OPINION: What I’ve learned during the past 60 days

The following is an opinion piece from the EVP of Membership Solutions at Community Brands, Dan Gaertner. At AMS Fest (June 7-8, 2017 in Chicago) Dan will appear on a panel discussion about the M&A and investment activity in the NFP technology sector.

Since the inception of Community Brands and having met many Abila customers at the Abila User and Developer Conference (AUDC) in early April 2017, and rubbed elbows with hundreds of YourMembership (YM) customers at the Xperience annual user conference later the same month, it’s been validated for me that technology providers serving associations and associations partnering with technology providers need a boost to help the industry grow and better meet missions.

The past 60 days has authenticated for me one of the primary reasons a company like Community Brands is needed for both the association and nonprofit markets. And, it confirms why we’ve started to bring technology-leading companies together in this space.

In my past role as chief product officer at YourMembership and new role as executive vice president of membership solutions at Community Brands, I’ve spent much of the past couple of months traveling around the country getting to know the people, the challenges, the opportunities and the strategy behind each organization. And now we are bringing that collective wisdom together of Abila, Aptify, NimbleUser and YourMembership at Community Brands.

What have I learned?

  1. We all have similar challenges.
  2. We have a massive amount of combined experience and industry knowledge.
  3. We are all dedicated to serving an inspiring market.

Different companies, same challenges.

To no one’s surprise, we are saddled with similar challenges. We’re all trying to serve a customer base and market each brand has identified. And, while point solutions exist in the market, by combining these organizations, we’re creating a broad suite of products which can truly serve the market end-to-end.

Each brand has its challenges evolving their AMS product. The unique needs, change in staff, complex configurations and the customizations which come with large and small associations introduce unforeseen defects and make upgrades more challenging.

We now have an opportunity to come together to share best practices and perhaps educate both sides (the customer and Community Brands) about how to innovate and standardize in our market. We need to focus less on the technology and more on the strategy of how to increase membership and make content easier for members to consume.

It’s impossible to innovate without knowledge and skill.

By joining together these groups, it also allows us to bring innovation in a way we can’t do as well as individual companies. There’s no doubt there are some talented industry business leaders, thought leaders and engineers throughout these organizations. It’s a powerful balance when you combine long-time industry leaders, former association executives and outside technologists.

When I joined YM as chief product officer nearly two-and-a-half years ago, I had no previous experience in the association space. You ask: How could they bring in a guy with no experience with associations to lead the product strategy for one of the largest SaaS solutions in the industry? The answer is simple for me. Fresh eyes, different perspective collaborating with industry experts can make for a powerful combination.

A lot of the businesses, associations and products we’ve brought together have been doing the same things for years and innovation hasn’t kept up with challenges facing the industry. We’re now leading innovation with a lot of smart people who have fresh eyes and distinct perspectives, and I think this gives us an exceptional opportunity to build and evolve association management software products and technology solutions into something to better serve the association market.

Associations and nonprofits inspire us.

Before I arrived at YM, I had never seen a company—from top to bottom—work as hard as the employees at YourMembership. It’s amazing how much is accomplished with so little. I thought to myself: “This isn’t normal.” Well, now I’ve learned it’s normal throughout this industry, because the same approach is happening at Abila, Aptify and NimbleUser.

Employees care about the causes of their customers and believe in the value and impact we each bring to the industry. And, it’s easy to be inspired when, for example, we’re seeing associations and nonprofits use technology to provide a better life for underprivileged children and to help families cope and deal with terminal illnesses.

We believe we can serve the association and nonprofit markets by bringing together smart people who can help build better integrated products and help those markets achieve greater success. And, that’s what our customers are betting on.

OPINION: So far, it’s business as usual under Community Brands

The following is an opinion piece from Jim Gibson, Director of IT at the American Hospital Association, and a Community Brands customer. At AMS Fest (June 7-8, 2017 in Chicago) Jim will appear on a panel discussion about the M&A and investment activity in the NFP technology sector.

In an effort to stay somewhat on top of the recent Association Management System consolidation trend, I have been paying a bit more attention to some of the announcements and blog posts than I might have not otherwise. As an employee of perhaps a larger association with a long standing and heavily invested AMS system, I try to resist the “get off my lawn” mentality as I wonder what all the fuss is about the recent acquisitions that has spawned Community Brands.

What I mean by “fuss” is that I don’t feel like my day to day world has been affected. At least not yet. I am no stranger to change in organizations as I spent many years as a change management consultant. So while I understand there is change going on in the AMS market, I think it is more of a trial at the moment for the AMS vendors themselves and less so for their clients. After all there is still a lot of acquisitions, process improvements, and restructuring still going on not to mention how all the smaller vendors will compete that we must get through before we see much impact to the clients.

So where does that leave associations on the Community Brand platforms? In my opinion, in the same place as we were before. I am still worrying about keeping my AMS system upgraded properly while utilizing new features and functionality. I am still working with my team to keep integrations to our AMS running smoothly or add new ones. We still fret about data integrity, training and even more about data governance. One of our biggest concerns has always been how to get data out of our AMS system in an expeditious and user friendly manner so we can analyze member engagement and create data products for our members.

So while the AMS vendor world is changing around me, I don’t feel the impact in the near term. I would love for the things I worry about (see above) to magically be solved. One can dream can’t they? Perhaps the answer lies in shifting the center of our data universe from the AMS system to more of a data warehouse. Or perhaps new best of breed systems will emerge that can solve some of these challenges that many associations face. I eagerly await how the answer will emerge.

Peter Drucker said, “The best way to protect the future is to create it”. I for one hope the AMS vendors and their customers can create a future for our AMS systems that provide associations with easily integrated systems across multiple platforms that allow us to serve our members in the best way possible and with the ability to provide a great user experience and value added product offerings for our customers. Let’s see what happens next.

OPINION: Can a boutique AMS compete with Community Brands?

The following is an opinion post from Matrix Group CEO, Founder & Chief Troublemaker Joanna Pineda, and originally appeared on the MatriXFiles blog:

Last month, some of the largest AMS (association management system) companies (YourMembership, Abila, Aptify and NimbleAMS) joined forces to create Community Brands, which they describe as “a powerful and unified family of brands and a connected eco-system of software and services to better serve associations, nonprofits and government entities.”

One can quibble over whether or not Community Brands will be a “family” of complementary or competing brands. But for a company like Matrix Group, with our web-based MatrixMaxx AMS, the big question is: In this age of mega-mergers, is there still room for a small, local player? Can we compete with the big guys for clients and talent?

I’m confident that the answer is a resounding “Yes!”

Many years ago, the book club at Matrix Group read Small Giants by Bo Burlingham, Editor-at-Large at Inc. magazine. In the book, Bo writes about 14 companies that are small and growing or small and choosing to stay small. In all cases, they have chosen excellence over growth.

Excellence over growth has always been my mantra. If growth made sense in any given year, we went for it, but never at the expense of technical excellence, customer service, customer intimacy and terrific user experience.

Sure, in many ways, being small, niche and custom is anti-trend. Aren’t we all shopping at Amazon and big box retailers? Aren’t we most impressed by the companies that have big, booming growth and huge total revenue numbers (often ignoring net income; we rarely hear about that). But on the other hand, there’s a movement to support small, local businesses. Think of the millennials who prefer independent coffee shops, bookstores and clothing shops.There’s a reason they prefer small and local and I’d wager it’s because they get a more personalized, friendly, and tailored experience.

I spoke with a few clients over the past few weeks and they told me that they like working with Matrix Group because:

  • We have an amazing staff
  • Our work is of very high quality
  • We offer superior technical solutions on the AMS and custom sides of the business
  • We are easy to work with, easy to reach
  • We listen and respond to their needs
  • They never feel like just another client among hundreds or thousands
  • We have a track record of success
  • They know we’ll do what it takes to help them be successful
  • They get customized, personal attention and ideas

While small companies don’t have a monopoly on the above characteristics, somehow, smaller companies are more likely to take the time to really get to know their customers.

As for the war on talent, I absolutely love this opinion piece by columnist Gene Marks in Inc. Magazine. He talks about why it’s better to work for a small company over a large company. In fact, I have refugees from large firms who tell me they enjoy have a large voice in the company, having an outsized impact on clients’ success, and easy access to senior leadership.

For sure, going up against a behemoth like Community Brands will be challenging. But I gotta stay true to my core belief that we can compete with any company and help our clients make the world a better place. I know that Matrix Group and the MatrixMaxx AMS can compete based on technical solutions, customer service, price and customer intimacy. No question about it.