Home Automation Podcast Episode #172: An Industry Q&A With Donnie Boutwell
In this weeks home automation show of Automation Unplugged, Donnie Boutwell, CEO at Media Systems shares strategies on personal vs professional social media and working with your spouse.
This week's home automation podcast features our host Ron Callis interviewing Donnie Boutwell. Recorded live on Wednesday, June 2nd, 2021, at 12:30 p.m. EST.
About Donnie Boutwell
After a decade of recording and producing records in Nashville, Donnie started out as an installer working for his uncle Steve Driskell at Media Systems. As the now CEO, Donnie has retained Steve’s demand for excellence and efficiency, while solidifying their mission to make home systems easy to use.
- Remote maintenance and diagnostics
- Leadership that focuses on delegating rather than micromanaging
- Personal vs professional social media strategy
- Working professionally with a spouse
Ron: Hello, Ron Callis here with another episode of Automation Unplugged, and today we are here for Episode 172. Now, today is a special day. Because theoretically, we are live streaming into LinkedIn for the first time, and theoretically, we are live streaming on Facebook. Today for show 172 of Automation Unplugged, I have Donnie Boutwell, CEO of Media Systems, out of Houston. Let's go ahead and bring Donnie on. Donnie, how are you, sir?
Donnie: Doing great, man. Thanks for having me on.
Ron: What do you think, man? We're streaming live not only on Facebook, but we're streaming live on LinkedIn. Isn't that neat?
Donnie: I'm so impressed with your setup, man. I studied radio and television production and college, and I mean, you got it down. You got the colors. You got the lens. You got the imagery. It's just really a top-notch man. Kudos to you. And I guess that's what happens when you do something that many times in a row, you get better. It's awesome.
Ron: I appreciate that. Anyone that has watched the show or listened because we do have a listening audience to the podcast. They'll have noticed that we've attempted strived. We have not always succeeded, but we have strived to try to get a little bit better every month, every quarter, every year as we go forward. Not to digress too much, but you and Jaclyn, your wife, you guys are like rock stars on social media. I follow you guys.
Donnie: I don't know if I'd say rock stars, but it helps when you have a really hot wife that's in the industry with you, and people like to see her face.
Ron: I imagine she is drawing more of the clicks and shares that you are, no judgment. That's funny. But if you think about the technology, right now, you're in Houston. I'm here, and here we are now streaming out to such a powerful audience, our industry on multiple social platforms. I don't have it set up, but I could also be streaming out on YouTube right now live and the technology. I don't know, man. It's progressed so much in just the four years I've been doing this show. I even watched a few of the shows not too long ago, and I felt a little bit like we were in the dark ages.
Donnie: It's so nice that people can watch a show that is every bit one hundred percent specific to their world and learn from other people that are doing what they're doing, learn from you. You've got to be such a wealth of knowledge after many interviews with people in this industry. You've heard it all. What a great opportunity for people to tune in and listen to what you have to say because of your experience. You're not going to get this on television. Thank God for the technology that we have today to be able to get to people. When I was in college, I knew my uncle had this business, and I knew a little bit about it, but I couldn't really explain what it was. Most of the people you bump into in the world, friends from high school and college, you tell them I'm in the home automation industry or how even to describe it. We do home technology. Oh, you hire somebody for that?
Well, actually, that's this whole industry. We have trade shows where people go to tons of people who do what we do. What do you do again? Well, it's technology in your home. To connect on a show like this is such a wonderful privilege because we can identify and learn, we can share ideas for those of us who do it. It's a wonderful opportunity.
"Our industry is still a secret. No one outside of our friends in CEDIA and maybe a handful of others even knows this industry exists. Yet, in my opinion, we're doing some of the most fun, exciting types of invention."
Ron: No, I appreciate that. I agree. Our industry is still a secret. No one outside of our friends in CEDIA and maybe a handful of others even knows this industry exists. And yet we're doing some of them, in my opinion, some of the most fun, exciting types of invention. The projects are, I to say, their science projects. That's bad. But to say they're fun and exciting and bring joy to your customer's lives, it's an exciting space. I was excited. Lutron hired me out of college twenty-one years ago. I was excited about this.
Donnie: Of course, I did not come from this world. I had never been exposed to this stuff. When they put me into this business unit, and they were multibillion-dollar business on, in many countries, the random chance of fate. They put me into this channel, but I got so excited I never left.
Ron: Yeah. Alright. Well, our audience is wanting to know. Let's just go through some of the basics or foundations. Where are you guys based? What type of jobs do you guys do? Maybe tell us just a little bit about Media Systems, and then I want to digress and go into your background.
Donnie: Sure. We're similar to many AV companies that we've been around for a very long time. But a few years ago, maybe a decade ago, we had to go through that struggle of are going to be an IT company or not? That was a big transition for us where we had to learn those disciplines, too. We provide a lot of the things that people watching this show would provide, like control systems. We hang TVs. We hang speakers. We have the whole house music system, surveillance cameras. Doorbells. Who would have thought we would have taken over the doorbell?
One day we'll be taking over the kitchen, and we don't want to, but we're going to have to. We're all of those things. I used to say we do everything that's low voltage in the house that you don't want to touch, but we don't deal with the high voltage. Then we hired one of our very close family friends to come on staff who had been an electrician for 20 years. Now we're dealing with some of that stuff, too. It's all of the things the clear channel kind of looks at, or HTA Certified is another organization that we're really proud to be part of. It's voice now. It's all of the things, but blend that we don't like, which is getting the DIY things that people are demanding blended in with the things that people don't do themselves or don't want to do themselves. There is some percentage of DIY stuff that will involve ourselves in small. But most of what we do is stuff that you don't do yourself. We like to joke that the worst part about DIY is you have to do it yourself, and they don't want to put themselves. That's the world we're in, the projects that we're involved in. It's hard for me to say a range because we focus our business mostly on service. The people that we do projects for many times are the people that we have been doing projects for many years. And those relationships are very important to us.
We may do a $300 service call or a $150 service call. And we might do a $150,000 or $500,000 home installation when it's a new project. But we feel like those relationships are very important because many people change homes. As often as I might want to get a new car, a new mattress, they're going to get a new home. Keeping that long-term relationship with them is important. We're not afraid to do a very small project for somebody we've known for a long time. And we're not afraid to provide service for people who don't spend money because they might spend a lot of money in eight years. Those relationships are very important to us. It's a good range of the projects that we do.
Ron: Geographically. Are you primarily working in the greater Houston market, or do you find yourself traveling around the country to follow your customers?
Donnie: That's a really good question. We have a footprint, and Houston has an inner loop and an outer and then a giant loop. We focused mainly on the inner loop and a little bit to the west side. We would say River Oaks Memorial Tanglewood West University Place. We don't really prefer to work out in Spring or Katie or Tomball the Woodlands, but we inevitably are going to make friends with somebody when they live inside of our footprint, and they're going to ask us to work outside the footprint, and we're going to do it. We work in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. We work in New Mexico. We work in Florida. We work wherever those friends take us. We'll go. But we're not actively marketing ourselves as a nationwide company.
For many years, we would say that we couldn't provide service if we couldn't get to the house. But today, we have over 300 customers on our OvrC platform. We can provide a lot of services remotely. That's relatively new for us as a company that's been, I guess, about three years since that has been a viable solution for us, maybe four. That means we're willing to go further, but we're not looking for it.
Ron: I'm curious. I'm going to dive down the rabbit hole. Then I'm going to come back. And I actually want to go into your past and how you got here. You've piqued my curiosity in terms of OvrC. For those that are listening that don't know what that capability that's providing you. Do you mind describing that and how you're better able to serve your clients?
Donnie: Yeah. I've got a client. He's the drummer of a rock band that you would know, and he decided to move to Magnolia, north of Houston. I play drums and percussion at my church. I'm on the stage on Saturday night, and I get a text message from this guy, and he says my wifi is not working. And so I'm looking at the phone, and we're in between songs. Somebody is up there talking for a minute. We're about to play again. So I've got about two minutes maybe of talking before I got to play music again and I'm on stage. I've got my phone here. I'm hiding it behind the congas.
Ron: You're doing a service call from the church stage behind the drums.
Donnie: Yes. I pulled the app up on my phone, and I pull up his house, and I see all of the connected devices on his wife. See, nine access points are totally functional devices roaring through. I can see the Internet speed, all of this great data to tell me that nothing's wrong at his house. There's nothing wrong. I text back, and I say, what's not working? And he says, my wife, can't get on with her iPad. And I say, is it a new iPad? Yeah, it's a new iPad. I say, oh, well, here's the SSID, the network name, and here's the password to get her on the Wi-Fi. And he texts back about 30 seconds later. Oh, that was it. Thanks. That was the service call. That was the whole thing. Now, if you rewind that five years, you know, if somebody called and said, my Wi-Fi is not working, my response would be, I'm so sorry, you know, and I would feel guilty like I'm so sorry your network's not working.
I thought we did everything we could do to take care of you. And I can't take care of you right now because I don't know anything about what's happening at your house. We'll try to come out on Monday. First thing, I'm going to cancel my project, and I'm going to come out there first thing on Monday, and we would drive all the way out to Magnolia. Guess what? It would be fine. It'd be no problem at all because there's nothing wrong with the system. She's just going to get on with our iPad. That's the benefit of what this remote maintenance stuff can do for us these days. We're able to reboot trivial things like my Apple TV's not streaming, and I don't know where it is. It's up in a closet somewhere. They'll text our hotline. We have a service hotline that they can text or call. We'll check the app, reboot the Apple TV text back to work now. Yeah, that was it. Thanks. We're able to do so much without having to go out at somebody's house, and because and it took a year of using the stuff before I believed it was going to be reliable.
But once we're using it, we were then able to develop membership plans for people. That includes this remote maintenance. If they don't have a membership plan, then they can get an extremely discounted rate for a remote service call compared to driving out to the house to do it. Remote maintenance has been a game-changer for the industry. And I think it's given our customers a lot of confidence in this stuff where, if they're wealthy and they've had automation for fifteen, twenty years, they would say this stuff never works. If they just got wealthy and they've only had a system for two years, they don't say that because we're able to provide such unbelievable service through remote management better than we've ever been able to do before.
Ron: I'm curious, have you been able to build a revenue stream? You mentioned plans. Are the plans in various stages of monthly fees? They would you pay and get different types of service? Is that a measurable amount of revenue coming in monthly or quarterly?
Donnie: Yeah, it is. We have different categories. We've got Basic, Premier your VIP. The VIP plan is custom pricing. For somebody that's got a million-dollar system, their VIP plan might be 12000 a year, depending on how old the equipment is. We've got a calculator that Chase Murphy, our CTO and the smartest person that I've ever met in my life. He came up with a calculator for this. If somebody's got a system that costs $650,000 and the system is eight years old, well, that should cost more than somebody who's got a brand new system that doesn't require as much effort on our part. And if somebody got a smaller system, maybe they don't need to be VIP service, and they can just do a Basic membership or a Premier membership. There are different benefits that you get from each category. And some of our homeowners don't even want to have to put batteries in a remote.
They don't want to change a light bulb. They're the ones that are ideal for VIP membership. They just love the confidence that they can get from us, knowing that somebody will take care of me, whatever it is. And half of the text messages we get are not even our problem, but they want to know that somebody can ask. "I can't get my pool pump to come on." Is that the Crestron system? Well, no, ma'am. It's the pool system. But I'll tell you what, I know you're pool guy, and I'll call him for you, and I'll let him know that he needs to come out, and I'll let you know when he said he's coming out. Just having that confidence somebody will take care of me has been a game-changer for us, too.
Ron: I want to go back in time. How did you get into this business? I know you had a stint in Nashville. Maybe you go back as far as you want and bring us forward.
Donnie: We got into it kicking and screaming. It's interesting to look at the way your parents do things. My uncle stood out above all of my other family, my dad, my mom, and my stepdad. They all had good careers and good businesses. But Steve stood out because he was doing something on his own. He was breaking ground. He started our company in 1980, and I grew up around it. I saw it. And when I was 12 years old, I said, "Uncle Steve, I really would like to have like a cool stereo in my room and be able to hear my TV sound on my stereo." He just gave me these face technology speakers with a subwoofer and a system knocking me to a cassette deck. It was freaking awesome.
Ron: You had the most amazing twelve-year-old bedroom stereo system.
Donnie: It was incredible. We would go to his house or his office and watch movies when I was a kid on the laserdisc. It was cool stuff. I thought this is really cool, but I didn't know what I wanted to do. I grew up playing drums, and I thought I would do that. I studied music. I spent a lot of time in ministry, and then I, at some point, got into doing the recording and engineering full time and playing drums in the studio full time. That led to touring around the country. And then it led to moving to migrate to Nashville because that's where the industry really was for me. I was there for maybe eight or eight or nine years in Nashville making records. And when I got there, I had done all this producing, engineering, recording, and playing live in Houston.
When I got to Nashville, I didn't know that many people. Everybody that I met said, what do you do for a living? I said, well, I'm a record producer and just said that very confidently. Within a few months, I was actually making a living as a record producer, which is great. And I was working out of a home studio. That was when there was a big transition from the big format studio to the home studio, and it was a lot of fun. I met Jaclyn on the road. She moved to Nashville then to do full-time photography, and she's an incredible photographer. Unbelievable. We started having kids, and the economy started tanking in 2008. I don't know if you remember that.
Ron: That's when I decided to start this business. I tried to time it perfectly.
Donnie: Yeah. I was on the phone with Uncle Steve, and I said, "Steve, I think all of my clients are poor." He said, "Well, that's funny. All of mine are rich." I said, "Well, I think I might be in the wrong business." He said, "Yeah, I think so." And I already had some construction background just out of a hobby. I took a cabinetmaking class. I did woodworking. I did home improvement things. When I first came back to Houston, he said, "Well, it's like the grandpa shoving you in the closet with the box of cigars saying, you're going to finish that before you come out." He put me out on this ranch house that he had, and we were flipping it, basically. We took reclaimed lumber from one house to flip this other house. The house was a hundred years old. I had to, and he wouldn't let me hire any subs hardily. I had to learn how to do the trim carpentry, of course, the framing, the wiring, every single part of the house. I had to learn how to do it.
Because he didn't think I knew how to do anything, and I think he thought I didn't have any work ethic like I never worked a day in my life until I worked for him. I had to learn everything about the home from this little microcosm. I went back and forth from working on that property to being the helper at Media Systems, so I'd be there when he needed the extra work at Media Systems. And when he didn't need a helper there, he'd put me back on the ranch. That was the first year. And then I came on full time at Media Systems. And I'm telling you, my first day on the job was, why don't you see if you can help George carry something? Because he didn't think I know how to do anything. We got in, and we go into this theater, and there's like a snap-together screen. And I had done this church work. I pull out a box. I'm like, well, I know this is a frame. You just open up the frame, you snap it on. And, you know, as I knew, and I knew audio because I had spent a decade mixing and mastering.
I knew sound way better than these guys that I was working with. But they knew the trade, and I didn't know the trade, but I knew the quality of production, quality sound. Jaclyn, with her photography background, knew quality video. Anyway, so at some point, the guy that was doing the lighting programming left the company, and Steve said, "Well, you're going to have to go change this lighting program." I have hired a computer savvy, but I didn't have the slightest idea how to get into D3 Pro Crestron software and change something on a lighting program. I said, Steve, I just don't know how to do that. And he's like, what? It's like, monkey see, monkey does that. Haven't you seen somebody do it? No, Steve, you have to take a class to learn how to do that. It's like, well, alright, well fine. Education is expensive. I hope you're happy. He says, "Go figure out where you can take a class." OK, well, I can fly to Phoenix next week and I can take a class. "OK, fine book go." I went I learned how to program lighting, and I came back as the lighting programmer. Then the guy that was our lead AV programmer left, and I had already taken the Crestron one-to-one training, but that was a year before. I didn't remember hardly anything to do in simple windows. He says, "OK, well, you need to go over to this house and change out from Comcast to DirecTV on all the remotes." I'm like. I don't know how to do it, you know? The guys that were in the service department at restaurants saved our business. They were just incredible. I would call them on the phone as Sean O'Neil, Mark Harrison, Harrison Harrison. I'll call them on the phone. They were in Dallas. I'd say that's a Hey, Mark, it's Donnie again. Oh, hey, bro. How are you doing, man? They're so kind. What are you looking at? I'm trying to change this driver. OK, remember on one on one that we did this probably.
They were just incredible the way they held my hand and just saved our company. At the time, it was incredible. At some point, I found Chase Murphy, and we started hiring him to do programming on bigger jobs and to teach me how to program. We literally would just bring them over. I would call them on the phone, say, OK, bill me. My uncle, I didn't realize what I was doing, but he was putting other responsibilities on me over those years when he was there. The next thing I know, we're filling out forms for Cinematech or somebody. I say, well, Steve, I'm supposed to write down a title here. When I sign this form, what should I put? And he said, "I don't know, write Vice President or something. Oh, I'm the Vice President?
Ron: I've got a promotion.
Donnie: I didn't know. That was good because it was like, "Hey, go over to the house and meet with a client and then tell me what happens and we'll design a system together. Then it was OK, meet with a client and design a system, and I'll look at your proposal, then it was OK, go ahead and present that to the client. He was basically backing out of responsibility and putting it on me to have the opportunity to do it. I literally had every single job at the company. I was pulling wire, and then I just gradually moved until I was at a point where I was basically right there with him and Jaclyn, my wife, we were in between people in the office. He said, why don't you have Jaclyn come in and help out in the office? At least she could learn how to do this so that when we're in between people, we'd have somebody to fall back on. She came in, and then she never left.
Ron: He knew what he was doing all along.
Donnie: Oh, yeah. What was brilliant about the plan with her, the way he mentored her, was to say, do this for me now, do this for me. Did you remember to do that? Well, what about this insurance thing? Did you take care of that yet? She's like, well, I didn't know. What are you talking about? What you have to do this obviously, and she's like, oh, OK. Over several years just was doing more and doing more and doing more of the finances and the back inside of running a business. She's brilliant with all this stuff. She got me completely out of debt, and it's unbelievable. She was learning how to run the business side. I was learning how to interface with the client and how to manage the project.
Then one day, Steve came in like he normally does and was just hollering at me about something that I couldn't do right. He said, "You're just going to have to figure this out, you know?" And he left, and we were like, where is he going? Then he didn't come back in the next day, and then he didn't come back and the next day. I don't know if you ever saw the movie Boiler Room, but this is an amazing scene where Ben Affleck says to the team of young candidates, you need to act. Act as if you're the president of the company act as if. I had seen that I was thinking about that. I thought if he's not going to be here, he's expecting me to man up and take responsibility and said, Jaclyn and I, we're going to have just to act as if. Then this went on, and he continued not to come in. We had some conversation, but he was not coming in. Finally, he gradually disappeared. He tells my mother a couple of months later, oh, well, I gave him the business, you know? I'm like, you what? It was never like an official. Let's transfer the ownership here. That was his way of doing it. It was just such an incredible gift, an incredible blessing from him. We're the kids. He doesn't have his own kids. We are his kids. We just couldn't be more thankful for his legacy and his name.
We would walk into a meeting and say, I had a designer say to me one time, you're with Media Systems, right? And I said, yes, ma'am. She said that Steve Driscoll. Right? And I said, yeah, that's my uncle, do you know him? And she said, Well, no, I don't know him, but I know of him, you know. He stayed in this small circle. He was a name. He really had a name for himself. For him to leave that legacy to us has been just one of the greatest blessings of our life. We've done everything we could to be good stewards of that. At some point, I said to my staff, I offered Chase Murphy a job, and he's a gold master certified Crestron programmer in Houston. There are only two in the residential market in the country. From what I understand, I said to my staff, I offered Chase Murphy a job, and they said they Chase Murphy, the Chase Murphy. And they're like, Oh, my God, is he going to take it? I said, Oh, I don't know. I think he's going to take it. Chase came on, and it was just such an incredible relationship to have him there and to be able to have somebody that has got more training, more experience, more expertise than me than anybody. We couldn't think of any greater title than CTO Chief Technology Officer. He is truly the smartest person that any of us know. We're so thankful to have his influence in our company. Then it was a little bit of a shift in how we do business because my uncle felt like he had to have his hand in every pot. I don't think that way.
In my early twenties, my first job was at a church. It was an organizational thing where you have this position, and that guy has this position above you, and that person is above them. You don't break the chain of command. You respect people. You treat people with kindness. You do the thing that you're gifted to do. You're not just a warm body. You do the thing you're passionate about. We've structured our company as best as we could to do that. We have a Project Manager. We have a Service Manager. We have a structure in what we're doing. We're not trying to micromanage everybody's job. But also the way that we talk to each other is so important to me. The way we treat each other is so important to me. And I think it's a wonderful place to work. I'm so thankful for the opportunity that we've had to grow up in this industry and get to the place that we're at today.
Ron: We've got some people, Donnie, that are tuned in watching us live here. Lots of comments. I want to thank you all out there for posting your comments live. I'm just going to put a couple of them up on the screen. Shawn Sturmer says, "What an uncle!" I think that's an understatement. Wes says, "What a story. A nonchalant passing of the torch. That is pretty spectacular." Then we have Rich.
Donnie: It's Rich!
Ron: Rich says his title is CMCTOGCCP. Now, thank goodness, in his next post here, he tells us what that is. Chief Technology Officer Gold Certified Crestron Programmer.
Donnie: Yeah, I have to tell you about Rich. Rich is my bro. He was a professional Nashville bass player and friend of friends. We got to know each other and hung out with each other when we were recording business. He did much live work, too, and just a phenomenally talented guy and now works for Ring. He's brilliant. So awesome to see a lifelong friend that also transitioned from that industry to this one.
Ron: I want to maybe dive in just a little bit or a few of the differences. You've already keyed in on one of them, and that is the concept of micromanagement. I'm just going to say that maybe the management style of your uncle versus your management style, how were they different? Maybe expound on that for me.
Donnie: His business model was such that he would meet with the client, do the reconnaissance on the project, he would design the system, write the proposal, sell the job to the client, get the signature, make sure the deposit came in, put it in the bank, meet with the builder, go back to the job, and then project manager that the job all the way to the end. Show up with the guys that pre-wire. Here's what you're doing. That's going here. This is going there. He would create the documentation project manager all the way to the end. Then he would commission the job. He would meet with the client and teach them how to use everything. Then he would get the payment, and he would put that in the bank. Then when they called for service, he would schedule the service call. He did everything in the chain, and the way he grew his business is he hired somebody who did what he did, and they did everything from start to finish from client relations to project management to everything all the way to the end of the job.
He grew the business again and hired somebody else that would do the same thing. Basically, he was running three different companies where he's doing everything in the process of the job that he does. The job that he sells now, I also was late to the game here. Within about five years, I came into the company, learned all the positions, and made my way to the top. But I had tradesmen that worked for me that had been in the industry for fifteen years. Obviously, there are things that they knew how to do that I didn't know how to do that. I could trust them to do better than I could do myself. Not that I didn't pull wire, but if you got a guy that's pulled wire for 15 years, you ought to listen to what he has to say. I looked at that a little differently where I thought. I've got every person sitting around the table with you is an expert at something, and they're probably going to be better at it than you are one thing or another. I've got a guy named Brad who is just so talented. We have these pictures we put out on social media that we do #BradTested where he's standing on or hanging from a TV bracket. It's hilarious when he does it. But that man knows everything about that. And he's a project manager. I called him yesterday because I had a builder asking me about where you put the power outlet behind the TV if you don't know what TV is yet and what brackets you're going to use? What are some standards you could come up with? Who do I call? I called Brad because he's an expert at that. Our way of functioning is different. We don't micromanage everything.
I believe that what we're doing is very scalable. We can meet with a client, and I'll meet with a client who would sell the job, start the design with some concepts, but then we hand it to John, who's been a professional systems designer for a decade, and he's brilliant, and he's the one that's going to say you didn't think about that cable did you? He's going to be the one that actually writes the proposal now. Then I'll get that back from him, and we'll go back and forth a little bit on the price point for things. Then we'll meet with a client and sell the job, close the deal, and then turn it over if that's what we intend to do. We sit down with our staff, the project manager, Chase, the installers, go through the project, go through our work scope, and turn it over to the project department. Then I maybe don't even set foot on the job until it's done. They may commission the job and visit with the client entirely. And I don't even see them. But sometimes they'll say, well, this customer really needs a lot more handholding for some reason. Do you mind going back over there? Then Jaclyn and I might show back up again just to smooth it over and say, "OK, well, I know that Brad or whoever already showed you how to use this, but I just want to see if you have any questions. Can we walk you through anything?" We may go back. I don't really see the day-to-day finances. I get the big picture, and I don't see every transaction. Jaclyn sees every transaction. That's the main thing that she's focus on. The main thing that I'm getting all day, every day, is talking to clients and writing the scope of work, which we do in a narrative form with his plain English is possible.
All I'm working on that she's dealing with the case of the number is making sure that everything is technically correct. He reviews John's proposals for accuracy, technical accuracy, which usually doesn't need to. Still, he does anyway because it's good to proofread each other, and he may have some involvement in project management when there are things that need to change, and we need to provide change orders. Chase may be involved in that. I may hear about a change order. I may not. Sometimes it's in passing. Oh, by the way, they added a TV. They wanted a bigger TV.
Ron: What do you say, Donnie, to the folks that are listening, that have struggled with delegation well, struggled with not having their hand in every facet of the business? I know that there are those watching or listening that are going to say, oh, my goodness, how does he do that?
Donnie: Yeah, I'm a dad, and I can just picture myself walking behind Rylan, my middle girl, with three girls, and she's just started. She's a toddler, and she's just starting to walk. She's twelve now. But when she was just starting to walk, you'd put your hands on each side of her shoulder and let her fall a little bit. Then you try to take your hands off, and then you catch her, and then you catch he,r, and you take your hands off. After doing this long enough, I don't have to walk behind her anymore. She can do it. Feldstein, the founder of Crestron, has a wonderful quote that you can find where he talks about the black marble principle. He says, "So I reach into a jar, and I find a black marble. And then the next day, I reach in, and I find a black marble. And so I don't reach in. And then three days later, I reach in, and I find a black marble.
I'm pretty sure what I'm going to find, and there are black marbles, and I'm maybe don't need to reach in, but maybe every week or so." He's drawing the analogy of how do you do this with your employees? You reach in. We have this morning's meeting. We sit down, talk about our projects, talk about our service deals, and ask questions. That's just reaching into the pot to say, am I going to find a black marble? And if I find something different, then that's when I put my hand on their shoulder, and I say, "Do you think that it would be a good idea to call that person and tell them about the schedule this week?" Because they haven't heard from us in a week or so, right? "Yes, you're right. I should call them." A lot of it is parenting. It's mentoring. It's, but it's also allowing people to fail. I've had situations where I had a previous project manager. He put his foot in his mouth in front of the client. I had another employee say, "I was embarrassed to be working for Media Systems that I can't believe he said that." When it got to me, I sat down with the employee. I said, "Did you say this? What happened?" Just like I would say to my daughter, did you get an F on that paper? What happened? Let's say I'm not lucky.
Ron: You don't kick her out of the family for that, do you?
Donnie: Believe it. Yeah. In that situation, I called the builder on the phone, and I said, "Hey, Phil, it's Donnie. I heard about the conversation that happened between you and this guy. I know the client was standing there. I just want to tell you. I'm really sorry. It shouldn't happen that way. I have talked to the employee, corrected him, and explained that that's not how we talk to people, and that's not how we do business here. This is how we're going to handle this. Is that OK?" He was gracious, and he continues to hire us today. So many times, what will happen? It's a very competitive business. You'll irritate a builder, and you don't even know it. One of your employees irritates a builder, and you don't even know it. They just quit calling you that call somebody else. If you see that happening, you call the builder on the phone. How are we doing? You all still working? I think a lot of it is its parenting. It's allowing people the opportunity to fail, but it also knows when to return. It knows when to provide that gentle, respectful, kind correction. These people that work for us need to know that it's OK for them to make a mistake. It's like your child. They need to be able to screw up and come back to you and say, hey, I made a mistake. I shouldn't have done this or that, you know, and you should have the kind of relationship with them where you can say, OK, it's not a mistake if you fix it yourself.
Do you want to go right now and fix that, or do you want to? When can you go? Well, I think I can go because I don't manage their schedules anymore either. That's another thing about this generation, is that if you're being told you're going to be at Bob's house from 830-11:00, and then you're going to have thirty minutes for lunch, and you're going to go straight over to Coleen's. They don't like to think that way. They want to feel like they have some power over their lives and what they're doing with their time. I don't even do that. I don't say what time are you going there and how long is it going to take? Usually, I will say I say, well, here's the list of service calls. What do you want to do today? Then that gives them the opportunity. Derek, my service manager, has got such incredible empathy. He's wonderful. He'll say, "Well, I know that Barb is really irritated right now. She's really upset because she can't control the temperature in the casita, and she's got gas coming in there, and she's like mad, you know? I'd really like to go there first. Is that OK if I bump Fielding to 10:00 because I feel like Barb's upset, and I need to go right now?" Well, sure. That's up to you. I'm not trying to tell you where to go every second of every day, but I am telling you that's you're right. Barb's really pissed off. What can we do? Let's just get her happy. Yeah, absolutely.
"Giving people some sense of pride in their work, in their life, and ability to make decisions for themselves, correcting them carefully and thoughtfully, and with kindness and respect is how you handle things."
Giving people some sense of pride in their work, in their life, and ability to make decisions for themselves, correcting them carefully and thoughtfully, and with kindness and respect is how you handle things. Eventually, you don't have to in the jar because it will be a black marble when you return there. After all, you know that person because you've been working with them long enough.
Ron: Love it. I'm mindful of time. I've got so many subjects I want to dive into here with you. I'm going to jump into the branding question. Although this show's not about marketing on occasion, when I see good examples of marketing, I like to call it out and have you speak to it. I'm going to share for those that are watching. I'm going to share on the screen your corporate wellness. I want you even maybe to explain how you position it, because if I go to your website, which I'm sharing on the screen now, which is mediasystems.com, which is a great URL, by the way.
Donnie: Thank you. A lot of money for that.
Ron: That could not have been cheap. At the bottom of your website, there's your Instagram icon, along with a few others. When I click on that, it does not go to a Media System's Instagram page, which is very much by design. Maybe you can talk the audience through what you guys are doing, and sort of testing and measuring you've done over the years?
"If you're doing commercial, you need to look commercial, and if you're doing residential, you need to look like friends."
Donnie: Yeah, I feel like if you're doing commercial, you need to look commercial, and if you're doing residential, you need to look like friends. We made some real effort five, six years ago to try to get people to like and follow Media Systems on the Internet. Nobody seemed to care. We saw that Jaclyn on her personal Instagram and Facebook was getting a lot. She put something up, and 150-200 would like it or click on it or whatever. We feel like what we do. We're in your home. We're in your master bedroom. We're in your master bathroom, so it's very personal. We decided to be intentional about marketing Jaclyn and Donnie rather than marketing Media Systems. It's not just this cold business marketing thing. We just want to stay in touch with people and let them know what's going on with us. There's a mix of our personal things that we're willing to share and are professional things that we're willing to share. There are some guidelines that go with that. I may have a strong political opinion about something, but I'm not going to put it online, just not going to do it. That's not what I'm called to. I have friends that I feel like are called to be the ones to put their causes out online and good for them. I'll click the like button on their posts. But since we have such a broad range of people that we work for with different ideas, we just try to show that the positive, the pleasant, the and the cool things to like we put in this one of the first new Sony $90,000 projectors that just released this year. We're so excited about that.
We just put it out there, and we had friends that could never buy that projector. But, their parents could or their grandparents or their parent's friends could. Having whatever you can do to increase your circle of influence is good for business. But it's also good for your life because you want to have a positive, encouraging impact on the world. We blended. We want to increase our circle of influence, and we want it to be very personal in the way that we put ourselves out there online. We do have the mediasystems.com website, and that's a big deal. We have Schertz. We've got the vans wrapped and all that. But we also have this mural on our building that is just beautiful, that is here sent across the front, and people come and take their pictures there. On the side, it says, "love, serve and give." It doesn't say anything about Media Systems on the mural at all.
Foot traffic doesn't help our business. But we put a QR code on the building that takes you to the story that gets you to Jaclyn and Donnie. If people want to know what's going on professionally and they click far enough, they will find that. But what we're trying to hate the word marketing. It's not even marketing. We're just sharing our lives with the world and doing what we can to increase our circle of influence so that we can positively impact the world, but that the byproduct of that is that people know what we do. When they need somebody to do it, they remember. Oh, yeah, Jaclyn and Donnie do that. We got a call yesterday from a girl that goes to our church. We used to be in a Bible study with we see her on occasion. Not very often. She's super sweet. She thought, "Oh, well, I'm building this house, and these AV people that my builder hired work out of their truck. They don't seem like they're like a company. Jaclyn and Donnie do that. Maybe they'll come over and at least give me some advice. We said that, hey, as your friend. We'll give you some advice if you want to hire us. That's fine. If you don't want to, we'll still give you some advice about it. We're going to visit with her this weekend and help her through it. It's very intentional about relational marketing. If that's a term, I don't even know. Everybody likes to say bad things about the Kardashians. Right. But what did she do?
Jaclyn always reminds me she made people feel like they were her friend. I'm not trying to be inauthentic in that. But I really do. I look on my Facebook. I see people that I haven't seen since high school. And I love these people. Just because I haven't seen them lately doesn't mean I don't think they're awesome and would not love to sit down and have a meal with him or something. We're just trying to be as personable as we can be with social media and increase our circle of influence.
Ron: Well, I think what's impressive for those that are listening, those that are watching or watching me click through the Instagram, and by the way, if you want to go to their Instagram, you go Instagram.com/jaclynanddonnie. These posts are getting, I mean, I'd say much better engagement, meaning likes or comment, than, frankly, most posts out there for most integrators. 30-90 engagements are happening on these posts. I think that's really impressive. Just to state the obvious. What is it like to work with your spouse in the business?
Donnie: Well, we worked together really well before we work together. I remember one day after she had started working in the office, Steve pulled me aside, and he said, it's kind of too bad that she's a really great photographer and has this business because the whole mom and pop thing, that's really not a bad idea for you. Maybe that's something you all might talk about or whatever. She was doing really well, better than a teacher salary as a photographer. She had billboards all over Houston. She did real estate photography. She really gave that up to be a part of the family business, which is really great. It was really gracious of her to be willing to do that and that she, of course, is still an amazing photographer and continues to shoot. But, she could see the benefit of what this could become for our family.
I think we're kind of an anomaly there. I wish we weren't. But there's a book called Cherish by an author Gary Thomas, and it's about marriage. He called us on the phone one day and was like, how do you work together? I'm writing a book about marriage. How do you work together? Can you answer a few questions? We knew him through mutual friends. He said, what is this? What is it like? We just started sharing stories with him about what it means to cherish your spouse and what marriage should be like. He put them in his book. You could read this book. We're the bookends in the book. He said, normally, I would change the names for the illustrations I get. But I have so many of your stories that I want to share in the book about marriage. Is it OK if I just use your name? We said, oh, sure, yeah, that's fine. Then he's doing a new book, and he interviewed us again for the new one. I don't know if it's about having the same value system, about having the same beliefs, about having the same goals, about having the same. Now we don't always see things the same way. Of course, her function professionally is to make sure that we turn a profit and my function professionally is to make sure that the client loves us, and it's not bad. Those things are the opposite end of the spectrum.
We sit down together and say this is a good balance there for those issues to where we'll sit down and say, OK, I obviously don't want to just give it away for nothing. Jaclyn's like, "Well, no, you can't do that unless you want to work for free. Right?" We're able to be a good balance for each other on a lot of issues. But on other things, we will meet with the client. We always say, can you see if your wife will come too? We sit down with a couple, talk to them, get to know them, spend some time together. What do you love about the tech in your home? What do you hate about it? And many times, we're marriage counselors. We've been doing this new teaching series on parental controls for wifi and just helping parents navigate through that. We've taught some lectures at the kid's school about that. We've had this response where parents have come back to us, and they start the discussion about, well, how do I make sure my kids not looking at porn on the Internet? But the conversation inevitably turns into parenting? It's OK to say no to your child. They can't do that. It's not healthy for them. We have that. That's kind of another way that we're doing what we can to impact the world. But working with Jaclyn is wonderful because I already most of the time just about know what she's thinking. She knows what I'm thinking.
We have the same end goal. We have the same values. We have the same love for each other and our employees, and our clients. We feel safe with each other. We're not afraid to say something. We're not competing with each other. In many companies, you have staff that is competitive with each other. And that's a very tough situation to be in when you feel like you're not safe and can't share information because you compete with somebody you work with for their job or your job. We don't have that. We feel very safe and very comfortable with each other. I think that we are trying to model a healthy relationship so that the relationships with our employees going down the line in the company are healthy relationships. We can only do that through modeling with each other. But, we have a date night. Sometimes we talk about work a little bit.
Ron: Do you have rules on date night that there's no Media Systems talk?
Donnie: Sometimes, I wouldn't say it's a hard rule. You know how women are thinking. And I don't mean this in a bad way. They're thinking about 15 things at a time because they can, and we can't really do that. We're a little different. Sometimes I want to talk about sushi, and I don't want to talk about TV, but there's a give and take there.
Ron: She's the one dealing with the vendors and dealing with supply shortages and all of that. She has you captured, and maybe that's the conversation she wants to have.
Donnie: There are certainly times when she needs my attention on an issue, and she's kind enough and sensitive enough to know that I've got my head buried in something else right now. She'll hang on to that until it's a good time to bring it up. She may even say, is this a good time to talk about whatever, you know, before she does. Chase actually does our ordering. He's the one dealing with the supply chain problems right now, but we're all dealing with it. Right.
Ron: As an industry, we're dealing with it. Alright. I'm mindful of time. We're actually at the hour mark right now. You've blinked.
Donnie: The gift of gab.
"How did you know in your business to be marketing your work through regular capture of imagery? Because that's not done enough, in my opinion, as a marketing company, it's just so rare. We struggle to get good original content."
Ron: No, it's great. I want to touch on one or two last quick subjects. One Jaclyn is an amazing photographer, and your website is filled. What I'm sharing the screen for those watching are just I'm going through your galleries of images, and you guys have just done a fantastic job there. There's not a single stock photo on any of our materials anywhere. Yeah, that's so rare. Go to 30000 feet and speak philosophically, and the answer can't be just because we could because Jaclyn's a photographer. That would be a cheat code. How did you know in your business to be marketing your work through regular capture of imagery? Because that's not done enough, in my opinion, as a marketing company, it's just so rare. We struggle to get good original content.
Donnie: Yeah, well, Jaclyn, having had her background in real estate photography, she would use the phrase "pictures sell houses." That's really part of the challenge for us. All of us that do what we do is that we're trying to hide the technology in the home. Many times we've got some magazine articles that we've been involved in. Last week I was asked to write captions for photos, and I'm looking at a photo that doesn't show any of our products. It's just a beautiful home. I have to write a caption saying, well, actually, that can control the lighting through Josh.ai voice, or they can control the music in every room. I'm trying to explain what's going on. But you can't see that in the picture. I would say too that it may have been when we had dinner with you and Alex from Josh.ai that he said to me, and he's such a great mentor to so many people in this business. He said, "We have a strategy with social media." It's this kind and that kind of picture and that kind of picture and this kind. One of those things he said was just beautiful architecture. I remember that. And I took that as thankful to have his influence and said that if you just show something beautiful, what are these people want from you? They want their home to be beautiful.
Our mission statement that we came up with within 2015 is after reading Simon Sinek, start with the why we believe that the technology in your home should be easy to use, beautifully designed, and unbelievably reliable, that beautifully designed part. That's what people care so much about that. If you're willing to play ball with the interior designer man, you're a rare guy, a rare person, because so many people in our industry are just so sure of themselves and in their hired because of their confidence. That's good. But on the other hand, you should be able to work with designers and help people develop beautiful spaces. I think that's been a great extension of our social media presence. People want to look at something really unique or really beautiful or really interesting or really different. They don't want to look at batteries.
Ron: You mentioned this. When I got the opportunity to meet you and Jaclyn, I want to say it was Crestron training. I'm going to go. Do you remember what year that was?
Donnie: I don't. It was a long time ago.
Ron: It was years ago. Alex from Josh.ai had invited you guys invited and invited me to have dinner with him that night just to talk about voice, and where his voice sat in your business today, I'm always curious. Frankly, I'm going to put out my observation, which is and I'm not picking on Josh or Google or Amazon or all the other solutions. It's a fairly polarizing topic with integrators. At least that's what I find. I find people love it or maybe don't love it. I dare say the opposite of love. Yeah. Where are you guys at with voice? I try to get to know the customer and understand what they care about and what they don't care about. Everybody has a different value on a different thing. I had a customer one time that was offended when I told them that somebody might spend $700 on a pair of ceiling speakers, and he was offended by that while he was wearing his Ferragamo shoes. That cost about $1500, and he drove up in a $300,000 Ferrari.
Everybody's got a different value that they place on different things. My sister does not have any automation in her home. She has the Amazon Alexa in her kitchen, and that's good enough for her. She was over at the house recently, and she said, can I just say what song I want to hear with this? That's so normal to people, especially and with DIY products, to just be able to say it. You can say, "Hey, Mercedes." The car will respond to you now, just mind-boggling that everything is being integrated with force. On the other hand, I remember studying this many years ago that women have a certain number of words they say in a day, and men say about half that number. It's like fifteen thousand words versus about seven or eight thousand words a day. Some men just don't say as many words, and they don't want to say as many words. At the end of the day, the last thing they want to do is talk to something. They want to hit a button. But on the other hand, some people and some things are just easier with voice than screens and buttons. Some things are easier with screens and buttons. You have to get to know people and figure out what they care about what they're going to use. And I feel like the way I use voice is with the macro stuff, the big things like I'm home.
We've got Josh.ai integrated with Crestron. Josh welcomes us home, and all the lights come on. "Hey, Micro, the kids are in bed. I'll get the lights." Everything does what it's supposed to do. But some things I do on timers, I don't ever open and close my shades and drapes because that's easier for me. I feel like the voice is not the be-all-end-all way of controlling things. But if you don't have it, then it's not normal to people because the voice has become so normal, and I feel like the privacy thing gets us the Josh sale rather than having the first with Amazon or Google.
Ron: My son is 12, and this year, really, since March 2020, he's been doing the work, the school from home deal downstairs next year. Next school year, he's going to go back to the classroom. He's excited. We're excited. But I've been able to witness firsthand his relationship with Google because he has a little, I don't know what it's called, but like a picture frame that scrolls pictures and it has Google Voice embedded in it. He will literally talk to that thing all day long. My wife will just observe, and he'll ask it random questions. He'll set timers. He'll ask it some arithmetic. We'll be in a discussion at the dinner table, and we won't know the answer. And he'll just lean over and go, "Hey, Google." that. That's not going to know that. Then she'll talk in perfect English right back at it. I'm like, I never even would have thought to ask Google that question. I'm wondering if there's an age thing you mentioned. Maybe there's a sexist component to it. Maybe there's an ageist component to it.
Donnie: There are probably many ways to slice it in terms of who has an affinity to use voice and for what purpose. I think that I used to watch a 2001 A Space Odyssey and think how did everything and how was the whole thing, the whole system? I don't think like that anymore. When you watch sci-fi shows like I remember this funny story, it's what's called Eureka, where the home was the system. That was that. Well, that's what Hollywood gave us. But we don't have that. You can walk into the room and talk to Josh and have Josh control the house. Then you could walk into the next room and ask Alexa what year Benjamin Franklin died. That's OK. It could be that. We've got different products in our home. We've got Sony or Samsung or Marantz or Macintosh or Denon or whatever. We have all these different products. We may be going to have different voices in our home. That's OK. I'll make it in the car and say, "Hey, Ford or Chevrolet" or whatever it is for those cars, or I may go into my house and say, "OK, Josh," or I may go into the kid's room and say, "Hey, Google" or I may go to my phone and say, "Hey, Siri," we've got a community of robots that are around us now. That's nothing wrong with that. Everything doesn't have to integrate if it's doing something different. It's nice to have everything under one platform. But the point of it is, is it easy to do what you're trying to do? What you're trying to do is a research paper. Then maybe it's easier to use Google than it is to use some other platform. That's OK. There's nothing wrong with that. But it doesn't mean that I want to use Google for everything because I don't want to Google don't know what I'm doing all the time.
Ron: Your wife is tuning in, and she actually just posted. She said, "Also, Josh.ai, I just heard you say the kids are in bed, and it turned off the lights." That's awesome. Jaclyn, thank you for posting that. She also posted that I guess we met back in 2018 at Crestron training. Donnie, it's been a blast having you on the show. This was episode number 172. I think we might have just set the record for the longest show at 71 minutes.
Ron: It's all about being number one. For those listening in, watching, or watching live and want to follow you or maybe get in touch with you, what do you recommend they do?
Donnie: Our website is very simple. mediasystems.com. You can find us there or on Instagram at @jaclynanddonnie is also a great way to find us. I think those are best. I'll probably just leave it there.
Ron: Awesome. Donnie, it's been a pleasure having you on the show, sir.
Donnie: Thank you. Thank you so much.
Ron: Alright, folks, there you have it, show number 172 with Donnie Boutwell, CEO of Media Systems. I think next time, we'll have to have him and Jacklyn on. I think that would only be fair. You know what? Maybe we'll have Jaclyn on, and then we'll have Donnie on the sideline also commenting and watching. It'll be fun to compare those stats, by the way. Donnie, I think we're going to have to make that happen. But I hope you all are happy and healthy. I hope you're all getting vaccinated. I know my son has about another week of school, and then there'll be the celebration of summer. We have a lot of fun activities planned. I'm sure many of you out there are the same. Until next time, I will definitely be thinking of all of you. I would love you to think of One Firefly. If you have not already done so, please follow us on Instagram at @OneFireflyLLC. Additionally, if you have not already done so, make sure to subscribe to the podcast if you want to listen to the shows on the go. You can do that by going to your favorite app, whether Spotify or I happen to listen to mine on Apple podcasts, and just search Automation Unplugged. Until next time, here is our website, onefirefly.com. You can also feel free to give us a call, and I will see you all next week. Thanks, everyone. Be well.
Before taking over as CEO at Media Systems, Donnie started working for his uncle as an installer. Donnie's background includes over a decade of experience recording and producing records in Nashville. He has retained his Uncle Steve’s demand for excellence and efficiency while solidifying their mission to make home systems easy to use.
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 become the leading marketing firm specializing in integrated technology and security. The One Firefly team works hard to create innovative solutions to help Integrators boost their online presence, such as the elite website solution Mercury Pro.
Resources and links from the interview:
To keep up with Donnie, visit Media System's website at media systems or on Instagram @jaclynandonnie.