Since the late 1990s I’ve been working intently on trying to buck a trend. A trend that saw a lot of the larger IT vendors going direct or hiding behind large distributors who didn’t themselves offer a huge value add to the lifeblood of computing – the reseller channel.
Many of you who read this blog, or get it emailed to you every day know me of old. A percentage of you took a gamble or a hunch and bet on me in 1999/2000 onwards and became SmoothWall resellers, joining the three tier platform I invented on the back of a fag packet based entirely on hard done research in the channel. I remember when I suggested a three tiered reseller platform to my fellow directors with a minimum buy in level from resellers they thought I was mad but I needed to add value and perceived ranking and I needed a global partner network I could rely on for growth in areas where representation was low or non existent. It also gave me the ability to grow my company, conceived and started in my back bedroom, as a global player with world reach.
However that is exactly where my own ability to take praise stops. Everything I’ve ever learnt or understood about the channel and reseller partner growth and evolution I owe to one man I’ve never spoken to or met in person, but who I studied intently and who I worked for/with indirectly as one of his partners. He’s never really understood or given the credibility in the market he deserves yet he did more for British IT than many will ever realise and he changed my life and my ability to push and promote the goods and services I was creating. I’ve never stopped learning from his capabilities and vision and sharing some of his story with you today will take you to the next level of where I want to see the IT SME servicing reseller and partner channel start to re-invent themselves.
Graham Wylie is the chap I’m talking about. He was one of the founders of Sage Software in my part of the world, the North East of England. So there was an added reason for me listening to him straight off the bat there. Graham, like my mother, went to Newcastle University and wrote what would become Sage Line 50 originally launched for CP/M on the Amstrad and later on PC. I was a huge 4GL nut and after leaving Uni used to write and develop stuff for Sage Line50 and Line100 selling to accountants all over the UK but predominantly in North London. From 1981 to 2003 Graham and his fellow directors grew the company taking it public in 1989 and exceeding revenues of over £1bn before he retired in 2003 with a shareholding of £146m banked. An astute cookie. Graham is now chairman and founder of TSG sitting alongside someone else I look up to (as a Sunderland supporter) David Stonehouse, all still based in Tyne and Wear.
Graham’s brainchild was to realise that Sage were good at one core thing. Writing software. Selling direct wasn’t really sensible and had higher cost of sales so he came up with the Accountants Club to grow the company organically, before acquisitions and mergers became the norm. Accountants Club had the basis of a channel in IT parlance of small to medium sized IT service organisations and accountants who signed up to a tiered approach to selling and themselves having the ability to modify the then underlying 4GL (pre Windows) basis for the Sage Line 50 and Sovereign (pre Line100) products and the approach worked. The organic reach of the Accountants Club meant that the relationships between the companies and accounts products to companies and bookkeepers alike for everything from bill of materials to sales order processing and invoicing meant Sage became the de-facto go to standard and revenues rolled in.
Graham Wylie with aplomb and flair and a canny sense of capability had created a posterchild example of how you grow organically, profitably whilst looking after with a duty of care the needs of the people in his employ but also in the first national then international company he had created in the form of that valuable and intrinsic reseller community. So in 2000 when I was looking at a way of combatting Lawrence and our lack of experience at running a sales organisation to cope with the massive demand we had I did what I knew. I sat down and worked out how Graham did it, something I’d seen first hand in the mid 1990s. Creating on the back of it the drive and focus that became the initial and original SmoothWall reseller community globally – a programme that still generates multi million dollar revenues today and has a massive reseller focus worldwide.
I’ve never stopped learning from Graham Wylie – and I take the same approach he did now to Cloud working with resellers to arm them with the ability to get the understanding and core extensibility and value added capabilities to begin assisting companies get the best out of their opportunity in Cloud and virtualisation.
Over the next two weeks I’m going to be writing about what I think the IT reseller community and service provider community could and should be doing better, how I am intent on changing things to empower them with the power of Red Hat and our reseller and partner channel and to try and inspire new resellers looking for revenue opportunities to give them the correct approach to working with us to build organically strong successful partnerships.