Relationships are the channel's foundation, Cato's Fan says.

James Anderson, Senior News Editor

August 14, 2019

7 Min Read
Channel Partners Top Gun 51 logo

Cato Networks‘ foray into the master-agent channel has helped create triple-digit growth.

So says Nick Fan, the SD-WAN vendor’s vice president of Americas sales. Fan, who joined the Israeli vendor in 2017 from Aryaka, has been spearheading Cato’s channel. He tells Channel Partners that Cato’s channel grew 500% between 2018 and 2019.

And the industry is noticing. A panel of distributors, master agents and analysts recently placed Fan on the Top Gun 51 list. The new award recognizes channel executives who have demonstrated commitment to their partners’ success.

We interviewed Fan about his career and his accomplishments at Cato and have edited the transcript for length and clarity.


Cato Network’s Nick Fan

Channel Partners: How did you get into the channel?

Nick Fan: I’ve been in the carrier space since 2001, ever since I graduated college. I started with MCI WorldCom and eventually made my way to smaller and smaller companies where we were leveraging the channel as a force multiplier, because we didn’t have a thousand direct sales people like we did back in the WorldCom or XO days (where a lot of folks who are in the channel now have been). Coming here to Cato, I really saw the opportunity from a disruptive technology perspective to get it out to the masses. I’ll use that term “force multiplier” again. This was really the only path we could take. When I got here, we were a small startup company, [lacking] presence from a direct sales force perspective. Channel was really the only way to go. Not only for scale, but also because channel has so many relationships embedded in IT decision-making and buying.

CP: How have you built the channel program at Cato?

Being a small company, we’ve been hiring jacks of all trades. What I mean by that is, when I look for sales talent, I look for three things. I look for (No. 1) a great salesperson, somebody who’s a customer advocate looking to provide solutions in the marketplace. The second thing I look for is somebody who knows master agency market, the MSP world, the VAR space — the broader channel in their local region. And the third thing I look for is somebody who’s technical. When we first started building out, we only hired people with solutions engineering backgrounds, which was unique in the space. I don’t think that model had ever been done before.

We recently unveiled our “Top Gun 51,” a list of today’s channel executives who deserve recognition for building and executing programs in a way that drives partner, customer and supplier success.

I will say that having somebody who’s really a triple threat at the point of attack, both for our partners and our prospects and our customers, was key to …

… the development — not having to bring in multiple people to answer a single question. Those those folks are unicorns; they’re not easy to find.

CP: What are the program’s highlights and milestones?

NF: We started the [channel] program in September of 2017. We were building pipeline for about a quarter and finally got our first deal closed in the first quarter of the 2018 calendar year. We’ve seen some just unbelievable growth. From 2018 to 2019, we saw 500% growth in the channel. Now, we were selling to some smaller VARs and security resellers before we went into the master agency world, but that 500% growth is driven by the master agents. And that’s something I’m incredibly proud of to see how they’ve embraced this shift in technology and global networking to see a pairing of security and networking really take shape, and choosing and recommending to their clients a different way to approach things — besides just leveraging the traditional carriers.

CP: What life lessons or career lessons have you learned from working with the channel?

NF: Relationships matter, and relationships matter a lot. You can have the best offering on the table, but if you don’t get that solution into the hands of the people that own the relationships with IT decision makers, it doesn’t matter. The growth won’t be there. The good thing about what we’ve done here at Cato is that we’ve taken this message that we have in the market and put it in the hands of trusted advisers in the channel to propagate that message. I think that’s the key to our success. Hiring those people who are triple threats, that have those relationships with very productive partners in their regions has has really contributed to overall growth.

CP: How does Cato engage the channel differently compared to its rivals?

NF: I’ll say this: flexibility. And the reason I say that is because SD-WAN has really two options. It’s either managed by most vendors, or it’s self-managed by customers. And those vendors are forcing MSP relationships upon the marketplace because they don’t have their own ability to manage or co-manage a solution. Cato is very different. Cato offers both. So whether we’re dealing with a master agency who focuses on sales and brokering IT services and may not have a back office to take on anything else, Cato can absolutely do that. The other piece of it is, if we are working with an MSP or VAR partner who absolutely wants to monetize those managed services and build an offering around a vendor, Cato can do that as well. We have many MSPs who are offering professional services from an installation and deployment perspective on the front end, putting Cato in the middle of that and then managing it long-term on the back end. We can layer in an option for any channel partner that exists in the market.

CP: What advice do you have for someone who’s getting into channel leadership?

NF: Hit the road. There is no substitute for face time. I think something that’s allowed for our rapid growth is that I’ve gotten to know not only a lot of our master-agent partners, but also some very influential subagent partners as well. Really aligning at multiple levels not only from a deal perspective, but also from a leadership perspective. Going back to that comment about relationships: People want to work with …

… people they like, know, trust. Only time in the field and building those relationships can really garner that type of type of relationship overall.

It doesn’t happen overnight. You can’t just show up at something and expect to have something happen. I’ve been working in this channel for the better part of a decade now, and it’s evolved to the point where I can take everything that I’ve learned and everybody that I have a relationship with now and implement this strategy that’s been so successful here at Cato.

CP: Is there anything else you want to add?

NF: The growth has been has just been unbelievable. I work for this company based out of Tel Aviv. This is not a Silicon Valley startup by any means. This is a company with deep security roots, from the founders of Check Point, Imperva and Incapsula, which are very, very strong names in the security world. Our CEO built and brought to market the first-ever firewall, really pioneering the space. So having to explain this channel to a team of people who have never participated in it was was not an easy road. It didn’t happen overnight. It really was just proof and data points, and involving multiple parties in the process overall. Again, things do not happen overnight. It’s something I’m incredibly proud of — to be able to help build and contribute to Cato, which is experiencing this unbelievable growth. We’ve had triple-digit revenue growth year over year. It starts with the team we’ve built. I didn’t do this on my own. Hopefully that’s not what the takeaway was here. Hiring unbelievably talented people that are smarter than me is really the key to the success of the organization.

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About the Author(s)

James Anderson

Senior News Editor, Channel Futures

James Anderson is a news editor for Channel Futures. He interned with Informa while working toward his degree in journalism from Arizona State University, then joined the company after graduating. He writes about SD-WAN, telecom and cablecos, technology services distributors and carriers. He has served as a moderator for multiple panels at Channel Partners events.

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