Ep 024 John Harden

The Need to Niche: How Focus Drives Success

Table of Contents

Summary

In this podcast episode, Joe, Jeff, and John Harden of Auvik dive into the sea of change in SaaS management for MSPs. From a ‘blue ocean market’ where no one saw the need to manage their SaaS, we’re now in a dynamic environment where businesses are asking, ‘How do I manage my SaaS?’

Combine this shift with Auvik’s growth and you have a one-two punch sparking acceleration in the industry. Tune in for this insightful discussion on market timing, business maturity, and the evolution of SaaS management!


Featuring

John Harden, Senior Product Marketing Manager – SaaS of Auvik Networks, previously Founder of Saaslio (Acquired by Auvik)

John Harden 1
The Need to Niche: How Focus Drives Success 3

John Harden has spent 15+ years in the IT & MSP industry, eventually becoming the founder of Saaslio. Auvik acquired Saaslio in 2022, where John joined as a Sr. Product Marketing Manager – SaaS Management.

What is the problem you solve, and for whom?

Save time: Stop wasting time onboarding new users and tracking SaaS apps manually. Maximize savings: Identify Shadow IT and SaaS app redundancy to cut unnecessary spending. Unlock visibility: Understand all SaaS apps in use and take control of your SaaS environments.

How do you help MSPs

Multi-Tenant SaaS Management to discover, monitor, manage and secure SaaS apps

Your Company Website/URL

What you are promoting:

Book a demo and get started on a 14-day free trial.


Transcript

Introduction

Jeff Loehr: John, it’s awesome to speak with you. It’s been a while. We met in Las Vegas, right?

John Harden: Yeah, at CPX Bell. I remember sitting in that cafe where we met.

Jeff Loehr: Yes.

John Harden: I still have the rock because Joe gave me one of those rocks there. It sat in my car for a long time. I have this exceptional memory of always remembering the first time I met somebody. Everything else is like a massive blur.

Jeff Loehr: Note to self, rocks work.

Joe Rojas: Listen, I can’t tell you the number of people who tell me, “I still have my rock,” or when I get on the phone with somebody that I haven’t talked to in forever, and they hold up the rock like it’s right here on my desk.

John Harden: That’s the Auvik equivalent right here. Everybody loves the damn polar bear. It’s like a cult following; people steal ’em.

Jeff Loehr: Where does the polar bear come from? I want one.

John Harden: That’s the Auvik logo, the Nanook, that’s his name. There’s this really sweet spot where it can’t just be gimmicky. It can’t be a crappy bouncy ball or a pen or anything like that. But it also can’t be so big that it doesn’t fit on your desk, like that big polar bear up there. I would never take that back from a vendor and put it up, except it’s my company now. But there’s a whole lot of little knickknacks that if they’re unique…

Jeff Loehr: You’ve got a corner full of knickknacks.

John Harden: I love that. Yeah, there’s a little knickknack. That’s why I said I thought your rock would be there. I’m surprised it’s not. So it must have been lost in the move. It must have gotten thrown in a different box or something.

Jeff Loehr: No, it’s okay. We know that you keep it in your bedroom in a little frame, and you polish it every day. That’s just the way things are. We understand that. It’s okay, man. You can admit it.

John Harden: Those little knickknacks, though, they add up. I like ’em. It sat on my car dash for, honestly, like six months because we were just sitting there, and I was like…

Jeff Loehr: What does yours say?

John Harden: I want to say “passion,” but I don’t think that’s one of your words.

Jeff Loehr: No, it is.

John Harden: Okay then, it’s definitely “passion.”

Jeff Loehr: But John, amazing things have happened since we met, right?

John Harden: Yeah. Goodness, I keep telling everybody I have ripped the bandage of life off in the last eight months. So since then, we’ve sold the company. So now I’m an Auvikian. In my personal life, I’ve moved, and gotten married; all that happened in the last six months.

Jeff Loehr: Yeah, that is ripping the bandaid off. Sell the company, move, get married. Are you expecting any kids soon? You might as well just throw that in.

John Harden: Yeah, I know, right? The surprise is not happening next week.

What’s going on with you?

John Harden: So there’s lots going on. But on the business front, we’ve made lots of achievements, obviously, right? The acquisition has brought in a bigger team that we can pull from.

We’ve grown; gosh, when we met you out there, Jeff, I want to say it would’ve been in April because I feel like it was at Channel Partners. We grew about 20 to 25% month over month, all the way through December, from when we met you. So, we concluded with a massive, I think we were at 600% or 700% growth in 2022. And under the Auvik umbrella, we’ve only accelerated; we’re in another 100%, 200% growth quarters at this point. It’s been a huge uptick. I think it’s in combination with the growth, which is two-fold.

One, the blue ocean market that I was serving, which is SaaS management under MSPs, is starting to emerge, right? That was a Blue Ocean. Nobody was talking about it when I was out there. Everybody kept asking, “Why do I need to manage my SaaS?” Now people are asking, “How do I manage my SaaS?” which is a huge change in market dynamics.

And then, on top of that, you combine it with the fact that we’ve grown under Auvik, and we’ve been able to accelerate our business. So, it’s just been a one-two-punch market. The timing was finally right, and our business got a bit more mature. So, it’s exciting.

Importance of a clear value prop

Jeff Loehr: I think, as well, you had a lot of clarity in what you were selling. I think that one of the reasons these things come together is when you have a really clear value proposition, a really clear target, and you know exactly what you’re selling and to whom. Once that clicks and people get it, it really takes off.

John Harden: Yeah, that product-market fit didn’t exist back in April. We were really figuring it out. Joe can remember our 2020 conversation. It didn’t exist then, but the product-market fit kind of clicked probably around that April, May, June period. That’s where the acceleration curve hit, obviously.

What did Saasliio do? And what does Auvik do?

Jeff Loehr: So, for anybody who’s not familiar with what you do, could you explain for a minute what Saaslio did, and now, what Auvik does?

John Harden: Saaslio, now Auvik SaaS management, is a product that was built from the ground up, pretty much for MSPs. I came into the market with this concept and the idea that the largest line item budget for most of the MSP’s customers, only secondary to them in most cases, is the SaaS tools they’re using.

We’ve seen a massive acceleration. I always credit it back to the Salesforce Ghostbusters ‘no software’ logo.

Jeff Loehr: I remember when Salesforce came in with that. I remember we were talking about implementing Salesforce CRM right when Salesforce started, and everybody was so skeptical. “Wait, so we’re not going to have this on our own servers? It’s going to be out there; it’s going to be through a browser. How can this possibly work? This’ll never work.” Yeah, and then there was this mindset shift, and now it’s everywhere, right?

John Harden: And when that mindset changed, a couple of things changed along with it, obviously. Moving to the cloud was a big jump. Yeah. But the key thing that we honed in on was the fact that Jeff, I don’t know your background, but maybe you probably weren’t the IT practitioner at that company at that time.

A sales leader is now making software decisions, not an IT manager. Yeah. And so, what happened is that we democratized the adoption of software through SaaS because anybody can buy it. I can go buy it; I can go buy anything I want on SaaS. I’ve got my company card; I can throw it on there.

Obviously, you have to go through your IT processes and all the things around there, but it doesn’t require the process of downloading the software, installing it on a server, distributing it on desktops, all of that.

Jeff Loehr: Yeah, it’s interesting because we, at the time, had lots of MicroStrategy stuff, and we were using that as our data warehouse.

And so when this came in, the IT people couldn’t get their heads around the fact that they wouldn’t be involved. Like it was a, “What? This is going to be a lot of work for us.” We said, no, actually, you don’t have to do anything, but then…

Joe Rojas: What?

Jeff Loehr: But then that comes with certain risks, right? Because now everybody’s buying software and creating lots of application islands within the company.

John Harden: You nailed it, right? So now that anybody can buy it, the knowledge of true software as a service ecosystem is dissipated, right?

A marketing intern can sign up for software and put in business data that the company does not know is in any of these systems. A good example I always like to give is a marketing intern comes in for the summer. The CEO wants to hold a golf outing for all their clients. The CEO tells the marketing intern, “Help me get in front of all these clients. I want to tell ’em what’s going on.” The marketing intern drums up MailChimp, drums up a Canva account, and drums up all these different accounts to do their job. They leave at the end of the fall when the fall comes around, and those systems are never deleted. The data still exists in those servers in a lot of cases; nobody turns off the subscriptions, and nobody thinks of removing the onboarded.

How did niching down help you?

John Harden: One of the reasons I love chatting with you all the time is our similar philosophies on building a niche, right? We said we’re going to delve deep into solving this problem for MSPs. We didn’t say we’re going to do SaaS management for mid-market IT MSPs and accounts, but we said we’re going to solve this problem deeply for MSPs.

And when you talk about building your niche, you can charge more because you actually know their business. You’re not just another commoditized MSP, but with the SaaS side of it, you could charge more. I had a good use case where I was talking to an MSP, I can’t remember their name off the top of my head, but I remember they’re down in the Florida region and they serve literally just dentist practices. That’s all they serve. We started talking to them about SaaS management, Saaslio at the time, which is now known as Auvik SaaS management. We discussed the mindset that what if you could map all the SaaS that they have out there, not just what they think, and truly build what you would consider a sophisticated SaaS stack for their business.

Help guide them through some of the shadow IT that they’re using to get through their practice. The front desk manager has another tool for this and another tool for that, and the doctors are using this while the operations specialists are using this to get their job done.

But if you could guide them into a central system, the ones that you know by using our software, you can map everything that’s being used and all the shadow IT stuff, and then guide them through a practice. Like how much would a project like that cost? And he was telling me, he was like, we could probably bill ’em a couple of hundred thousand dollars or a hundred thousand dollars for a project to really revamp their whole system.

I was like, we can give you the data to have that conversation. So when it comes to building your niche, the more you know about your industry and your customer, the better. And knowing where their SaaS is and what they’re using in their SaaS is so critical because, as I alluded to it earlier, nobody’s just putting data in SaaS systems for fun. They’re there to solve a business problem. That marketing intern didn’t sign up for MailChimp just because it was a beautiful sunny day.

Jeff Loehr: Oh, there goes all of MailChimp’s advertising right there.

John Harden: Beautiful sunny day. That’s it. Like they figured out their niche, sunny days,

Jeff Loehr: But that intern was solving a problem, is what you’re trying to say.

John Harden: Exactly. It doesn’t matter if it’s malicious shadow IT or not malicious but high risk, yeah.

File sharing tools or productivity tools, and these things that we really want to clamp down on in the beginning, or if it’s just as innocuous as MailChimp, right? So every SaaS tool has a business problem behind it. So we, when we’re talking about the niche and specifically in our product, coach our MSPs to talk about the top 10 shadow IT issues since they last spoke to them.

So if you’re doing a quarterly business sync with them in April, and January came around, and between now and April, three or four employees have signed up for Chat GPT, we would’ve coached you to talk to them and say, hey, we see this as the fastest growing tool in your business. What problems are you solving?

Because we want to build that relationship.

Jeff Loehr: That’s such a valuable part of the strategic business review. It involves pointing out new software signups. For instance, did you know all these people were signing up for Chat GPT? It’s a concern because Samsung had to shut it down since their coders were using it to improve their code. Owned by OpenAI and, by extension, Microsoft, Chat GPT doesn’t delete anything, thus, that code was essentially going straight to Microsoft.

The next step is identifying the problem that this software is solving and suggesting alternatives, especially if you’re familiar with the industry and can recommend more efficient solutions with fewer risks. This kind of strategic business review significantly enhances your relationship with a client and justifies price increases.

Joe Rojas: Absolutely, that’s why I love what you guys do. It helps MSPs who are eager to excel in their niche. We emphasize niche dominance because being agnostic is a death sentence for MSPs – it leads to commoditization. If you can walk into a client’s office and enlighten them on what they don’t know, that expertise is worth its weight in gold every time.

Jeff Loehr: It’s also about data protection. Consider our data on Vimeo – how many videos do we have and how are we managing them? If we were to migrate to another platform, what would happen to our Vimeo data? There are significant security concerns there.

John Harden: Absolutely, there’s value in being more than just strategic. Security is key. I often say that the only company without shadow IT is a solo operation because the owner knows exactly what they’re using.

Once a business grows beyond one person, tracking becomes complex. For instance, Vimeo isn’t the only platform holding your data – there are probably others. What happens when an employee leaves? Does the company revoke their access to the bank account or other platforms? Probably not, which opens a security loophole. It’s worth noting that 93% of employees admit to having access to a SaaS tool from their previous employer and 61% admit to accessing it post-departure.

So, from a security perspective, we need to monitor emerging high-risk shadow IT and tighten the offboarding process to ensure that access to critical systems is appropriately managed.

Jeff Loehr: That’s insightful and extremely useful.

How do MSPs work with you?

Jeff Loehr: We collaborate with many MSPs. How does one initiate a partnership with you, John? Do they simply call you and ask for help, or is there a more structured procedure?

John Harden: Yes, we do have a more structured process. In every webinar or podcast I participate in, I’m always open to dialogue. I’m a non-code member of our team, and I mainly discuss the issues we address.

To get started, the process is pretty straightforward. Go to Auvik.com and look for our SaaS management product. Upon signing up, you’ll receive a 14-day free trial. During these 14 days, you can perform an inventory of your business, identify what software all your team members are using, and understand any potential risks. Our system reviews 30 days of browser history and a year’s worth of history from your productivity suite, immediately generating a map of all the risks.

We also provide a discovery report, a sample quarterly business review report, and a sample offboarding checklist based on the data in our system. If you need further understanding, I can personally share resources that demonstrate what other MSPs are doing.

Jeff Loehr: That’s fantastic. We’ll be sure to include the links in the show notes. I appreciate the QBR, which we refer to as a strategic business review (SBR) in our company. The SBR report seems like an excellent tool for increasing client engagement and proving indispensable.

John Harden: Fortunately, our system accommodates different acronyms. Whether it’s QBR, CBR, SBR, or just BR, you can generate the same report without causing confusion.

Jeff Loehr: So, you’re using your unique terminology, correct?

John Harden: Yes, at this point, I’ve started referring to it as XBR, meaning “everything business review.”

Jeff Loehr: I like that. We might consider adopting the term XBR.

Story of 300 Employee Recruiting Firm

John Harden: We had a business review with a client who has about 300 employees, a relatively larger end client. They had approximately 30 different sites, with around 10 people at each site managing recruitment for local jobs. Almost every one of those sites was using their unique tools and software stack. Our MSP came in, identified these 30 different tools, and proposed a project to consolidate all their SaaS stack into one central stack, costing $4 million. The increase in efficiency for that company has been phenomenal.

Joe Rojas: And therein lies the magic, right? As you delve deeper into your niche and master it, you can devise a solution like that. Now you can approach every other similar company and say, “Hey, I work with recruitment companies and this is the problem that I solve, and this is how I do it.” Then you can literally mint money because they understand that your solution will make them more efficient, more profitable, and help them resolve their business issues. People listening to us need to understand the importance of specializing in a niche.

John Harden: If you try to solve everyone’s problem, you end up solving nobody’s problem. I’ll briefly share a little pain we experienced during our growth phase. Initially, we thought MSPs wanted cost management because a few of our direct clients told us they were interested in consolidating costs and reducing waste. Meanwhile, MSPs were giving us different feedback, and we were attempting to build something for everyone. Eventually, we realized that we had spread ourselves too thin. Opportunities can easily distract you from your niche. When we started focusing more on the MSP version, we saw all the different pain points, and that’s when we hit our stride, rather than trying to serve everyone a little bit.

Joe Rojas: Yes, it’s about maintaining focus. We have this phenomenon we call “shiny things.” They are distractions that pull your attention away from what you’re focusing on. You need to resist these distractions and remain focused on your niche. I always advise MSPs not to consider diversifying until they’re making at least a million dollars in their niche.

Jeff Loehr: The secret is, once you hit a million dollars in your niche, you’re so busy with opportunities within it that you don’t have time to expand into another one.

John Harden: True, and I suspect they’ll figure that out once the money starts rolling in…

Jeff Loehr: Exactly. Once the money’s there, they’ll realize they don’t need to spend on developing a whole new marketing program. They can just keep selling to the same clients.

John Harden: Consider that partner in Florida, for example. They shared with me how they charge 2x the rate of the incumbent company they replaced. Despite the higher cost, the doctor was willing to pay because he realized they weren’t just saying, “Hey, we’re going to change your front desk laptops.” Instead, they were saying, “Hey, we’re going to revamp your front desk systems. We’re going to transform them like this to improve your operations. We know it works because we’ve implemented it with 10 other businesses of the exact same size and type.”

The sales journey wasn’t generic; it was tailored to him. And that’s the inherent value in a niche, and it’s specially constructed for a specific purpose.

Jeff Loehr: John, this has been a pleasure. Thank you for taking the time to chat with us. I hope we run into each other at another event sometime soon. I’m looking forward to witnessing all the fantastic things you’re set to achieve with Auvik.

John Harden: As I position SaaS management to be the number one product in Auvik’s portfolio.

Joe Rojas: So the last thing as usual, Remember, that You Are Loved.

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