Part One of an Interview with Craig McLellan, Founder and CEO, ThinkOn
Interviewed by Richard Bliss, Top Social Selling Trainer & Expert, BlissPoint Consulting
I sat down with Craig McLellan, Founder and CEO of ThinkOn, to find out more about ThinkOn and what differentiates it from other cloud companies. In part one of this two-part article, Craig discusses his love for data, corporate values and sustainable results. In fact, that’s one reason he founded ThinkOn – to deliver cloud-based critical data management and asset protection solutions.
“I detest shiny things. When you go to many technology conferences, you find yourself dazzled by shiny solutions and glittery technology. All these wonderful shiny services on paper don’t actually solve a real problem. I want to solve customers’ problems.”
– Craig McLellan, Founder and CEO of ThinkOn
ThinkOn works with vendor partners to build secure, fast and scalable solutions for enterprise application hosting, big data analytics, cloud data protection and management, and flexible disaster recovery-as-a-service – no shiny bells, whistles or flash-in-the-pan tricks to distract from managing and protecting data in the most secure way possible.
Q: What inspired you to launch ThinkOn?
I’m a proud Canadian, and in 2012 I wanted to enter the Canadian technology market, delivering high-quality services. I recognized that the Canadian marketplace didn’t need another Salesforce and I didn’t want to be a fully integrated service provider.
I wanted to focus ThinkOn as a decidedly wholesale service from the very beginning.
Today we have over 1,100 enterprise and commercial customers. Only one is directly contracted, and that was our very first customer – they are still with us, which I am proud of.
Q: What makes ThinkOn different?
ThinkOn is Canada’s only wholesale provider of storage, compute and networking resources. We tapped into a demand in the systems integration/reseller market space for services that are innovative and, more important than being innovative, designed to address specific customer problems.
Outside of that, I believe that there are three key differentiators that set ThinkOn apart.
First and foremost, we care immensely about people’s data. All the applications that we deliver are data-centric first and foremost. But we care about all aspects of the data.
The second key thing is, we believe that the ThinkOn brand is incredibly important to our customers but not something we feel compelled to extend into the general marketplace. We have a reputation for being reliable and easy to do business with. We don’t feel the need to brag – ironic that I say this in an interview about ThinkOn, I realize.
What I mean is, ThinkOn partners with companies whose names are synonymous with success in their own space. And in each case, we’ve selected that company because it made the most sense for us to align with them to deliver excellent service. In effect, our brand takes a supporting role to the brands that we choose to partner with.
For instance, we have a collection of Veeam services. I’m quite happy to say they are Veeam services – Veeam has a terrific reputation and, last time I checked, Veeam’s marketing spend in a day is more than what mine is in a year.
Another example is, ThinkOn Critical Infrastructure Services are powered by VMware. I remember when I started the business, someone said to me, “You could build a cloud with KVM, which is an open-source hypervisor, and it would save you all that VMware money.” And I said, “Yeah, and we’d have to explain to people all day long what KVM was.” The partnerships that have been the most successful are the ones where ThinkOn has aligned with the partner’s capabilities. And that’s been true over and over again.
There’s a simplicity to aligning yourself with the best technology to provide the best solutions.
And then the third differentiator is our commitment to our partner channel. For ThinkOn, being committed to the partner channel isn’t just lip-service.
Some companies claim they are channel-centric and sell direct. But, if a deal came to them that didn’t involve a channel partner, they wouldn’t bother to pick up the phone and call the partner. We don’t do that. That is important for the channel partners and, even if they don’t realize it, that’s important to end-users.
Q: I can clearly see why a channel-centric approach is important to partners, but why do you feel it is important to end-users as well?
End-users aren’t apt to say, “Oh, I’m so glad you’re protecting the channel.” But the reality is that end-users buy from people. Those people are not anonymous drones on the other end of a phone line. They’re people who actually call on them and ask them questions about their family and probably buy them lunch, at least in a pre-COVID world. We won’t damage that relationship.
I was on a call recently with a company and they pushed so hard to try to figure out how that channel-centric ideology worked for us. They had been burned by some foreign entity that came in talking about a channel-only plan and then, a year later, someone came along and demanded a direct deal and they relented. At ThinkOn, we just don’t do that.
I believe at the end of the day that the channel relationships are going to be around for a long time because they’ve been around for a long time.
Q: As you have grown the company, what values define ThinkOn?
The first one is “Trust the team.” We feel very strongly about that. We catch ourselves all the time saying that. The next one is “Be humble and always show gratitude.”
Q: I see – being humble is what you were referring to when you said you didn’t feel it was necessary to boast about the company.
Exactly. We do it, we don’t talk about it.
The third one is “Seek improvement every day.” The fourth is “Accept the challenge and always follow your instinct.” The fifth one is “Own the problem and over-communicate.” The sixth one is “Why so serious?”
Q: That’s interesting. What does “Why so serious?” mean as a value?
I say to people all the time, we’re not curing cancer here. We don’t have to walk through an oncology ward filled with children and try to figure out how to deliver good or bad news. We’re dealing with data.
So those six values we share with our customers mean a lot, because we want them to know how we operate so they can understand the decisions we make. We take data seriously, but we try not to take ourselves too seriously.
For example, we have a new eBook we’re publishing, and we decided to have some fun with it. We’ve actually created a comic book with our own superheroes (modelled after a few people we know). It’s meant to be informative – to help organizations make wise decisions about protecting their data – but also to poke a little fun at ourselves at the same time. We’ve included our friends at Veeam because one of our SaaS solutions is ThinkOn Backup for Office 365, Powered by Veeam®, so this comic book is focusing on data protection using ThinkOn and Veeam.
Q: Which brings us back around to your first love – data. I’ve heard you say that you “care for all aspects of data”. What does that mean?
We care about how it’s cared for. We care about how it’s protected. We care about whether it adheres to regulatory standards or not.
We want to ensure that organizations are storing data securely. That they know which SaaS applications are backing up their data – or which data they are backing up and to where. For instance, applications like Microsoft Office 365 offer enough protection assurances for the underlying infrastructure to meet their contractual SLAs. But those guaranteed protections do not extend to customer data created on SaaS platforms. It’s critical to employ solutions to protect your business-critical data from risk, based on your terms rather than on the potential limitations of the SaaS platform’s offerings.
Q: Can you tell us how we can get a copy of that comic book?
Sure. It’s a free download here – A Superhero’s Guide to Office 365 Backup & Recovery”. Let me know if you like it. We’ve got heroes and villains, and are excited to see how people respond.