It has been more than a year since Ronnie Altit got Insentra up and running. ARN spoke to him about some of the challenges with starting a business and the importance of building trusted relationships with partners.
Julia Talevski (JT): It has been more than 12 months since you started Insentra, how has the business progressed?
Ronnie Altit (RA): We’ve had a wonderful ride. Starting a new business is always going to be a rollercoaster. We started April 1 last year. The first couple of months are about getting your feet under the table and we’re now at 16 employees in the business.
When we started, it was because we saw a gap with providing the channel with high quality accredited, experienced Symantec professionals. The Symantec business has taken off so much and we don’t want to spread our wings too wide. We want to stay focused and grow the business into other vendors at a later date.
The nice part is that we were cash flow positive from our third month, which is quite novel for a start up business and we’ve maintained it since then. We’ve hit a sweet spot in the market and we do things very differently. One of our mottos is ‘dare to be different'.
We’re 100 per cent channel focused, not selling any competitive licenses, not transacting directly with the end user – only via the channel. We’ve absolutely stuck with that model and we’re going to continue to grow that as well. We’ve faced some challenges on the way, not the least is partners out there wondering how long we would maintain the business and how sustainable it is.
The nice part is that we don’t have a core dependency on one channel partner; we’re engaged actively with more than 50 channel partners in the market – from large Symantec partners to SMBs where they have no skills.
JT: What types of partners use your services?
RA: Our partners fall into four categories; they’re either the partner that has no skills and leverages Insentra’s skills and capabilities to take to market, or partners that have skills in one core area of Symantec whether it’s availability or security and look to us to augment them in that area or be their services provider in other areas where they don’t have services skills.
The third type of partners we work with are ones that have some skills, but they’ve been light-on and see us as an opportunity to refocus their people and leverage us to deliver a better outcome for their customers. The fourth type is partners that have skills and we provide them with an augmentation to their existing skills.
JT: What are those points of differentiation Insentra offers?
RA: We’re non-competitive – we’re all about adding value to the channel.
What I mean by that is in the first instance we look to represent products in Australia that channel partners would like to have in their portfolio. Because they may do two or three transactions a year, it’s not economical for them to have the service skills. Yet for us, if we have 40 or 50 partners each doing one or two transactions per year, there’s 100 transactions in there and it’s very viable for us to invest.
One example of that is TransVault, which is an archive migration, PST management tool. We continue to look for products at a global level that we can represent in Australia to provide greater value to our channel partners and in turn, provide greater value to their end users. The second thing we do is provide pre-sales to a channel partner when we’re involved in a transaction. We don’t get calls saying “we’ve solved this, can you help us resource it?” That’s probably about five per cent of our business. 95 per cent of our business is “we’re working this opportunity; can you work it with us?”
The agreement is if we win the transaction together, then the partner will transact the business, and we’ll deliver the services in the back end. We invest with the partner – shared risk, shared reward. It is true partnering. We do account planning with our partners, strategic initiatives and joint marketing exercises all with a view to ultimately build the Symantec business.
JT: How did you go about building up your expertise and experience as a start up business?
RA: It was challenging. We were an unknown commodity and our early adopter staff took a risk with us. We have quite a lucrative compensation structure for all of our staff in our business, where there’s absolute recognition for their efforts.
In attracting staff, it was really our model that peaked the interest of some of our early guys. With Symantec pulling out of the consultancy game, we picked up one guy out of Victoria, one in the UK and we’ve grown by word of mouth since then. We have enjoyed very fruitful relationships with our partners and the engagements that we’ve done. 95 per cent of customers have been happy to say they’re willing to be a reference customer. That’s the level of service that we strive to provide.
JT: What are the main challenges Insentra has faced? RA: Investing at the appropriate time – when you’re doing services, you can’t deliver services if you don’t have skills, yet it’s difficult to position yourself as a service delivery partner if you don’t have the skills as well.
We invested ahead of the curve and fortunately got ourselves into a good cash position early on and we’ve been on a very aggressive re-investment strategy in the business. While the business is still young, there are funds that allow us to re-invest. We picked areas of the market where we could see there was latent market demand and invested heavily in that space.
Another challenge has been building trust with channel partners. Our rules of engagement are very strict. Trust only comes with time, from the way we engage and being consistent. When I was doing research into the business, one of the things partners told me they were looking for was consistency and reliability.
Partners know what they’re going to get every time; they know how we’re going to behave and what our deliverables are going to be. We had all of the challenges that go with a startup business. Staffing we’ve been very fortunate with. The team get a lot of responsibility, feel ownership and they don’t have to come into the office. We put a lot of trust in our guys and feel very comfortable with a mobile workforce.
We’ve been very careful with people that we hire into the business and look at two characteristics being attitude and aptitude. Happy staff equals outstanding delivery equals happy customers. We’ve also started a graduate program and have made our first hire.
Again we’re investing ahead of the curve – we know the market is thin for skills, we know that as we grow we need to be seeding people into the company so that in 12 to 18 months time, we can create a career path for those people that want it within the business.