The ConnectWise news spread quickly and broadly in the media last week with much fanfare about this latest acquisition in our tech community. The news of the 70 millionaires being made of ConnectWise employees, the speculated sale price and the layoffs that accompanied the announcements were all covered in wide circulation both locally and in national industry publications. However, what remains largely absent from the conversation is what we can learn from this deal, and how we can apply it to continue the growth of Tampa Bay’s entrepreneur ecosystem.
I was honored to have the opportunity to attend the monthly, First Friday, town hall meeting that ConnectWise held on Friday, March 1. Having been to other town halls throughout my career, I was pretty sure this one would be similar. However, I was wrong. While it had the familiar elements, it was nothing like any I’d experienced before.
I’m not entirely sure what struck me first, but this event was a celebration at scale. The dusty floors of the space under renovation were barely noticed as ConnectWise employees made their way in to find a spot to hear from ConnectWise and Thoma Bravo leadership. Music played, drinks flowed and the energy was nearly visible.
At one point while incoming CEO Jason Magee, was telling the story of ConnectWise’s journey, Arnie Bellini, ConnectWise’s founder and his brother and co-founder, David Bellini, appeared onstage together. They embraced and smiled at each other as the nearly 800 ConnectWise employees in attendance applauded loudly. It was the ConnectWise origin story in physical form. This reminded me that what began as an idea 37 years ago in a suburban bedroom has gone on to become one of the area’s fastest-growing technology companies. And, every bit of it happened right here in Tampa Bay.
After Arnie spent nearly 30 minutes shaking hands, hugging and congratulating management and staff individually, he said to me, “ConnectWise is the Fairchild Semiconductor of Tampa Bay.” Referring to the company that gave birth to Silicon Valley and influenced the growth of the tech sector over the past 50 years. The deal with Thoma Bravo and ConnectWise has brought Silicon Valley to Tampa Bay.
While investors will continue to keep an eye on the big West Coast tech giants, this deal has cast a light on what is being done here in Tampa Bay and the opportunities our ecosystem has for growth and success.
“There is fertile ground in Tampa Bay,” Bellini said. “You can only grow so many crops in one field.” Referring to the slowing of investment in Silicon Valley and the fact that investors are looking at emerging ecosystems like Austin, Boston, Toronto and – possibly – now Tampa.
“This is a thriving ecosystem,” Chief Customer Success Officer Craig Fulton said. “People say this all the time, but it really is.”
Craig went on to talk about the partnership philosophy that he attributes with the success of ConnectWise. He talked about how, beyond the products and services that they provide, their partners gain so many advantages by doing business with them. When asked what he thought about what this deal means for the Tampa Bay ecosystem he kept coming back to these ideas about value and partnership. This made me consider that being a good partner and providing value is how ConnectWise succeeded and that these simple principles could be a formula for success for Tampa Bay.
“This is a repeatable formula,” Bellini said. “Tampa Bay has arrived and with more than a billion in tech investment from Silicon Valley the viability for Tampa Bay’s entrepreneurs is real.”
With so many technology and entrepreneurship organizations popping up around Tampa Bay, we should not hesitate to test this formula. As our ecosystem grows, we will see many opportunities to be good partners and to provide value. In any community there will be leaders and there will be followers. In Tampa Bay, we will see these roles change hands a few times along the way. Regardless of what part we are playing, we can learn from ConnectWise’s success formula. While we may compete for resources, finding ways to share them and apply them directly to support the entrepreneurs working to build our technology community can prove effective.
This idea goes well beyond those organizations that are actively building this ecosystem. These organizations will need partnership and value from the business community, city and county governments, and from the very entrepreneurs they serve. In order for a community to grow, we all must be patrons of it.
I asked Arnie where he saw opportunity and what he was going to do next. “I want to galvanize Tampa Bay as a leader and a center of excellence in cyber security. We are perfect for ownership of this vertical,” he said. “I’m going to work to promote Tampa Bay; we are willing to help, and I’m looking forward to helping personally.”
“Everything we need to grow is here in Tampa Bay and what this ecosystem is seeing at ConnectWise is just the beginning for Tampa Bay.“ Bellini said. “We are successful because we are responsible. You can do it too. We did it.”