… the development — not having to bring in multiple people to answer a single question. Those those folks are unicorns; they’re not easy to find.
CP: What are the program’s highlights and milestones?
NF: We started the [channel] program in September of 2017. We were building pipeline for about a quarter and finally got our first deal closed in the first quarter of the 2018 calendar year. We’ve seen some just unbelievable growth. From 2018 to 2019, we saw 500% growth in the channel. Now, we were selling to some smaller VARs and security resellers before we went into the master agency world, but that 500% growth is driven by the master agents. And that’s something I’m incredibly proud of to see how they’ve embraced this shift in technology and global networking to see a pairing of security and networking really take shape, and choosing and recommending to their clients a different way to approach things — besides just leveraging the traditional carriers.
CP: What life lessons or career lessons have you learned from working with the channel?
NF: Relationships matter, and relationships matter a lot. You can have the best offering on the table, but if you don’t get that solution into the hands of the people that own the relationships with IT decision makers, it doesn’t matter. The growth won’t be there. The good thing about what we’ve done here at Cato is that we’ve taken this message that we have in the market and put it in the hands of trusted advisers in the channel to propagate that message. I think that’s the key to our success. Hiring those people who are triple threats, that have those relationships with very productive partners in their regions has has really contributed to overall growth.
CP: How does Cato engage the channel differently compared to its rivals?
NF: I’ll say this: flexibility. And the reason I say that is because SD-WAN has really two options. It’s either managed by most vendors, or it’s self-managed by customers. And those vendors are forcing MSP relationships upon the marketplace because they don’t have their own ability to manage or co-manage a solution. Cato is very different. Cato offers both. So whether we’re dealing with a master agency who focuses on sales and brokering IT services and may not have a back office to take on anything else, Cato can absolutely do that. The other piece of it is, if we are working with an MSP or VAR partner who absolutely wants to monetize those managed services and build an offering around a vendor, Cato can do that as well. We have many MSPs who are offering professional services from an installation and deployment perspective on the front end, putting Cato in the middle of that and then managing it long-term on the back end. We can layer in an option for any channel partner that exists in the market.
CP: What advice do you have for someone who’s getting into channel leadership?
NF: Hit the road. There is no substitute for face time. I think something that’s allowed for our rapid growth is that I’ve gotten to know not only a lot of our master-agent partners, but also some very influential subagent partners as well. Really aligning at multiple levels not only from a deal perspective, but also from a leadership perspective. Going back to that comment about relationships: People want to work with …