Home Automation Podcast Episode #131: An Industry Q&A With Ryan Anderson
In this weeks home automation show of Automation Unplugged, Ryan Anderson of Bravas, shares about the Bravas acquisition strategy to purchase 50 integration firms over the next 5 years.
This week's home automation podcast features our host Ron Callis interviewing Ryan Anderson. Recorded live on Wednesday, July 29th, 2020 at 12:30 p.m. EST.
About Ryan Anderson
Before joining Bravas as their CEO in 2018, Ryan spent 15 of his 20 years in the custom integration industry as founder of Kansas City smart home integration firm, Elevated Electronics. Today, Elevated Electronics is now the KC Bravas location.
At Bravas, Ryan leads their corporate team and identifies and prepares potential candidates for acquisition.
- Ryan’s past experience as a racecar driver with Ferrari
- The Bravas acquisition strategy to purchase 50 integration firms over the next 5 years.
- Defining the “Why” for both Bravas and the CI Industry.
- Ryan’s thoughts about this new-era of event cancellations and more focused department training events
SEE ALSO: Home Automation Podcast Episode #130: A Custom Integration Industry Q&A With Shaun Schuetz
Ron: What's up Ryan?
Ryan: How are you doing? Good to see you Ron.
Ron: I'm good. I can't help but notice the trolls or those are garden gnomes. Is that on your top shelf there?
Ron: Please do tell. What's the story behind the garden gnomes?
Ryan: Don't mistake those for any sort of a hobby or passion. My little sister collects garden gnomes and loves them and I keep getting them as Christmas gifts and I don't know where to put them. And they're very sentimental so they found a place in my office.
Ron: I love it. I love the collection of garden gnomes. Ryan, thanks for joining us today man. I know we've been trying to work out schedules to make this happen. It's exciting to have you on the show.
Ryan: Yeah. Great to be here. I appreciate it. You mentioned Nigel our CMO and when he went out to do our website and put it out to bid I said OK great. We need to make sure it's fair and honest and whoever wins it needs to win it fairly and then just make sure Ron gets it.
Ron: OK. Well, I didn't know that. But I love that version of the story.
Ryan: I couldn't tell you that back then but yeah.
Ron: Now Nigel made us sweat. I'll just say that he did his part.
Ryan: You earned it and we're proud to be partners with you.
Ron: Well likewise. And we're honored to have worked with you guys now for years and to be building your new site.
Ryan: And it's going to be innovative and unique and clearly Bravas and it's going to be really something to behold. It's a big project. We're well into it at this point but it's gonna be some months more in the future before that's ready to unveil to the world but stay tuned. That's coming. Ryan, where are you physically at. Where do you live?
Ron: Where are you coming to us from here that we're live?
Ryan: I'm physically in Overland Park Kansas and that's where headquarters for Bravas is. That's where I live. I was in Houston yesterday. I'm still getting some travel done but we're headquartered in Overland Park and I'm happy to be home.
Ron: How was getting on an airplane? I'll be honest I haven't done it since I flew back from Vegas on March 11th from the Savant event.
Ryan: They're mostly empty. I joke with people there's more people in Costco than there are on a plane right now or at the airport.
Ron: Got it. Understood. All right. Now for those that are watching or listening and they don't know what Bravas is. Let's just get that out of the way. What is Bravas? How do you describe that company?
"We had a monetization event where 15 owners got to cash out."
Ryan: Bravas is 15 independent integrators that decided to formalize as one company and engage in a private equity event where the private equity firm put up the money for the 15 selling owners to sell part of their company and retain some shares in the new company as Bravas. We had a monetization event where the 15 owners got to cash out. And at the same time invest a whole lot of money in being able to do big things and move forward. And since closing, we've done two acquisitions one in Austin Texas and one in Denver Colorado.
Ron: It's not a secret that we at One Firefly we work with lots of companies around the country around North America and it's common that I will get the question posed to me because people will maybe know One Firefly's affiliation as being a partner with Bravas for many years now and they'll ask me seriously and they'll pose the question to me. They'll say, "Hey do you think this Bravas thing's going to work out?"And I find it a bit humorous only because I'm like, "Well what do you mean is it going to work out like?" "Do you think it's going to come together and it's actually going to work and they're going to make it happen. I know of this story and this story of these past failed attempts." Well, if you're judging it by meaning did they merge successfully, have a financial event. I think you said it more eloquently just a moment ago. But at a point where a buyer came in and purchased and owners got paid and they're successfully operating I think the answer is 100 percent yes. I don't understand the question but I'll pose it to you maybe to get that out of the way. Do people ask you that question still? Is there any skepticism and if so how do you address it? The obvious comment is this is Via all over again. There's been a handful of attempts at this. Via being the most famous or infamous one.
Ryan: The best analogy I like to give because it's really easy for our industry to understand is imagine you're working with a homeowner and you've gotten the contract and you've rewired the house and then you're putting it in the garage and everybody has gotten to different stages of it. Via, they got the contract, they put it together, they did a pre-wire but we all understand the finish line in our event is a customer being very happy and paying you 100 percent and signing off that the system works. And that was the private equity event that we had. It's like asking the integrator do you think that this other integrator is going to pull the job off? What do you mean the system's done the homeowners living there. He signed off on the system and has paid his bill 100 percent. What do you mean is it going to work? And that's kind of where we're at. We did it, we formed it with the private equity firm requested and signed off on it, paid us for it, and now we're invested to do bigger things and more things. People like to kind of back their question up by saying, Yeah but is it going to fail?" And it's like well the system's installed it's done it's working the homeowners happy. But can't something go wrong? Sure. And we'll service it and fix it. I would say that that it's helpful to kind of understand from that context that that event with the private equity firm, there are multiple Harvard MBAs on that staff that went through the company, due diligence with CBiz and national firms going through the numbers, auditing everything. They looked at the business plan signed off on it blessed it purchased it. The wire transfer went to our accounts. It's interesting because we closed on a Friday and I went home and I couldn't wait to get to work on Monday because for me the goal was not the monetization of it. I mean don't get me wrong I sure like that wire transfer coming through but it was what can be done? What we can do with this thing and so that's what I'm super excited about. I feel very undone because I know that this is just step one and what could be done nationally in this industry. But as far as will it work? It did.
Ron: Fair. I have lots of questions I want to ask you. I always like to start with your background. Do you mind just filling us in? How did you land in this industry and I know somewhere along the way you were a racecar driver and so don't forget to put some color highlights on any of those facts or figures. If you could give us the background, that would be cool.
"Ryan, those friends you have are called customers and the people that help you out that you give money are called employees. We need more paperwork here."
Ryan: I often joke that I started my company accidentally 16-17 years ago now. I was working for a five-store chain that was going out of business. And when they went out of business, I had customers calling me in a panic and I said don't worry. I will personally take care of you, I'll make sure you're not left hanging. I finished those jobs out personally and they recommended me to some of their friends. I took care of those people and then kept getting recommended to other people and had some people helping me that I was paying. My accountant, when I went to file taxes who's also a client and become a friend said, "Ryan, those friends that you're helping out are called customers and the people help you out that you're giving money to those are called employees. We need some more paperwork here. I joke about having accidentally started my company originally but then it grew into what it was and eventually became sold to Bravas. Regarding the race car stuff, one of the things that I did as part of my marketing plan is I got invited by one of my customers to join a Ferrari event. And while I was there I met a handful of other customers and realized this could be a good thing for my business. We have a great unique Ferrari club here where they asked me if I was going to join and I said, "Well I don't have a Ferrari yet. They said, "That's the dumbest thing you can do is go buy a Ferrari, then join the club and find out what you should have bought." They took me in and helped me find the right one for me and I bought it. A number of us started to get into the Ferrari CCR which is the challenged club racing it's the Ferrari Challenge series. What they've done when they're done with Ferrari Challenge racing and they upgrade their cars, there's a whole circuit for racing those cars that they just moved on from. I got involved in that and we were sponsored by Ferrari of Houston which is a Le Monde team and got some real awesome true Ferrari racecar experience.
Ron: You've got to tell us a story from out there in the world racing a Ferrari. Did you travel, where would you go and do these events?
Ryan: Yeah. Different tracks throughout America, NOLA, Kota. I've run Kota with Ferrari's. I've run Kota with AMG. And my favorite track in America is Road America in Elkhart Wisconsin. And that track has tried to kill me twice.
Ron: That's not why you love it right? It's not because of the near-death experience or is it because of that?
Ryan: It requires an intense focus because if you lose focus and you make a mistake you might hit a wall at 140 miles an hour. I love the adrenaline slash required focus. I was heading into turn one at Road America which normally you're heading in there in the car was in, a F430 Challenge at about 180 miles an hour. But my brakes felt soft coming into that last turn before the straightaway. I was only doing about 165 and my brake fluid had boiled and caused an air bubble which meant that what my brake pedal. Went to the floor like it was a clutch it did nothing. I did some panicking downshifting and pulled the emergency brake to actually slide that car around the corner and keep it on the track and then limped into the pit. There have been some cool moments but that's my favorite track. Sure. Did you find religion or reintroduce yourself to religion after that experience?
Ron: Did you stop racing after that was at the end of your day when that happened?
Ryan: No it was actually the beginning and I had an instructor in the car and he said he thought it was brake fade. He said, "Don't worry keep pushing at your brakes will come back. They'll cool down and come back in time."
"The facts from the street here in North America is that integrators are busier than ever."
Ron: Wow. Holy bananas. That's crazy. Big picture here obviously the world is being struck by this COVID thing and all sorts of news as to our little industry events slowing down and stopping or at least for now all going virtual. But I'm also hearing I don't want to say scuttlebutt but I'm hearing the facts from the street particularly here in North America that integrators are generally busier right now than they have ever been. And that could be good or bad because the question is what are they busy doing? Are they busy doing things that are profitable? Or are they busy doing things that are unprofitable? I know you have a position on that because you're mindful as you're leading your organization. How is your level of business being measured? How do you see what's going on right now from your perspective?
Ryan: What I'm doing and what I'm seeing is different than the typical CI integrator because as you know we're very acquisition heavy. I'm constantly talking to different acquisition candidates about what's happening. Busy means different things to different integrators. The line in the sand that I ask is are you busy doing service or are you busy delivering new racks? It can be a dangerous trap because if you're very busy doing service calls and this guy wants a new TV and we're upgrading this network and adding access points and doing Zoom and I sold an access network system that's this many thousand dollars and those are great if they're profitable. A lot of companies don't know how to make their service departments profitable and their break-even at best. And if you're busy doing that and not delivering racks, not delivering new systems then it can be put in a pickle because most companies are dependent on that big cash event and the profitability from that rack being delivered. It's just a cautionary tale or a public service announcement to the industry really to be watching out for what you define as busy and if you're so busy doing service that you're not chasing those bigger deals you're not landing those larger systems those new sales you won't know that until six to eight months from now when all the sudden you're not as busy and those systems aren't being delivered. And that's where your cash crunch will come in. We're a combination of both. And we're watching that carefully to make sure that we're not too busy in one area to get to another area. And the other thing is to make sure your service departments are profitable because that's an inevitable consequence of what's happening to us right now.
Ron: Just to pull that thread a little bit when the 15 companies came together to form. I'm just going to make a broad assumption that some locations had more profitable service departments than others. And that seems logical that that would be the case, someone figured it out better than others. Have you guys taken on a project of trying to normalize or standardize the best aspects of the best performing service departments? If you did that, how did you do that or where does that stand on your priority list to execute?
Ryan: Yeah. The real black and white answer is whether your service department is proactive or reactive, it's really going to define your entire culture of service. And if you're reactive then you're not set up to be able to take care of problems and have any sense of control over your schedule or your manpower or your ability to deal with that. Because you're completely reactive on when the customer's call and how many call it once and what size the issues are and trying to scramble to get parts. A proactive service department is putting together packages, letting the customer know that they might need some help or just going out and saying hey it's part of your package for us to check on your system and giving an update and be able to spot those problems ahead of time. When you have 10 calls coming in at once, there's always an ebb and flow and that's going to balance out when you don't have as many calls. And that's the time that you want to be proactive and you can actually feed your service department pipeline real easily with those calls as well. We've engaged with Parasol and they have done a great job and I would promote that company. We've been very happy with the departments that have been on board from Parasol and that's been a good thing for us to be able to see those calls coming in. We're using Parasol. We're happy with them. But I know there's other products out there. I'll say just the very event of having someone to answer the phone that's dedicated to helping you out in that moment as opposed to all of your techs getting calls on nights and weekends really makes a huge impact on your ability to manage those departments.
Ron: Makes sense. You mentioned that you've acquired two additional locations post the merging that became Bravas. I think this was back in September of '19.
Ryan: Yeah, August.
Ron: August. And you've now acquired two additional businesses. And I know you're out there and it's a big component of your time and energies are in this acquisition hunt. Can you talk about that? What type of companies are you trying to acquire what makes for a good target or a good type of company to join the Bravas family? What are you looking for?
Ryan: Yeah absolutely. The first one was J.J. Orion in Austin Texas which was a different branch of the J.J. Orion in Minneapolis Minnesota that was part of the original deal and their books were completely aligned. It was the easiest acquisition to do because they were all counting the same way, measuring the same way. That one was more built to be acquired by us than it was the type of company that we're looking for per say. The second one was Residential Systems out of Denver Colorado with Travis Leo and absolutely a picture-perfect candidate for us. There are a couple of things that we're looking for when we do acquisitions. One of them is how well run the business is and their reputation. Our business model is to acquire and grow and acquire and grow and we are not a fixer-upper. We're not looking for barn finds that need all of our attention to get back on track. And there's hope here and this could be rescue cases. We're looking to pay the right money for a premium company that is well-run and after the acquisition, we can just let them continue to operate because the way we're built is to take things like H.R. and insurance and things that no business owner really wants to deal with off of your plate so you can go and sell more and install more. A well-run company works really well from that perspective as opposed to having to go in and fix things.
Ron: Got it. Is there any public information that you're allowed to share in terms of number of targets that you want to add in 2020 or 2021 and or regions or territories that you're particularly eyeing? Are you trying to fill in holes geographically across the country or what are some of the strategy if you're able to share any of that?
Ryan: Sure of course. I want to do 50 acquisitions in five years and obviously those will be staged where the last year is just an acquisition process and onboarding process that's extremely streamlined and we can do one a month with these and be set up for that market-wise . There are markets that are obviously better than others but our industry seems to have all these little pockets where you can be successful. It's not like a Louis Vuitton store where you'd be a fool to put one of those and pick your city that you want to make your small town. Yeah. But the number one thing that we want to look at is is the ability to have market dominance. And if I pick up Joe's AV in X Y Z city and nobody likes him and nobody can stand him and he just doesn't get along with anybody. I've just shot myself in the foot for growing that market and I've picked the wrong one from the beginning. Travis Leo is one of the most well-respected operators in our industry. And when I did market research and started to ask everybody I knew in that area hey if we bought you who else would we want to buy. Everybody said Travis Leo Residential Systems. And that told me that if I buy that company first my ability to grow that market is really strong because I'm not going to have pushback about him leading that market and being in charge of that market and really just being king of Colorado. And so that's one of the things we really want to look at because there are so much more economies of scale to be had. And your ability to buy five or six companies and be completely market-dominant in one city than it is trying to look like Verizon and get every city across America with a red dot on it.
Ron: Got it. Can you a shed light? Again I know there was no prepping in advance me telling you what I was going to ask you so you may or may not be able to answer this. But is there any public information you're allowed to share around how companies are valued? Those that are listening that are going, I never thought about selling but maybe I should consider it. Typically it would be a multiple. Is that what it is, you guys have a pegged ratio of what you're willing to pay? Or does it depend?
Ryan: Yeah. And we've actually got documentation for that to give interested parties that we can put forth. I would say there's a big list though and I couldn't give a short answer. We do have it written up as a letter to send candidates and give them a rundown. There's not any gameplay or any poker play. But there's a lot of different factors. How many owners are in the business? If there are five owners in the business splitting that pie up looks completely different than if it's a single owner. It's five owners that split it all up and no one's getting a big enough check to be excited about it. When there's one owner, they get to keep all the money. There's one big check. There are so many factors that go into it. But the other thing is profitability. We totally understand that your boat that's on the company books is not maybe being used for business and it's a lifestyle choice. And we add those back so our valuations include add-backs for lifestyle choices or someone's spouse is on the payroll but they never come into the office and aren't involved. We understand that. We know how to add that back and come up with a fair valuation that's truly representative.
Ron: What do you think our industry as a whole the CI industry is doing wrong?
Ryan: Setting customer expectations. Like you said, I wasn't prepared for this question so I might have a more elegant answer on something like this. But I don't know that we're necessarily setting the customer's expectations properly about how everything is going to go, how change orders look, what might pop up and surprise them. And it's not documented. We tell the story very well to customers but if you were to ask the customers across the country what to expect in dealing with an integrator from the bidding process to the delivery and handoff and service department, it would be wildly different. It' the Wild Wild West, there's no standards. You can ask the luxury car industry, Mercedes BMW Lexus what it should look like and there's just simple basic things like pricing and negotiating on price and what that looks like. I'm not saying that I want our industry to price or look like that but at least everybody knows. Sometimes you're going to pay sticker for a car. Sometimes you're not. If it's been sitting on the lot for a while everybody kind of has a sense of what to expect when they're buying a luxury car and then everybody has expectations for delivering that car. It's going to have a full tank of gas, it's going to be clean. We don't have any of that standardized for our industry. There are certainly companies but the standards are wildly different for what we call a luxury buying experience.
Ron: Is the purpose of Bravas to deliver that better customer experience, better than the average for the industry? I guess what I'm asking is, is Bravas the answer or is the goal to make Bravas the answer to help solve some of that pain?
Ryan: Yeah. The goal is to make Bravas the answer. I don't want to be so arrogant to say that Bravas is the answer because that would make the assumption that we've gotten every person in the company every branch dialed in. It's been less than a year since we formed the company. And there's a lot of work to do. You're kind of getting into the why there which I know you and I have had this discussion about.
Ron: I'm a big Simon Sinek fan. I just finished his newest book called The Infinite Game and I'm now going backwards through some of his legacy material. Leaders Eat Last and the like and so that led into the how the what and the why conversation. I know you've recently gone through with your leadership team, a lot of those internal discussions. Any light you can shed on that would be cool.
Ryan: Yeah. The quick recap of Simon's whole theory is most employees know what they do and how they do it but they don't know why they do it and that's not something that the company expels very well. They understand why they do it. The customer wants a better TV I'm installing a better TV. That's obvious but the deeper why do I go to work in the morning? Why does this company exist? How are we different? And when we looked at the why for Bravas, what we realized is from a from a 15 location level you've got to have your why be consistent across all locations. And as we really dug deep on the subject we realized as the only national player and the largest integrator in our industry, it's our responsibility to form the why for the whole industry and not just for our company. I believe so heavily in collaboration. I believe that making all the other integrators in our industry better raises the tide for the waters for all. If no customer ever gets burned in our industry, selling is easier. Upgrades are easier. Everything's easier if every customer has a better experience. I think part of our why is that smart homes are an inevitable part of the future of luxury living. To think that you're going to buy a multi-million dollar home and not have it be a smart home is foolish. The days of TV's without remote controls just don't exist.
Ron: I would think it would devalue the home at this point. If you live in that neighborhood and you have that size house and you don't have a lighting control system what do you do? Run through the house flipping all the switches? That just seems nuts.
Ryan: Right and our customers are so much better educated than hey this is a smart home. Look I've got a Sonos sitting on the counter over here and I've got a Nest thermostat. They know they have too many peers that have integrated smart homes. They know the difference between luxury and consumer products. So that's well-defined at this point. I think it's critical that a leader who I believe is Bravas, step up and define we have a responsibility in the industry to define the benchmark of customer expectations and experience. I think every customer ought to be presented with this is what you should expect and this is how things should be done. And it's up to us to meet that standard. Our why is communicating to three hundred employees. You're not going to work to install a TV for a rich person. You're defining what the luxury experience for our industry should look like. It is our responsibility to be the leader in that category. For someone to come in and all oversimplify it, to hang a TV and have the TV be crooked with fingerprints all over it. That's not acceptable and it shouldn't be that you say hey I'm better than that guy. You should say that's not a luxury experience. And I'm sorry Mr. Mrs. customer. That's actually not what this industry does. And we don't look like that. I'm so passionate about forming this why for the industry it's really our why. But I want to share it for anybody in the industry who has the same passion as me to say hey this is what it looks like. This is what you should expect. And this is what we promise to deliver and I charge all three hundred of our employees to get up in the morning and say Hey I'm actually defining a standard of a luxury smart home.
"Rising tide raises all ships."
Ron: I think that's exciting. As you know I've been in this business, the CI business for 20 years and my early years were with vendors and I'd be in local markets usually. Originally the Midwest and then in Florida and I'd be on the receiving end of the referral where the upset customer would contact the manufacturer and the manufacturer would put them in touch with me, the local boots on the ground and I would hear of their frustrations and venting around often the failings of the local technology contracting business. The local integrator that just didn't finish that last 5 percent that last 10 percent and I think when we as an industry figure this out and I love that you guys are focusing on this and the power and reach that Bravas has nationally is nothing short of awesome. I think that it makes the industry better. Rising tide raises all ships. I think it makes the industry better and the many thousands of technology contracting businesses that make up this industry. .
Ryan: I've yet to meet somebody in our industry that says if I can get a really solid deposit and then just get myself to the point where they've paid for the equipment I'm good. Whether or not the system comes out nice or the customer is happy, not really my concern. As long as I've gotten the majority of my money I'm happy. I just haven't met that person yet. Haven't seen that person yet and yet we hear those stories all the time. We see that happening. Our industry shouldn't be about telling a good story and saying the right thing. Our industry should be about doing and executing.
Ron: From your experience, racing cars if you don't execute in that corner at one hundred and forty miles an hour, you're dead. You're in the wall. And so it's execution or die. Maybe not to that extreme but I follow some of those beliefs in the way I run my company. And I've had an awesome team and a great culture and so it helps when you tie all that together. But that's exciting for me to hear that you guys are focused on that. Just to run through, you've mentioned some of these names. What is the leadership team at Bravas? For semior leadership, what are the roles and who are those players?
Ryan: As you mentioned, Jay Vandermide as that is the COO and really the workhorse behind this company and we couldn't function without him. It was the greatest meeting ever because I sat with Jay and I said let me see if I'm hearing you right. You're willing to go do all the work in the background and then let me stand on stage and take credit? He was like yeah that's what I'm signing on for. It's like this is perfect. I love this guy.
Ron: A great team player. At One Firefly, that's my Taylor Whipple. I stand out on stage and I do these but Taylor is actually behind the scenes running the business.
Ryan: That's exactly right. He's the unsung hero of Bravas that's behind the scenes. And I can't speak highly enough about how much everybody respects him, how much everybody listens to him. And I wouldn't be able to function without him being able to handle all of the branches the way he does. Our CFO is Doug Cline and really this is a guy with a resumé that's reported to public companies. As any good CFO does, he drives me up the wall because there's no T's uncrossed, there is no I's not dotted. He thinks through everything so diligently in true mastery of the numbers and he's a half attorney at that too. Really brilliant individual. And then Nigel is our CMO and he's got one of my favorite stories that you hadn't heard.
Ron: Oh yeah. Give it to me. I said save it. I want to hear it live.
Ryan: He's not a big self-promoter . As much interaction as you've had with him, I tell the story. He doesn't but he was the Chief Marketing Officer for AMD and you know he's got a deep resumé with IBM and Sun Microsystems but AMD , the processor company out of Austin Texas which is where he lives.
Ron: That's like a competitor to Intel. Yeah. And so you know he was their Chief Marketing Officer and he came to us with from Presidio our PE firm and said hey we think you need a CMO. We want to help with that. Here's a guy that can help define that role and help you find that search. We engaged with Nigel as a consultant to help define what that looks like, what all our needs are. Put the jobs back together and then identify the candidate. And we get far enough along and Nigel says hey I want the job. What do you mean you want the job? This is so far beneath your resumé, the pay is insulting to you. It doesn't even make sense. He said listen, I've gotten far enough along in my career financially that I'm good with the pay. Don't worry about that. To me it's more about these monumental things. And you've got something on the table that very few CMOs get to experience. Most CMOs get into an industry and it's already been defined. The marketing, the vision, the view, the customer perceptions they're already there. For you, it's been individual CI integrators defining that for individual customers and nobody's done this on a national scale. I love the idea of walking into this industry and being able to define nationally what a custom luxury integrator is. What it looks like and he said that to me just having complete whitespace to define an industry is more exciting than any other opportunity. And that's what he's doing and he's just phenomenal at it. And it's really exciting to watch him work.
Ron: Yeah. I feel honored I get to work with him. Me and my team get to work with him almost weekly at this point with all the various projects going on and the way he approaches everything the projects, the discussions, the industry, the value proposition. The why he's coming at it sideways with an entirely new perspective that is it's refreshing. He challenges me and he challenges my team and I love that. I love that I'm hearing different perspectives and when we challenge him as well and so it's constructive both ways and I'm excited for you and I know that you guys are excited to have his big and I would call it Fortune 500 Fortune 100 marketing experience on the team. I think that's pretty neat as you guys are really defining the luxury brand for consumer electronics and consumer integration. I think it's powerful. How would you describe your leadership style? You have a company with 300 employees and you're the captain steering the ship and I know you have a fantastic leadership team and a great set of business owner-operators that I think the majority of them are still engaged running their local operations. How do you describe your leadership style?
Ryan: My leadership style has had to evolve and had to change a lot throughout this process because the forefront changed. What I needed to be as a leader at the time has changed. I've always been the collaborative type. If you can get your programmer your installer your project manager and the customer all on the same page, great things will happen. High communication, high collaboration and that put me in a really good position to be the CEO before Bravas was formally formed.
Ron: That was voted by your peers right? That's how that went down?
Ryan: That's right. And so in that position to your point, if they didn't like the way I was handling things, they could just replace me and say yeah we need a new CEO. It required a lot of collaboration that required a lot of alignment. There was so much alignment that was needed to get everyone there was a lot of voting there was a lot of getting everyone on the table. We might have a vote and they got twelve yeses and two no's, plus my vote whatever and I'd hang up and I'd call the two no's and I'd say you lost but how do we get you comfortable? Is there a finer point to why you voted no that we could swing around? Being CEO of that 300 person company there's no bandwidth to take a vote of 300 people and or 15 people and say Hey let's talk about each and every decision each and every vote. We really had to change from a leadership style from collaboration and communication to true executive leadership of having a vision, having a plan, still getting everyone to buy in on it but not from a voting process but from an excitement process.
Ron: Getting behind decisions that have been made and supporting them and driving the team forward.
Ryan: Right. I still have what some large executives would call some bad habits trying to get too much collaboration, too much by in and just be bold move forward. If that's a bad habit I still have, then I'm happy with it because our team has meant the world to me and putting us together and everything that we've done. But it's really an impressive shout out to the ownership group that came together because they have bought into the leadership team. They're bought into what we're doing and they aren't challenging that. They aren't saying hey I disagree I'm digging my heels in and the ability to take off your entrepreneur hat and put on a general manager hat is a difficult one because you're giving up control. Now granted you're getting paid millions of dollars to give up control so that's kind of nice. But it's still a personality shift.
Ron: It's still got to be hard for someone that's been running their own business for in some cases decades to now take direction from someone else. That's hard.
Ryan: And I absolutely applaud the buy in the Bravas and the belief and doing that. They've done a fantastic job of that. Jay gets a lot of credit for that because they are the ones that all directly report to him and he's leading that group. And I don't get these backdoor phone calls saying hey I disagree with this. I disagree with that. And they see improvement in the way he's doing things. They completely trust him and have earned his buy-in his decision making. And quite frankly it's been a relief to let go for a lot of them and they just go sell and run their branch and aren't negotiating health insurance and van insurance. The most successful branches are the ones that go. Awesome. Great you've got this. I'm gonna go do what I'm good at, sell and integrate products. Yeah. It's really just a wonderful setup but there's a little bit of a mind shift from the entrepreneur and so my leadership style to answer your question in the longest way possible apparently is it's continuously changing as what's needed for the direction of the company.
Ron: I love it. Well , I am proud of you Ryan and what you have been able to do as CEO and that's through the vote of confidence of your peers being elected as CEO and running the company and from everything I hear, you guys are weathering the storm called COVID and charting new courses so it's exciting. I have such a passion this industry and for lifting up this industry. At first it was an exit strategy when this was first formed and I said I'm not interested because I'm 40 years old. I'm not interested in exiting. I love this industry. I'm too passionate about it. And the check would have to be so ridiculous that I wouldn't want to be, whatever. I love what we're doing and believe in it so much that whatever we can do to ride the tide for everyone, whatever we can do to be better would be awesome. One of the things that we're talking about which somebody in our organization is going to shoot me for saying this, live on your show but you've got to have something exciting right.
Ron: That's it. Yeah. I like a little bit of fireworks.
Ryan: When we first formed Bravas, we had the Bravas program and we had the I forget what the terminology was at the time. But somebody who is wanting to follow Bravas and be part.
Ron: I remember that there was an associate-level.
Ryan: Yeah. One of the things that that I'm looking at putting together is an affiliate program and the affiliate program is we're referring jobs right now because we're doing national events, we're getting national leads. We did the Tech Home Builder Show and I handed business cards from people and or I'm giving my business card out and it's like well are you in Phoenix? I'm not in Phoenix right now but I can tell you who I would like to buy in Phoenix and that should tell you what company has the best reputation and the best customer service because we don't fix companies we buy the best companies. I'm getting these phone calls going why are you sending me leads? Because we're trying to do stuff nationally we're trying to build stuff nationally. And I'm looking at putting that affiliate program back together so that I can stand in front of any customer anywhere in the country and say I either have a Bravas or have a Bravas approved location and part of that affiliate program is picking the right SKU mix and vendors and using our horsepower to say you got to get this right and you've got to be fair and you've got to take care of these issues. It's being able to say these are best practices, these are the standards. You have to buy into the why. It's way too early for me to talk about but that's something I'm very passionate about for our industry is maybe you don't want to sell your company but you really want to follow along and get some of the horsepower get some of the knowledge the collaboration be part of that. We're toying with that. But feel free to reach out to me. And if you've got a certain passion for that we can kind of one-off a program or if there's you know 10 or 12 interested companies across there we can vet that, look at getting that started a little faster.
Ron: That's exciting. People tend to jump on the Bravas train, you're going places so you're giving them options. You don't have to be all in or not in but there's going to be tiered levels. It sounds like that's pretty cool. It's something I was curious about just because of the size and influence that your organization has across the country and what you affect and impact. We're dealing with a really strange time strangest time I can remember as it relates to the lack of any industry events. CEDIA is canceled its gone virtual. CES just announced the other day that they are going virtual. They announced it yesterday. There's no live event. It's going to be all virtual all the buying group events I'm aware of are either canceled or gone virtual. All of this peer to peer, the benefits of events as you and I have talked many times over the years is simply being in one place and being able to handle so many different agenda items that you have you need to address with so many vendors and you got everyone in the same building so you can go get a lot of face to face meaningful work done at an event. And those aren't going to happen certainly for the next six months maybe longer. What do you think about that? What is Bravas doing about that or how are you thinking about this new era of no events?
Ryan: From a purely greedy perspective, I brought 70 people to CEDIA last year and that was expensive. I'm saving a lot of money. And for our industry it's always been a very rewarding type of thing that you do. You bring your top salesperson your top program your top technician. And it's very rewarding and so I wanted to maintain that system in that culture. This year we were looking at here's the budget for bringing 50 people instead of 70. Who doesn't get to go and we've got to figure things out. When CEDIA got canceled as sad as it was because I'm so passionate about that event. Love that event. It was a chance for us to sit back and recalibrate and say OK what happens at CEDIA and how do we need to utilize it? And for the average integrator it's pick vendor X that you want to go see and you go well their tech support is terrible, I need to talk about that. I need some marketing help because they're not taking care of this. This is my opportunity to talk about a buying program. I need to talk to this engineer about a large job and what's going on. That one integrator can get seven meetings done face to face in person at a CEDIA booth. And that's fantastic, that's really important really critical and might be the difference between that vendor losing that integrator or keeping him. It was important for everyone.
For us, we've really departmentalized where the technicians are talking to each other, the programmers have their forums design and engineering have their forums. Salespeople have theirs. We're taking this opportunity to restructure our events towards what if we have an event just for all of the programmers. They get together and they sit in a room that programmer you might bring to CEDIA and they get to talk to the control system that they're talking to and then take a look at another control system perhaps. And that's two hours of pretty valuable time. And then it's a lot of team building for two days or three days however long you're there. And that's important. But what if that programmer had two solid days with all the programmers across the country and they got together and not just compare their companies but they're all doing the same thing they're all marching to the same drum and they can say what can we do? What can we accomplish together, what can be built? We had our Sales Summit Ron, which I know you know about in January. To put 56 salespeople in a room together, the energy was so high, so fantastic. Everybody was on fire and excited. And we have found that people get way more excited when it's centered around what they need and their specific jobs and their specific needs than being able to carve out an hour here there for that thing you really need to get done. And I think vendors may see this a little differently too. I think we're going to see a lot of changes as people decide to retire celebrate and take this year and say why am I going? Who am I sending? Are these the right trips? Is that everybody in the company goes on one trip? Should I be sending techs to trainings instead of CEDIA and the way that looks. We'll see how it goes. I think CEDIA is a wonderful thing and I hope it doesn't go away but CEDIA might look at how they do that event and say hey we're gonna be more job-focused instead of more everybody go talk to the vendors focused.
Ron: I agree. I know we just had our vendor selection with CEDIA just a week or two ago and we were picking out our physical booth location for the Indianapolis based event in 2021 and it's definitely lots of conversations and to your point , I'm not going to lie. As much as I want to see everybody and CEDIA, for One Firefly is one of our biggest lead gen events of the year and it has been since our founding since we started attending the show. And so there's a bit of concern there for sure. At the same time, the expense is fantastic. Not being at the show and the amount of savings that flows to the bottom line. I'm not going to lie. That's kind of a pleasant silver lining to the cancellation of these events. It's increased the bottom line a little bit which has been nice. Well Ryan it's been a pleasure buddy. I appreciate you taking time out of your schedule my friend and I wish you and the team there at Bravas nothing but continued success.
Ryan: Thank you so much Ron.
Ron: All right buddy talk soon.
Ryan: All right thanks so much.
Ryan gained his current role of CEO of Bravas in 2018. Previously, he was the founder of Kansas City smart home integration firm, Elevated Electronics. Today, Elevated Electronics is now the KC Bravas location.
Ron Callis is the CEO of One Firefly, LLC, a digital marketing agency based out of South Florida and creator of Automation Unplugged. Founded in 2007, One Firefly has quickly became the leading marketing firm specializing within the integrated technology and security space. The One Firefly team work hard to create innovative solutions to help Integrators boost their online presence, such as the elite website solution, Mercury Pro.
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