Posts Tagged ‘Telecom Billing’

Datagate featuring at IT Nation Connect 2020 – Virtual

November 2, 2020

Next week (November 10th, 11th & 12th) Datagate will be a gold-level booth sponsor for the fourth time in a row at the ConnectWise IT Nation Connect conference, which is traditionally held in Orlando, Florida each year.

This year, due to Coronavirus-related health & safely concerns, the event will be “virtual” for the first time, instead of in-person. This presents a great opportunity for MSPs around the world to “attend”, what I believe to be the greatest industry event for MSPs, without the expense and time commitment that is normally required.

Datagate wins “Best Newcomer” award at IT Nation 2017 in Orlando, Florida

Datagate’s first appearance at IT Nation was in November 2017, which marked the first time that we connected face to face with American MSPs and started to understand their requirements for a telecom-billing solution that would integrate deeply with ConnectWise Manage and handle the inclusion of numerous telecom taxes at the federal, state, county and city level.

We also won the “Best Newcomer” award from ConnectWise and along with that, received a lot of publicity within the ConnectWise MSP world.

We came away from IT Nation 2017 with over a hundred sales leads for MSPs wanting a solution like Datagate, that would save them days of work each month, share its data with ConnectWise Manage and make the complicated task of telecom billing very easy and quick.

This started the ball rolling for Datagate with ConnectWise, and since then we’ve grown to serving over 150 MSP clients using Datagate for telecom billing with ConnectWise Manage. We’ve sponsored each IT Nation Connect event since then, and this year we’re doing the same – except for the first time, it will be a virtual event.

Anyone wanting to virtually attend IT Nation Connect 2020 can register here.

I hope to see you there.

20 years on: Exonet – my first major software start-up exit

July 30, 2020

In July 2000 I was on top of the world. My co-founders and I had just sold “Exonet”, our New Zealand-based financial software start-up, to an Australian listed company called “Solution6” for AU $30M.

It was the culmination of a fast and furious two years since we started the business. I was the developer who had the outlandish idea to start writing an accounting system and bring in co-founders Maurice Bryham and David McKee Wright to help build a business around it.

Exonet was a “new generation” ERP client-server accounting system with a Windows interface, running on an SQL database. It was all new technology back then, when most accounting systems for SME businesses were still running on MS-DOS with proprietary databases.

Exonet opened offices in New Zealand, Australia and Singapore. Hwa Lian Tan led our business in Singapore and Simon Butler led our Australian business. Simon’s M&A experience was invaluable in our negotiations with Solution6.

Due to widespread fears about how old accounting software would handle the year 2000 and the market’s desire for the new technology that Exonet was built on, our sales “went ballistic” from the start and exhibited the upward “hockey stick” sales trend that software start-ups still aspire to. This was what attracted Solution6 to acquire us.

Exonet’s main investor was a VC company called IT Capital. At the time of the exit, I recall they had been with Exonet for about 18 months, had invested NZD $1.5M and effectively owned about a third of the business. A $12.7M return on an 18 month investment of NZD $1.5M – that’s still got to be one of the best investments ever made in the business history of New Zealand!

Following its acquisition of Exonet, Solution6 merged with another large Australian software business called MYOB (“Mind Your Own Business”) and so the Exonet software was renamed to MYOB-EXO. Today MYOB-EXO is perhaps the most widely used of the mid-market ERP accounting packages in Australia and New Zealand, with many thousands of companies using it.

Some of the lessons I learnt from the Exonet experience are;

  1. Success comes from a combination of skills, lots of hard work and lots of luck.
  2. Much of the skill required is in recognizing the luck that surrounds you, and knowing what to do with it.
  3. Business success invariably comes from a team of people; specifically, the combined skills, motivation and dedication of those people and the interplay of how they work together.
  4. It’s all about the journey, not the destination.

After the exit, I worked for the Exonet business within Solution6 for a short while and then decided to take some time out, away from business. It was during that time out I realized that, although I reached the destination of an exit, I still missed the journey of getting there. I missed the energy and engagement of the business world, so I dived back in again and co-founded two new software businesses; Enprise and Datasquirt.

Much of the skill required is in recognizing the luck that surrounds you, and knowing what to do with it.

Enprise became of a group of businesses, of which two operated internationally, with a particular emphasis on the United States. One of those was EMS-Cortex, a SaaS software provisioning system that we sold to Citrix in 2011 for US $11M. Also in 2011, we sold ASX-listed Datasquirt to Silicon Valley-based LiveOps for a similar price.

The international software business experience and contacts I gained through Enprise and EMS Cortex set me up for my current role as CEO of Datagate, where I am now based in Vancouver, Canada. Datagate is a SaaS billing solution for MSPs who sell telecom services, which we sell into the USA, Canada, UK, Europe, Australia and New Zealand.

Another thing I’ve learnt over the last twenty years since the Exonet exit; it normally takes much longer than two years to build a good business!

Conferences “go virtual”

June 30, 2020

IT industry conferences have always been a big part of our marketing strategy at Datagate, particularly in the United States, where there are so many great conferences that are very well attended.

Our target market is defined as “Managed Service Providers (MSPs) who sell VoIP and other telecom services”, so the conferences we target to market our telecom-billing solution are those that cater to MSPs and the telecommunications industry. Our regular favorites are; Channel Partners, IT Expo, Robin Robins and ConnectWise’s IT Nation. Our white-label telecom partner SkySwitch, also has an excellent conference, called Vectors.

These conferences are where we make new industry contacts, and meet with potential partners and clients. Meeting face to face with someone is the best way to start any kind of relationship where trust is required. After meeting at a conference, it’s more easy to continue the conversation remotely via email, phone or web conference.

As a general rule, it’s easier to do business with someone you’ve met in person. This is not to say that meeting someone in person is essential to doing business.

Datagate at the IT Nation Connect Conference in Australia, 2019

Having an exhibitor booth with good clear signage about what you do, is the best way to meet relevant industry contacts. When you don’t have a booth you are more limited to seeking out relevant people who have booths, but when you have a booth, relevant people will come to you and you can still go and talk with others who have booths.

The advent of COVID-19 this year has seen all of the 2020 conferences we’ve been booked into since early March 2020, get initially postponed from their original dates, and then finally switched over to become “virtual conferences”. A virtual conference is an event held over the Internet using a software platform that mimics and enables many of the activities that happen in an “in person” conference.

From our perspective at Datagate, there seem to be positives and negatives with virtual conferences compared to real in-person conference, which I’ve listed below:

Positive aspects of
Virtual Conferences
Negative aspects of
Virtual Conferences
Greatly reduced COVID-19 infection riskHuman interaction is reduced. Relationship building ability is compromised.
No travel and accommodation costs. Less time away from the regular business environment. Some attendees like visiting conference destinations as a vacation, for them and/or their families. This attraction is lost.
Attendees can split their time between the conference and their regular work.Attendees will split their time between the conference and their regular work, adding the risk of distraction and forgetting about the conference.
Less cost or no cost to attendees.Less commitment and buy-in from attendees.
Larger potential audience, because people can attend from anywhere and cost is not such a barrier.It’s harder to make the conference “special” and differentiate from other Internet/web content.
Positive and Negative aspects of Virtual Conferences

With all the necessary restrictions in place to slow down the spread of COVID-19, real in-person conferences are not going to be able to be held in North America for at least the next six months, possibly longer.

The conference industry is still the early stages of learning how to make virtual conferences work. I believe we will see significant improvements over the coming months and years, which may well make virtual conferences a permanent and viable option.

For now, businesses will make the best of the options available to them and many of these options, including virtual conferences, might become a more permanent option beyond the COVID-19 era. However, I’m confident that the “good-old” in-person conferences will come back with a vengeance as soon as the COVID-19 situation permits.

Software product design and staying in your lane

April 30, 2020

In designing a software product, it’s fundamentally important to be clear on your answers to the following questions:

  • What is the software’s primary purpose – what need does it meet?
  • Who is the software designed for – what is the target market?
  • What other systems will your software need to interact with?
  • Who are your competitors – how will you differentiate?
  • Who are your partners?

We say we are “staying in our lane” when we ensure that all design decisions for the product remain true to the answers to the above questions.

In the case of Datagate, our answers to the above are;

  • Primary purpose – Telecom billing and distribution of those bills to customers and other software systems used by customers in our target market.
  • Target market – Managed Service Providers who resell telecom and related services.
  • Other Systems – Professional Service Automation packages, such as ConnectWise Manage; and Accounting Systems, such as QuickBooks, Xero and others.
  • Competitors – other companies that provide telecom billing systems. These are different in each country we operate in. We differentiate by being true to our target market and integrations to systems that are important and used by our target customers.
  • Partners – include white-label wholesale telecom providers, telecom tax engines, telecom tax & compliance partners and vendors of products that align with Datagate and appeal to our target market.

The best way to ensure we stay in our lane is to closely monitor feedback from our target customers, provide integrations to other systems they commonly use and avoid replicating functionality that those other systems and partners already provide. It’s important to ensure the software serves its primary purpose and works well as a component of the total software solution.

Prime examples of how this approach works for Datagate clients are given in our extensive set of case studies, and in particular our two most recent case studies for In-Telecom and DS Tech.

Software product development is always a race to stay ahead of competitors, by bringing new features and functionality to market faster, and providing the best customer experience. Staying in your lane means that you only invest precious development resources into what is relevant and beneficial to your product and customers.

So in closing; for any kind of race, it’s always more efficient to stay in your lane.

Datagate at IT Expo and Channel Partners 2020 conferences

February 28, 2020

These days, so much business is getting done over the Internet, where the parties involved don’t even get to meet each other in person.

I believe there is a lot of value in meeting in person, and for that reason I like to attend industry conferences, because that is where I get to meet in person with Datagate’s customers, prospects and partners – all in one place!

Once you’ve met someone in person, your understanding of them and your ongoing remote communication steps up to a much more improved level.

Datagate’s Greg Robinson and I attended ITExpo 2020 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida earlier in February. The event was very well supported, with many of the key players of the IT and Telecommunications industries there, including many of Datagate’s industry partners.

A photo opportunity with SkySwitch’s Harlon Hamlin, Eric Hernaez and Ben Macalindong

At the conference we announced our new partnership with SkySwitch, where they now offer Datagate as a billing solution for their reseller clients. Datagate and SkySwitch are both ConnectWise Invent Partners, which means our solutions are designed to integrate with the ConnectWise platform, which is so popular with our MSP clients.

It was also great to meet Shawn and Jimmy from In-Telecom at the conference. They are a top Datagate client, who had just traveled in from Louisiana that morning.

Meeting Shawn Torres and Jimmy Burns of In-Telecom

In March, Datagate will be an exhibitor at Channel Partners in Las Vegas, being held at The Venetian this year (booth #1253). We are offering reduced price entry passes at this link (before March 6th), if you’d like to meet us there.

On April 23rd, Datagate will be an exhibitor at the Canadian Channel Partners event in Vancouver. Contact us at Datagate if you’d like a free pass to meet us at this event.

Stay tuned for more events!

Partnerships, Integrations and Game-Changers

January 28, 2020

It’s rare to find a business application these days that can work as an island and doesn’t need to integrate or inter-operate with other business applications. The 2020’s is shaping up to be a decade where we will see the integration of businesses and applications continue to accelerate, to define a new set of winners with a new set of disruptions to the existing ways of doing business.

At Datagate, our focus is on bringing new options and capabilities to our Service-Provider clients as quickly as possible, and we don’t do this all on our own. Bringing in new partners and integrating with their products and services opens up exponential new possibilities for our clients.

The Datagate SaaS product is designed to automate and streamline the billing of usage-base and subscription services. Our vision is to empower our clients in all of the countries we operate, to bring new services and products to market faster and make their own decisions and strategies for what they sell, how their price it and who they sell it to. Speed to market is all-important.

Datagate Integrations

Currently, the biggest area of market disruption for Datagate clients, is the Cloud VoIP revolution. All over the developed world, businesses are looking to their local MSPs (Managed Service Providers) for their voice communications or UCaaS systems. Datagate makes telecom billing, tax and compliance easy and automatic for our MSP clients.

This year Datagate will announce a number of new and exciting partnerships to extend the markets, the capabilities and the scale at which we operate. We will also be announcing new team members throughout the year, starting very soon, to maintain and lift our levels of services as our client-base continues to rapidly grow.

An exciting year decade ahead!

Datagate sponsors three Florida MSP conferences

November 20, 2019

Datagate has been out among the people, at three great MSP-focused conferences in the sunny state of Florida over the last four weeks.

Our strategy is all about collaborating and working with our partners who target the same MSP audiences that we do. Specifically, our target market is defined as MSPs who sell telecom services.

The best way to connect with new prospects is to meet them in person and that’s what trade conferences are all about to us. It’s even better when you can do this with complementary partners to reinforce your offering.

Vectors by SkySwitch 2019, Orlando, October 27-30

Firstly, Datagate sponsored and attended Vectors by SkySwitch which was held at the Loews Sapphire Falls Resort, Universal Orlando, October 27-30. This was a well run event, a credit to our partner SkySwitch, with over 330 attendees, of whom most were MSPs who sell SkySwitch UCaaS VoIP services. Datagate was warmly received by the SkySwitch community and we are now scoping up telecom billing solutions for many of the MSPs we met there.

The second conference was ConnectWise’s IT Nation Connect 2019, a huge event with thousands of MSPs, which was also held in Orlando, Florida immediately following the Vectors event.

“With some help from our friends” at IT Nation Connect 2019, Orlando, FL
From L to R, Greg Robinson, Karine Vosberg, Evan McLean, me, Shauna Brauchler and Matt LaHood

At IT Nation, Greg Robinson and I were joined by Karine Vosberg and Matt LaHood of GSA as well as Shauna Brauchler and Evan McLean of Wolters Kluwer, CCH SureTax. This was a powerful combination of people, because we had all the expertise on-hand to talk with MSPs about telecom billing, tax & compliance, as well as how we integrate with ConnectWise Manage. The response from ConnectWise MSPs visiting our booth was fantastic!

Greg Robinson and I catch a quick photo with Ryan Goodman, President of ConnectBooster, at ConnectWise HQ – Fall Festival – Solution Partner Showcase, Tampa, FL

The third event was held at ConnectWise’s headquarters in Tampa, Florida. This was the “Fall Festival Solution Partner Showcase”, where Datagate and six other ConnectWise Invent Partners got to meet with a over a hundred of ConnectWise’s sales, marketing, tech support and management personnel and familiarize them with what our solutions do with the ConnectWise platform.

It was an ideal venue to promote the powerful telecom billing capabilities of Datagate with ConnectWise Manage.

Greg and I both enjoyed meeting the ConnectWise team members, as well as the other ConnectWise Invent Partners in attendance. This included Ryan Goodman, the president of ConnectBooster, an on-line payment portal that is very popular with ConnectWise and Datagate clients.

That concludes all the conferences for Datagate in 2019, but we’ll back for more next year!

Business benefits of a laser-sharp focus

October 21, 2019

At some point, whether consciously or unconsciously, every business must decide on the range of products and/or services they will provide to their customers and what type(s) of customers they target.

If the accessible target market of a business is small, then the business will likely need to offer a wider range of products and/or services in order to generate sufficient revenue from its relatively small customer base. Conversely, if the target market is large, then the business can afford to specialize and focus it’s products and/or services to a narrower band. Thereby they remove a lot of complexity from their operations, while offering greater expert value to their target customers.

I have found this correlation between market size and business focus is especially valid in the software industry, while it also applies to many other business categories.

My company, Datagate Innovation started its life in New Zealand as a SaaS billing and reporting solution for businesses that sell usage-based services, such as telecommunications, electricity, water, Software as a Service etc. Given the relatively small size of the New Zealand market, our initial approach was to apply our sales and marketing efforts across all the various industries for which our software could be used. I call this having a “wide focus”, which seemed logical at the time, to win as many customers from our small New Zealand market population as we could. In hindsight, it was a great opportunity to test and evaluate the various different industry opportunities within a small and accessible population.

The downside to a wide focus is complexity, and complexity generally makes it harder to scale-up a business.

Datagate found that there was plenty of demand and opportunity for our product in each of the industries we engaged with, but we soon realized that each was pulling us in a slightly different direction. Each direction involved a different learning curve, more costs, different marketing, different pricing, different language and slightly different functionality and integrations in our product.

We wanted to scale-up our Datagate business as quickly as possible, but the complexity of supporting multiple customer categories made this difficult, with extra costs and less repeat-ability and re-use of existing resources, the wider we went.

The answer to our scaling-at-speed challenge, was to narrow our industry focus, while at the same time increasing our geographic focus. So to do that, we picked one target industry, while expanding our target market beyond New Zealand, to other larger economies such as North America, the United Kingdom and Australia. The industry we chose was telecommunications and more specifically, we focused in on the fast-growing segment of MSPs (Managed Service Providers or IT Services Companies) who are now selling telecom/voice solutions, due to the convergence of computers and phones.

The widening of Datagate’s geographic focus did introduce “some” extra complexity to the business, with the slightly different language, tax and compliance requirements of each country, but the complexity was far less than that of targeting different industries.

As our software product matures, we continue to add functionality that is more specific to telecom billing and integrations to other software products, such as ConnectWise, QuickBooks and Xero, that are commonly used by our MSP target market. This gives us a high level of efficiency, where everything we do in product development and marketing is mostly relevant to our whole target audience. This would not be the case if we had a wider focus and were targeting multiple industries.

We have found that customers (and investors) in the larger economies, such as North America, generally expect software solution companies like Datagate to be very specialized in what we do.

There is less need to go wider in a larger economy, especially when it can be more efficient, lucrative and easier to go deeper instead.

Vancouver as an ANZ beachhead to North America

May 10, 2019
Vancouver’s other airport

When high-growth businesses from Australia and New Zealand (ANZ) look to expand their presence into North America, they have a range of cities to choose from. Sometimes they don’t even need to choose a single location, when staff can work remotely from different locations. When they do need to choose a beachhead location, most will choose a west coast city within easy reach of ANZ. This will ideally have a major airport close by that has good access to the rest of North America and of course New Zealand or Australia.

My SaaS billing software company, Datagate (which was established in New Zealand), looked at all the following location criteria for setting up a new presence in North America, to complement our existing sales office in Jacksonville, Florida and extend our reach from our base in Auckland, New Zealand;

  • Good time-zone overlap with New Zealand (we still have a many of our customers, partners and key staff located in Auckland, New Zealand).
  • Good time-zone overlap with the North American continent (our major focus and we have customers, partners and prospects spread throughout the wider USA).
  • Some workday time overlap with Australia and the UK (where we also have important customers and prospects).
  • Easy access to a major airport, whereby we can take a single flight to most major cities in North America, UK, Europe, Australia and of course New Zealand (multi-leg flights with stopovers are far more time-consuming and energy-draining)
  • Ease of getting established (incorporating a company, setting up bank accounts, renting premises, telephone systems, utilities etc).
  • Good public transport.
  • The costs of running a business are not overly high.
  • A great place to live, where we can easily attract talented, high-grade employees.

We ended up choosing Vancouver, Canada, ahead of other west coast cities that also met our time-zone and accessibility criteria. We liked that we could set up here relatively quickly and everyone we engaged with was positive, friendly and very helpful.

For me personally, the speed of getting established in Vancouver was boosted by my dual citizenship of Canada and New Zealand, but regardless of this, Vancouver still stacked up well as a place to live and work in North America.

Canada Place

The shift to Vancouver from Auckland, New Zealand has been a positive experience for my wife Lee and I. Vancouver is a beautiful, vibrant, multi-cultural city, surrounded by water, snow-capped mountains and the great outdoors. We live near our office in the downtown city area, where everything we need is within walking distance, including a train to the airport. People here are friendly, helpful and welcoming of newcomers.

From a business perspective, we’ve found it easier to communicate with our North American customers, prospects and partners for longer periods of the day than we could from New Zealand, plus it’s been very convenient to have closer access to the conferences and trade shows that we regularly attend.

Coordination and collaboration with our US sales office in Jacksonville, Florida has also improved greatly. American customers no-longer say our time-zone is “on the dark side of the moon”.

It was fast and easy to register a British Columbia company and open an account with the Royal Bank of Canada (RBC), who can handle both Canadian and American banking. American business is easy from here and most Canadian establishments are experienced at supporting businesses that operate in the USA.

We’ve had great assistance in getting set up here from New Zealand Trade & Enterprise (NZTE), Nick Fleming the New Zealand Trade Commissioner, Callaghan Innovation and our local Canadian immigration consultants Sas & Ing.

Lee on the Vancouver waterfront

My advice to high-growth businesses from New Zealand and Australia, who want to set up in North America is… make sure you check out Vancouver!

Differentiation critical in commodity markets

January 8, 2018

Any business that supplies a product or service that cannot be differentiated against its competitors is at risk of being undercut and thereby losing its customers.

Environmental and Ambient Data

Commodity markets, such as electricity and other energy types are particularly exposed to price cutting, due to the fact that no matter which supplier a customer chooses, the end product, or service, is essentially the same. Sometimes there is a small difference in service or product quality, but often that is not a strong enough argument to compete against a lower price.

The stark choice that businesses in commodity markets face in order to compete, is between cutting prices or finding a point of difference that will motivate customers to choose them over a lower priced competitor.  Cutting prices leads to price wars with competitors and a downward spiral to the bottom, so differentiation has to be the preferable option over price cutting.

In the New Zealand electricity market, Trustpower has proven that bundling electricity with broadband and/or telephony services together in a single offering makes a very compelling proposition to customers. It is also very difficult for other electricity (or broadband) suppliers to compete with, unless they can also provide the same bundled services – which most don’t.

How can you compare the price of an apple with the price of an apple and an orange?

Trustpower’s leadership position in bundling electricity and broadband has been exceptionally successful in the New Zealand market and we are now seeing other suppliers starting to follow in their footsteps.

Another successful point of differentiation is locality.  In the New Zealand region of Taranaki (known fondly as “The Naki”), local managed service provider “NakiCloud” prides itself as being the local guys, who sport Taranaki’s famous black and yellow colors.  NakiCloud (and their sister company “Speedster”) offer locals the same products and services as the big guys in Auckland, but when things go wrong they are there on the spot to help, which is far preferable to the locals than spending hours on the help queue for one of the bigger providers.   This point of differentiation is working exceptionally well for NakiCloud in the Taranaki region.

In a reversal of Trustpower’s bundling, NakiCloud is in the process of bundling electricity with their current offerings, thereby adding a further point of difference for their customers – as well as an increased revenue stream from their existing customer base.

This bundling is facilitated by NakiCloud’s use of the Datagate billing portal, which can combine telecommunications services, data services and electricity on the same invoices to their customers.

In my role as CEO of Datagate Innovation, I see that a big part of our purpose is helping our clients differentiate their service offerings through various means, including bundling different services from a multitude of suppliers, improved information flows with our clients’ customers and superior invoice & data presentations.

As they say…“Differentiate or Die”.