Welcome to the latest edition in our series of profiles, shining the spotlight on AireSpring’s amazing partners. This month, we’re speaking with Chad Midtlien, President of Five Star Telecom, Inc. Chad, please tell us a bit about your background, how you started your career in telecom, and the history of your firm.
As our company expanded, my role evolved from technician to service manager and eventually to sales manager and partner. The experiences and knowledge I gained during this time have allowed me to articulate the benefits of technology for customers and their businesses. Along the way, I’ve seen these technologies evolve from the Y2K boom days to the adoption of premise-based VoIP/IP phone systems taking over the PBX space. I think the next milestones will be the hosted UCaaS space where we’re seeing cloud-based apps really come along.
So how long have you been partnering with AireSpring?
We have been working with AireSpring since 2013. Our AireSpring support team, both sales and technical, are great to work with and extremely responsive to our requests. I was at first referred to AireSpring by another industry colleague, and had heard that the company was very flexible and agile. Plus, I heard Daniel Lonstein speak at a Channel Partners show, talking about SIP technology and adoption rates, with customers migrating away from PRIs. I was so impressed with his knowledge and technical expertise at that time in the SIP arena, it really encouraged me to engage AireSpring as a carrier.
What do you like about working with AireSpring?
AireSpring has a vast portfolio of services that our customers can take advantage of. Very few carriers offer the breadth of services AireSpring has available. I like the fact that there is traditional voice and data, UCaaS, SIP, plus Cloud Connectivity and Business Continuity. Many of our customers use these services, along with AireSpring's SD-WAN and wireless.
As a master agent, we see lots of challenges from many carriers in the quoting and contracting portion of the sales process. It’s hard at times to get correct pricing and contracts in a timely fashion from them. It’s no secret, the longer the deal stays on the street, the better the chances are you will lose the deal. AireSpring’s QuoteSpring quoting tool allows us to get accurate pricing for our customers immediately. The system provides pricing and up-to-date product brochures on the services being quoted, and it lets you generate the contracts for customers to sign. We try to be as educated and as self-supporting as possible, and this system really enables that. We do create the quotes for agents ourselves, rather than relying on channel managers for that, so we’re always very active in QuoteSpring. The faster timeline just enhances our ability to provide accurate pricing quickly. Some carriers don’t have anything close to the AireSpring tool set. We’ve even engaged a number of times with Mike Chase [AireSpring’s Principal Solutions Architect], including getting him on calls with customers.
What would you say is the secret to success in this industry, being a successful master agent, VAR, MSP, etc.?
Our secret to success continues to be the ability to deliver the services and technologies businesses need. As the industry and technologies change, you need to stay relevant to your customers. Having the correct carriers like AireSpring in your portfolio increases your ability to retain the customers you have today and expand services to new customers going forward.
Also, as a master agent, even though we’re not as big as some, keeping a smaller number of sub-agents means we can stay very engaged with them. Beyond that, we focus on staying relevant and watch for whatever the next big trend will be. You have to make sure your deliverables and the carriers in your portfolio help clients run their businesses better. We have a lot of loyal clients who stay with Five Star because we pride ourselves on staying current and educated on relevant and new technologies and keeping the best-of-breed suppliers in our portfolio.
As an example of our approach, we are hosting a Carrier Agents Services Summit conference, which is coming up in September. It’s an exclusive educational event designed to bring our agents up-to-speed on all the cutting edge technologies and trends. We invite our sub-agents and best partner suppliers. AireSpring is a sponsor and will have a presence there. The more educated an agent is the better equipped he/she is to support their customers as they strive to make the right, strategic choices for their technology portfolio and network topology.
What is the "next big thing" coming our way that you think people should be aware of?
Looking ahead, the big concern is SD-WAN. I think it has two sides to it: one is “the plumbing,” the circuits, buildout and connectivity, which are getting easier for quoting purposes. The other side is implementation, which gets harder, because it’s a product that connects to lots of different touch points within a company’s structure. The orchestration and mix is the challenge.
SD-WAN has become an everyday conversation with our customers, both existing and new. As customers continue to adopt Cloud Services they are now looking at options to migrate away from traditional MPLS and Ethernet WAN and replace those services with redundant Internet connections and SD-WAN. This is an interesting time as a master agent. We potentially could see revenue reductions as customers migrate away from MPLS/Ethernet WAN services to less expensive Broadband Internet type connections. With that in mind, we are proposing SD-WAN services to all our customers and see that as a major opportunity for growth in our business moving forward.
Migrating customers to SD-WAN from current systems is both a challenge and an opportunity. Customers may ask for redundancy and sometimes request a second or even a third circuit. Their cost is becoming less, which creates a bigger challenge for us to expand our business, at the same time as we continue to try to grow MRC for clients. However, I believe it can be a win-win, you can grow opportunities for your clients at the same time and grow your own business.
Not all sub-agents are aware of these details, and will need to be more aggressive in this space, as we now have new competitors entering who are approaching SD-WAN from the network, security or firewall standpoint, for example.
Tell us about what you do in your free time and your interests outside of telecom.
I spend most of my off-hours time during the summer boating and camping with family and friends on the Mississippi River. I do enjoy fishing, we find a lot of walleye and panfish varieties. The fall and winter months allow me to enjoy snowmobiling and hunting for white tail deer. We live in a beautiful area and try to enjoy the four seasons this part of the Midwest has to offer.
The hunting culture here in Wisconsin is deep, and there are a lot of family traditions built around it. My wife Vicki and our children Alex, Abby and Travis really enjoy that, sharing winter gatherings at our hunting cabin with family and friends, especially at Thanksgiving time. I’m also a big sports fan, especially of the Wisconsin Badgers and the Green Bay Packers.
Chad, thank you for taking time to talk with us and share your insights.