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Business Observer Friday, Apr. 22, 2016 2 years ago

Breaking wise

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Tampa-based ConnectWise recently merged multiple companies in which it invested. Up next for the fast-growth tech firm: a possible trip to Wall Street.
by: Traci McMillan Correspondent

In 1982, brothers Arnie and David Bellini thought they were starting a business to service PCs in Tampa Bay.

But their next company really grew out of a necessity to solve their first business's problems so they could get to dinner at a reasonable time. That next company is ConnectWise, a business management software firm for technology companies.

Fast-forward 34 years and ConnectWise has more than 100,000 users in 62 countries. Arnie Bellini is CEO and chief products officer and David Bellini runs the company's international expansion. At a recent Tech Talk in Tampa, Arnie Bellini announced the company is considering an initial public offering.

A major Tampa firm going public would be a noteworthy event, partially because it's relatively rare. The national IPO market has also been in the dumps going back to last summer, although a report on CNBC projects the market could improve by the end of the spring. Arnie Bellini declined to comment on ConnectWise's recent financial performance or projections, saying the company is considering the IPO.

ConnectWise, which earns business largely through direct sales, mostly telesales, would certainly be justified in going public. It posted double-digit revenue and partner growth in 2015 in the U.S., for one. It also reported that purchases of its LabTech product grew more than 50% and purchases for other ConnectWise products grew more than 60% in 2015 in the United Kingdom. Connect-Wise, according to a January 2015 Business Observer story, had $109 million in annual revenues in 2014. It now has more than 750 employees.

Here's an overview of how ConnectWise has grown over the years, and the future of what a public ConnectWise could look like:

Early days: The company started in 1996 as a way to integrate several programs the Bellini brothers used daily at their PC business. Those included invoicing, tracking time and expenses, ticketing, projects, scheduling, inventory and client data. They built a program to connect what Bellini called “silos of chaos.”

It took two years of people knocking at their door asking to buy their program before they decided to sell it as a platform.

Expansion phase: The company, says Bellini, then “basically became a venture capitalist.” It invested in remote management software company LabTech in 2010, quoting and proposal software firm Quosal in 2011 and remote control company ScreenConnect in early 2015.

The companies initially operated as separate entities, with ConnectWise owning 50% of each. “We needed those CEOs, we wanted to keep them around and work it out,” Bellini says. “We put money into the company and then the real goal is to grow their business.”

ConnectWise merged LabTech, Quosal and ScreenConnect into a single company and brand late last year. The strategy going ahead under one unit, says Bellini, is to “land and expand.” That means looking for new markets, both geographically and in new industries. More partnerships with other large entities, such as Clearwater-based Tech Data, is another goal.

Bellini says the firm's merger and acquisition strategy “wasn't rocket science.” He looked at what products were popular with his existing customers and “it was like peanut butter and chocolate — let's make a Reese's.”

Global outlook: Bellini says the company's greatest opportunity for growth is international. There is a lot of tech activity in the United Kingdom, Australia and Germany, he says. That's why the company opened a London office for the European headquarters two years ago, and seeks to open an Australian office for an Asia/Pacific headquarters. The London office now has 25 employees.

ConnectWise has also been working on making its programs multilingual. “You can't sell in Germany unless in German,” Bellini says. “Culturally it doesn't work.”


Making Mistakes
Tampa-based ConnectWise CEO Arnie Bellini says he doesn't regret any of his business decisions “because every one I learned from.”

Bellini, an open water swimmer, says it's similar to how he felt the first time he attempted to swim the English Channel, a 20-mile swim. He maxed out four miles short of the finish in 62-degree water. Instead of feeling defeated, Bellini went home and made a list of the 20 things he could improve on and focused on each of those in his training. A year later, he completed the swim.

“If you learn from your mistakes,” Bellini says, “they're successes.”

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