….
— Oppuous (@Oppuous) September 17, 2023
Reality TV Show Introduces Channel to Wider Audience
The channel – for those who don’t know – is a catch-all term for the indirect sales of business technology products and services. Many manufacturers of IT and telecommunications technology don’t directly sell their products to their customers, but rather turn to a network of value-added resellers (VARs), systems integrators (SIs) and agents to reach the end customer. White’s Oppuous fits into the latter category of an agent, also known as a technology advisor (TA). Technology advisors source as-a-service offerings from a wide scope of IT and telecom vendors. After the sale, vendors provide a managed service to the end user and bill the customer directly for it. In the meantime, the vendor pays the agent a monthly commission for the life of the contract. It’s a juicy stream of recurring revenue that has caught the attention of private equity investors. And historically, agents have offered their consulting and sourcing services to customers for free, or at least for a much lower price than one of the “Big 5” consultancies.
But here’s the problem: It took about 20 minutes to write the above paragraph describing the channel and the agent model. White and his peers need to deliver their elevator pitch in a matter of seconds. The fate of a potential customer depends first and foremost on selling them the concept of the channel. Up until then, differentiating one’s actual company from other partners is a moot point.
And White pretty quickly ran into the market awareness gap at the startup show.
(Caution: The above clip from The Blox features adult language.)
“When I went in there, I was going with the [mindset that] everybody knows what a channel partner is, what a broker is — all that stuff. And when I would explain it to people, they wouldn’t get it,” White told Channel Futures. “I was just like, ‘How do you not get it? People have to buy technology and you yourself as a small business don’t know all the technology out there. You could have somebody help you select and find the easiest tools without having to pay out of pocket in addition to the licensing itself. Wouldn’t that make sense?’ It did, but it was such a hard business concept to articulate to them. So being able to redefine my message, I think was probably one of the most valuable parts of it.”
One of the reality TV judges mused in the spirit of constructive criticism to White that such a model would never work.
But, as White told him, the model of brokering technology services to businesses …
… already exists. White used the parallel of the insurance broker to get his point across.
“A lot of people buy insurance through a broker because they’re going to have all the top solutions and know exactly what you need, when you need it. You could go to Farmers [Insurance], but they’re only going to give you the products they have. They’re going to only give you the types of financial instruments that are going to suit their needs and that are within their scope. But if you had somebody who was independent and agnostic of that, and was really more attached to you making the best decision for your life, doesn’t that makes sense?” he said.
White said that point landed, and he’s working with many of the reality TV show judges on projects to this day. He said he took the incredulity as a sign of opportunity.
“For our industry to be around as long as it has and to be … one of the biggest secrets in the business world and to get real validation was probably the biggest thing,” he said. “I was like, ‘This is great. There needs to be a whole new generation of agents that are out there.'”
Building an Agency from Scratch
Channel Futures in 2023 has examined the entrance of new partners into the technology advisor channel. We recently featured White and Oppuous in a showcase of six new agencies. They are entering the channel as part of the generation that precedes them exits the industry. Many agents, particularly those who came from the telecom carrier world 20 or 30 years ago, have sold their businesses. Vendors have highlighted the importance of bringing new blood into the industry. The alarm has been sounding for more than five years; CompTIA in 2017 predicted that 40% of channel business owners would retire by 2024. White himself was a board member at Channel NX2Z, which in its brief time exhorted the channel to make space for millennials and Gen Z to enter the industry.
(Editor’s Note: The author of this article was also a member of Channel NX2Z, which Channel Futures sponsored.)
Now, 2024 is lurking around the corner, and the signs of a generational shift are clear. Is the channel keeping pace with the change?
“Things are constantly evolving and changing, and I think the agent world really hasn’t done that to the degree that it should. I wanted to look at this from a completely different lens. We’re not your dad’s consulting firm,” White said.
White’s background on the vendor side shapes his unique lens. While the traditional agent worked at a carrier before starting an agent, he worked at communications providers RingCentral and RingLogix. As a result, internet connectivity does not function as Oppuous’ table stakes.
“I have zero background in selling circuits. My background is UCaaS. So I don’t go after circuits first. While I could, it’s not really my forte, and I’m not trying to race to the bottom,” White said.
Instead, he said he’s starting with Microsoft and Google Workspace, “the fundamental architecture in the software landscape.” Oppuous might open the door by doing an audit of an existing AWS or Azure stack in hopes of …
… finding savings.
“We go in and we do a full-fledged audit and see what’s working, what’s not working, where we can save them money, where we can save them time from there, and it helps create the budget for other projects and helps great efficiency [right] off the bat,” he said.
That’s the difference in the approach to technology. White also is trying to run procurement differently. Oppuous’ value proposition includes what White describes as an Amazon-like marketplace where customers get full visibility and control into what they buy.
“Letting customers dictate how they buy, when they buy, and have them make their own decisions. They are ready to tap us on the shoulder for a more complex conversation,” he said. “Maybe something like AI surveillance, or something like IoT or call center. Something that’s not easy to buy, like Microsoft licenses. Then that’s when we pull the whole channel model into the fold and bring in the engineers and bring in the subject matter experts …”
That marketplace comes from AppDirect, the B2B subscription commerce platform provider that has established a foot in the agent channel in recent years. Agents historically get their vendor contracts from technology services distributors (TSD), who aggregate partner sales volume with suppliers to protect agents’ commissions. AppDirect has acquired multiple technology services distributors and has put its own unique flavor on the technology advisor model by encouraging agents to guide their customers through AppDirect’s marketplace of IT, telecom and SaaS providers.
Oppuous does partner with other TSDs, but White said he sees customers wanting to buy through an online platform. And Oppuous, through the help of its network of sales engineers and resources in the channel, can step in to assist in a more hands-on manner if necessary.
“We are an extension of your procurement office. We are an extension of your IT office. We are not going to offset those, but we complement them to save you money and time,” he said.
White said the judges from The Blox gave him helpful feedback for the business. Mainly, they encouraged him to charge a retainer fee for his advisory services. To charge or not to charge is a topic that divides technology advisors. Many agents say free sourcing is what gives them a leg in the door with SMBs. Enterprise-focused agents say their customers require them to charge a fee.
“That was one of the biggest parts and one of the things that I think most agents battle with. Should they charge a retainer for that? Or should they only be making the commission on the sales that they do?” he said.
The judges persistently told White that he needed to charge. And ultimately, he saw their point.
“It didn’t matter what the industry was really doing. We create value, right? We’re giving a service, let alone just giving our time. So I think that was probably the biggest thing for me,” he said.
Reality TV show The Blox is available to watch on Facebook and Prime Video.
Read more about:Agents
About the Author(s)
You May Also Like