MSP Success Stories: Going Vertical
An Interview With John Gambill, Jr.
CEO of GO Concepts Inc
John, how did you get involved in this crazy world we call Managed Services?
I believe you never feel as old as you are, but we’re going back 22 years ago now. Back in 1997, during the days of dial-up and ISDN, here came GO Concepts.
Previously, I was in the sales world and had an interest in computers and technology. I worked in real estate development and sales, managing an office for the largest real estate firm in Cincinnati. We were bought out by the largest real estate company in the world. I continued there developing subdivisions and more but decided that I just didn’t like working for such a large company.
I’ve been very fortunate. As a local guy from Lebanon, Ohio, and thanks to my family, I’ve been involved in a lot of different things. My grandmother was the original Welfare Director, now Human Services, and started that department here in Warren County. A building addition is named after her. My grandfather came back from WWII and went to work at the local Ford dealership. My father owned a gas station and auto repair shop. My mother was a clerk for Human Services, and my parents helped run the local baseball/softball program.
I participated in many activities and was the boys’ varsity soccer coach at our local high school. I was also the adviser for the Future Business Leaders of America here. I was heavily involved in this as a student and continued to be involved in college. The advisor of this club was a mentor of mine. When he retired, he asked me to take it over. In this role, I had the opportunity to meet a young man by the name of Dan Oliver. He was a student at the time. Essentially this is what led to GO Concepts getting started.
Dan was already an incredible network engineer at that age of 14, doing network administration for the county at that young age. He asked me about starting a business, and we developed a business plan over dinner one night on the back of a placemat at a local dive, where we came up with the idea for GO Concepts… G for Gambill and O for Oliver.
Our families invested in GO Concepts to help us get started and are still shareholders today.
How did GO Concepts get going?
We started as an Internet Service Provider and website design firm like most were doing back in 1997; with helpdesk services and IT consulting and getting people on the old 56K dial-up and then DSL.
Then when our community put out a bid for a major project; we were fortunate enough to be chosen. That project involved what is now the standard for cable Internet, DOCSIS, and GO Concepts was one of the first to use it.
Some of the first DOCSIS equipment from CISCO came rolling off the line and was shipped to our office. We actually did the first, live field testing of the service in my basement here in Lebanon. I just happened to live in one of the nodes and the service to my neighborhood was one of the first ones lit because it was all coaxial cable. We set up a lab and began testing in the real world.
We were “working with the big guys” and having a lot of fun. We worked with Cisco, Sony, 3 Com, US Robotics, and others. They were sending field techs to our office in Lebanon to test their equipment out in the field rather than just in the lab. I still have a hand-labeled cable modem from Sony designated #3!
Then we were ready to go to market with this service. We put that expertise into our day-to-day practice. We worked to design and connect all the schools via fiber. Then we worked to develop and launch a VOIP solution for the network.
We were handling everything from A to Z; from help desk to the backend services, along with some consulting on the RF side of things. When our city decided to sell the system to a large telco, they engaged with us and expanded our role. We continue with this service today and support several thousand users.
Now we were doing all of this from repair break/fix services to the Managed IT Services we provide today, along with our own hosted exchange email and datacenter that we maintain here in Lebanon. This evolved us into that support model, with a lot of consulting and outsourced support to where we are today providing Managed Services.
We continue to run our data center and co-location facility. Our customers have 24/7/365 two factor authenticated access with everything you would have in a formal large data center. We do a lot of server hosting for our customers, which makes them feel better about using the Cloud; especially our government customers. They can come to our office to see it, and know that their data is protected around the clock in the GO Concept Private Cloud.
When did you decide to go vertical?
We fell into the trap of trying to be everything to our customers. It wasn’t a great use of our human assets. We made the decision to focus on what we do well, and find partners so we can be the absolute best at what we do.
We got rid of our legacy hosting and email services, and even some customers that no longer made sense for us. It was a tough decision, but something we needed to do. We were working with a marketing firm in Columbus, and they said something that really hit me… “you are succeeding in anonymity.” We were doing all these great things, but we were terrible at telling people about it.
So we went out and looked at all the top managed service provider (MSP) marketing firms. We wanted the best. We decided to go with Ulistic. Why? Because they were like us… similar size and the owners were dedicated and heavily involved in the business. Working with Stuart, Missy and their team reminded us of ourselves. So we knew this would be a good partnership.
After sitting down and learning more about us, Stuart recommended that we focus on one vertical.
In 2013, we started focusing on organizations and businesses serving those with developmental disabilities to help provide services to County Boards, private providers, and agencies here in Ohio. The Warren County Board of Developmental Disabilities was looking for an outsourced provider at the time. We won their bid and brought them up to standards with their technology and HIPAA compliance. We helped them with remote access, which was something very important to them.
We became involved with DD-related organizations because we’re passionate about what they do. We help those who help others by making it easier for them to do their jobs. It’s a labor of love for our staff and very rewarding. Plus, we work with companies that do business with these county government organizations to provide IT expertise for them as well. As a result, we have some really high-level IT consultants here at GO Concepts.
I was a bit worried about putting all of our eggs in one basket. Mainly because the number in Ohio isn’t that large, nor do they have extensive budgets. It’s a very narrow vertical. Ohio only has 88 counties.
But we made the decision to do this, and we trained our staff members to work in this field. And now we can say that we are the premier provider for DD-related organizations and businesses in Ohio, and we know this is true. We have experience with the software solutions they use and understand how they operate. We can come right in and do what needs to be done.
Stuart realized how passionate we are about working with them, and he was right to suggest that we focus on this vertical.
I was also worried about offending our other customers, but this isn’t really a concern as we continue to provide them with the same great services we always have and assure them that we will. We also still have our main GO Concepts website, go-concepts.com, and another focused on the DD sector we serve, ITforDD.com. What we found is that the private providers to the County Boards of DD also need great IT support. Some of their vendors have even become our customers.
So, the initial fear I had wasn’t warranted. Once you get into a vertical, there are so many other aspects to it that you can tap into. We would never have had this kind of exposure, so it was a good decision.
John, what would you say to other MSPs who are concerned about going vertical?
It comes down to a risk-reward thing. Business owners know that they must take risks. I walked away from working for a big company, making a great income, to starting a business making nothing. But if you believe in what you’re doing, and you surround yourself with the right people, the risk-reward will be worth it in the end.
Focusing on a vertical allows us to streamline our operations. We know what they need. We know their pain points, what their goals are and more. At the basic level, what they need is the same. Our onboarding is the same for most of the organizations we serve.
Plus, we can really tailor our marketing and say that we are the premier provider for County Boards, Providers and Agencies. Our services are tailored to precisely what they need. We are the experts in what they need when it comes to technology.
It’s also easier to bring on employees when you focus on one vertical. Anyone on our team can support any one of our customers, which makes managing operations so much easier.
We have differing relationships with different counties and customers. We can handle all of our customers’ IT needs or work in a Co-Managed IT setting if they have IT staff in-house. They’ll get the breadth and depth of our skills and knowledge, and we help them increase their efficiencies to bring in more dollars to their organization, which is so important.
One customer just bought out their existing service contract to come onboard with us because they liked what they saw with the County Boards of DD we serve.
Being in a single vertical really allows you to focus. And now, we no longer have success in anonymity… People know who we are and the great things we are doing. Those in the DD community know who we are. Plus, we get involved in fundraising efforts. We support them, sponsor events, and we are members of vital organizations and attend their conferences. Instead of spending our dollars on a variety of verticals, we can spend them on what’s important to our customers. You can’t do this if you serve a broad audience.
Our goal is for our customers never to have to call us and that we never have to go onsite. It will never happen, but it pushes us to be perfect and to make them the best they can be. Going vertical has helped us be the best at what we do.