Juan Fernandez’s mission is to help the MSP community, and it all boils down to building relationships and providing education to all.
Fernandez this week was tapped as interim channel chief at HacWare, a Brooklyn, N.Y.-based consulting business that focuses on helping companies understand how hackers break into their systems.
No stranger to the channel, Fernandez (pictured) is the co-founder and CEO of Dallas-based MSP Growth Coalition—an IT services and consulting company. He’s also author of “The MSP Handbook,” former CEO of ImageNet MSP, which he scaled and exited, and sits on numerous boards and advisory councils within the channel.
“I do recognize that I do have a level of influence,” he told CRN. “It‘s important to me to be around good people. I’m very cautious around who I put myself around and who I sponsor and say, ‘Hey, this is a good company.’ I have to know. When I met Tiffany [Ricks, HacWare CEO] I was like, ‘Man, that feels too comfortable there. Let me make sure it‘s real. It’s like family.’
With his 20 years of experience, he will bolster HacWare and share its automated security awareness training platform with MSPs who are looking to grow and scale their business.
“We don’t have to wait until next year to get an amazing strategy on how [MSPs] can build a security practice in the midst of a looming recession,” Ricks told CRN. “We can give them the resources that they need this year.”
Neither Ricks nor Fernandez are waiting for 2023—they’re investing in HacWare’s growth now.
“We‘re going to show [MSPs] how to sell security awareness training,” Ricks said. “We’re going to show them how to build a security awareness practice this year to set them up for 2023.”
CRN recently spoke with Fernandez and Ricks to discuss their strategy to help MSPs grow their security awareness mindset to make the entire ecosystem a better place.
Tiffany, why bring on Juan as channel chief?
It really came down to what our core values were, and they were aligned. It’s all about trying to provide a personal touch, really try to get to know our partners and trying to build relationships, and that comes super natural to Juan. That’s in his DNA. The first time I met Juan I saw that and we became fast friends. It wasn’t like when you meet someone and then you never see them again. I met him, followed up in a couple of days, a couple of weeks kept following up, and I was like, ‘This is something that I want our partner community to feel.’ We’re trying to build that within every part of our product, with engineering, with customer support, we’re trying to do a relationship approach where they know us. I hear all the time, ‘I’m doing business [with them] because I like the CEO.’ I want them to do business because they like our channel chief, they like our engineering team and they love our product. But for me, right now, it’s about building relationships. What makes Juan a brilliant channel chief for HacWare is we’re super passionate about building a business, providing value and creating an educational experience. We’re talking from a point of we know what has happened in cybersecurity so we’re trying to educate and make this complex topic easy. Juan is the same way. That’s just natural to him to provide education and to give his experience in a way that’s easy for people to understand and not feel like they’re inferior. It’s about trying to use education as a way to elevate. To wrap it all up in a bow, it was relationships, which was a synergistic type of thing, and then his ability to educate.
Juan you’re the interim channel chief, so how long are you staying?
Tiffany was so kind to say, ‘Look, I want to do something with you, I‘m happy to do something with you and I’m not going to [force you] to make you commit.’ She gave me the autonomy to say, ‘Hey, if you like us, I hope you stay.’ … Tiff was like, ‘Hey, if you like us, stick around. Let’s do this interim thing for a little while.’ That’s how I work.
Is that how you feel, Tiffany?
Yes, that appeals to Juan and I’m that way too. I can’t be contained. I want to bring on team members who are super good at what they do but they also are team players. This is why we brought Juan in, but the way that I think about this is more on a strategic level. It’s a win-win scenario, having Juan as our interim channel chief, because there are a couple things that I see happening here. Initially, the vision was our channel chief wasn’t going to be interim. Speaking to Juan, I was hoping that he would be interested, but I knew he was busy. But if he is super busy, then let me get the Juan clone. So as we were talking Juan said, ‘I may be able to join this year, I just don’t have 100 percent commitment.’ This is the only individual that I gave this opportunity to, the interim idea. But I was thinking, ‘Well, OK, strategically this could work because we’re going to bring Juan on board. We’re going to start now with my vision of building these relationships with our partners.’ We can continue this mission and really show our partners that we are investing in their growth.
The whole idea is we‘re trying to woo Juan into staying but if he doesn’t stay we already talked about how we can bring that Juan clone in for 2023. But Juan has the first opportunity to become our full-fledged channel chief in 2023. If not, he’s going to be helping with recruiting and on-boarding that individual. So it’s a win-win for our partners.
Juan, what attracted you to HacWare?
I talked to a lot of companies and I had a lot of conversations. I know a lot of the companies in the channel, I speak to everyone, I know their teams. And I saw something different. I saw a young energy, I saw a lot of people that were driven, I saw a lot of great personalities that were just trying to do the right thing. [They] try to be what they say they are, [they’re] very vulnerable, very open about where their product was, very innovative and very creative. As I walked around expo hall after expo hall, I kept feeling like this place feels nice right here. I just knew it and I kept coming back. I’ve tested it with MSPs. They walk by and I introduce them to a lot of different things and people and they will stay in certain areas. There’s something special about that, I could see it. It’s the team, I can tell the way they function, the way they embrace the people like they’re part of the ecosystem and they’re very open and vulnerable. They’re not selling, they’re just welcoming.
Then the innovation. Tiffany has a grand design behind what she’s doing and I love building things. I love innovative things and I love being disruptive. I like what she’s doing in a space that has a lot of saturation and that it’s actually disruptive and collaborative all at the same time. It’s not only changing the way we do things in cybersecurity awareness training, but it’s also helping other companies in the same space become better. It’s an offering that is not super competitive, it’s actually collaborative, which is not something that anybody else is doing. To me it was very different. That sounds like something I would do, you build it and then you give it away to others to allow them to become better.
As interim channel chief, what is your mission for HacWare?
It’s no different than my existing mission in the rest of my life. It’s building amazing relationships, it’s this wonderful product and allowing MSPs to become super successful through the one thing that we need the most, which is education. The challenge that we have and the reason that there are so many issues in this space right now, and in the world of technology, is that we didn’t learn how to get on the internet. We were taught how to type and then we were thrown into the water. You’re swimming in circles. No one taught us officially how to get on the internet, and that’s the one thing that HacWare is doing. Being part of CompTIA for so many years, learning about best practices, understanding how computers work, the way the internet works and coming through that evolution, I’ve learned a lot of things about what people need to be doing to have a very protected mannerism of being on the internet. There’s no one that’s doing it. Tiffany and what she’s built is trying to bring that education. I know this is a need and it’s really important for me to continue to do that and empower MSPs to not only learn, we don’t know everything. … We know how to build stuff, but we may not learn how to teach. That’s the one place at the table we need to secure—the educator component. That’s where we build a lot of trust with our customers. So I’m going to help them build that trust, help build out the education components and help them teach and how to sell that cybersecurity component, because I’ve done it. I can bring a lot of education from all of the components of how to take this to market and be impactful with customers and make them feel like it’s OK to learn again.
Juan, you’re a champion of minority-owned businesses: IT By Design, HacWare and others. Tell me why you lean into that.
Here’s the thing for me, I like companies that are different. Those that are nurturing, that are caring and that are actually behind a mission ironically are women-owned. I’ve worked in a lot of male-dominated organizations in my life. I’ve been part of those, I was fine in those organizations but it doesn’t seem like it meets a caring mechanism of actually, really caring about the customer, really understanding it and really embracing them. I have a really big problem with bottom-line leaders. It’s one of those things where if you build something that people want, you build relationships around them, you care about their benefit and their well-being, they stay with you forever. That’s the beauty of what I love and I look for. When I pick somebody, there’s a reason, and the reason is I felt like this was going to make a difference and an impact. It’s really important for me to find the right places to be because I’ve got a lot of people that look to me for advice. If I make a bad recommendation, it’s like, ‘Oh man, that was horrible.’ I get trashed for it and it goes far and fast. So I have to be really, really careful about that. This just felt like a really good place to be. The more I looked at it and the more I dove into what Tiffany has created it was obvious. It was real and so I was happy to be part of it.
So Tiffany, what are you two doing now to hit the ground running?
We have quite a few things that we’re looking at this week. We’re going to be releasing something called a hack assessment. We’re trying to give partners a tool that they can use to show their customer that they can be hacked, and it’s a free tool. They can get a score to show the small business and midmarkets, or even enterprise customers, where the holes are.
Then we’re going to be providing education. Juan and I, our hearts are devoted toward educating and helping these partners understand. We’re going to be providing bi-weekly sales training where we’re going to be showing them how to sell security awareness solutions. It’s going to have an interactive component.
Juan, tell me more about that.
We get a lot of do-for-you services through vendors and relationships. One of the big things is empowering them to truly be successful, not handing them something and saying, ‘I hope you‘re successful with this. Here’s the talk track, go try it.’ Let‘s talk about this. Let’s let you ask them questions, [telling partners] here‘s a way to position security in a customer conversation.
It’s iron sharpening iron and really helping the community move forward on learning how to position it. It’s how to go to market with it, marketing initiatives, the sales talk tracks, and then what‘s working, what’s not working. Let‘s just go together on this journey. That’s our opportunity, is to empower them and we want to do that regularly so that they can feel confident about this conversation. Again, back to education, sometimes we assume they know. Let’s start at the beginning. Every week we‘re going to have a good conversation and we’re going to talk about this week’s initiative and the top tracks that we can have around this. Those will start in December.
Juan, what’s to come in 2023?
2023 is going to be on fire. Obviously, there‘s a lot of events going on and there’s a lot of new initiatives that are in the ecosystem. We’ve got a lot of done-for-you things planned for MSPs. We want to make this an engaging experience. My whole thing is I want to be different. Hopefully we can do just that and hopefully help a lot of MSPs. I know how hard it is to take something you know nothing about and try to take it to your customer. So we‘re going to bring in all the education we possibly can to help them soften that up and bring them up to speed on how to position it.