‘I’m looking forward to really engaging on being a business owner. So really engaging, leaning forward to being that business owner and strategic leader, versus being influenced by everything else and being more reactive — really focusing on that proactive approach is what I’m looking forward to,’ says Paco Lebron, founder and CEO of Chicago-based MSP ProdigyTek.
Thirty-seven-year-old Paco Lebron started his MSP business out of spite.
He started his career in technology as a database manager and moved over to help a buddy with their break-fix and printing business.
“Through some disagreements, and out of spite, I ended up starting my own business so that I could do it better and prove that the way I envision an IT service business would run in that way,” Lebron (pictured), founder and CEO of Chicago-based MSP ProdigyTeks, told CRN. “It was myself from 2013 until about 2020. As unfortunate as COVID and shelter in place was, it allowed me to grow with a lot of the requests.”
Over the summer of 2020, Lebron hired five employees and is now running a seven-person shop. In fact, his entire team is Latino or Hispanic, with four of them being women, and he’s using Open AI to assist the team internally.
“I have a tech in Venezuela, I have a tech in Argentina and our dispatch coordinators are between Mexico and Texas,” he said. “What’s amazing about that is some of them are Spanish-speaking first and the English language comes second. When you Google translate something, it’s that literal Spanish whereas the [Microsoft] Bing AI can you help translate in dialects. That has really assisted my team talking to each other because some are Spanish-speaking first but even then they still get crisscrossed between each other.”
It even allows for smoother communication to the end customer, he added.
He also embraces communities, inside and outside of the channel, and bringing up minorities in tech. As a millennial business owner, Lebron understands the needs of his employees having a work-life balance and operates a fully-remote company to accommodate that.
“We’ve equipped them to get a little bit more of their work-life balance,” he said. “That is not how it used to be traditionally. Now it’s more in tune to the culture and I think some have figured that out. I’m not saying that those older than me haven’t, but those who don’t are probably struggling a little bit more than we are.”
From company culture, to community, to making his business stand out, check out CRN’s interview with Lebron below.
Being a Latino-owned business, how are you making space for more Latinos in the channel?
There are other organizations that really helped to try and get Latinos in tech but I think that we’re still trying to find and partner with those that are trying to get into the IT support and IT services industry, especially in cybersecurity. Whether its course curriculum at universities or those that are just wanting to learn more about cybersecurity, it seems that a lot of the organizations are tech and Fortune 500 companies. They’re not really diving more into the entrepreneurial/MSP space.
There’s technical schools like Per Scholas that are really training a lot of Latino students and interns to get into tech jobs. It’s how do we open that pipeline for desktop engineers, regular engineers, level three engineers and things of that nature. We’re trying to partner with them to understand more because I think everyone’s effort of DEI…it’s kind of been a checkbox for a lot of them. They’re not taking the time to really understand how complex the conversation is, especially trying to get women in tech. It’s a complex conversation where you have to really understand it in order to go all in with a goal and a mission.
Why is it important for you to give more opportunities to people of minority groups?
From my concentration, it was ensuring that Latina women were in tech. Women in tech is rare, there’s such a disservice in the industry for women in tech. Latino women who want to be in the industry feel that you have to be an engineer but there’s plenty of opportunities to understand the industry and help that industry in so many other facets.
That relays down to our clients as well because office managers who happened to be of Latino descent or of Hispanic descent find a better rapport with all of us. We actually did a pitch on our company culture and embracing it where we won a very big contract for the sole reason of not only are we Latinos in tech, but we are very conscious of enabling our Latinos in tech and the women in the company. They were so moved by that. It’s a very big association that we have here in Chicago and we beat out some very big MSPs because of that mission.
So Paco, you’re 37, how do you think you run your business differently than MSPs of an older generation?
I’ve now started to have the mindset where when you are a younger CEO you often have that impostor syndrome of not being taken seriously because in your brain, you are still the younger version of yourself. Being a younger CEO, we value culture and experience more internally because we know that that will translate into the experience of the end user that we take care of.
I think we’ve gotten to the point where it was like, ‘We have our revenue numbers, we have our projections, go go go.’ Now it’s, ‘What’s the collaborative effort to make sure that the internal teams are okay.’ When they’re okay it’s going to be a much better conversation and have a much better influence.
The main reason why my team is remote is because of the accommodations you will have to make while they’re in the office. Some are families and pick up young kids from school, some may be studying and have school so you have to make arrangements for them to leave early for travel. We’ve equipped them to get a little bit more of their work-life balance. That is not how it used to be traditionally. Now it’s more in tune to the culture and I think some have figured that out. I’m not saying that those older than me haven’t but those who don’t are probably struggling a little bit more than we are.
What is your biggest challenge right now in your business?
I would have to say finding good people. I have a personal belief that you can train the tech but you can’t train customer service and customer experience. So trying to find someone in that realm has been a little difficult. And then really just retaining a good culture. Sometimes you settle on certain people being a certain personality because they do great work, but they’re not necessarily great for the company. We’ve had to make some of those types of decisions as well.
Where do you see the biggest opportunity in your business?
We have been diving into and shifting some of the industries that we have been partaking in. Through some other activities that I’m involved with and through sitting on a couple councils that are outside of the MSP space, a lot of my colleagues are very strong in the construction area. That’s starting to become a bit more fruitful than some of the other industries that we focus on, which have been manufacturing, legal and private healthcare.
That’s been proving to be a much bigger opportunity because now, instead of me trying to qualify leads, I now have the word of mouth of a referral because of all these events that we’re attending. It’s becoming a lot easier for that scaling of growth for at least revenue and margin size.
The other piece technology-wise is getting to a point where that regulation and some of those things have been passed that are coming up, like compliance from the government. It’s getting ourselves on that, like the cyber insurance industry is starting to really be clearer on what they want. It’s also us being able to have communication with them so that we can provide them with what we’re doing. A lot of that is pushing that growth with our clientele. Some of the technologies that we can put in place, like automation, is helping us lower our internal work power so that we can concentrate on nurturing the customer experience, because that’s really where my plan is. How do we lower our footprint with the amount of accounts so that they get the most value.
What more do you want from your vendors?
I think a lot of them are getting better at truly understanding what the MSP is trying to achieve. The conversation should be how do I get to the next conversation, not getting married right away. By that I mean it’s not, ‘Tell me a little bit about your business.’ They actually are doing some research. They’re actually understanding what we’re trying to do. I would love to see more of that, taking the time to understand the business that you’re trying to learn from before just hoping to get married and sign on the dotted line.
I would also love to see more partner enablement from vendors. Yeah, they have the shiny tool and yeah, it’s going to help me help my clients. But how do I sell it? How do I mold it into my current practice? There’s a lot of people that are just not salespeople and don’t have the resources to have salespeople. They don’t even know the right questions to ask in order to really adopt their solutions. I think it’s a big disservice for vendors. If they can have some type of partner enablement, like ‘Here’s what our partners that have enrolled with us have asked us for their end users. This is how you can communicate that. Here’s how we’ve seen this sold.’ I think a lot of those playbooks have been very helpful for those that just don’t know what they don’t know.
It’s also having more conversations around the changes that are coming. Sometimes communications that are given to us about new features are great, but I think a lot of them miss the mark. They’ll say, ‘We have this whole new plan, and it’s going to be great for you, but it’s going to be a $70 increase and by the way, your own plan is going to expire at the end of the month.’ I think if they can work on the communications a little better on the announcements and not trying to market-speak that it’s a great opportunity.
You started an event called TechCon Unplugged. What was your mission when you originally started it?
It started around 2019 when my former business partner and myself decided that we wanted to have a different flavor of what a partner show should be. Back in 2015, we attended one of the bigger events and there was a session with a guy, I don’t remember his revenue, who said, ‘What’s causing the detriment to my business is the one-person shops, they’re screwing me over.’ There’s a lot of shows that are not speaking toward the one-person shop, and at the time I was a one-person shop. There has to be an even keel of partners that care enough for those that are sub $1 million. There are those that are partners that are going to invest in businesses because, as we all know, MSPs are cheap.
The show is for MSPs $3 million in revenue and under, 20 employees or less, that has been our audience. This is a safe space for you, no matter where you are in the journey. Over the years that message of embracing those that are doing it by themselves or only may have an employee or two has gotten better. It’s to give them those resources to succeed and that’s in tandem with the technology and things of that nature. The latest iteration is how do we highlight women in the space and how do we highlight more diversity.
You said MSPs are cheap. Why do you say that?
I think there are a lot of MSPs that feel that they are owed and that they should be able to get as many free tools or free things or low-cost tools to make X amount of money on top of it. The more serious MSPs understand there needs to be investment made into things of operations, efficiencies, things of that nature, to scale. I’m not talking about those that are being frugal, I’m all about being frugal. I’m talking about the people that are cheap because they don’t want to pay for a Microsoft 365 license and they’re going through a domain like GoDaddy to get their email. They’re not looking at the long game for a lot of that stuff.
What do you have in store for TechCon in the next few years?
Next year it will be in the Washington, D.C. area. Our vision is we’ve always wanted it to be an intimate event so we won’t see it past 100 to 150 people. There may be additional shows that will occur throughout the year and different flavors, whether that is to adhere to different places of a journey of an IT professional.
What do you want to see more of in the channel?
I would love to see more collaboration across communities. I think that we’re in a place where there are communities that are being built and they kind of have their own mission. There’s an opportunity to let them know that they don’t have to be siloed and there’s an effort to have cross-collaboration. There’s plenty of communities that we’ve worked with as well and a lot of great associations who understand communities. Some are businesses and they are trying to make revenue for their people that they’ve hired, and I’m totally respectable of that. But there are some communities that feel that they have to shelter what they have because… I don’t know if the secret sauce is going to get out or I don’t really know the full story of it. But there needs to be more collaboration across communities on a genuine front. I think once you see those, the community wins. By the community that’s obviously both on the IT service provider but also helping the vendors get the education that they need so that they are not just pitching us. They understand how to be an integral partner for us as well.
For your MSP, where do you see the most revenue growth in 2024?
I have a feeling the revenue growth that we’re going to see is not only on device lifecycle replacement but there’s going to be open conversations for virtualization and cloud going into Azure and Amazon Web Services.
What are you looking forward to most in 2024 in terms of your business?
I’m looking forward to really engaging on being a business owner. We’ve kind of gone through this period of we need the resources, so let’s staff. Now let’s become efficient. We’re hitting ourselves in the face with our clients, how do we figure out that piece? I’m getting to the point where things are semi-okay, everyone knows where the mines are. Everyone has their roles, everyone has their processes. Now how do I lead the business in a strategic way? How do I really make it where we’ve now reached this threshold? We’re no longer somewhat winging it. How can I be strategic and lead the business into something that when I look at this three to five years from now, I would never have thought that I would get to where I am. So really engaging, leaning forward to being that business owner and strategic leader versus being influenced by everything else and being more reactive – really focusing on that proactive approach is what I’m looking forward to.