David: Welcome to the Manitoba Business Podcast, featuring interviews with business leaders and entrepreneurs based right here in Manitoba. I’m David Noël-Romas. This episode is brought to you by my small business, Black Chair Consulting. We use social media to help businesses sell more. To find out about Black Chair, visit www.blackchair.net.
Today, we’re gonna talk to a guy who sells high tech for a living and who does it exceptionally well. As VP of sales, he guided his company through a 10 times growth trajectory. And now he’s setting himself up to do it all again, as the CEO of a new venture. I had a ton of fun chatting with him and I hope you have fun listening. If you do, please tell your friends about the show. The show is available on all your favorite podcast platforms, including iTunes, and the transcript of every episode is also available on our website at www.manitobabusinesspodcast.com.
Now, without further ado, here is Curtis Dery. Curtis, thanks so much for taking the time. How about we start by having you tell us a little bit of who you are and what you do?
Curtis: Who I’m I and what I do? Depends who’s in the room with me. Yeah, so seriously, I’m Vice President of Sales here at Powerland, so I head up the entire company on the outside sale, inside sales team across Western Canada. So we have offices in Winnipeg, Regina, Saskatchewan and Vancouver.
David: Cool. How did you get into that?
Curtis: I used to work for HP, so Powerland used to be or is a partner of HP and I was looking at making a transition, getting back into more private side of the business. I just like, I mean, at the end of the day, I’m an entrepreneur at heart, so it’s kind of nice to be a part of a smaller company where you have more input. You can see the output that you’re getting, right? More influence into kind of what you’re doing. I learned a lot from HP. Good company, but it’s a very big company, right? So, you know, sometimes you get the greatest idea in the world, but you can’t influence 300,000 people overnight. Where here we’re 170 people and you can influence that overnight. So that was the attraction. That’s what made me…you know, they were kind of a hidden gem. Right? They had been in the industry for 32 years, they just needed some more enterprise, some more kind of polished focus of where we’re going and how we’re getting there and so I thought, “Hey, we’ll give it a shot?” I’ve got nothing to lose type thing, so I came over here and said, let’s go on a run and we’ve been on a big run. We’ve had 5x growth in the last five years, so I can’t complain.
David: Awesome. So, I think a lot of people are gonna know this, roughly, but I wanna hear from you because I don’t wanna make any assumptions, what do Powerland do?
Curtis: Yeah. So Powerland. Everyone knows them from, like I was just mentioning, right? Like from been around as a white box, making computers back in the day. Almost everybody knows somebody that got a box from these guys back when computers were just starting to come out. And then they evolved to get into what we call the tier one industry, which was not making white boxes anymore and, you know, teaming up with HPs, Lenovos and Dells. And, you know, looking back, there’s not too many companies in the industry right now that could keep evolving with IT because as well know, IT is evolving daily, right? And for them to be able to keep, you know, evolving, making the right decisions, to keep growing and moving the business along, you know, we’ve been able to do that now, to take it from not just the end-point, which is, you know, your desktop/laptop business, to move it to the more…the whole entire solutions set, right? To go along with, you know, from networking to software to security to managed services to servers and storage, right?
Curtis: And so now provide a more a an end-to-end value added reseller it to the market.
David: Cool. And…so you were coming from HP. How long were you at HP?
Curtis: Five years.
David: Okay. Cool. And then you came to Powerland how long ago was that?
Curtis: It will be five years in October.
David: Right on. Okay. Cool. And in those five years, you saw 5x growth?
David: So what would you say were the drivers there?
Curtis: People. Yeah, at the end of the day, it’s all about the people, right? Solutions, technology, they can come and go and change, but if you have the right people that you can invest into and bring on to help, you know, be part of that focus. I always tell people you’re a builder or a driver, right? So what kind of role do you wanna have, right? And come in and take them on a position. I try to encourage entrepreneurship within everybody, right? Be a part of what you wanna develop and grow and be part of that something, right?
Curtis: And that way everybody’s contributing to it and, you know, our retention’s been great, right. We’ve hired, I don’t know, probably 100 people in the last five years, right? And, you know, I think we’ve only lost two people.
David: Really? Is sales a big piece of the headcount at Powerland?
Curtis: We’re the biggest sales force in Western Canada.
Curtis: So, we’ve got 25 outside sales people.
David: Oh, you’re kidding. Wow.
Curtis: Yeah. We’re…I would say, you know, it’s one of those things, right? Where you kinda…when you’re growing significantly like that, you kinda…there’s only so many things you can focus on. One of the things we’ve been trying to develop is who we are as a brand, right? Hard to take that mindset of locally, you know, everyone knows Powerland, but they don’t realize kind of what we’re doing or how big we are, right? You know, we’re the top 25 partner in Canada, right? Out of 3,800 partners. Lot of people think we’re a small shop that only does, you know, break/fix computers down, but meanwhile, the majority of enterprises in Canada, you know, we have an influence and touch of business that we’re doing with them, right? And there’s a lot of big logos that we deal with where, you know, their IT is running on some of our architecture, right?
David: Right. Right. Right. Interesting. So when you say you grew 5x, is that revenue or headcount or both?
Curtis: That would revenue. Headcount would probably…jeez, I don’t know. Because we don’t…we’re not your typical company, right? So when people say like, “Hey, like you have any open headcounts?” It’s not about open headcounts. It’s about the right people that fit the right culture for us.
David: Right. Right. I’m just trying to get a sense of sort of the growth trajectory, yeah.
Curtis: Yeah. So, you know, roughly, kind of went from, you know, $15 million to, I don’t know, $80 million plus, right?
David: Sure. Okay.
Curtis: So, you know, significant growth from that perspective. And then people obviously came with that to contribute to that growth, right? You know, in the last five years, we’ve been busy with not just growing, but we acquired a company and we sold a piece of our company to a public company, right. So, you can have that much growth to acquire and to sell, you’ll learn a lot and you had to manage a lot, right. And on top of it, make sure we keep focused on, you know, what we’re trying to do, right?
David: So, you mentioned the importance of sort of making everyone get, you know, take out their entrepreneurial side or expose that side of themselves and I think, especially in a sales team, that’s super important, right? I think business owners struggle…business owners and business leaders struggle with that piece of it. How do you see that working? Like how are you motivating your sales folks to be entrepreneurial?
Curtis: I think a few different ways, right? I try to bring out the best in what their skills sets are, right? Everybody’s unique. Everybody has a different way of doing things, but maybe that way can be applied in other ways throughout the business, right? And lead by example too, right? I’m a big believer in that, right? It’s one thing to talk about it, but you have to go and execute, too. So, you know, the entire management team, we’re always out making sure we’re in front of customers, in front of vendors and doing what we’re saying too…
David: That was actually going to be my next question. Like, how do you balance your time between doing sales calls yourself or whatever, if you do that, and managing the rest of the team?
Curtis: Yeah. It’s…especially as you grow, it’s a…managing time is always critical, right? And having a good support cast helps that, right? And I’ve got some people that help support both our inside sales, our marketing, sales overall, right? I’ve got three directors that help support key members of the team to make sure that their, you know, getting the time and support they need and then, you know, I try to make sure I’m there for, you know, whether it’s escalations or it’s strategic or alignment from a solution or a vendor or a prospective, too, to help, you know, drive that with all of our team, right?
David: So are you doing…are you still…kind of day-to-day, would you be doing sales calls as well or is that?
Curtis: Oh, yeah. Once you’re a salesman, it’s in your blood, right. So, I tell everybody, right? I’m a poor sport. I play to win. And you don’t high five after a loss, right? You might learn from it, but I don’t know, for me, it’s not in my DNA. I don’t…I’m not gonna sit there and just walk away from it. I want to understand how we lost and then how do we go out and keep winning because at the end of the day, that’s the only way you grow, right? And, you know, when part of that focus is like, you know, you hear there’s disruption with everything going on and around this cloud space, right? And for us, you know, as a company, in the last four years, we’ve tried to figure out one, how do we stay relevant, but how do we keep, you know, evolving and bringing a different value to the market so we’re not at status quo, right?
You know, I kind of tell everybody like, for me, I don’t wake up in the morning just to be like, “Hey, I wanna be the same as everyone else.” Always be a differentiator, right? And a lot of people will always bet against you, right? Because they’re like, “Well, you can’t do that.” Everyone starts with a buck. It’s where you keep reinvesting those dollars, right? And how you do it. And that’s why in the last five years, we’ve seen more billion dollar companies than we have in our entire lifetime put together. It’s because those guys, you know, reinvest quickly and keep betting, right? And so from a cloud perspective, we spun off another separate company that I’m the CEO of that is purely focused on cloud outcomes. And the reason that we separated that company is we partnered with another one to come on board and focus specifically on cloud engagement, monthly recurring revenue, and focus specifically on a solution set where, you know, the d mark between us and Powerland is that Powerland will still focus on your managed services, selling your hardware infrastructure and your software, but if it’s cloud based, we partnered with a company and that we created that’s called Zirro
David: Interesting. I saw Zirro when I was looking you up. So you’ve actually got the CEO of one company and the VP of sales of the parent company?
David: Okay. So day-to-day, how does that affect you? Are you…like what does your role at Zirro look like?
Curtis: Yes. Time management priority, right? So, you know, we created, again, a uniqueness in that space, right? So, the niche that we found is, you know, the cloud ain’t going away. It’s just reality. It’s a trillion dollar race when you add all the major cloud providers together, right?
Curtis: And I tell everybody, if you’re not part of that race, you’re not gonna be relevant. So you’ve gotta figure out how do you augment with that space. I’m never gonna compete with somebody that has a trillion dollars, right? So, for us, we looked at, at the end of the day, everybody wants a cloud solution of some sort. Doesn’t matter what size you are, you’re gonna go to it for whatever use case is needed, whether its backup, infrastructure, SaaS, all this stuff, right? So we’re looking that at understanding and one of the fundamental gaps is that you’ve got Canada that is geographically bigger than the U.S., only has, call it six major carriers, connectivity is not cheap and it’s not great in Canada because of that, right? And all the major data centers got built out east because of government grants and initiatives from the perspective, so now you’ve got Google, Amazon and Microsoft that are sitting out east. So everybody out west is like, “Hey, we wanna connect to these guys.” Right?
And then you’ve got, you know, legislation where the FCC in the states announced that any data going across the U.S. border on [inaudible 00:10:48] services can now be sold. So that put up flags and everyone’s like wow. And then you’ve got obviously, NSA and all these other concerns, right? So I’m looking at all this and well, there’s a gap here. So all the traffic, 80-plus% of your Internet traffic today goes down south because it was designed to go north-south, so I went, “Well, that’s a problem.” So, we went and bought up a network design to be west and east. And it’s a layer one network and it’s a straight shot connecting into Microsoft, Amazon and Google. So now we provide a secure fast path to the cloud.
Curtis: Yeah. It’s been a very unique value to the market and I would say a major differentiator because nobody is looking at it that way.
Curtis: You know, I tell people, you know, you can go home and watch Netflix, but you don’t really are concerned where Netflix is getting that data from and bringing it to you, right? But now when you’re talking, you know, production workloads and you’re talking about data, you wanna understand where is it going and what’s my quality and performance to that? So, we figured out what that gap looks like, right?
David: Was Zirro conceptualized and developed in-house at Powerland or was it…?
Curtis: Yeah. It was my…yeah, so I came up with the idea, but then I was backed some smart technical guys that said, “I don’t know if that will work.” And I’m like, “Well, let’s figure out a way to make it work, right?” And we did and it took about two solid years to execute on it, build it properly. Followed the right processes to get it set up properly. We are an authorized service provider through Canada legislation, right? So now we can now go and buy whether it’s wholesale lines that we want, we bought public IP space, do all the right things that we’re a true carrier now so that we can manage the traffic the way it should be, right?
Curtis: So we didn’t go like this was some kind of a half solution. We went all in and made sure we aligned it properly, right? And one of our, you know, data center partners is the biggest in the globe, right? Which is Equinex, so they have a data center in Toronto and all the major cloud providers reside with these guys. They’ve got 170 data centers globally, 95% of the world’s Internet traffic goes through their data centers. So we put our infrastructure in there so that we can reside from an interconnect to every major provider you can think of.
Curtis: Because at the end of the day, it boils down to the plumbing, I tell people, right? You can have the fanciest house in the world, but if the plumbing sucks, it’s a pretty crappy house. Well, that’s the same with the cloud. You can have the best cloud offering in the world, but if your network suck, it’s not gonna be good. But if we can clean up that plumbing, now you can go and consume and then grow and scale your business up and down the way you want, right?
David: Right. Is that…Is it picking up good traction so far?
Curtis: Yeah. It’s pretty crazy actually the momentum in that space right now. Because, I mean, even in Canada that’s a $1.5 billion space, right? To spend. So I’m just happy to get a good percentage of that, right?
David: Sure. Sure. Very cool. Is there… are there a lot of people involved in that, in Zirro?
Curtis: Yeah. So that’s a separate team that we have that are focused more on the services side of it, because it’s…you know, there is a lot of smart networks specialists out there, but they’re LAN administrators versus WAN and this is all based on the WAN. So you have to have your network setup with, you know, technical BGP routing and stuff to able to consume cloud. So we specifically have talent that is focused on setting that up.
David: Oh, interesting. Cool. So it sounds like you had this concept and got a whole bunch of technical stuff in place to make it happen.
Curtis: Yeah. It’s one of those…you know, fortunate hot slots, right? Where it’s finally got great momentum in Canada and then, you know, a lot of smart technical people wanna be part of this space because it’s net new, right? You know, everyone’s kind of done the storage run, the server run, the virtualization run. Well, the next one now wave is like, you know, around cloud and security and people are like want to get into that space. So, when you’ve got a good solution, it attracts talent where they are like, “Hey. I wanna be a part of this.” Right?
Curtis: And that’s where we kind of, again, leave the doors open and say, “Hey, the more good people that wanna join, the more the merrier.”
David: What does this…this is shifting gears a little bit, but what does your sales process look like both at Zirro and at Powerland? How are you identifying leads? Capturing leads? And then following up with.
Curtis: A lot of it is, you know, people buy from people at the end of the day, right? So, having, you know, good talented people attracts customers, right? And then doing good customer service provides, you know, word of mouth, you get more and more word out, right? And so we’ve had a lot of organic growth from that perspective, right? And then obviously, bringing on more talent, brings on more network, connections with customers etc. and then, obviously, bringing on bigger deals and bigger revenue, brings more alignment with strategic vendors and vendors want to align and bring more opportunity, so it just keeps scaling from that perspective, right?
David: Interesting. What would you say are sort of the big challenges or opportunities that you face in both ventures over the next five years or so, or even one year, in terms of those sort of strategic scaling pieces.
Curtis: I would say the biggest hurdle that we probably have to run into is with process or people? I don’t know. It’s making sure, you know, our back-end can keep scaling to handles the front-end, right? And so that way, we’re not gonna be a bottleneck both to our employees and to our customers. So, you know, we’re going through a refresher exercise of some of the operations and tools that we’re using to make sure that they’re ready for the next wave of scale that we’re ready to do. Then after that, it’s just getting out and…a lot of it’s self-educating, right? You know, we’re in a tough industry from the fact that you have to understand a massive portfolio of technologies, right? So both even our customers, the confusion and the inundated approach that they get from all these different startups and technologies, you know, and then top of it, running their businesses as they are today and then you’ve got outbreaks that are happening like this WannaCry, right? Like that’s a…that was an impact at a small scale but the next wave is coming and then the next wave after that. So they know they have to be in a reactive state to try to keep up with their business and then on top of it figure what do they proactively doing to scale their business.
Then factoring all the IT that they had to make on decisions around all that, right? That is really a reason why cloud is evolving is agility, right? To be able to throw stuff out there, scale it as fast as you want quickly versus going, “Hey, I liked to scale up some servers and storage.” Great, that’s a six to eight week engagement by the time you size it properly, you order it, you pick the technology you want, then you have to order it, then you have to ship it, and then you have to rack and stack, get set it up, patch it, right? All that process is gone when you go to cloud, right? So you’re fast tracking the agility for your business. And all the patching and, you know, layers, the first layers are done, that’s what the cloud does, right? Now you just layer on the stuff you want and manage it and patch that, right? So it takes away some complexity and it takes away time to the business.
David: Yeah. You mentioned the learning curve and stuff like that. How did you get into the business in the first place and where did you kind of learn all this stuff that you need to know to be able to sell technology effectively?
Curtis: Yeah, no. Well, I mean, at the end of the day, it’s almost like anything, right? Whatever you put into is what your going to get out of it. I wasn’t a part of this industry for a super long time. It’s probably about 12 years now. I used to be a journeyman welder.
David: Oh, interesting.
Curtis: So I wasn’t even in IT, right? Then my dad…he’s been a network security expert for a long time. He said…I was looking for something a little bit of a change and he said, “Hey. You should get into technology,” I understand it, so you know, I took a chance, went back to school and then got into the industry, right? And then…it’s like anything, right? It’s, you know..
David: What did you go to school for?
Curtis: A took computer network engineering.
Curtis: Yeah. And then, you know, obviously got interested into that, and I was on the technical side and then some people said, “Hey, you might be good at going on the sales side.” So took a chance to do that and just kept evolving, right? And kind of set goals, right? Where I wanted to be, what I had to do to get there and then, you know, it’s like a professional athlete, right? The more pucks that you shoot ,the more accurate you’re gonna get, right? Well, it’s like anything, right? You know, the more you study, understand technology, the more, you know, you take in and understand it, well, the more you’re gonna succeed at it, right?
Curtis: So, you know, that’s ideally myself and others what we try to do, right?
David: Are you a reader at all?
Curtis: No. Actually, in my calendar, I read a chapter a day.
Curtis: Yeah. So every single day in my calendar, I book off time to read one chapter of a book every single day.
David: Awesome. So what are you reading now?
Curtis: Currently, right now, I’ve just finished “Tools of Titans” by Tim Ferriss…
David: Oh, really. Did you like it?
Curtis: Yeah. It’s an interesting style, right?
David: Yep, Ferriss is…Ferriss is Ferriss.
Curtis: He just, you know, he talks of…yeah, Ferriss is Ferriss, right?. I switch all over the place. I kind of follow like ink.com and a few other like founders and a few others, right? And they always mention good startup books and, you know, like “Art of the Start” by Guy Kawasaki. There’s a bunch that I’ll have on my ereader that I’m always kind of flip flopping around, but, yeah, I constantly just trying to get, you know, educated and add angles into my tool box, right? So that, you know, there’s always something that can be utilized and just taking someone’s perspective and going, “Hey, I could use that in this kind of perspective.” So, I enjoy those books and kind of a big believer in that and self-educating is always a good thing.
Curtis: I’m not a huge scholar going to school and sitting in a constructed room, right. But to educate and understand what people have done and how they’ve gotten there is very interesting, right?
David: Totally. Do you have like one or two books that you would recommend to the listeners or you think are kind of the most important ones that you’ve read or whatever?
Curtis: It depends on what you’re trying to achieve, right? If it’s from a reader’s perspective or it’s from, you know, the next startup of what you wanna be…I mean, Guy Kawasaki the “Art of the Start” if you really want to understand how to build a company, understand what the structure looks like, understand marketing, understand all the different things he had to be aware of, I think that’s sometimes lacking in the industry, right? A lot of people want to hear about the great stories, right? Of “Hey. I wanna be the next startup to make a billion bucks.” Hey, so do I. But you’ve gotta understand what it takes to get there, right. And understand the sacrifice. Understand that, you know, those guys don’t own 100% of the company, right? And so when you’re pouring your passion and emotion into it, people feel like well, I don’t wanna give others, you know, a share of that. Well, you’re not gonna scale if you think you can do it by yourself, right? So understanding, you know, success is based on, you know, not just yourself. It’s who you surround yourself with and who you want to invest with to grow, right? Yeah, that’s one book.
I’m trying to think of the one’s I’ve read lately. I download too many. That’s my problem with ebooks nowadays, right? But…yeah, that one stands out that I’ve read a few times. Yeah. Elon Musk, who’s actually, I just read his biography. If that guy doesn’t motivate you, I don’t know what does. When you have a man that’s had, you know, four successful businesses and the only reason he’s had them is because he bets on himself, right. There is always people that will bet with you, but at the end of the day, there is only one that can guarantee the bet and that’s yourself. And he’s done it. He’s could have walked away several times. He’s a multi-millionaire went, “Wait a second. No one is doing this. Why don’t I do that?” Reinvest it. Boom. Invented it. Then you look at Space X, look at Tesla, look at Paypal, look at everything he’s done, everyone said he can’t do that. YOu can’t go against that industry, right? He’s gone against every single industry and succeeded. So those are the types of guys. You gotta take that and go, “Well, yeah. Why can’t I do something better?” Yeah. And I mean he spent a good part of his life in Canada, too, right?
David: Yeah. Yeah. No, that was an interesting one. too. I read that and I was surprised by, you know, his whole story and he’s a crazy guy.
Curtis: Yeah. He is. And he’s young, like it’s not like this guy’s like 70 years old. This guy is in his 40s, and had massive success in a short period of time, right?
David: Who would you say…and I mean…I guess you’ve partially kind of just answered this, but who are people, either that you know personally or that you’ve kind of observed from afar, that have influenced your approach to business or that you think have kind of taught you something?
Curtis: You know, I’m constantly surrounding myself by successful business people from all different aspects, because they can educate us in so many different ways of stuff that they’ve learned, right? I mean, the simple analogy: if you ain’t telling, you ain’t learning, right? And so it’s a Google mentality too, right? Fail quick, learn faster, right? I mean, you gotta take all that in and so I’m constantly asking questions and surrounding myself with smart business people to see what they’re doing that’s creating success. What they’ve learned from, right? And, you know, most of the majority of these smart business guys, it’s their third company that they have real success with, right? The first one, they learned from, the second one they made money, their third one they made real big money, right?
Curtis: And that’s, you know, part of the stuff that I look at and try to understand and go, “Okay. How do I reapply that to me.” So like…you know, individually, there are some people that I look at and that motivate me and obviously, from the tech community just to see, you know, where they started from and where they went. Like I mean, look at Michael Dell, the fifth richest man in the world, he started like Powerland. He sold white box computers, right? And of course, I guarantee there’s people betting against him going, “Hey, man. You’ll never last.” And now look where he is. He is one of the biggest IT companies in the globe, right? You know, so I just look at that at a high level going like, “Yeah. At the end of the day, man, you’ve got one run at this, so I’ll swing.” Right? There is never a wrong swinging and people can’t knock you if you’re swinging, right?
David: Cool. Well, thanks so much for taking the time, Curtis. It’s really been fun.
Curtis: Okay. Awesome. Thank you.
David: That’s it. Thank you for listening to the Manitoba Business Podcast. Once again, this episode is brought to you by Black Chair Consulting. We use social media to help businesses sell more. If you want to find out about Black Chair Consulting, go to www.blackchair.net. Thanks so much. Have a great day.