Part Two 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 sets it apart from other cloud companies. If you missed part one of the interview, you can find it here. In part two of the two-part article, Craig discusses his LEGO analogy, what makes ThinkOn different from other cloud service providers, and the importance of transparency. In fact, that’s one reason he founded ThinkOn—to deliver cloud-based critical data management and asset protection solutions in a straightforward and transparent manner.
“I learned in 2001, when the dotcom bomb hit, that the company I was working for at the time survived and thrived because they focused on delivering a simple essential service. With that in mind, I wanted to build services that were very simple, very easy to understand, ridiculously secure, and transparently priced.”
– 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 and flexible disaster recovery-as-a-services. There aren’t any shiny bells, whistles or flash-in-the-pan tricks to distract from managing and protecting data in the most secure way possible.
Q: When you created ThinkOn, what was your primary focus?
It’s all about the data for me. Data is the solution. Inside data there is a solution to all problems. It’s just a question of knowing what questions to ask, knowing what you’re looking for, and evaluating if you have enough data to actually answer the question.
My view with creating ThinkOn was that I wanted to make it easy for people to collect, retain and use data. The cloud does that. But I wanted to build services that were more simple and easier to understand than other cloud offerings. I wanted the end-user experience to be uncomplicated and I wanted no sticker-shock, straightforward invoicing. I wanted the whole experience of doing business with us to be easy.
Q: Can you give me insight into why not all public clouds are the same?
Sure. Many hyperscale clouds are the same because they’re effectively chasing after the same shiny object. I think that there are certain large public cloud providers that have decided they want to be all things to all people, and there are others out there that have decided they’re going to be very good at certain things.
The hyperscale clouds that are trying to be all things to all people are becoming the next-generation manufacturer, where they hire manufacturer representatives, and they call on people to assemble the solution that they need themselves. The hyperscale clouds are the raw material. To me, hyperscale clouds resemble LEGO brick manufacturers.
Q: I’m intrigued. Could you please expand on the LEGO analogy for me?
Every LEGO brick since the 1950s fits together.
But I forgot that LEGO doesn’t just sell little plastic bricks that snap together. LEGO sells boxes with really elaborate pictures and well-articulated instructions inside them on how to assemble little plastic bricks together to create awesome structures.
When I started the business, I said to the team, I want to be LEGO. I was focused on having 12 or 14 components that could be assembled any way you want, to build anything you want. I was quite adamant about this idea of a digital building-block solution. We launched the business, and after the first three months there was nothing but crickets.
I thought, how can this be? Our partners are smart. The channel partners I was devoted to were taking our meetings and talking to us. Why weren’t customers buying into the build-all idea?
I then realized my customers weren’t interested in buying digital blocks. They were interested in the sophisticated, clear instructions and the beautiful artwork.
Q: LEGO is selling the package, not just the parts?
Exactly. I believe that cloud providers, like ourselves, can only, and should only, produce ten to fifteen fancy boxes and packaging, and those are our services. If an organization wants to do what we do with a hyperscale cloud, they can go to Azure and Amazon and Google and probably string it together, but it’s going to be painful.
I think the hyperscale clouds are choosing to be the purveyor of little plastic blocks and trying to cater to the people who want to create the fancy packaging.
Q: But, ThinkOn must be giving customers more than just fancy packaging?
It’s far more than fancy packaging – it’s the solution they need wrapped in transparent packaging and delivered in a straightforward and painless way.
For the first two years of the business’s existence, I would go into meetings and I would start by asking people, “Who has a Rubbermaid container in your basement full of LEGO?” Inevitably, everyone’s hands would go up.
I’d say, “So, here’s the cold hard truth. If you went home tonight and sat down with your children, who are all incredibly intelligent and gifted, and you said, ‘Build me something fancy,’ we’d all get the same sort of rectangular or square brick house. And that’s no knock on your kids or mine, but that’s what you’d get.”
I would say to them, “I’m not here to sell you a brick house. I’m here to sell you what you want. If you’re interested in data protection, if you’re interested in disaster recovery, if you’re interested in data archiving and indexing, then I can help.”
Q: What do you mean by transparent packaging?
In this case, transparent pricing. Transparent pricing is a key differentiator that we offer over other clouds.
Over the years, I have heard a lot of feedback about the hyperscale cloud’s complex billing. People could not understand their bill, requiring the equivalent of a Byzantine math degree to figure out how to read it. And this goes back to when big cloud only offered 25 or 30 services, not the 600 they offer today. My view is, if you can’t understand your bill, then I have failed you.
If our quote says it’s going to cost you $1,372.00, then your bill will be $1,372.00. It won’t be $1,372.00 plus $8.12 in transaction fees that didn’t appear in the quote or $7.62 cents in service charges. It’s simple and straightforward pricing.
I will not create a scenario where someone gets into a relationship with us and for the first 30 days they’re happy because they’re not actually using the service that much and their bills are lovely. Then, when they start to use the service in month three or four and their bills escalate, they discover that they have locked themselves into Hotel California.
Then one of two things happen: Either someone says to heck with this and they go through the pain and suffering of extricating themselves, or they hold their nose and suffer the consequences. But, in both cases, the relationship – the trust – is broken.
I don’t think it’s right that many in the industry think that is a good way to run a business. I think it is wrong. That sort of deception is in direct opposition with our corporate values. So, our pricing is always transparent.
We are constantly asked, “Why is your product catalog so short?”
Because where the big public clouds might have 300 SKUs for different types of VM configurations, we have two – two SKUs. Because that’s all we have to do. We can replace hundreds of SKUs with two, and, by the way, they’re transparently priced. So, you can predict it and you can manage it.
Q: You make it easy to do business with ThinkOn.
The statistic I’m most proud of in this business is that ThinkOn’s churn for the last four years has averaged 0.27% per year. A quarter of 1% per year. I think that’s a testament to our business model. It means we are succeeding at solving our clients’ problems.
ThinkOn aligns itself with the best partners – industry leaders in their respective areas – to deliver the best, most secure data solutions for our clients.
For us, it has always been about building services that are easy to understand, easy to operate, transparently priced and well supported. So, we decided to bake in support for those pillars from the very beginning, because I didn’t want anybody finger-pointing or complaining – I wanted to offer solutions that work and to build trust.
Q: When you talk about aligning with the best partners, are you referring to partners like Veeam?
Absolutely. We’ve partnered with Veeam to offer our Backup for Microsoft 365 with DataProtect 365, which eliminates the top three threats to your organization’s data. That’s what our new comic book, “A Superhero’s Guide to Microsoft 365 Backup & Recovery”, is all about. A powerful partnership and solution wrapped in a fun and creative package – just like LEGO.
I know, you’ve already got a copy, Richard, but for anyone else who wants one, they can get the free download here.
The bottom line is, Microsoft 365 creates business-critical data. It’s vital to ensure it is properly backed up. It’s your data; therefore, it’s your responsibility. We want to make that process straightforward for our customers – you have enough to worry about; let us worry about your data.