Meet Virginia Franchise Owner Ken Blackwell
A strong industry background lets this entrepreneur dig into the work alongside techs while also building a thriving managed IT business
Longtime IT-industry executive Ken Blackwell wanted a change. After a long career that included stints as a chief technical officer at Dell, he knew he wanted to stay engaged when it came to software development, but also find a way to put his expertise to good use. Franchising made sense, and when his initial exploration turned up the TeamLogic IT franchise opportunity, he decided to investigate further.
Blackwell and his wife, Pam, opened their TeamLogic IT franchise in Winchester, Virginia, in March 2017, and recently opened a second office in Leesburg, Virginia. He says while the learning curve has been substantial, the experience has been solid in terms of being able to create a business that meets their personal and professional goals.
What were you doing before you opened your TeamLogic IT franchise?
I had been taking some time off after leaving Dell in the summer of 2016. I was working in engineering and development, and they sold off the software business I was running as chief technical officer as they were preparing for the huge merger with EMC. I have been an entrepreneur previously and was yearning to get back into that world. I began looking for what to do next and started looking at options in the IT space since that was an area I’d been in for so long.
What attracted you to the business?
Initially, the critical mass of the TeamLogic IT network. I first thought that IT franchising was crazy — who’d want to do that? But I’d also been working for more than a decade in very large enterprises and saw that TeamLogic IT was going after the SMB market. I saw really small managed IT service providers, or really massive ones, and not every business is either four lawyers or 10,000 employees. TeamLogic IT has found the sweet spot as a locally owned, in-community business that is there for all those companies in between.
I like dealing with medium-sized businesses, the dynamics of it. With a larger company there’s no personal fit at all, and I’ve been in operations where your customer is across the globe. It’s hard to maintain a trust relationship in that case. I was also traveling tens of thousands of miles a year and was really ready to stop the plane rides.
Why do small and medium-sized businesses need your help? What are their challenges, and how do you meet them?
Customers are overwhelmed. There is so much change in the IT industry, so many choices to make. The integration of technology and the evolution of it is overwhelming to small and medium-sized businesses. We’ve worked hard to go in and take a top-down approach: go in as a trusted advisor, a virtual CIO, and then work down into the weeds to get them what they need. We’ve done that with managed IT services from the outset; we’ve never touched break-fix work.
How have you helped a customer out of a jam, or helped them dramatically improve the way their business functions?
We’ve got several medical practices, including emergency room physicians and radiologists, who we support 24/7. It can be 3 a.m. on a Saturday when something happens, and because we’re set up with remote access we can get right in to deal with the problem. It usually doesn’t even require getting out of our pajamas!
And because TeamLogic IT is growing, we are able to help our radiology clients with their offices in Tennessee, Oregon, Maryland, Florida and elsewhere. If we can’t handle the issue remotely, there are other TeamLogic IT franchises where they are, and those owners can dispatch their techs. I have great confidence in our growing infrastructure because it gives us the ability to do a lot of remote monitoring and work, as well as have that “tech down the street” capability if needed.
What personality or values do you think are needed to succeed as a TeamLogic IT owner?
I’m very lucky in that I’m a technical guy; I’ve been at this for more than 25 years. Some owners are not, and they really impress me! It shows that lots of different types of people can succeed in TeamLogic IT. I also think anyone who gets into this should be able to go and have conversations with customers in a confident way, because they are worried and want a vendor who knows what’s going on. I think customers really want to be told what to do, and if you can give them best practices and show them how they can be successful using you to handle their tech, then you can be successful.
How large is the opportunity for your business to grow?
The Medical industry has been pretty big for us so far, and it’s still growing. We have a lot of contractors here in northwest Virginia, lots of roofing, electrical, window and other types. The aggressive ones are using a lot of technology to differentiate their business, and they are heavily mobile. They have mobile phones, tablets and things like that, so we have lots of ways to integrate with them and provide support.
We are lucky to be in fast growing area in Northwestern Virginia, and are trying to ride that wave as local businesses are all clamoring to keep up with their growing markets. The smart ones know that technology is a key way to differentiate themselves and grow even in a tight labor market; and the not-so-smart ones won’t be around long.
How do the tools offered by corporate help you market your business and serve your customers?
I’ll confess, I don’t leverage them as well as I should because I’ve relied a lot on word of mouth and my own experience to open doors. But I do appreciate having all of that at my disposal, and I know from other new owners that they have really tapped into it. It’s strong in terms of overall branding, and at the more tactical level of lead generation.
How helpful are other franchisees when you have questions? How do you work together?
I am engaged with a few others very often. I’m in a Pacesetters group, so I have gotten to know other owners in my region, as well as the ones I went through TeamLogic IT University with. I have all those folks for feedback, or a shoulder to cry on when I need it.
What does your typical day look like?
It’s a little bit of everything. We color outside the lines a bit because I am taking on significant software-development projects in my business alongside traditional managed IT services. If they need code written or applications integrated, we can do that. That leverages my background but also gives us, and eventually other owners who want to partner on projects, something else to sell that is highly differentiated from most other MSPs.
My wife, Pam, also goes outside those lines, because she has a finance and accounting background and so can offer her services as a virtual CFO. She is working with one client now on restructuring their whole business. So, a lot of what we do falls outside the TeamLogic IT traditional structure, but we’re also able to dive in if the techs are overstretched, and also be a sounding board for them as they work through the more traditional projects that we have.
What do you enjoy about the business?
Not traveling all the time! We invested aggressively into this business so that we could get out of the gate quickly and go with that top-down approach to coming into clients’ businesses. Now we’re positioned for growth, so even in areas where we got ahead of ourselves we had other areas to offset that. But we can always do better, so even though we’re where we expected to be at this stage, and it hurts to lose some deals, we are enjoying the growth we are seeing.
Would you recommend a TeamLogic IT franchise to someone else? Why?
I would do it again. Pam and I are able to take our experiences and grow a new business, and also be creative and do some tangential things we are skilled at. This is a flexible, creative business, and we’re not locked into only using certain vendors or only doing certain kinds of work. The IT world is too competitive for that approach. If a client wants something besides what I recommend, we can make that happen. Being able to do that is something I like very much.
TeamLogic IT is the technology franchise small and medium-sized businesses increasingly rely on for turnkey support. TeamLogic IT’s managed IT services contracts give clients peace of mind around their technology needs and provide franchise owners with a steady, predictable revenue stream. The company now serves a wide and growing variety of clients in every business sector, from tourism and hospitality to healthcare, legal and accounting. Along the way, TeamLogic IT has grown to more than 130 locations around North America and continues to expand in new and existing markets.