In the first in a series of customer-focused interviews, we talk to Dan DiGregorio of MSP business Help Now in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
SolarWinds MSP: Dan, I believe you have an amazing experience to share with us about the recent storms?
Dan: Actually, it’s a very funny, awesome story with a happy ending. I’m in the sales department, and with COVID, most of our clients are working from home and our support team is helping out nonstop. I ran out to help this client—a municipality we work with—to make sure Comcast was being installed correctly. From that location, I had to go to the other side of the county, which was mostly farmland.
Despite the fact I was going to be driving during the height of the storm I decided to take the back roads and hopefully see something pretty cool. I went through a local city called Coatesville, working my way to Southern Chester County to a place called Chadds Ford. I came up to a bridge that was just about to be overtaken by what used to be a creek and was now a full-blown river.
Shortly after, I came up to a section of the road that was fully engulfed by the river. I saw a guy in a van in front of me who was filming what was going on, so I walked up to him to just to talk because I figured we were going to be there for a couple hours. Next thing you know, we see a car on the other side come down the hill and attempt to drive through the river that used to be a road. We clearly watched it lift and drift away.
We couldn’t see where it went at first. We started to panic pretty quickly. I had no cell service and the gentleman, David, who was filming what was going on had one bar. So, he called 9-1-1.
As he’s calling, a black Range Rover pulled up behind us and there were two English gentlemen who live locally. We explained to them what was going on and were trying to figure out a way to get to the car. Because we could clearly see on the other side of the road on the hill people waving their arms and grabbing their heads, we knew it wasn’t good.
This is where the miracle happened. We turn around and there’s a front loader—one of those construction vehicles that has the big bucket on the front. We didn’t even hear it pull up. It was just there. We started immediately yelling to the driver what was going on and asking for his help. When he realized what we were trying to say, he lowered the bucket and drove us out to where the car was. As we were coming up to the car, we could see a father with a baby in his arms a good 15 to 20 feet away. We were screaming at him to get back to the car because we could see him slipping. The water pressure was so strong the construction vehicle was being pushed around. By the time we got near the car, the father made it back and was holding on to it.
We decided to make a chain and were able to pull the baby out, and the father climbed up onto the back of the car. We told him to go around to the other side to where the water wasn’t rushing into the car to open the window. That’s when we found out there were three other kids in the car. Next thing you know, he’s pulling out two more kids and putting them on the roof. The really tough part for me was trying to instruct the older son to work his way onto the roof. Instead, he actually climbed out and put himself in between the car and the bucket.
He was holding on but lost his grip and I just reached out as fast as I could and grabbed him. Luckily, I grabbed him by the wrist as he was being pulled away by the river. That was pure luck. I was just holding on to him, trying to pull him into the bucket, and all I could see was the fear in his eyes as we were able to muscle him into the bucket.
The father was able to hand us the two remaining children from the roof into the bucket, and then we were able to help him into the bucket. This whole time, we could feel the construction vehicle moving because of the current. We got everybody in, and we were able to get to the other side of the river where the fire department was waiting for us, and we were able to give the family to them.
SWMSP: How do you come back into work the next week after something like that?
Dan: It didn’t hit me until we got back to our cars and found a path out of the floods. I had to pull over, and I started shaking uncontrollably. I teared up a little bit because the thought of what had just happened hit me. And it didn’t really click until David called me, and he just said, “You are not going to believe the film I got.”
We have a company that does YouTube commercials next door to our company and they were able to edit the film of the rescue and get it online. I got a lot of emails and phone calls the next day. One of the township officials sent an email to every township of Philly official in Pennsylvania with what I did. It was pretty cool.
SWMSP: What a fantastic silver lining. Have you connected with the family in any way since the rescue?
Dan: Yes, ABC was able to find the family, and we did an on-TV reunion with them. Then we met up off camera the day after.
SWMSP: That’s an amazing story, Dan, thanks for sharing that with us. Back to the business of being an MSP—tell us a little bit more about your company, who you service, and what types of services you provide.
Dan: We have a couple of vertical markets that we’re strong in. One market is medical practices, like pharma, local doctor’s offices or medical devices. Another market is municipalities. We’re really strong in the municipality world in regard to the tri-state region, but our services are more geared toward managed services. Only about 3% of our clients are time and materials; the rest are fully managed clients.
We also offer our customers cloud server support. If customers don’t want an on-premises server and want to go full cloud, we help them understand the options—i.e., if you stick with on on-premises setup, you’re typically paid off within three years, and you then have this physical device that you own for the next three to four years depending on the life expectancy. With cloud, you’re always going to pay and you’re going to continue to pay.
We don’t force them to go one way; we make sure they are aware of all the different options out there. It’s all about sitting on the same side as a client, not across from them, and making sure they’re part of the family. That’s the way we treat our clients. If they’re going through struggles, especially with COVID, we’re not penalizing them because they have to downsize; we’re working with them, because even if they disappear, I know for a fact they’re going to recommend us to someone who needs services.
SWMSP: That sounds like a winning strategy for building trust. Do you think that has impacted your customer loyalty?
Dan: We have a great retention rate. Since I’ve been here, we’ve lost three clients. One was purchased by University of Penn. The other client we actually let go, and that was because they were very disrespectful. We found them another provider and we made a smooth transition and just said, “We wish you guys the best, but we can’t have that type of relationship.”
SWMSP: You’re a SolarWinds® Backup customer. How key in to your go-to market strategy is Backup?
Dan: It’s huge. For every single one of our clients, if it’s in their budget, Backup is absolutely a must. We don’t even hesitate to add that to the product line immediately when we’re talking to prospects, especially with servers. As you know, nobody’s 100% safe. Backup’s number one, education’s number two, and then you can put in all the other layers after that. One of the solutions we offer to our clients is an education class covering internet safety, email safety, and password safety.
SWMSP: On the subject of Backup, what is your opinion on whether to bundle or not to bundle?
Dan: Oh, absolutely. We have different levels of support. At our basic level, anytime you call in it’s billable; the next level is unlimited remote support. And then we have a premium level where unlimited remote and onsite support is included.
SWMSP: What is your favorite go-to feature in SolarWinds Backup?
Dan: It’s got to be being able to restore so easily for a client. I don’t take service calls, but we just had someone the other day who accidentally deleted a file and we were able to get it back pretty much instantly. So, the restore feature is just amazing.
SWMSP: Finally, if you were doing this all over again—the business of being an MSP—what would you change in hindsight?
Dan: Jokingly, I wish we’d convinced our clients to upgrade to Windows 10 sooner. Seriously though, a lot of our clients are very reactive—no matter how much information you give them and how much you express the security risk. That’s why over the last four years we’ve included Backup in our managed services. When I first started there were too many calls that went, “Hey, this has gone.” “Yeah. We told you what you’re currently using is not a real backup, plugging in a hard drive and just moving files to it, and the hard drive has died. This is why you need a real backup.” That’s where we’re definitely kicking butt.
*This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.
Update: Soon after this interview, Dan received news that he and the other gentlemen from the rescue received an award from the Pennsylvania House of Representatives. He was later informed that his name was mentioned on the floor of the United States House of Representatives.