Having built, ran and matured Smart Dolphins IT Solutions (an MSP in Victoria, Canada) over a couple decades, I started to feel a strong drive to do more. I wanted to pursue one or more business opportunities that were complimentary to Smart Dolphins. I had always felt a pull toward IT training for some time as I could see that many business professionals underutilize the technology that is at their disposal. Training also became compelling as our MSP growth was slowing in our small market and we needed a fresh strategy to engage our clients and prospects. Lastly, I have a Dolphin (employee) that was a great fit and has the capacity to do this training.
We started this new business unit as a local bolt-on service to the MSP and initially focused on in-person training, inviting our prospects into our boardroom and creating a “red carpet” experience. This was building nicely… until COVID-19 hit. With COVID-19, there was a massive rush to remote work and an immediate demand for remote technology. People were suddenly using Slack, Zoom and Teams as their primary ways of collaborating, but have had very limited exposure to these things. Furthermore, working from home also saw a huge spike in cyber risks. All of this screamed for training and lucky enough we were well positioned to jump on this need. Many MSPs were not (and still are not) in that position.
I have many peers in the MSP space and I could see that most were struggling with trying to create Teams training for their customers who were rushing to implement this remote-enabling solution. Or they were trying to help educate others around the new security risks, but this moves too quickly to develop more than a one-time training product. Of course, they were pulling valuable resources from their billable staff to create and deliver the training. Some of these MSP owners were spending their own time on this — incredibly expensive and honestly, not the best end-result for those being trained. None of this was sustainable.
I theorized that we could create a great win-win by taking our maturing training competency to this market. We did some experimenting with a few models and engaged a few of these peers. After some massaging of the process and building a plan, PoplarMSP was born in September 2020. At the time of this writing, it is still very early, but early signs show the business model has legs. We’re having great conversations about this offering with a number of MSPs and have successfully held many events for the early adopter clients.
We are looking at 2021 as concerned about having too much growth as we are about having not enough. It is a great new problem to have, after 20-plus years of growing our MSP in a market capped by a smaller population and geographical limitation (we are on an island). This compelling pull is rewarding from a business perspective and is satisfying as we are helping fellow MSPs where they may not have the capacity to do so themselves.