CRN | Pax8 To Expand MSP Training Offerings With Sea-Level Operations Acquisition

‘Other companies are providing education to MSPs, but nobody does it better than Sea-Level CEO and Founder Rex Frank with his 30-plus years of experience in the channel. When we dug into his coaching framework, his modules, we found that each module is important to the development of MSPs,’ says Nick Heddy, Pax8’s chief revenue officer.

By James F. Kovar
May 10, 2021

MSP-focused, born-in-the-cloud distributor Pax8 Monday said it has acquired Sea-Level Operations in a move the company said will enable it to help its channel partners with coaching and education to improve their operations.

The acquisition, for an undisclosed sum, is Pax8’s biggest investment in MSP development to date, said Nick Heddy, chief revenue officer for the Denver-based distributor.

“Other companies are providing education to MSPs, but nobody does it better than Sea-Level CEO and Founder Rex Frank with his 30-plus years of experience in the channel,” Heddy told CRN. “When we dug into his coaching framework, his modules, we found that each module is important to the development of MSPs.”

With the acquisition, Frank is taking on a new role of vice president of Pax8 Academy, which is Pax8’s program for IT education and resources.

Frank told CRN that training of MSPs has traditionally been a case of seeing an issue, implement a solution, then get training, but forget to document or inspect the solution.

“This probably actually harms a company,” he said.

Sea-Level Operations provides one-on-one accountability coaching to MSP executives with a five-phase platform to build operations that positively impact MSPs now and in the future, Frank said.

The first phase, “Understand the Best Practice,” aims to train MSPs to understand concepts and best practices. That is followed by “Make It Your Way, where Sea-Level works with the MSP to customize templates and processes. The third phase is “Get Buy In from Your Team,” which is when the company trains the MSP’s staff on new policies and procedures. The fourth, “Implement the Changes,” has Sea-Level working with the MSP to implement the new operational focus. Finally, the “Inspect What You Expect” phase follows up on changes implemented, Frank said.

It’s that unique approach to helping advance MSP operations that attracted Pax8 to Sea-Level Operations, said Craig Donovan, senior vice president of partner services at Pax8.

“A lot of consultants want to come in and do the work for you,” Donovan told CRN. “Rex’s team comes in, does one-on-one training, and then moves on because you have learned what to do.”

It is a program that works, said Douglas Furst, vice president of business applications at Frontline Managed Services, an Atlanta, Ga.-based MSP who went through the Sea-Level Operations training at his previous firm before it was acquired by Frontline.

Furst told CRN his team graduated from the Sea-Level Operations programs after three years of training, and found it very helpful for maturing its processes.

Sea-Level is an expert in ConnectWise, which was Furst’s previous company’s primary MSP platform provider. It broke the ConnectWise processes into 28 sections and helped with each one, he said.

“You can use their SOP [standard operating procedure] out of the box,” he said. “But when you sit with them, they focus on things like triaging everything. You may think everything can be made into one or two sections, but they triage everything. And it’s the key to their success.”

Furst said that, as chief operating officer at his former company, he had the unique opportunity to sit in on each group.

“Every group was the same way,” he said. “For the first three weeks, it was constant complaints of ‘You want us to do this? Why should we do this?’ But by week five and six, they were saying, ‘I understand why if we do it this way, it gets so much easier to do the project.”

For example, Furst said, the financing guy used to put together a customer agreement in 10 minutes, but the Sea-Level coach turned it into a process that takes an hour. “He later saw how much easier it was to do billing when the agreements were done properly,” he said.

Pax8 as a distributor makes it easy to provision and cancel licenses and automatically update ConnectWise invoicing, and by bringing in Sea-Level Operations may be better able to show how Pax8 works to a new group of MSPs who do not yet understand the company, Furst said.

“Now anyone who hires Sea-Level will be introduced to Pax8,” he said. “Pax8 is so simple. Any MSP working with ConnectWise but not Pax8 is shooting itself in the foot. And Pax8 probably has MSPs who are not yet mature enough to use all their services. Pax8 might say to MSPs, ‘I see you’re struggling to use our stack. Let us bring in these guys to help.’”

MSP education is behind a number of recent acquisitions.

MSP-focused platform and software developer Kaseya last week announced the acquisition of TruMethods, an MSP coaching and mentoring firm, and is integrating it with its IT Glue.

MSP-focused software and services developer ConnectWise in February unveiled the acquisition of Service Leadership, a data-driven technology solution provider consulting firm, which it is pairing with its software and services platform and its IT Nation community to help MSPs build their own value.

Sea-Level Operations us unique, Donovan said.

“Not only will you know more after graduating from the program, but its coaches are really active,” he said. “While TruMethods passes information to the MSP, Sea-Level does one-on-one coaching. MSPs meet with the coach once a week.”

Frank said he learned the importance of operations while he himself was working for 20 years in the service provider business. In late 2010, he was looking for a job with an MSP that might need his help turning around their operations, but found that they were determined to use their own service managers.

“Five MSPs told me they had their own service managers, but were interested in contracting me to coach the managers they already had,” he said. “So I started Sea-Level. Ten years ago, I thought I knew everything about working with MSPs. But after working with 15 coaches over that time and developing our Operations Guide, I now realize I knew only about 10 percent of what I could have known.”

Pax8 has made a conscious decision to invest in partner education both before and with the acquisition of Sea-Level Operations, Donovan said.

“We have been providing world-class product-centered education and boot camps, but we want to do more,” he said. “We are building our Pax8 Academy to be the center of the channel, and turn it into a one-stop center for anything partners want to learn.”

The Pax8 Academy has been around for about a year under that name. It started with video-based training before bringing in instructor-led training over the past year, Donovan said.

“Now we’re expanding that with one-on-one training,” he said. “And we can look at how to use Rex’s content to augment ours.”

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