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Q&A with ConnectWise CEO Arnie Bellini

Days after its professional services automation rival Autotask announced its acquisition by a private equity firm, ConnectWise came out swinging with a statement to the market that it intends to remain a significant player.

The big question is whether privately held ConnectWise will be able to keep up. The investment by Vista Equity Partners in Autotask is aimed, according to Autotask CEO Mark Cattini, at investing in innovation and growth. Serious money has also recently been flowing into the adjacent remote monitoring and management market -- with new owners promising or demonstrating investments in product development at Kaseya, Continuum, N-Able Technologies and Level Platforms Inc.

ConnectWise had been picking up the pace already, with an investment in December in BizDox, a tool for documenting business IT systems, and a quicker release cycle announced in March. Last week, however, ConnectWise seemed to feel the need to respond more directly.

In a statement with the headline, "ConnectWise Reaches 90,000 Users, Continues Innovation," CEO Arnie Bellini of Tampa, Fla.-based ConnectWise declared, "While many other companies are exiting the market, ConnectWise is more committed to the technology solution provider space than ever before."

We caught up with Bellini by e-mail with some follow-up questions.

Arnie Bellini

Is ConnectWise looking for investors of its own? 
ConnectWise is debt-free and has no venture capital. Because we remain focused on the technology provider space, we have grown organically, consistently and significantly over the past several years. We are extremely profitable and want to control our own destiny, focus on the market we love: technology and IT solution providers. In fact we continue looking for investment opportunities, such as our recent investment in BizDox.

Many of the longtime vendors in the MSP industry have taken infusions of cash via private equity investments or through acquisitions by larger tech companies. They say they are using it to invest in their platforms. Will ConnectWise be able to keep up as the industry's R&D pockets get deeper? 
As I stated above, we have enough capital to continue to be the investor [emphasis Bellini's] in the channel, building or acquiring solutions that benefit our partners. We are consistent in that. We like to say we continue on a 20-mile march (see Great by Choice by Jim Collins), which means keep your head down and continue on the path you have established, be aware of what's happening but don't get distracted, either. In other words, we don't want to continuously pivot or change our plan -- that's not a path to long-term success. We invest, we innovate and we always focus on our partners' success -- and that's the big difference in our business philosophy.

Does ConnectWise see any downsides for the competition, especially Autotask, as they take on private equity?
If I were the Autotask CEO, I would be concerned about losing control and losing focus on my customers, all while trying to hold on to my key employees. At ConnectWise we enable technology providers to make the most of their investment through peer networking, education, consulting and a ton of other best-practice tools, including our events, which bring together more than 5,000 business owners annually. Our model of bringing partners together is atypical of what you learn in business school which is really where private equity comes from. That would be my concern.

Posted by Scott Bekker on June 16, 2014