SMB Nation Blog

SMB Nation has been serving the Bainbridge Island area since 2001, providing IT Support such as technical helpdesk support, computer support, and consulting to small and medium-sized businesses.

Start-up Secret: Mining LinkedIn

If you are starting up a new technology-based entrepreneurial endeavor, you need to heed the wisdom of many before you. It’s about who you know. I can attest to that my relationships have yield more return on investment that my intellectual capabilities. Ultimately I made more money as a “rainmaker” than a hard core geek (although you need both as a technical professional – don’t get me wrong).

One of the secrets to my success is applying analytics to my data. In this case, the secret I want to share concerns mining your

LinkedIn connections. Before I share the special link that will give you a bona fide business boost, please indulge in some context.

Be aggressive in making connections. Early in the life of LinkedIn, there was a strong cultural norm that you should not over connect with people you don’t really know. And to some extent, the LinkedIn connection procedure still forces you to demonstrate some type of alleged relationship with the recipient. But there are now one-day workshops and countless YouTube videos advising you on how to build your list of LinkedIn connections as fast and large as possible to engage in business development.











When you connect with someone, you can message them, endorse and recommend them. But did you know if you click on the little Contact Info icon below the individual’s picture, you can often see a telephone number and an email address. The email address is very interesting because it is usually a “back email” address such as Gmail or Hotmail. It’s often not their corporate email address. When people set-up their LinkedIn account, they frequently use a personal email address so that the authentication and identity credentials travel with the individual (e.g. if they change jobs) and not with the “company.” The little secret here is that you can email these people at a little-used back email address and get their undivided attention. Make sense?

If gets better. When you follow the connection download procedure below, you can easily aggregate all of your connections with email addresses on a single spreadsheet (CSV) format. In my case, that’s 3,297 connections I’ve legitimately built up over several years. When I have access to all of that connection information in one Microsoft Excel 2016 worksheet, the world if my oyster. I can slice, dice, sort and pivot this important data to make it rain dollars!

So you’ve waited long enough – here is the link.

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LinkedIn's Competitive Threat to MSPs

You knew it was coming. It arrived in my Inbox as a forwarded email from SMB Nation community member David Gerhart from Bend, OR. David is an IT consultant and he received a “lead” from LinkedIn’s new ProFinder service (which I consdier a start-up).

LinkedIn has always had the underutilized asset of millions of details on millions of people. It’s discovering ways that it can now offer a plethora of new professional services including training (see my blog how LinkedIn’s Lynda competes with Microsoft Learning Partners here) And rest assured I’ve kept an eagle-eye on LinkedIn for years including having attended its world launch Cocktail Mixer Party in Seattle in November 2014.

LinkedIn ProFinder challenges MSPs in a couple of fronts. First – there are spot buyers of IT services in the SMB space who don’t want or understand the value of a long-term contract. Second - there are existing MSPs customers who will re-evaluate their needs as they understand what LinkedIn ProFinder is. They might possibly bump into it in a different realm, perhaps trying to out Angie on Angie’s List for some minor repairs.


And this is a threat to labor markets like OnForce as LinkedIn, using Big Data, just has deeper analytics and richer resources to draw on. It’s also neutralized an overthought idea that “I should monetize my huge LinkedIn group into a labor market and connect group members with customers needing services.” I’ve heard that idea several times from entrepreneurs who believed that they had invented this idea of labor markets (remember the “Windows 7 was my idea” TV commercials?). As a side note, we performed a few “stress tests” against several LinkedIn groups over the last year to test the “strength” of the list membership and we were roundly disappointed. First - LinkedIn changed the look/feel and even modified the algorithms of the groups, causing interest levels to fade quickly. Second – LinkedIn groups like “Microsoft Office 365” (with 85,623 members) don’t convert to actions such as signing up for a webinar. It all looks good on paper but the data doesn’t lie. Enter LinkedIn ProFinder with its natural competitive advantage.

Here is how LinkedIn ProFinder works for the customer:
1. Tell us what you need.
2. Get free proposals from up to five professionals eager to help.
3. Hire with confidence. You select the right pro but if you need help, there is a ProFinder concierge team that helps the customer with every step. This is perhaps the most disturbing feature. LinkedIn is devoting real-time resources in the bid-sell process. That’s something of an antithesis maneuver that online labor markets can’t match and ultimately affect MSPs.

There are over 13 service categories ranging from Accounting to IT Services to Real Estate.
Turning the argument around, there is an opportunity to sign-up as a service provider for LinkedIn ProFinder. I liken it to gap filler work akin to being a part-time Uber driver. The sign-up process results in the following motions:
1. Get leads in your Inbox.
2. Respond on your terms.
3. Get hired.

When I signed up, the services radio button only allowed me to select one service category, so I selected IT Services. Then a selection box menu allowed me to make several selections including IT Consulting and Computer Networking. Next I had to put in my phone number. At this point, a must read is the LinkedIn ProFinder – Terms and Conditions, which amongst other things limits its liability (not surprisingly).

Back to David Gerhart. The lead information I received is the basis for my blog today but the shoe didn’t fit for me. It was for an engagement in Portland, OR.
In a forthcoming blog, I’ll detail how Amazon will ultimately be a competitor to MSPs using its Big Data analytics. Standby.

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Start-up: International Coworking Day!


This past week on Tuesday, it was International Coworking Day. This was a worldwide celebration for the coworking movement where entrepreneurs, artists and others “rent” a desk or office inside a cooperative workspace. I attended the BBQ at OfficeXpats
a coworking space on Bainbridge Island. It ended up being a diet cheat day as I ate two cheeseburgers, had chips, deserts and a beverage (sorry!). Hat’s off to OfficeXpats owners Leslie Schneider and Jason Omens (pictured) for engaging the community with a party.

I have tracked this “culture” for several years and have observations. And while this blog is about start-ups, I have an Office 365 hook below.



Culture. In general, there are three types of coworkers/members based on my research.

Start-ups. First and foremost are the start-ups seeking a physical beachhead in the world of business. These are typically capital-starved entrepreneurs who benefit from the flexible leases ranging from a desk to cubicle to small office. Their tenancy is typically short-term as they either make it or not. If not, they move along down the road. If they make it, the entrepreneurs will often move into permanent larger space. When I’ve walked into different coworking spaces, I’m always surprised at the tenant turnover. For example, at The Hub in downtown Seattle, I spoke with some young entrepreneurs who were trying to create “Uber Movers” where you’d hire a mover for just a few hours, not the full daylong commitment. Fast forward and the “Uber Movers” were gone next visit.

Not for profit. My sister Ginna Brelsford runs a not-for-profit called Sahar and is a tenant in The Hub. She fits the profile of many coworkers seeking a place to work, have interns sit at those long millennial tables, etc. Sahar currently serves 15,000 girls annually in 12 schools in Balkh Province, Northern Afghanistan. They provide access to education for girls through computer centers, innovative and sustainable building designs, training female teachers and piloting a program to prevent early marriage. It dedicated a new school for 3,500 girls in 2011 and are managing the collaborative partnership between philanthropy, architecture and international development. The reason I share this is that donors often require the not-for-profit entity be run from a real office, not a dining room table.

Social Cliques. Defined as “a small group of people, with shared interests or other features in common, who spend time together and do not readily allow others to join them….” I’d say this element is present and accounted for in the coworker movement. There are storytellers, writers, artists, poets, retired execs and even PR people who are really into this movement stuff. I get that but I’m personally not that into it. It’s akin to the hard core “channel clique” in the SMB channel amongst a handful of vendors and compliant partners in our world. Think of it this way. By analogy, there are coworking tenants who are really seeking the B&B experience about getting to really know you versus the anonymity of a hotel room while traveling. Does that make sense?


In 2009, I wrote an article in our SMB PC magazine on Regus, the worldwide executive suite provider, shaking up the need for new office buildings and being an almost counter-cyclical play in the Great Recession. It has a day lounge that I compared to an airline lounge (in fact Regus briefly got into the airline lounge business at one point). To this day, I’m a gold member. That means I can use the business lounge at any of 3,000 locations worldwide (I’ve done so in Istanbul Turkey, Sydney Australia, London GB and countless US locations including the handful of Seattle-sites). I’ve viewed the business lounges as getting me away from the sticky customer tables at Starbucks to get some real work done. Wouldn’t leave home without my Regus gold card.

My friend and colleague Dave Waldrop rented a couple offices inside the Redmond Regus when he directed the start-up attachedapps (see my blog on attachedapps being acquired). Dave needed a more traditional arrangement (read more conservative) as he was raising capital from investors for this venture. I get that. My experience has been that Regus is not an “untraditional” coworking movement space (several coworking organizations advertise against Regus offering a hipper and cooler alternative; Level office ad: “Hipper Office, Lower Cost - Better-Looking Designs & Amenities‎”).

Office 365

Now the geek stuff. Back in the Small Business Server (SBS) days, I implemented more than one solution for offices that had sub-tenants and the use of the SBS resources was a benefit that could be shared. I remember touring some early executive suites (including one launched by former Microsoft exec Tony Audino) where IT local area network resources where shared (and billed for). Today that’s all changed. With my Office 365 account and laptop in hand, I work wherever I am. So when I visit a Regus Business lounge, I take advantage of the high-speed WiFi connection and rock on. Worked in Istanbul Turkey (the Regus was in a “Trump Tower”) because my fleabag hotel had no internet connectivity. I literally camped out at Regus for a week!

Next year, mark your calendar for August 9th to participate in International Coworking Day and learn more about this community. The shoe might just fit.

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WaaS Explored - Selfie Stick! !

Folks are getting excited about the Workstation as a Service pradigm in the Summer of 2016. So to capitalize on that BIG MO, I've gotten out the selfie stick to make the following vid:




Watch the vid here!

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Start-Up Pitch-Off Event Review

Start-Up Pitch-Off Event Review

I never met a press pass I didn’t like. Such an award is a glitterati pass not open to all. I’ve done the US Open (last year at this time at Chambers Bay in the Seattle-area), an IoT conference, countless Microsoft Worldwide partner conferences (WCP) and many other events. So I jumped at opportunity to attend the TechCrunch (TC) Seattle Meetup and Pitch-Off this past week. I wasn’t disappointed and I will repeat. I was impressed that TC could attract over 300+ attendees to this event (that’s hard – let me tell ya). Further I was impressed how extroverted everyone was. Folks walking up and striking up a start-up chat. For just an evening, Seattle lost its shy Scandinavian culture.

Let’s get specific. One intrepid entrepreneur, Bill Herling, introduced himself to the SMB Nation team at the event (myself and Tim Carlson). He is the founder and CEO of Dial which is a new video storytelling platform and a way to create and share interactive advertisements. Turns out Herling lives near our Bainbridge Island location and we intend to get together soon to discuss good business. First conversations will be about raising capital for his endeavor. In the pic, Herling is center and Tim Carlsen is left. What I liked about Herling’s moxie is that he attended as an “attendee” and was not one of the selected pitch-off start-ups who made a 60-sec “pitch” before the entire audience. Rather Herling engaged in “Hallway 101” working it ‘til it hurt. My kinda guy!

Finally, a comment on the format. After an arrivals period, the pitch-off competition commenced. Then the winners were announced. For the record – here are the start-ups that played in the pitch-off reindeer game:

The TC Meetup and Pitch-Off is a traveling roadshow. For example, it recently visited Austin as well. Next up is Tel Aviv and Berlin. 

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