A frowny face reaction to Kaseya’s blockbuster $6.2 billion acquisition of Datto set off a veiled threat, a public apology and social media firestorm on LinkedIn and Reddit with vitriolic comments berating Kaseya.
The controversy, which garnered more than 1,000 comments on Reddit and 215 comments on LinkedIn, began when Andrew Kaiser, vice president of sales for Huntress, a threat research firm with a reputation as a fierce advocate for MSPs, issued a frowny face-like emoji on Reddit in reaction to the deal.
A few hours later, Kaiser noted in a public post on LinkedIn, Huntress received this message from a Kaseya employee: “The social team are not happy and I told them not to do/say anything to higher ups, and I would take care of it. Would you mind telling him to kindly remove his post? I do not want this to affect current booth placement (at Kaseya Connect IT 2022 June 20-23 in Las Vegas) because of one person.”
Kaiser responded with a public post decrying the veiled threat as a “far too common” example of larger vendors bullying smaller vendors. “These things happen quite frequently, but most are unwilling to talk about it due to the likely repercussions,” wrote Kaiser.
The post set off blistering criticisms of Kaseya from MSPs even as Kaseya Senior Vice President of Corporate Marketing and Communications Dana Liedholm issued a public apology on LinkedIn that read: “Andrew, I want to thank you for talking with me about the above. As I shared with you, a member of my team thought it might be helpful to attempt to intervene. As well intentioned (hard to see without context) the action was, it came across as threatening. That is not Kaseya’s posture, and I’ll be sure to coach my team better in the future. We understand that many strong opinions are being voiced throughout the channel and that is natural and acceptable. I’ll reiterate my excitement, and ask for your grace in accepting our apology for what seemed like a threat. Huntress is a valued partner and we look forward to a continued relationship. With utmost sincerity, Dana.”
Kyle Hanslovan, Huntress CEO, said that the “unfounded” employee text could happen to any organization, saying he was initially unaware of Kaiser’s frowny face post. Though, he did approve of Kaiser sharing the text publicly.
“Transparency is our number one core value,” he said. “When you have something like that as a smaller vendor, the answer is transparency.”
Kaiser also said in his LinkedIn post that attending Kaseya’s conference costs Huntress about $100,000 in event sponsorships, speaking slots and travel costs. Huntress still plans on attending Kaseya’s conference.
“If you’ve hung out with us at one of these events, you’ll know that we bend over backwards to put together new and exciting cybersecurity educational content any time we sponsor an event,” he wrote in the LinkedIn post. “Most importantly we have a damn good time doing it.”
“At the end of the day there’s not tons of places where hyper-consolidation doesn’t lead to lack of innovation,” Hanslovan told CRN. “Competition usually leads to innovation. And big vendors tend to have a lot of say on how smaller vendors can be successful at shows.”
In an emailed statement to CRN, Liedholm said that, “The bottom line is that Kaseya values our partnership with Huntress, as we do all our vendor partners, and there was never any danger of Huntress being relegated to a bad booth location, etc. because someone posted their opinion about [Kaseya’s] news. Luckily, Kyle [Hanslovan] and I have a mutually respectful relationship and I assured him that the misunderstanding was unfortunate and unfounded.”
Ross Brouse, president of Continuous, an East Rutherford, N.J.-based MSP, told CRN he was happy to see Kaiser use social media to express his views of Kaseya’s acquisition of Datto.
“Everybody has opinions,” Brouse told CRN. “Everybody should be able to say what they want. Last time I checked, this is a free country.”
Leidholm’s response was just as important, Brouse said.
“When a big company says something like Kaseya’s original reaction to Andrew’s post, it’s important to walk it back,” he said. “All big companies including Apple and Microsoft do things like that. It’s up to the leadership to make it right. I take accountability and ownership over every issue in my company and use these issues to look at what we can do better.”
Kaiser told CRN that he wants to see Kaseya be successful with the acquisition.
“I sincerely hope they understand and identify the things that make Datto special and work their butts off to incorporate them into Kaseya,” he said in an emailed response. “Our industry doesn’t have the best track record with consolidation but if there was ever a time to break out and show that these things can benefit partners, this is it.”
His biggest takeaway from the viral social media post, and the reactions, was that the community wants to see the Kaseya leadership team more engaged with them.
“I believe that the majority of employees at Kaseya wake up every day wanting to make a positive impact on their partner community,” he added. “I encourage the team at Kaseya to engage with the community without the PR filter. It’s going to be hard at first and the feedback will require a thick skin but if they start now they have an opportunity to make a considerable impact before this deal goes through.”
Some of the responses to Kaseya’s initial reaction to the Huntress post were overly emotional, said Jim Turner, executive vice president of business development at Frontline Managed Services, an Atlanta-based MSP which works with both Kaseya and Datto.
“I thought Dana [Liedholm] responded the right way,” Turner told CRN. “Sometimes emotions get in the way. Her response was classy.”
Ben Johnson, CEO of Liberty Technology, a Griffin, Georgia-based MSP, told CRN he thinks the Huntress response and the discussions afterward were a bit overboard.
“We’re seeing too much corporate sensitivity,” Johnson said. “Huntress is a solid company, one that takes care of its customers.”
CRN’s Joseph Kovar contributed to this article.