From Network Technician to President: Brian Ruschman's Business Transformation
Brian Ruschman is something of an anomaly in the tech world. In an industry well-known for high turnover, he’s celebrating his 15th year working at the same company. Since 2006, he’s worked many positions at C-Forward, from network technician to sales manager, and now, President.
Brian has done a great deal of work over the years to guide C-Forward’s business strategy as a trusted IT Advisor for companies all over Ohio and Kentucky, and it didn’t happen overnight. Thanks to a keen eye for what customers actually need and a commitment to slow, steady growth, Brian has helped C-Forward become the success it is today.
Finding a career with a greater impact
Brian started his career at big companies like Kroger, Procter & Gamble, and Cincinnati Financial. As he describes it, “I was the nerd with the headphones on for eight hours a day.”
While he enjoyed the technical nature of his job, two things were starting to get to him. First, he was tired of sitting behind a computer all day. Second, he wasn’t sure that working for such big businesses was the right path for him. What if he could interact with customers more? What if he had the opportunity to contribute to a company where his input would be more valuable?
That’s where C-Forward came in, rather serendipitously, when Brent Cooper, the company’s owner, approached him asking if he was interested in a job. Here was a chance to join a small (but growing) company in a role that would allow him to interact with customers every day. Plus, he wouldn’t have to commute an hour each way to work. The decision was a no-brainer, and in 2006, Brian joined C-Forward as a network technician.
While the business model at C-Forward looked quite different 15 years ago, their mission was remarkably similar to what it is today. At the time, they supported a handful of non-profit clients with an overall goal of focusing on philanthropy. Already, this felt more aligned to what Brian envisioned himself doing in his career. And with only seven employees, it was all hands on deck—everyone was on the hook to take turns supporting the emergency helpline, for example, and Brian felt like an important part of the team from day one.
Changing up the business model
In 2011, after four years of helping customers navigate and troubleshoot their IT systems, Brian was asked to move to the sales side of the business. Brent was heading up the sales efforts at the time and thought that Brian’s technical knowledge would be an asset to the team—and he was right.
During his five years as a sales manager, Brian gained an invaluable perspective that would later help transform C-Forward’s business model. Being in a sales role allowed him to see what other companies in the market were doing. Up until that point, C-Forward had been charging their customers an hourly rate and were waiting on phone calls to get work. But across the industry, Brian was seeing a trend of other companies moving towards subscription-based models of service.
Additionally, it was becoming obvious that C-Forward’s technicians weren't happy. With the way the business was structured, they had to know every solution on the market. In other words, if a new customer already had a backup solution in place, that’s the solution they stuck to. This was not a sustainable way to grow, and led to technicians having to support multiple software solutions—some of which didn’t even function that well.
The biggest pain point for the business was trying to work out billing discrepancies. “We were constantly running into billing disputes,” says Brian. “It was always, ‘Why did it take somebody so long to do this? I don't want to pay this amount of money. I could have done it myself for less money.’”
It was clear that something had to change. The turning point came when Brian went to a conference with C-Forward’s Vice President. While at the conference, Brian had the opportunity to talk to people from other MSPs and ask them how they ran things. “I knew from that point forward that we had to change our mindset and start positioning C-Forward as a trusted advisor. We’re the IT experts. We should be the ones picking products and deploying them.”
Committing to this shift in perspective would require a number of big changes. “Being a trusted advisor meant that we’d tell our customers which tools and backups to use, rather than adapting to what they already had in place.” It also meant they would have to move away from the hourly rate model they’d been employing so far.
“This was a challenge,” says Brian. There were some really tough conversations for a two to three-year period. We had to go to each of our 150 clients and tell them we wanted to change our model to bill them per user, per month. Overall, it amounted to less monthly and yearly expenses, but only about half of our customers at the time were willing to do that.”
“We knew we were rolling the dice,” says Brian. “A lot of these people had been with the company for a long time.”
Taking a risk that paid off
Today, C-Forward runs the way Brian envisioned it all those years ago. “These days, I am very open with people when I go and meet with them about what will work and what won’t. If I see that the way they want to work or how they want to pay is not conducive to how we want to support them, I’ll give them the names of some other companies that will.”
By focusing on slow and steady growth, C-Forward is back up to having 150 clients, with each of them providing about three times the revenue as when they stuck to a per-hour service model.
Having a consistent, streamlined approach to service has made a world of difference. Now, technicians can be the experts and support clients better. “Our best customers are still our non-profit customers,” says Brian. “It’s a tight knit community, and people in these organizations will talk to their friends in the other industry and tell them how happy they are with our service. Most of our growth comes from word of mouth.”
Growing the company this way has also allowed C-Forward to succeed in times of adversity. Take the COVID-19 pandemic, for example. “Everyone woke up one morning and said, ‘We need to be mobile. We need to be more secure. We need our employees to be able to access data from different devices.’” Suddenly, these things were no longer a nice-to-have—they were necessary in order to keep businesses running.
Having the foresight to pivot C-Forward to a consultancy put the company in a great position. Here was a company that people could trust in a time of great need, who would give them all the tools they needed to be able to withstand the sudden need to work remotely and securely.
That’s the kind of business C-Forward is today: an industry expert that customers know they can trust. When Brian meets with prospects now, his approach is much different than it would have been years ago. “Now I can come to a meeting and say, ‘This is how we want to support you. Does that sound like something that will work?’” and if it doesn’t, we don’t move forward. In other words, their business model is much more proactive than it used to be.
Running a business this way comes down to one key factor: trust. “Having a relationship with us is different from other vendor relationships. People need to know they can trust us with their passwords and sensitive information,” says Brian.
Looking to the future
Brian is quick to praise the vision that Brent Cooper and the management team of Mike Grout, Kevin Stiverson, and Dale Silver have had for C-Forward. “Brent created something 22 years ago that allowed his employees, clients, and community to thrive,” he says. “He’s consistently focused on finding employees and leaders that are passionate about the community in which we live.” He credits that team with driving an impressive client retention rate of over 95%, which “doesn’t happen without incredible talent.”
For Brian, the best part of his career at C-Forward has been helping clients see what they can actually do with their technology. “Being able to show clients where their technology is lacking and how much better off their business will be with the right technology—there’s nothing like that,” says Brian.
So what does the future look like for C-Forward? Not much different than what it looks like now. “There’s no reason for us to change the slow and steady growth approach,” says Brian. “I can see us expanding to offices that are closer to some of our newer clients, but I’d imagine we’d keep the same process we have now.”
The bottom line for Brian is keeping both his customers and employees happy, and he’s been able to ensure this with the deliberate changes he’s made to the business over time. Fitting to his company’s name, he secured their future by being able to see forward.
If you'd like to learn more about C-Forward or work with them as your new managed service provider, you can contact them here.