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173: The Benefits of a Tech Stack Review with AppDirect

Written by Rob Stott

June 20, 2023

When’s the last time you checked to see how much you’re spending on phone, internet, security software and other business technology solutions? Better yet, when’s the last time you went shopping for all of those services to see if you could be saving money? Nationwide Marketing Group recently partnered with AppDirect to help retailers simplify that process while saving them potentially thousands of dollars a year. We sat down with Jason DiFulvio, director of channel sales for AppDirect, to talk about how they’re finding hidden savings for retailers and much more.


 

Rob Stott: All right, we are back on the Independent Thinking Podcast and real excited today to have Jason DiFulvio, director of channel sales for AppDirect, a relatively new partner here at Nationwide in our connected services division. So a guy that has been working with Mr. Eric Sindelar on our connected services. So Jason, apologies that you have to work so closely with Eric, but I appreciate you still putting that aside and joining us on the podcast. How you doing?

Jason DiFulvio: No, I’m doing great, Rob. Thank you. No, Eric’s great.

Rob Stott: He’s a good-

Jason DiFulvio: Great guy. I met him about a year ago, so we’ve been trying to work together ever since.

Rob Stott: Awesome, and able to pull this together. And real interesting story that I know we’ll get into on how it all came together, but I want to give you the chance. First off, tell us a little bit about yourself and your background and path to AppDirect.

Jason DiFulvio: Sure. Well, I’m in … Live in Colorado with my wife and I’ve got a 16-year-old daughter. Going to be to a senior in high school and a 23-year-old son who’s in the Air Force stationed in the UK, and he’s putting up satellite internet services for special forces. So real cool job. He’s having a blast and all over Europe. Love golf, grew up playing and still love, and play and coach lacrosse. That’s all about me personally. What you really care about is probably my actual role. So I’m a sales director for the Western US, supporting Nationwide. I support Nationwide members nationwide. So I don’t just have the West for Nationwide. But I’ve been with AppDirect for five years, really since we started working with agents. And prior to that, 20 years with CenturyLink, which is now Lumen.

Rob Stott: Okay, awesome. So for those that don’t know members that … What AppDirect is, what’s the elevator pitch? How do you explain what AppDirect is or what you guys do?

Jason DiFulvio: Yeah, so in short, we’re a technology service distributor. So we have over 600 products out there in the market. We do everything from Microsoft to your standard connectivity, security. Really, anything a business could need. And we work with all businesses of all sizes. So from the smallest mom-and-pop shop to Fortune 100s.

Rob Stott: So explain a little deeper just what that means and how you guys … Your service offerings and things like that. It sounds like end-to-end technology services, like you explained, but how does it actually work for the retailer if they want to get involved?

Jason DiFulvio: Sure. Well, let me take you back a little bit to tell you about AppDirect, where it came from and then where we’re at today and that’ll help I think. So AppDirect, basically we founded it in 2009. Really trying to make it easier for enterprise businesses to build marketplaces, to sell subscription services to their end user customers. So think about, like I said, larger enterprises like AT&T, Vodafone, Comcast. Some of our biggest customers, Jaguar, Land Rover, Honeywell, Snyder Electric. So some of those huge customers that they’re selling subscription services, be it Microsoft or for Honeywell, they bill services for their machines, things like that, updates. So it’s basically a way for their end user customers to do updates and get those software services updated on their machines. On their machines or sell those service to their end user customers. Six years ago, they purchased a software company out of Raleigh, North Carolina that was selling software services. Really like your day-to-day, what you use every day.

So Microsoft, Google, DocuSign, eFax, things like that. So we already had the marketplace that we were selling to all these other customers. So now, they took that SaaS offering and put it on our own marketplace. So that wasn’t really flying off the shelves. So what they did was started bringing in agents and folks like Nationwide who have a ton of customers, where we can really help. So once we built that into the marketplace, then we started growing by acquisition and we brought in … I was with WTG, which was a master agent. Basically we have sub-agent that advise customers on how to buy, where to buy from, who the best providers are, things like that. And then so we brought all those in. We’ve bought 19 different companies over the last five years. So a lot of acquisition, a lot of growth. But because of that, we’ve got over 600 different providers in our ecosystem. So anything you need that’s technology, we can do.

Rob Stott: Gotcha. Well, so there’re two ways to go. And I want to start with probably the one that more directly impacts our retailers. And if someone’s listening to this and it’s sounding a little bit familiar, they might be thinking, “Well, TBI did a lot of that.” Well, what do you know mentioned all those mergers and acquisitions. AppDirect recently announced, and for those partners, our members who are doing business with TBI, you probably noticed the AppDirect introduction and that was one of them. So dive into that a little bit if you can, and what that means to those retailers who were doing business with TBI.

Jason DiFulvio: Right. So really good for your members because really, nothing much is changing. Jorel Potts, who was supporting you from the TBI side actually moved over to my team. So it actually works out perfectly. It was funny. So we talked about Eric earlier. And I’ve been trying to as AppDirect prior to TBI, work with Eric and the team for a year now. We met at an event a year ago, and I’ve been trying to sell them and trying to bring him over. And it’s been this, “Oh yeah, we want to work with you. But …”

Rob Stott: So you were playing hardball. So you’re like, “I’m just going to go buy the partner. Go buy the partner you were working with.

Jason DiFulvio: Exactly.

Rob Stott: That’s great. No, that’s awesome.

Jason DiFulvio: So we just bought the company. But just for the members, the transition’s easy, the people are the same. I think it’s additive to the relationship. I think TBI had about 200 different providers, so they didn’t have the software side, they didn’t have the energy side. And I’ll talk about that a little bit further as well. But in all these acquisitions, our leadership is they’re young, mid-thirties, super smart. But really prescriptive on when they buy these companies, what they’re doing. So they always keep the best of the best people. They bring in … If they have a better process, we use those new processes. And the same thing with tools that some of these folks, other businesses have built internally. We’ve adopted those and then spread those out for our agents and teams to use.

Rob Stott: Gotcha. Well, you mentioned some of the added benefits of things. I know just thinking about the way the last year or so with positioning TBI to our retailers and those that were getting involved, is it’s a great opportunity to look at what you’re doing from a business technology standpoint and find some of those savings opportunities. You could be … It’s one of those things that’s like I think from the home consumer perspective and cable and internet and how much I’m paying for my phone, things that are just like, “Oh, I need it, so I’m doing it. But I never really go out and look at could I really be saving more?” Like, “Am I paying too much for internet?”, that sort of thing. So I imagine that’s the process. But what are some of those added things that you guys bring as AppDirect, that you think will bring additional benefit to our retailers?

Jason DiFulvio: Sure. So a couple of things, well, several really. But one of the big things is, and I talked about the marketplace and the ability to basically, we call it find, buy and manage those services. So in one place. And then if you’re buying software from us, all the software that you would purchase would be on one bill. So I mentioned Microsoft, Google, DocuSign, something … Your members definitely use QuickBooks, eFax. To some extent, Amazon Web Service, AWS and Azure for storage and compute. So we’ve got all of those and we have about 10 folks on the backend to help product specialists that can help customers understand, one, what they have, what their needs are and really help dive in and dig under the covers to find out what are the things, how could some of these things benefit you. A lot of folks don’t know Microsoft doesn’t even … They don’t back up your email. If you don’t have email backup and they go down, then your emails are all gone.

So especially for business and those things are important. We also get into security where a lot of small business customers are like, “This is just an added expense.” But what happens if ransomware comes in and they lock you down for a week? You can’t use any of your software, your computers. You got to get out the old credit card machine, put the card in, put the paper on top, swipe it. But it really is disruptive for customers. So having security, very important.

A couple other products sets, energy is different. In each state, there’s different levels of government regulations. So electricity and natural gas, in some states we can look at and save money there. But other things like EV charging stations, solar power, we have customer or providers that do all of that. So if you think about it, what we’ve done is really create this ecosystem of suppliers, buyers and advisors. And the businesses could be any one of those things at any time. You may be buying for your business or you may be helping one of your customers to buy and things like that. So we really have created this ecosystem and the marketplace on top of it, so customers can do all of those things for each other.

Rob Stott: No, that’s awesome. And I love that you boiled it down to that, because there is a lot. Diving through the AppDirect website, and seeing that, what the marketplace looks like, there is a lot of stuff in there. A lot of it, for a retailer, it might seem overwhelming. But knowing that you guys A, have the backend and the support and team to be able to help them go through this is I think comforting for one. But two, it just shows the breadth of opportunity that’s available to these retailers. So you mentioned a couple different areas where they can come in. You guys could come in and provide some of those services. Is there anything that comes to mind, almost like the low hanging fruit for a retailer that they never think about this, that this is where some of the savings could come in, is just something to help close that door to help them understand just what the opportunity is?

Jason DiFulvio: Yeah, there’s several things. So just right off the top of my head, it is phone. We call them POTS. Plain old telephone service. It’s literally like the Lex, AT&T, Verizon. Some of these Lex are charging unbelievable rates because the government tariffs are coming in. It’s on old copper wire and it’s really expensive for them, and out of it. They want to put everything over fiber. So if you have old phone lines … Look at those bills. If it’s more than 60 bucks a month, we need to talk and get you off of that. I’ve seen $800 a month for a phone line.

And it’s crazy because especially in larger businesses where it just goes to somebody in accounts payable and they just get the bill and they see the amount and they pay it, but they don’t look at the detail. And that’s where we can help, and Eric’s team can help you look at those. But other things like QuickBooks, the EV charging stations. All these brick and mortar stores have parking lots and the EV charging stations bring in people that have to sit in their cars. And if they’re sitting in their cars waiting, why not walk into the store and check things out?

Rob Stott: No, that’s awesome. I love it. And what’s the process? I know it might be familiar for those that have gone through it with TBI in the past, and that will be with AppDirect. But what’s that process like for someone that wants to work with you? Obviously they get in touch with Eric, or Eric will find out who they are. But when they decide that this is a step they want to take, whether it’s their business more efficient, add some of these services, or just get an understanding of how much they could be overpaying for some of these services, what’s that like for them?

Jason DiFulvio: I think it’s Jake Peterson on Eric’s team that does most of the interaction and Jorel Potts on my team. So it’s J-O-R-E-L dot P-O-T-T-S@appdirect.com, and he can help shepherd that. I call him the Sherpa. So he helps folks find the right people, and that’s what we do. That’s my main job, is connecting people with the right smart people that can help them figure things out. What are the business challenges that you’re having? What are you trying to accomplish? What’s keeping you up at night? Those types of things, that’s where we can help with technology. And we’ve got more providers than anyone that in the business. And we’ve got the people on the backend that specialize. And we can bring in … So we have generalists on our team that can say, “Okay, here’s the top two or three.”

And then get your members in touch with them directly if they’d like or we can make those recommendations. We can do the pricing, we can do the contracting and ordering. We do it all, really. So you don’t have to rely on going to each of those different things. You were talking about the checking your car insurance and then checking your cable and doing all those different things. We can do all that and within one-stop-shop. So we’ve got the marketplace where you can see all the providers, and then we’ve got teams on the backend that can go get you specific pricing for each of those different services that you’ve got.

Rob Stott: Well, the thing that I love is that you could probably … The way it sounds, there’s the chance to help the retailer that probably knows, see those bills. They’re the ones that do see the bills and they’re like, “I’m probably overpaying for this.” So they know specifically what they want. All the way to the other end of the spectrum where there could be someone that has no idea if they’re overpaying for some of these things, or where those opportunities lie. So from that end to this, that you could help everyone in between, which I think is really cool-

Jason DiFulvio: Yeah, exactly.

Rob Stott: To hear. Now, so the other thing I want to ask too. You mentioned some of the subscription things and the thing that comes to my mind there, and thinking a little outside the box here, we’ve got our integrators that we work with, the community on that side of things, where I know they hear subscriptions in these recurring revenue models. That is a big talk in the custom integration world. So is there opportunities too, and I could be off base, but so let me know, but for our members to also position your marketplace as something they could sell to their customers,?

Jason DiFulvio: They can. The marketplace itself is … It’s geared towards more of an enterprise size customer, but yes, a hundred percent. So if they have customers or that they want to introduce the marketplace concept to AppDirect.com, I can get you connected with the folks that actually sell those marketplaces directly. There’s a free trial on the website itself where they can start to build out a marketplace, and you can see how easy it is to customize it. It’s totally brand … If you go to the Comcast website, it looks a lot like our marketplace, but it’s all blue and white. It’s all Comcast branded. But others like the AT&T site, doesn’t look like ours at all. So they’re totally customizable. Vodafone is one of the biggest telcos in Europe. They’re doing literally billions of dollars in revenue a year through our marketplace.

Rob Stott: No, it’s awesome. I think right now. We have the residential side. But I know this week in Infocom as we’re talking, in Orlando, we got our commercial team that’s just launching. So maybe something to keep in mind. I like-

Jason DiFulvio: Definitely.

Rob Stott: The sound of that.

Jason DiFulvio: Definitely.

Rob Stott: Some of the commercial integrators that could benefit from something like that,

Jason DiFulvio: Right. Yeah, bring it in. I’d love to make those connections and see if we could make something work.

Rob Stott: Heck, yeah. Well, one thing I want to close it with is just we’ve talked about a lot and some of the opportunities, that for our retailers, what they could benefit from doing some business with AppDirect. But flipping it around, what excites you about getting to work with … Not only now that you finally get to work with Eric after a year of chasing him down, but what is it that excites you about getting to work with our retailers and this network of independent retailers here at Nationwide?

Jason DiFulvio: Yeah. No, there’s so many of them and they’re very diverse. So I just think the ability … And like I said, I’m the connector. So I love to work with people and make sure that … Bring all those things together. And you’ve got so many out there that I think we can help really make a dent in making their lives easier through technology. And I think technology can drive a lot. We’re even starting to use AI in our own internal tools. So I heard one of your podcasts talking about AI. So I know that that’s top of mind and everybody’s going there. So I would love to join that journey and do that together.

Rob Stott: Awesome. Well, Jason, this is a lot of fun catching up with you, learning a little bit about AppDirect and what you guys are doing. And I imagine we’ll be seeing you in Nashville here in a few weeks?

Jason DiFulvio: Yeah, I think so.

Rob Stott: So safe travel’s down there. I know you’re bouncing all around and one of those stops will be prime time for sure. So look forward to connecting with you and hopefully a bunch of our members doing so as well.

Jason DiFulvio: Yeah, for sure. Thank you, Rob.

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