The Keys to Longevity: How NST Has Thrived for 20 Years As A Top IT Support Company
Long Island, NY-based Network Solutions and Technology (NST) is celebrating its twentieth year in business — quite a milestone in the industry. As per the Small Business Administration, only about half of all companies survive for more than five years. However, given the unique challenges involved with marketing technology services combined with a crowded field, the failure rate of new MSP providers may be higher.
Founders Matt Collins and Will Brown recently visited Ulistic's "The MSP Show" to talk about their time in the business and how they've managed to thrive as a top IT support company in New York City. What are some of the keys to their longevity and growth?
Trusting Your Business Partner(s)
Matt Brown and Will Collins have known each other since kindergarten — more than forty years. Given their long personal history, there's a tremendous amount of trust. It's imperative that you trust your business partner and members of your team. Across industries, countless businesses have failed because co-founders and business partners have a falling out. When leaders aren't aligned around a common goal or vision, steering the organization often becomes impossible.
It's unrealistic that business partners will always agree. Speaking of their own relationship, Collins notes the importance of "making sure we are in the right direction, staying aligned, and really trusting each other to get over the hard parts, the bumps in the road, so that the company can succeed. Being able to put ego aside for the betterment of each other and the betterment of our company has really been something that's been one of our keys to success."
Empowering Your Team
NST started as a two-man show. Brown worked on it evenings after his full-time gig at a systems integrator, while Collins worked on it as he attended grad school. As the company has grown from the two of them handling everything to a mature company with 70 employees and clients in 33 states, they note the importance of nurturing and managing people. "Changing roles and relinquishing control to a certain extent has been very difficult," Collins notes. "But it's also been one of the reasons why we continue to grow because we can bring people in who know what they're doing and can buttress up against what we're doing and what we want."
Brown agrees. "You have to give up a little bit of control, trust in the people that you employ, and [...] realize that they may not do [things] the way you want it. But by them doing it, it's a bit more off your plate." Doing so is admittedly challenging. But to do so, Collins says you have to "hire the right people, but you empower them to make decisions base on your vision, your goal, and your expectation." He says it's crucial not "to fear bringing in people smarter than you, bringing people in that you can give a task to or a huge part of the business too to run [because] that's how you're going to get ahead. That's how you're going to get scale. That's how you're going to get to where you want to be."
Nurturing Client Relationships
Both note that nurturing client relationships is critical. Brown shared that as they built the startup, the relationships they developed with their clients were invaluable. In contrast to his time working at a large systems integrator, Brown developed far more personal client relationships. They've also been longer-lasting and more critical to NST's success than vendor relationships in his experience. "There's no dollar figure you can put on the relationship you have with clients," he says emphatically.
Acquiring Companies Strategically
NST has grown in part through mergers and acquisitions. When Brown and Collins first started acquiring other companies, their focus was on the resources each addition would allow them to obtain. However, they now note that careful assessment of the financials and understanding how the new business can help them add value to clients is critical. The strategy has also enabled them to ensure there are resources on the ground in regions outside New York City to service out-of-state clients. "The M&A strategy has catapulted us ahead to [new] levels in our growth and life cycle," Collins notes.
Continuously Adding Value
Given the long on-ramp to acquisitions, Brown notes that maintaining and growing sales and marketing efforts is critical. "A key strategy to our business is to add value and add services to our client base to make us different from the competitors, so hen we [meet with] a customer or a prospect, we know how we can provide value to that company, and how we can make that company more profitable and more and more efficient."
Establishing and Relying on an Industry Network
As NST has grown, Brown and Collins have also expanded their professional network. When they first started, they relied on industry groups and contacts for guidance around understanding financials. But over time, they've been able to immerse themselves in an "ecosystem of like-minded entrepreneurs," which Collins describes as "invaluable." He further says that "it goes hand-in-hand with [giving up] control and hiring good people and smart people because you need different ideas and perspectives." As the industry has evolved significantly over the past two decades, Browns and Collins credit the diversity of perspectives and strategic guidance they've been able to access as one of the keys to their success.
Looking Toward the Future
Brown and Collins also note that looking towards the future of the industry is essential to position a firm to succeed effectively. What are they keeping their eyes on? Cybersecurity, hybrid-remote staffing, automation, AI, and rising entry barriers in the MSP space, top Collins' list. He believes it will be harder to be a generalist. New technologies will demand increasing specialization, not just in implementing the technology but also utilizing it to add and prove real value to the business. "The conversation has changed. It's not 'I need 15 desktops to do this because my people work on this app.' It's not like that anymore. It's 'What is the impact on my business?'"
The need for specialization into a vertical or a business is more important now than it ever was. Or as Collins puts it: "Being able to help a business understand their numbers and what they need to do and how that technology is going to make that business owner or those shareholders more money."
Brown concurs, noting the importance of "Not just [understanding] the stack itself, but understanding how [business] analytics and intelligence tools [...] can help shape and move a business, you have to understand that nowadays because that's the value we bring to the table."
It's been quite a journey for these two lifelong friends, but ultimately a successful one. And NST provides a great model of success for other MSPs to follow. Their hard-won insights can help you get your new MSP off the ground or scale your new one to new levels. For more insights and guidance, check out more episodes of The MSP Show here. And if you're looking for experienced marketing support for your MSP, contact us today for a consultation.