Craig Patterson: Welcome to the latest edition of Aryaka’s Dreamers and Doers podcast series, where it's all about bringing together industry experts and business technology leaders for a very candid conversation about technology trends, best practices, and lessons in leadership. By the way, I'm Craig Patterson, your host. I'm the Channel Chief at Aryaka, and today, we have a very special guest. He's a strategic advisor at Bluewave Technology Group, one of the founding partners at EagleTEQ Advisors, and he's an award-winning channel chief, master agent extraordinaire, renowned technology industry executive, philanthropist, and my friend, the man, Curt Allen.
All right, Curt, the man, the myth, and the Boston legend. Thank you so much for joining me today on the Aryaka Dreamers and Doers podcast series. What an honor it is to have you on the show here today. I've got to be honest with you, it is very difficult to fit all of your amazing experience - you’ve got a tremendous resume here - it's hard to say all that in the introduction. So do you mind maybe just kicking us off, share a little bit about yourself with the listeners? And as I mentioned, the podcast is called the Dreamers and Doers series, so tell me what you dream about, Curt, and what are you doing today?
Curt Allen: Thanks for that, Craig, that fine introduction. You flatter me far too much. I've got a lot of stuff going on. I mean, as you know, I'm slightly more long in the tooth than you. So I've been at it for a while. Like I said, I came into telecom for a year about 35 years ago. So it's been a long time since I've done a handful of things. I've had a master agency. I ran carrier businesses, I’m a three-time entrepreneur. But as of late, I'm dedicating most of my time to doing things that interest me with people I like. That's basically my rule of thumb. So from an employment perspective, I am a part-time employee of Bluewave Technology Group. I'm also a partner and a principal founder at EagleTEQ Advisors, an advisory firm. And then I do some work with Columbia Capital on a couple of their projects on the investment side. So yeah, definitely staying busy.
Craig Patterson: Awesome. I love that. Thanks for sharing a little bit about your background. 35 years - wow! And obviously, looking at your background, you've done a bit of everything, right? You've carried a bag, you've led sales teams, you've been involved as a provider, leading a channel organization. You've also been involved in leading a master agency. And now you're helping to advise all the people. So what an amazing background full of a lot of excellent experience.
So kind of looking at your time now focused around Bluewave and this kind of rise of the 'super agent', talk to me about that. Where do you see the market going now with people like Bluewave and other super agents coming to market? How's that going to change things? And how are they different compared to traditional partners?
Curt Allen: I think the market has really shifted in a good way, by the way. We're looking at geometric growth and the opportunity within the channel because the types of customers that are looking to provider-agnostic consulting for their IT and tech stack get bigger and bigger. So we have larger companies that now see the interoperability of all these solutions as being central to having that type of advice and that provider-agnostic advice to piece that together. And then the other side is the thing that we're able to sell these customers. It wasn't 30 years ago we were selling voice and data. That's it. And all the ancillary things were done via hardware, other distribution channels. And the as-a-service kind of craze that's really what the cloud has been for us has just expanded tremendously the opportunity that we have to provide solutions to these customers.
Now with that, the rub is that it’s far more complex that everything is interoperable. So the days of the circuit slinger out there just selling T1s as an agent, I think those are over. I think selling point solutions is dead. I think that you have to be a true advisory in the sense that you're looking at it at an entire technology landscape, that companies like Bluewave, as we say, it's from assess to vendor selection to deployment to managing those solutions to cost containment, back to refresh. And we feel like for midsized companies and up, if they don't take that approach, and if they don't find a Bluewave or Bluewave-type company to really run that analysis and manage that tech stack for them and cost contain it, we think there'll be seen as negligent in the not-so-distant future. So Bluewave, for me, is really a passion play. It's a bet on if a handful of companies do it correctly, we can radically change the way that these solutions are purchased. As a side note, I'm also an investor. All the projects I'm working on I've invested alongside.
Craig Patterson: That's awesome. Thanks for sharing that. I mean, I've seen it myself, you look at where partners are playing. I'd say historically, the channel started here in North America. I think the channel was more focused on transactional customers. Obviously, they moved up market, and now I look at partners like Bluewave, they're really going towards more of the very sophisticated customers, kind of large and very large global type customers that have significant needs around digital transformation. So I love the trend. I think you guys are playing in the right space, where you really can help cater to everything they need to really transform themselves from pure networking to obviously security to really everything they need in order to survive in today's market. So that's awesome. So talking about the as-a-service model and solutions and where TSBs are going, how do you view the TSBs continuing to transform themselves to address the entire as-a-service model?
Curt Allen: They're going to be an integral part of it. They're 100% a very important cog. As you've seen in consolidation, you're seeing private equity has come to market and they agree with me that that distribution model is here to stay and will continue to probably condense. We're probably looking at three or four big winners. It might look a little bit like the Disty space and they're shaken out. You've seen those acquisitions. But like us at Bluewave, the TSB is integral for us because we want to retain that provider-agnostic consulting position with our customers. So we have no intent of ever doing direct agreements with carriers. We're not going to take on quotas. We're truly positioning ourselves as we will go out and align the industry best solutions to solve the problems inside your tech stack, period. So for us, the TSB will always be an important conduit for us to get to those solutions. And other than consolidating, I see that the TSB marketplace will continue to expand rapidly.
Craig Patterson: Yeah, thanks for sharing that. I think the comment around, you intend on continuing to work with the TSBs, that's going to be music to their ears because that's a big topic of discussion right now, and whether these super agents are going to work with the TSBS or they're going to compete against the TSB. So I’ve got to believe you've got a lot of friends after listening to that particular segment. That's great stuff.
So looking at the consolidation, there's a lot of M&A going on. You've seen it. You've been part of it. How do you see that continuing to evolve? Do you see that there'll be enhanced M&A activity? Do you see more capital, private equity coming into the channel? What are your thoughts around where the market’s going from that perspective?
Curt Allen: I think the national plays are shaking out. I think there will probably be four or five of them. So there's a couple of more large ones. There's one out in California that I would imagine, he'll just keep doing what he's doing because he's having so much fun doing it and loves his business. But I think that, certainly, the three or four central players and the TSBs are going to continue to acquire where they can. Scale matters. What you alluded to in the last question is the types of things that the TSBs can deliver to partners. And it's really, it's practice as-a-service. If I'm a 5 man op running an agency, I can't afford to invest in, say, a contact center specialist. I can't afford to invest in, say, a security specialist. So I have to lean on other folks for those resources. And that's where the TSBs come in handy.
So I can present myself as a contact center specialist because whether I'm working with Telarus or Intelisys or Avant or Bridgepointe, they've got someone in their shop that can help me in a practice area. So it's really delivering practice-as-a-service. In your world, in an exercise that you and I did when I was consulting with Aryaka, we talked really about narrowing down, narrowing into our ideal partner profile. There were two flavors. There was the already-enabled security expert who was out selling edge devices today. We want to get even more than our fair share of that business. But the other ideal was someone who had the appetite for building out a practice. And that's a person we could really add value to. And that's you as a provider. The TSBs are doing a lot of those same things. So we're really expanding the scope of what an agent can present themselves with expertise.
Craig Patterson: Yeah, that's great. Aryaka is very thankful to have met you, Curt. You did some amazing work here, and you really helped set the foundation for our channel-led strategy. So you've been very active with other companies in terms of helping them build their channel strategy and philosophy. So looking at that time period and all those different engagements, are there any commonalities that jumped out from working with technology companies in terms of just challenges they faced and just some things you had to help companies deal with as they stood up their channel strategy?
Curt Allen: There's definitely been a couple of themes, Craig, that seem to keep popping up. And one, you'll probably remember this from our engagement, is that as service providers, we tend to have a really good idea of what our value proposition is to a customer. But those of us who are channel-led, we need to have a second idea of what our value is to that partner. If all we're ever talking about is our customer-facing solution as the value proposition, that's great for the sell-through motion to get out to customers. What companies need to also understand is their sell-to motion, and you're selling your program. You're selling the Aryaka Channel Program to a partner. So what's in it for them? It's not just that your solution is great for their customers, that's part of it, certainly, but it's the program. It's the support. It's the way that you can help that partner look better in the eyes of his customers. It's the way that you can help him drive business, even if it's not in Ayaka’s stack, understanding the full cut of value of that partner. And that's why I think you guys have done a really good job. I think that's why your channel is expanding is that you've really been able to show partners how partnering with Aryaka can impact their overall business.
So that's an area that I think a lot of service providers are weak on. They tend to have partner-facing marketing materials that are just basically rehashed customer-facing marketing materials. They do case studies that only talk about the customer impact, and they don't talk about the partner impact. So that's a real miss and an area that I think a lot of the providers could improve at.
And then just structurally what I find, especially in the larger organizations but even in the smaller ones, is we spend too much time working inside our business as far as reporting up to boards of directors, internal reporting. All this is just endless conference calls. I did an analysis of a really large company, and in their sales channel, their sales motion, 80% of their time was spent on admin and internal meetings, and 20% was spent facing out to customers and partners. That should be the other way around. We should be doing 80% of our look is outward - it's managing our people, it's managing their partners, and helping them drive customers - and 20% is done the kind of administrative and governance work that we need to do inside the business. So those would be the two things that seem to jump out and repeat.
Craig Patterson: Yeah, that's great. Thanks for sharing that. I look back at some of my time working for telcos, and I know you spent some time there too. And I can definitely resonate with that 80/20 rule. 80% of your time being spent internal, 20% being spent external, right? The great thing about Aryaka is we kind of flipped the world on its head, and we're spending most of our time, energy, and effort really focused around the partner, really focused on creating that un-telco experience, eliminating all those roles and all those mousetraps and all those gadgets that cause a bad partner experience.
So let's talk about this. Obviously, you've got a tremendous amount of experience in a leadership capacity. When you look at the market, a lot of companies are talking about improving employee experience. So what are some of the principles to you that matter the most, maybe looking back at your time spent at like Windstream or Vonage or Sandler or X4? What are some of the principles that you really honed in on from a leadership perspective to create the best culture and experience for your employees?
Curt Allen: It's a great question, Craig. It's something that's always been really important to me. My most proud statistic is that in the last eight-and-a-half years that we had X4 before we sold it, we didn't have a single person leave the business. Nobody left. We finally had a woman retire and she was 65. She was the only person that had left the business in eight-and-a-half years at that point. So people are always central to me. Windstream was interesting because I had such a large group there between account management and resale and the partner channel, several hundred people. It's difficult to be that type of a leader with several hundred when at X4 I had 20 are so. So it's a different animal but the principles are the same. It's like, what did I do today to empower my people to solve problems for their customers, their customers being partners or customers?
A basic tenet that I say in the first day in any job I've ever had is that if you do something with honesty and integrity on this team that's meant to help either a partner or customer, you will not get in trouble. Even if you do it completely wrong and it doesn't work out, you're not going to get in trouble for that. Now, if I correct it and you repeat it, then we'll have a problem. But my point is always empowering people at the front lines and people closest to the customers and the partners to solve problems and to innovate and to be creative and do what they can to help people. What I find is the result of that is that they tend to be more fulfilled. They tend to feel more valued. And oh, by the way, they tend to do a far better job for our customers and our partners.
I think that we sometimes get wrapped up in governance. We punish every transaction for the off-chance that something radical could happen. So if something goes wrong 2% of the time, should I put rules in place that slow down 100% of the deals for that 2%? Or should I just deal with the 2% error rate and fix that on the way back? So the mistake we make is we're so afraid to make mistakes that we basically don't empower our people to solve problems. So that's a basic tenet of mine. I've been very proud of the fact that if I started another company tomorrow, there's 50 people that I think I could pick up the phone and they'd say, 'When do I show up? '
Craig Patterson: Yeah, I love that. That's the mark of a great leader. When people are willing to follow you. Sometimes it’s a bit of an uncertain situation. I look at some of the wonderful people that have joined me here at Aryaka. Some of them just made the leap of faith because they really wanted that culture. I also agree with you. You've got to let employees take chances. You’ve got to let them make decisions, and they're not always going to get them right. You can't penalize them when they're wrong. If the majority of the time they're right and they're creating a good experience for the partners and their customers and their fellow employees, let it be. Just let it be. Let them have the empowerment to go do those things to try to solve problems and always do the right thing for the customer and partner.
So let's talk about something that's very near and dear to your heart, Curt. Obviously, beyond the great stuff you've done on the channel, I know you're very focused on giving back to the community. So let's talk about some of the philanthropic things that are happening in your life. Can you share a little bit about your affiliation with the Center for Young Adult Addiction and Recovery at Kennesaw State University? And maybe share with the world why these efforts are so important to you in terms of addiction recovery and prevention.
Curt Allen: Yeah. So I sit on the board of directors. I have for the last five years at the Center for Young Adult Addiction and Recovery at Kennesaw State University. For me, it was to be of service work. I'm fairly transparent, I'm at 11-plus years in recovery myself. So it's near and dear to my heart, but the program at Kennesaw State, and there's about 100 of them nationwide now, but in essence, we take kids or young adults that through the wreckage of addiction, have dropped out of school, flunked out of school, whatever, and we apply resources to them. We get admissions wavers based on their long-term recovery. The only requirement is that they're in 12-step recovery and have been successfully for at least six months before they come into the program. But it's everything from sober living on campuses to job support and job placement. A lot of the work I do is helping these young people get placed after they're done with their school.
My wife and I funded a scholarship that's actually named for a friend of all of ours, Carolyn Bradfield, lost her daughter to addiction about five years ago. So we fund a scholarship every year that is given to a student at Kennesaw State that has a desire to be entrepreneurial in any way, shape, or form. We've presented that now for four years running. We do that every year.
Most of the work, it's about taking people that, for whatever reason inside their addiction, got sidetracked, and giving them the resources to get back on track and become fully functioning, happy, and productive citizens. And the interesting thing is, if you look at the stats of students in CRCs, Collegiate Recovery Communities, and ours specifically, their GPA is a half a point higher than the average at school. Their graduation rate is 100%. We haven't had a kid fail out in the program in like five years. Their recidivism rate, the rate to which they go back to their use disorder, is lower than the general population at the university. So this myth that once an addict, always an addict—yeah, sure, we're still in recovery, but we found that the students in our program are less likely to go back out and use than a, quote/unquote, “regular student” in the normal population is to become addicted themselves.
So it's really been a miraculous story. There's just so many examples of how these kids’ lives have been changed. And quite frankly, the world is better for it, that the attributes of an addict in recovery - the ability to be honest, the ability to persevere. You talked about people that have overcome things, the ability to work hard at things, to be accountable - all these attributes of successful recovery from addiction are things that I would think employers would want in their employees as well. So that's really been kind of a passion project for me the last few years and one that I'll continue to do always.
Craig Patterson: Curt, that’s so cool. I can hear the passion in your voice when you start talking about it. I really, really love that. Keep up the good work there.
Last question for you, my man. So 25 years, 35 years of experience. What's a channel hack you'd like to share with the world? If somebody's out there trying to build a good channel, good program, really improve that partner experience, what's one piece of advice you’d give to that person?
Curt Allen:Stop talking to partners about what success looks like for you and find out what success looks like for them. Let them define what 'good' looks like in the relationship and then live according to that. Build to that. It’s they, not us as far as defining success.
Craig Patterson: There we go. They, not us. Everybody, Curt Allen, my man, the channel expert, the servant leader, driving the next evolution of sophisticated partners, the rise of a super agent, scholarship chair, what an amazing story around that, just giving back to the community, just an all-around great dude. I've really enjoyed my time on here with you today, Curt. Thanks so much for being on.
There's only one thing left to do. I'm going to give I'm going to give a little 1, 2, 3, and I want to hear you give us a 'Let's go' because here at Aryaka it's our year, it's time for us to go. So Curt, 1, 2, 3.
Curt Allen: Let's go!
Craig Patterson: I love it. Let’s go! Thank you so much.