The longtime MSP and entrepreneur has launched a new business that could help you.

T.C. Doyle, Senior Director of Content

July 11, 2019

11 Min Read

This spring, longtime MSP and entrepreneur MJ Shoer left Onepath, where he served as director of client engagement and virtual CIO for the nationwide provider’s New England office. In June, he launched a new venture, MJ Shoer LLC, which has a threefold mission: Help small business customers better manage and leverage their digital assets, advise tech vendors on better ways to run their partner programs, and assist fellow MSPs with efforts to grow their businesses.

In many ways, the soft-spoken but indefatigable Shoer is returning to his roots. As one of the best known and experienced entrepreneurs in the MSP community, Shoer has learned a thing or two about running a business, working in technology and serving customers. Herein he shares some of the wisdom that he has acquired in nearly 30 years.

Before we get to the “Shoerisms” that the business owner, community activist, book author and family man has to share, here’s some background on his career.


MJ Shoer

Shoer started his career in technology in the early 1990s. For a few years, he worked for different companies that did everything from building white-label PCs to proving basic internet connectivity. Never one for big companies or difficult partnerships, Shoer struck off on his own in 1997. He launched a channel ICT technology provider and called it Jenaly Technology Group. (The name is a word jumble comprised of the first letters of his wife and children’s names.)

Over time, Jenaly established a reputation for quality service and reasonable prices along the Eastern Seaboard. We can be your “technology concierge,” Shoer would tell customers. More than a few liked the sound of that idea.

After 19 years of running his own business, Shoer sold Jenaly to Internet & Telephone LLC, a rapidly growing ISP and MSP based in North Andover, Massachusetts. For a year-and-a-half, Shoer served as the combined company’s chief technology officer (CTO). Then in May 2017, Internet & Telephone was purchased by Channel Futures MSP 501 company Onepath, which was recently named the Channel Futures MSP 501 Kaseya Partner of the Year in Las Vegas.

In less than two years, Shoer’s career path took him from a workplace in which he knew everyone’s name to a national company with offices from coast to coast. While he has nothing but praise for Onepath, Shoer longed to work again with the small businesses that propelled Jenaly into something special.

“Midlevel management didn’t scratch my itch,” he says. “I wanted to get back to my roots.”

Those roots, by the way, are in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, where Channel Futures connected with Shoer recently. Here are some “Shoerisms” we think you’ll enjoy.

Find Your Lane

During his career, Shoer has worked at startups, midsize companies and a burgeoning enterprise with a national footprint. He’s enjoyed his time everywhere, but came to realize that he was never more satisfied than when working with owners and managers of small businesses on a one-on-one level.

“It was tough to walk away from Onepath,” he says. “Great company. Great people. But I always loved being a virtual CTO for companies and helping them manage and invest in technologies. I also missed working with fellow MSPs, helping them avoid common mistakes and showing them how to scale their businesses.”

One of the keys to success – not to mention one of the Delphic maxims – is …

… “know thyself.” Far too many entrepreneurs, Shoer has learned, do not. They go to market without a defined target customer or business model. They have an imprecise value proposition or a weak grasp of the competitive landscape.

They do other foolish things as well. Some take business without knowing how profitable it will be or whether it will be overly burdensome on their staff. In some instances, they agree to work with technologies they aren’t familiar with or with customers whose business needs they don’t fully understand.

There are questions many MSPs can’t answer. How many customers can we realistically serve? How wide is our geographic trading area? What is the bare minimum margin that we must command from every client? Could we survive a catastrophic incident within our own organization?

These aren’t easy questions, and Shoer concedes that at different times during his career he didn’t have all of the answers. But he had most. And the more he had, the more successful he was. In contrast, the fewer he had, the more uneasy he became.

Finding your lane is never simple. And at varying stages of your career, you might want to try a different one. Shoer did. But he never stopped asking the key questions that helped him find his way.

One question that many entrepreneurs ask when searching for a lane of their own is, “Do I need a specialty to stand out?”

Over the years, Shoer has learned that “going vertical” or “doubling down” on a specific technology often comes down to geography. That might sound odd, but he’s found it to be true. You can and probably should develop a vertical specialty to stand out in Dallas. But in Amarillo? You might be better off being more horizontal.

Take his own company, Jenaly. When he ran the business, Shoer had a lot of success selling to area law firms. But he couldn’t really develop a true vertical specialty because none of his clients used the same billing and case management software. The lack of uniformity made it difficult to develop repeatable processes.

“It was all over the map,” Shoer recalls.

Contrast that with a friend of his who did develop a true vertical market expertise selling to the legal community. He did so by catering to a broader geographic area than Jenaly did and by narrowing its tech choices to just two key applications.

Different companies, different lanes, Shoer learned.

Practice ‘Realistic Cybersecurity’

Shoer says there’s a growing gap between what vendors want to push and what customers actually need. The thing that will close the gap is something he calls “realistic cybersecurity.” That’s basically an approach to protect customers without overwhelming them with too much technology or too many restrictive policies.

“When that happens, customers do nothing, which is absolutely not what you want,” Shoer says.

Realistic cybersecurity starts with …

… a clear value proposition and an honest understanding of what an end customer’s risk profile actually is. The goal should be to not only protect customers’ digital assets but also put them in a position in which they can demonstrate that they took all manner of reasonable steps to protect themselves from a cybersecurity incident. The latter is becoming especially important now that there are more regulatory and legal considerations surrounding cybersecurity.

This work extends to the vendor community as well. Shoer says there are far too many vendor offerings that are not clear in what they do. Many are not sized and scoped appropriately to the risks that end customers actually have.

“My goal is to clean up the conversation and turn it into something actionable at both ends of the marketplace,” he says.

There’s another aspect to providing realistic cybersecurity: determining how deeply you’re going to get into security. While Shoer believes every MSP should offer a foundational level of security, including endpoint management, patching and monitoring if not advanced firewall protection, web filtering and so on, he also thinks that most MSPs will never become true MSSPs. To him, that’s a good thing.

“You can’t have the fox watch the henhouse. It’s that simple. Either be an MSP or an MSSP, but do not try to be both,” Shoer says.

The reason why, he adds, is pretty simple: At some point a customer, regulator or even cybersecurity insurance provider is going to ask you who’s evaluating your cybersecurity capabilities and best practices. Increasingly, they won’t be satisfied with an MSP that says, “We do it ourselves.”

“My belief is that MSPs and MSSPs should be separate, almost as a check and balance,” says Shoer.

To those MSPs building out their own security operations centers (SOC), Shoer questions the long-term economics and strategy. Vulnerability testing? Log analysis? Auditing? These tasks should be done by a separate organization that an MSP can leverage, but not by an MSP itself, in his view.

Standardize Your Business

Time and again, Shoer sees MSPs spreading themselves too thinly.

They spread their spending around with too many distributors. They don’t have a standard technology stack. They don’t have a target market or defined value proposition beyond “your mess for less.”

The consequences of these realities are many. Dividing your spending among several distributors limits your ability to qualify for the best discounts, the highest rebates and more. Not having a standard technology stack means more training costs for your technicians, and more travel to vendor events and briefings for your executive team. An ill-defined tech stack also limits your ability to sell repeatable services and provide the highest level of service. And not having a target customer set basically reduces to your marketing to “spray and pray.”

“When you have two and three vendors for every technology category, you’re not leveraging the true potential of those partnerships,” he says.

A better approach? Use one distributor as your primary and then another as your backup. Work with …

… buying groups such as the ASCII Group to achieve better discounts. Or saddle up with a vendor partner such as Datto, which has made significant strides in building a true MSP community.

When it comes to building your stack, Shoer recommends going with a company like Sophos, whose products play across a wide swath of the security landscape, or Microsoft, whose Office 365 suite offers more opportunity than most people appreciate.

Change with the Times

In the nearly three decades that he has worked in channel, Shoer says there always been an element of drama in it — a “boogeyman around the corner,” as he puts it. No matter the threat du jour, however, MSPs and channel practitioners keep chugging along.

“No doubt the MSP of five years from now, 10 years from now, will look different than the MSP of today, just as the MSP of today looks different than the MSP of 10 years ago,” he says.

Given how deeply meshed technology has become inside small businesses, the need for independent ICT expertise is only likely to increase, he adds.

To preserve their position as the go-to trusted advisers for small and midsize businesses, MSPs will have to change, however. They will have to embrace new business models, new sales motions and even new innovations that will push some outside their comfort zones.

The future will be won by those who can help clients better leverage the tools they purchase, not those who can only set them up and keep them going.

Again, take Office 365, which Shoer says provides MSPs more revenue opportunity than just about any other technology. Rather than be content with selling licenses for $20 per month, why not wrap value-added services around those subscriptions so customers get the most out of SharePoint, OneDrive, Teams and more? Every time Microsoft adds another productivity tool to the Office 365 suite, MSPs should look at ways to displace one-off tools such as Slack, BlueJeans, Dropbox and more from their customers’ product portfolios, he says.

Also, dive deeply into the stack. Microsoft’s Power BI analytics tool can help everyday MSPs create the kind of value for their customers that heretofore only tier one business consultants could.

“We’re at an inflection point. Customers are beginning to see how technology can completely transform their businesses. The channel will still be looked at as the industry’s salesforce; there’s no better way to get feet on the ground and establish trusted relationships with end customers than it, after all. But we could be more than a sales mechanism if we change with the times and deliver greater business value,” Shoer says.

Get Educated

When Shoer launched Jenaly, managed services was a nascent market. To educate customers about the new way to consume technology, Shoer became a student of it.

To better understand the business, he went to as many trade events as he could. He talked to as many experts as possible. And he joined peer groups and trade associations including CompTIA. Shoer served as chairman of both the Audit and Investment Committee and the Certification Advisory Council for CompTIA. From 2011 to 2015, he served as the association’s overall board chair. He still works with the group to this day.

In the 2000s, Shoer became a sought-after speaker and influencer. Then he became a book author. He published “Hassle-Free Computer Support” in 2006. In 2012, he teamed with several other industry consultants and entrepreneurs to produce “The Tech Multiplier,” which attained “best seller” status in the technology category on Amazon.

While the time Shoer spent studying the market was significant, the reward was invaluable, he insists.

His best advice to fellow entrepreneurs: Engage with the community and educate yourself on the market as much as possible.

Know thyself, and a whole lot more, in other words.

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About the Author(s)

T.C. Doyle

Senior Director of Content, Informa

T.C. Doyle, is the Senior Content Director of Channel brands at Channel Futures, and is responsible for the editorial direction of A veteran technology writer, editor and video storyteller who has covered the IT industry for more than two decades, he was previously the Executive Editor at Channel Partners, and the Editor@Large with Cisco, where he traveled the world in search of stories that captured the social and technological transformations occurring in the economies of Africa, Latin America, the Middle East and Eastern Europe. A frequent speaker at IT industry events and trade shows, he resides in Park City, Utah.

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