Building a Foundation
Somewhere around 1980, my Grandpa Rex asked me what I wanted to do when I grew up. I remember saying, without hesitation, “My dad uses computers, I want to fix them.” By 1992 I knew that I wanted to teach the IT solution provider industry about what I’d learned the hard way. My first published article was in a magazine called STACKS: The Network Journal. It was about how we were using a monitoring product called LANAlert that used 2,400 baud modems on Novell servers to deliver alerts to a console in our makeshift NOC. A few years later, I published a white paper with Novell titled “ManageWise Remote Services.” In 1996, I started teaching Introduction to Networking at Coastline Community College. I made it my mission at Networld + Interop to evangelize, with every network management vendor I could find, that our industry needed enterprise-grade RMM with multitenancy so solution providers could service our enterprise systems that happened to be made up of lots of SMB clients. The term MSP didn’t even exist yet! I went out of my way to build my personal brand by getting on as many panels and speaking spots as I could. I didn’t know it at the time, but all of this would culminate in December of 2010 with the founding of Sea-Level Operations.
My industry presence paid off when I was interviewing around the Seattle MSP community for a service director position. I had no trouble getting interviews, but the message was the same: “I know you from industry events, but I already have a service manager, so I’d like to contract with you to teach the one I have.” After the fifth time hearing that, I did some quick math and decided to go for it. I went all in. I spent the first year with just a handful of clients, and really focused on brain dumping everything I knew about being an MSP into what would become the Sea-Level Operations Guide.
Beyond the Founder
In November 2011, I ran into Ken Sponsler at IT Nation. Ken was inspirational to me when we were in the True Profits Service Executive peer group together. He joined Sea-Level in December, 2011. The guide got better with two of us working on it. I started calling Ken the Wizard of Oz because he brought color to the guide. Ken was diligent about starting a new initiative, The Coaches Reference Guide, which was the foundation of making it possible for Sea-Level to scale and add Coaches to our team.
Robin Frank came aboard to handle HR and bookkeeping and created our Back Office offering. She dove headfirst into her role as CFO.
Chris Butler joined us a year after Ken. When we had worked together several years before, he always set the standard higher. We had to work together to reach it. I knew I could be part of something bigger and better with Chris on board. I remember feeling nervous to hire him because he could outmanage me, but I knew you are supposed to hire people smarter than you. He hasn’t let us down and is now our integrator by EOS definitions. Both the Operations Guide and the Coaches Reference Guide got better. Chris is the driving force behind SLAP (Sea-Level Accountability Portal), which has brought a new level of professionalism to how we work with our clients.
Jay Hokke and David Schafran joined the team next. They each brought new experiences to the Coaches Guide and the Operations Guide. While his primary experience was with ConnectWise, Jay dove in headfirst to help expand our AutoTask offering. David has really strengthened our large company coaching offering.
Tia Butler joined Sea-Level to help Robin with our Back Office offering and has continued to expand our capabilities.
The company rapidly became less about me and more about us. We are smarter than me became the mantra around the company. We switched the whole way the company was run; now by a leadership team consisting of Rex, Ken, Chris and Robin, and we began following the Traction/EOS methodology.
Confirmation that we’re doing great things came when two early clients, Parker Fjeldberg and Scott Hamlin, both sold their MSPs and came to work with Sea-Level as Owner and Finance Coaches.
Stephanie Heflin was in the TPG peer group with Ken and myself. She was the best at hitting her financial metrics every quarter. She also strengthened our large company coaching offering.
Ron Losefsky was also a long-time client who was coached by Chris. He continued to push the standards of the Operations and Coaches Guides to new heights, as well as expanding our AutoTask coaching capabilities.
After working with Sea-Level for five years or so, Todd Schorle told me his goal was to sell his MSP and become a coach with Sea-Level. He made that happen in late 2018.
Amanda Glidden joined as a content specialist to standardize our content formats and organize version control as new content is developed and published into SLAP.
2019 brought Jonathan Mack, who has a strong security background. Jeremy Nelson joined the team with his MSP owner experience and is also bringing more AutoTask depth.
Everyone has brought better refinement and content to both the Operations Guide and the Coaches Reference Guide.
This Is Working
We just signed our 400th client agreement. Each of them has contributed something to the point where those guides, that I was so proud of in 2011, were only about 10 percent of what they have become now, nine and a half years later.
Clients seem to love telling us their stories about how Sea-Level helped them resolve profitability problems, prepare for M&A activity, pass a SOC2 audit and even bring maximum valuations upon the sale of their company. At our 2019 client appreciation event at IT Nation Connect, a hundred or more people came by to celebrate with us. We could hardly keep up with all the success stories. When it was over, I was sitting at a table, kind of staring off into space. A tear came to my eye and Stephanie asked me if I was okay. I looked at her and said, “I’m just feeling a little overwhelmed by what we have built for the community.”
Thank you to everyone – team members, partners and clients – that have helped create Sea-Level Operations. We will continue our mission: To drive growth and operational excellence through education and continual accountability. We can’t wait to see what the next 10 years brings!