Colum Donahue’s IT management company Genuity is built on a simple concept: the less you understand, the more you par.
The market is designed that way, says Colum, Genuity’s co-founder. Telecom service providers and SaaS companies, for example, often profit from keeping customers in the dark. Labyrinthine contracts with incomprehensible pricing structures, surcharges, cancellation fees –– they’re too much for a smaller business to easily manage.
“We’re taking enterprise-level tools and repurposing them for small to medium-sized businesses,” Colum says. “If you’re enterprise, you’ve got vendors beating down your door. You have a large technical staff, a huge budget and a subscription to Gartner, which probably costs $65,000 per year. A small company doesn’t have the budget for those.”
Genuity also provides small businesses with access to enterprise-level purchasing power. By combining the scale of its partner companies, it can provide lower rates on subscriptions and supplier-direct prices on hardware.
How does it work, and how is Genuity changing the game? Colum walks us through its mission, its tech, the power of self-funding and how to spend investors’ money wisely.
“You can’t manage what you can’t measure”
There are two parts to the Genuity platform: the IT Admin Suite and the IT Marketplace. As Colum explains, a user signs up, links a credit card or bank account, and the platform pulls in every bit of your technology spend. “Now you can track your licenses and everything else,” he says.
“Let’s say your company uses Office 365. Our data will tell you that if you renew through our marketplace, you can save 15 percent. Or if you use G Suite, which has a price increase coming April 2, we can save you 10 percent.”
Genuity’s platform integrates with G Suite and Office 365 as well as Docusign, GoDaddy and other popular subscriptions. The platform can manage hardware and telecom spending as well.
“We give you visibility into your spend,” Colum says. “You can’t manage what you can’t measure. Even at 200 or 300-person companies, finance gets the bills and pays them. But no one’s tracking them. We give you the ability to track all these subscriptions and time the contracts. You can look at utilization by employee. If you have 300 licenses for Slack but only 250 are being used, that’s automatic waste we can cut out.”
Genuity’s Admin Suite and Marketplace work together to identify savings. By tracking your data, Colum explains, “we can trigger an event” on the marketplace, leveraging group buying power: “If we can save you money, we let you know. And you can price check us. We say, here’s how much you can save as your contract’s coming up, but feel free to check it on your own.”
Creating a smart fix for an industry-wide problem
Colum is a serial entrepreneur with a background in telecom and tech. The idea for Genuity was born, he says, when an attorney friend asked him to take a look at his telecom contract. “I come from the carrier world ––my customers were ATT and Verizon,” he says. “But I never really looked at the business-to-business market. When I saw how much they were paying, I did a double take, because I know what this stuff costs.”
It wasn’t just the cost, he says, but “how bad the contractual terms were. If you didn’t track these contracts, they automatically renewed for two- and three-year terms.”
Colum saw a problem to solve. In an era where all businesses need IT solutions, “every company is a technology company,” he says. He began to explore a fix with his partner, Genuity co-founder Jason Noble.
“We realized that it wasn’t just a telecom problem. It was an overall management problem in IT. We started going about ways to solve some of these issues. But we wanted to go a step further and build a savings component into our platform, so we could use data to give you visibility, whether you’re an IT pro or not.”
Forgoing VC money: “Mistakes are on my dime”
Colum and Jason founded Genuity in 2017 as a self-funded venture. They’ve been quietly grinding away since, sans limelight and meetings with VCs. “I thought I could get it further on my own without the distractions of raising money. Not all entrepreneurs have that. I was fortunate to have some past successes, and I seeded with $3 million of my own money.
“I knew if I just focused on the product, we could get it there. Building a full platform has been a learning experience for me and we’ve made our share of mistakes, but it’s on my dime.”
That’s a hell of a motivator. It’s also a lesson for entrepreneurs who, say, raise $1 million, celebrate that milestone, and then spend $115,000 a month on rent. “They’ll be out of business in 14 months,” Colum quips. “When you raise capital, it doesn’t guarantee success. You’ve got money –– other people’s money, by the way –– but you’ve got to prove out your business plan and get those metrics.”
Colum thinks the investor-founder relationship should follow the golden rule. “Treat their money like you treat your own,” he says. “If this was your own money, would you spend it this way?”
Celebrating milestones is important, he says. “But you’re still pushing that boulder up the hill. If you keep working hard enough, good things will happen.”