Podcast Transcript: Alex Chow on serving Dynamics 365 Business Central customers

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The following transcript is taken from our recent podcast episode with Alex Chow on serving Dynamics 365 Business Central customers. 

JASON GUMPERT  00:02

Welcome to The MSDW Podcast. I’m Jason Gumpert, editor at msdynamicsworld.com. In this episode, I’m speaking with Alex Chow, founder of Microsoft Partner AP Commerce. Alex is a true veteran of the NAV Business Central community. We talked about some of his formative experiences in the ERP space that led him to form his own business 17 years ago, and how his approach to serving NAV and Business Central clients has evolved alongside Microsoft’s priorities. Alex is an ERP pro, but he’s also a business owner and a community member. So, while he’s invested in the Microsoft channel, he explains he’s also thinking about his customers’ needs. At times, there can be friction between these interests, and he wrote about some concerns recently related to what he saw as subpar outcomes for some Business Central customers who he had met after they had gone live through fixed price deployments. We also discussed Alex’s approach to building a career in the Dynamics ecosystem, the strength of Business Central today, and how the product line could evolve into an even more self-service platform in the future. Well, hi Alex. Welcome to the podcast. Thanks for joining me today.

ALEX CHOW  01:08

Thanks for having me.

JASON GUMPERT  01:09

Yeah, it’s great to have you. We’ll start off with an introduction. I’ve certainly been reading your writings for quite a while and I know you’ve been in the Business Central and NAV space. Can you tell our listeners a little bit more about your career and your time in the Microsoft community, in the NAV and Business Central space?

ALEX CHOW  01:31

Yeah. I’ve been on division NAV since 1999. It’s been a while. I got into this industry, actually, right out of college. And when I first started, the first company I worked at was billable hours and a lot of solution centers are operating under that model, where people are being evaluated based on the number of hours they bill. That kind of lifestyle. I’m sure most listeners will relate, when you’re working under that kind of environment, where you’re constantly required to bill, that kind of environment burns you out really quickly. And, of course, I got burned out and got into a disagreement with the owner, and subsequently, pretty much got fired. And the second company I kind of worked for was the complete opposite. They didn’t really focus– I mean, they still had minimum billable hours requirement, but it was not that constant pressure. But that has its own issues and we’re really working more for the benefit of the owner. We don’t get any benefits from billing the hours. And there’s a lot of structure, a lot of barriers to try to help the customers, like, you weren’t really allowed to help the customers unless they have jumped through all these hoops with prepaids and have to conform to whatever requirements to get them set up as a customer. So, I had to leave that space, leave that company quickly, because it was just eating away my soul. And I jumped out, I was looking for a company to work with and really couldn’t find a company. I basically say, “You know what? Let’s try it out. Let’s start a company, where my sole focus is trying to help people.” So, I started a company whose sole focus is trying to help companies out, and if they pay us great, if not, that’s fine, too, and see if we could make that work. I started AP commerce based on that basis. And luckily, to this day, we’re still operating.

JASON GUMPERT  04:25

And how long ago was that?

ALEX CHOW  04:27

I started the company in 2005.

JASON GUMPERT  04:31

Oh, wow. Okay. So, your time with division to NAV goes back further than that. Okay.

ALEX CHOW  04:36

Yeah, yeah. So, this was prior to the Microsoft acquisition.

JASON GUMPERT  04:44

Right. That was ’07, is that right?

ALEX CHOW  04:47

Yeah, I think they bought out starting version 4.0. That’s when Microsoft bought them.

JASON GUMPERT  04:56

Well, I’ll say this because in the past, I’ve had billable hour type of software consulting roles myself. And the two upsides that I can think of; one is the pressure of it makes you learn the products very well because you know you have these clients that are counting on you and you’re trying your best to do a good job and all that. Well, maybe three now as I start talking. Another is the ability to relate to the needs of these different organizations, communicate with them, and ultimately, give them something that’s valuable, that you can walk away feeling like you’ve given them something that met their needs. And then the third, I would say is probably the part that maybe led to AP Commerce, which is how you would do it the right way if you’re seeing the wrong way to do it?

ALEX CHOW  05:55

Yeah. You brought a big point. There’s got to be more to life than billable hours and there’s got to be more to life than just working for the money. I mean, there’s a lot of things that– we do what we do. I mean, for example, today, I woke up, I love my wife, I love my kids, there’s no money in that but I still do. I want to wake up and I want to enjoy the stuff that I do. And I’m a firm believer if you do good, money will follow. When I realized that, it was really liberating for me, that I could focus on what I think is right and be rewarded subsequently. That just took my focus away, I was like, “Wow! Okay. This job is fun. It’s not getting you burned out after doing it for how many years.”

JASON GUMPERT  06:52

Yeah. I feel like I’ve talked to a few different people recently that are trying to do their own approach to something like that. Oftentimes, people who have been in the space for a long time– I don’t know, it sounds like you came to this quite a while ago, so you’ve been enjoying your many years of that perspective. But do you hear from other people in the NAV and VC space who are looking for something other than that prototypical hourly billing utilization model?

ALEX CHOW  07:25

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