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Check back here often for the latest news on our new product releases, awards, recognitions, and other exciting achievements.

Home Automation Podcast Episode #111: An Industry Q&A With Matt Lien

In this weeks home automation show of Automation Unplugged, Matt Lien, VP of Sales at DES shares his two-goal approach for integrators during these difficult times and perspective on how lighting for wellness can be used in smart homes.

This week's home automation podcast features our host Ron Callis interviewing Matt Lien. Recorded live on Wednesday, April 15th, 2020 at 12:30 p.m. EST.

About Matt Lien

Matt got his start in the custom integration industry as an installer at Missouri-based integration firm, The Sound Room, before joining Crestron Electronics as a Regional Sales Manager for Residential Products.

During his seven years at Crestron, Matt met the team at Arkansas based DES and later joined them as VP of Sales in 2013. DES is also well known for developing the HomeSuite iPad app for Crestron systems, which has won the Crestron CEDIA Integration Award five years in a row. 

Interview Recap

  • How DES supports multiple smart home platforms including Crestron, Savant, and Control4 
  • Matt’s thoughts on LED and tunable lighting and how it’s resonating with his customers
  • Why they started offering electrical contracting services
  • Matt’s two-goal approach to taking on projects and how he’s using that to create a silver lining during these difficult times

SEE ALSO: Home Automation Podcast Episode #110: A Custom Integration Industry Q&A With Wim De Vos


Ron: Welcome to another episode of Automation Unplugged! This is show #111. Today, I am very excited to bring you a longtime friend of mine and industry veteran, the one and only Matt Lien, V.P. of sales at DES. Without further ado, I'm going to go ahead and bring in our guest Matt Lien. Hello Matt!

Matt: Hey Ron, how are you?

Ron: I am good, sir. Where are you coming to us from?

Matt: Right now I'm at my home in Rogers, Arkansas up in the northwest part of Arkansas. I'm in my theater because it's about the only room I can find that's quiet right now. Everybody's here, the dogs are here. Everyone's here.

Ron: It is strange times we're in right now, isn't it?

Matt: Little bit, little bit.

Ron: How is your family making out? Is everyone healthy?

Matt: Everyone's healthy. I've got a senior in high school, he's missing out on prom and graduation, all those kinds of things. But between Xbox Live, FaceTime, Snapchat, and everything else like that, life hasn't changed for him too dramatically. He's just having a really long weekend.

Ron: My son's 11 but everything you just described is what's keeping him entertained. Now, what would we have done without the Internet? That's a scary thought.

Matt: That could be, yeah, I don't even want to think about it.

Ron: For thousands of years, that is what man had to go through, the lack of all of these sources of entertainment. Yet, here we are, spoiled modern Homosapiens that are complaining about having.

Matt: The world's content at your fingertips.

Ron: It's amazing. Matt, let's go to the way back machine, and let's tell the audience how you got into the industry, and then we'll talk about your current role.

Matt: When I got out of the army, I was trying to find what I was going to do and one of the things that were a hobby was technology and audio/video. I was a local at a place called The Sound Room in St. Louis where I grew up. I'd go in there and hang out, talk to the guys there.

Ron: Dave Young at The Sound Room?

Matt: Yep. And one day they had a sign for installers so I thought, “Yeah, I'll give it a shot.” I applied, got the job. I thought I'd be plugging in black boxes and speakers and all of that kind of thing but the very first day, they sent me to a job site to do a pre-wire. I had no concept that didn't know about that part of the industry. Andy Howe, who I think is their V.P. of Operations now, was the guy they sent me with. They sent me and another rookie with Andy to pre-wire an entire house, Andy wasn't happy but he did his best to kind of get us through. I broke my foot, my very first day at work.

Ron: Workers comp nightmare!

Matt: Yeah. That was not a great way to start, but it's probably what kept me in. They did the workman's comp thing and it wasn't what I thought it was gonna be, I was thinking maybe it's not for me but because they had done the workman's comp and I felt obligated.

Ron: How did you break your foot, by the way, on the first day of the job? What went wrong?

Matt: Instead of putting a single board for the steps, they had like two by threes and there was a slot right there in the middle. And because we were rookies, it went slow so we were still pre-wiring in the dark. We're literally run around with flashlights, still pulling wires. I stuck my foot in between one of those things and fell forward and it just kind of broke it. I thought well that doesn't feel good. We finished the day and then from there, stayed there. It was a fantastic opportunity. The installers there were awesome. They took a lot of pride in their work. I was there initially doing installs and then programming, moved on to the sales side because one of things that they didn't have that's more common nowadays, there was no engineering department. The sales guys were doing the designs and sometimes you'd go out in the field and those designs were lacking, you've got seven zones of audio but four zones of amplification that kind of thing. I moved to sales to have more control, eventually went into management. I was there for a number of years and then I took a job with Crestron. I was the regional sales manager down in Dallas for about seven years.

Ron: What were the years you were at Crestron? Because you and I were co-workers when we were Crestron.

Matt: I was there from 2006 to 2013.

Ron: Oh, wow. Okay. We only overlapped for a little bit. I was there ‘03 to ‘07. What was your territory when you were with Crestron?

Matt: I was hired to split the territory with another guy. There was a guy who was covering Texas, Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Louisiana. We split Texas and then I got Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Louisiana. That became my territory and then later on I would go and work with the guys in Denver a little bit too and would cover some of the stuff in the mountain states working with them.

Ron: Got it. And then you decided to leave in ‘13. What inspired you to leave?

Matt: Well I had a lot of good dealers, but I had a few that were stellar but one, in particular, stood out.

Ron: Matt DeVance from DeVance Audio Video in Dallas was one of those stellar ones, right?

Matt: He actually was one of those stellar ones. Actually, Matt was pretty young and we had another dealer that was really angry that Matt DeVance became a Crestron dealer, he said the guy would never amount to anything, he was just a turn slammer and we never should've signed him up. And look at him now.

Ron: Look at him now! Leading Dallas. That was clearly very good foresight on your part.

Matt: I wish I could take credit for it. I didn't sign them up but I'm the one who had to field the complaints. Most of the credit for DeVance goes to Dana, not Matt.

Ron: Oh yeah. Clearly, Matt that's just there, he's just the smiling face. Dana is the magic in that business.

Matt: Exactly. But no I mean I had a dealer, DES, up in Arkansas which is where I'm at now. And it's funny because my original boss at Crestron when I was going through my list of dealers and trying to get to know who everybody was, he told me, “Look, the guy who runs that company up there, he doesn't get our industry. He doesn't understand.” And I'm looking and he was one of the top dealers. I mean, he was doing really good numbers with Crestron at the time so it didn't make sense to me that this guy is doing great numbers but my boss wasn't a big fan. I came up and met with him a couple of times and he was the first one of my dealers that ever bought me lunch.

We sat down and we had lunch for about three hours and just talked about our philosophies on business. Kevin Lamidonis is his name and found that we really thought alike on a lot of things when it came to the industry and business and how things should be done and all that stuff. There was a professional relationship there, but we became friends as well. That friendship kind of grew over the course of seven years. And DES did fantastic work. I mean, if there was ever a Crestron project somewhere in the world that needed somebody to come in and rescue it, they were my first call. When it came time to make a change, DES was looking to bring somebody and I was looking to make a move and so that's what I did. We packed up, left Dallas, and came up here to northwest Arkansas.

Ron: Got it. What's your role now and responsibilities and regarding the company?

Matt: DES has been around since the mid-90s. They've stayed in business for a good long time. Kevin actually started the company is an I.T. company with another partner and eventually, those guys split up and were doing their own thing. And Kevin started with more of the automation stuff on the AMX side but eventually moved over to Crestron. Because he had a computer engineering and an I.T. background, he was way ahead of where most AV companies were when it came to embracing networking and all of that kind of thing.

From a programming standpoint, he actually had a top-notch software development team. His programmers were not guys who used to pull wire and now wanted to sit on the couch with a laptop, these were guys that were degreed software guys coming out of college that he then taught them this business. The first time I really got a sense for the software side of what DES could do was they had an iPad app called Home Suite that was designed to control Crestron systems and Crestron had released their own app that had some stumbling the first year or so that it was out, it didn't work fantastic.

But HomeSuite had a floor plan of the client's home and you'd have a page for each subsystem. If you wanted to listen to an audio source, you'd just take that audio source and drag it to the room. While that seems very common now, this is 10-11 years ago.

Ron: This was before C# (C Sharp).

Matt: Yep. Well before C#.

Ron: Interesting. How did they do that?

Matt: I'm not a programmer so I don't understand it all but they it is a native iOS app. They wrote custom modules on the Crestron side and created hooks over on the iOS side.

Ron: I see, so they used iOS programming and UI capabilities and then successfully hooked it into the Crestron system so you had a more beautiful more polished UI experience?

Matt: It was gorgeous. The first time I saw it, I mean I took a video of it and I was showing it to people at Crestron and they were like, “That doesn’t work, that's not real. That's smoke and mirrors,” and I’m like, “No, it does” –

Ron: It’s real! I’ve been on jobs, it’s real!

Matt: You do this thing and it actually works. There were just a lot of things like that and that was the flashiest one but when it came to the engineering, the documentation, everything they were the guys doing everything the way that most companies are kind of aspiring to do it. When I had an opportunity to come, it just made sense.

Ron: Yeah. That does make sense. In terms of DES today, are they mostly doing residential or commercial work?

Matt: It’s shifting to more residential, it was more 50/50 when I first came on. They were doing a lot of commercial and residential, now it skews more 70% residential. Part of that is that Kevin made the decision to get us into the electrical contracting side of things about two and a half years ago which has automatically shifted more of our projects to the residential side.

It's turned out to be a great decision for us because one that's getting us in earlier two, as the price of some of these things as continue to go down, you have to find ways to maximize the dollar potential with each client. Things that used to cost tens of thousands, now cost thousands. Things it used to cost thousands, now cost hundreds. But you still need the same number of people and the same resources to implement that stuff. The electorate has been a real boom for us.

Ron: Your responsibilities as VP of sales, is that is it you selling? Do you have folks selling with you or that you also manage?

Matt: It’s me selling and folks that I’m managing selling, so little bit of both. But they do most of the heavy lifting.

Ron: Sure. No, that makes sense. You were talking about the HomeSuite software, where does that stuff stand now? Did that get retired with the ongoing evolution of technology and UI or are you guys still using your own proprietary UI’s?

"Control4 and Savant have done really good jobs of making their systems easier to deploy and having a compelling UI, especially if you look at the Savant side of things."

Matt: We still use our own proprietary UI but we do the big three. We do Control4, Savant, and Crestron. Quite frankly, Control4 and Savant have done really good jobs of making their systems easier to deploy and having a compelling UI, especially if you look at the Savant side of things. A lot of people you know go to that side.

The advantage of HomeSuite is it's the best, most elegant interface out there for controlling a really large home or multiple homes because it's not list driven, it's floorplan driven. But there's an expense with that customization and now things have gotten good enough that we do see people choosing to go with Control4 and Savant, and now Crestron Home, now that that's starting to be a real thing. But there's still some HomeSuite projects we're doing out there.

Ron: Well, I'm curious - if you're willing and/or able. I've got a good question here in the comments from Sara but before I go to Sara's question, I wanted to ask. As the V.P. of Sales, how do you position whether the client should be quoted a Savant system or a Control4 system or a Crestron system? How do you think about that? Does the customer even know the difference?

Matt: They do. What we will typically do is we will either let them put their hands on it or we'll give them some videos that allow them to see what those are ahead of time. Even though the systems can kind of all does the same thing, there are some unique differentiators between them. We really don't try to sell people things, we try to educate people as much as they'll allow it.

You have some people, for instance, I'm dealing with a gentleman right now that he will look at every link that I send him. He will read everything that we’ll go through and that's going to be a fantastic experience because he's investing in the education upfront so that he can make a good decision. We usually start with some two or three-minute videos that we send them and just kind of give them a small snippet of “OK here's where this fits into this world, here's where this one fits, here's where this one fits.” And then they kind of guide us after that. Everything kind of branches off of that piece.

Ron: Is it challenging to support all three platforms? And by the way, there might be other platforms you're also supporting, I’ve only named a couple. Is it hard to support? How do you manage the support of those different platforms versus say consolidating around one?

Matt: I think it's harder if you were coming from a Control4 environment and then trying to support Savant and Crestron than the way that we did it. From a software and programming standpoint, Crestron has always been harder to do than the other two. The other two are pretty straightforward, pretty easy. That makes it not too difficult and all of these companies have gotten much better about getting online resources so that you don't need to ship your team to a training facility all the time. I mean, you get the occasional class that they have to go to but there's so much stuff online that they can sit down at a desk and bone up on these things.

Ron: Let me jump into Sarah Drescher’s question, “Hey, Ron and Matt. How have you shifted your sales strategy to continue selling during this time?” Of course, she's speaking of COVID-19 and the quarantine. We're going to get into some of that as well with. I know it's affected your son, right? He's a senior in high school.

Matt: Yeah. It's affected him and it's affected a lot of people. Really, for us,we're not in the same situation that you're in down in Miami or that people are in New York. It's funny, I looked up the numbers and there are eight million people in New York and they're crammed into three hundred square miles. We have three million people in Arkansas in fifty thousand square miles. We were already kind of socially distanced to begin with. A lot of things have shut down here but with us being an essential business so-to-speak and people being home, we really haven't had to shift how we're doing our sales.

The only thing we've really had to shift is that more the meetings are happening either over video chat or by phone or a lot of email stuff if people aren't necessarily comfortable coming to the office and seeing some things or if they're not comfortable with someone coming to their home right then. But activity-wise, it really hasn't tapered off for us.

Ron: I well in terms of the change in selling strategy, right. Personally, I've been video conferencing and doing this work from home sales from home thing firmly as a business since 2015. Leveraging video conferencing for a long time prior to that. My customer base is throughout North America and around the world. For you and your team, are you finding that face to face meetings are not happening and everything is going to the virtual meeting?

Matt: No, I've actually had a number of customers have had no problem coming and sitting at a conference table or having us come out and meet with them. Obviously, we're not shaking hands and we're you know being careful.

Ron: Keeping your distance but you're in the same room?

Matt: Yeah. It really hasn't shifted that much for us and we don't have a stay at home order the way that some states do. There's nothing that impedes travel, they're just saying, “Hey folks, you know what's going on. Use your common sense.”

Ron: What are you seeing in terms of volume differences in transactions or sales? Has it affected your business yet? If you're off, are you off by a lot or a little?

Matt: We were off a little bit before this. What we're seeing is the activity ticking up a little bit, but it's not as much big-ticket stuff. People are sitting at home and they're suddenly realizing that their network stinks because there are now 10 devices in the house trying to use Wi-Fi at the same time. That's not a big-ticket kind of project but it's really important for the client.

Ron: It’s moving a little bit of cash and at least you're perhaps picking up a new customer which might need more stuff down the road.

Matt: We're staying busy. Construction-wise, we're not seeing as many new starts. I'm not as worried about right now as I'm as I am about what's going to happen four or five to six months from now. That's really more my concern at this point. Hopefully we're taking good enough care of people that are out in the world. And I think that people are going to want to probably reinvest in their homes a little bit more towards the other side of this.

I'm sure that there are some people who decided not to do the home theater, decided not to do the media room, or a whole number of things, the outdoor audio. They decided not to invest in those things because they go out and they do stuff. I think some people are going to want to invest in making their homes a better nest, should we ever find ourselves here again.

Ron: I just finally this morning paid for the motorized shades from my house. I was like, “Well, I got time on my hands. Might as well put them in.” That's that makes sense. Matt, our friend down in Dallas, did just ask a question. He says, “Hey, Matt. I've been thinking about taking on the electrical side of our business. What were your challenges in deciding to also offer electrical services?”

Matt: Yeah, there's a number of them and Kevin has really led up that part of our business. The fortunate thing about him is he's one of those guys that once he decides he's gonna take something on, he'll learn how to do it better than anybody else can. He can sell better than anyone in the company, he can engineer better than anyone in the company, he can program better than anyone the company. On the electrical thing, he's taken that bull by the horns. Personnel was one of the big ones, finding the right guys.

Ron: Did you buy the license? Did you buy the master electrician with the proper trade certification?

Matt: Had to.

Ron: That's the only way to do it right?

Matt: Yeah. Have to. You've got to get the license, guys. It's one of the benefits to the electrical side of things that sometimes I wonder if we would benefit over on the low voltage side of things because if you hire a master or a journeyman or an apprentice, you kind of know where they actually are in their experience level and all that kind of thing. Obviously you can have better or worse Master Electricians but there's at least a minimum amount of hours in schooling that they've had to go through to be able to be a master electrician. That's beneficial from a hiring standpoint.

Some of the learning came in one with how customers and builders look at that and how we looked at it. I mean we’re A/V guys and were extremely particular about how we wire things and doing it neatly and nicely and everything like that. That is not a Hallmark of most electrical businesses, especially on the residential side. We've always liked to engineer things very specifically at the beginning and for the most part, neither the client nor the builder - unless you have a project where there was an architect involved who really did a solid lighting design and an electrical design and the appliances were picked out and all of those things, all that all the stuff that you need to have a fully realized electrical design. Most of that stuff has really not figured out too much on the front end which is why you have so many instances of the client walking through the house with Sparky going, I'll put a cam there, I'll put a cam there, I'll put it cam there. That's the engineering.

"We had to adapt ourselves to the market and stop trying to make the market adapt to us."

We had to adapt ourselves to the market and stop trying to make the market adapt to us. Where we said, “OK we want to sit down we want to get all of this figured out before we go in so that we can give you a solid number and a solid plan,” and nobody wants to do that. They're not ready. They're not at that part of the journey where they're really ready to invest any thought in that. Once the sticks are up and they can walk around in the space, then they're ready to have that conversation. But nine times out of ten not before them.

Ron: You've had to accommodate some of the processes that you had called normal processes for the low voltage side of the business where we do want to preplan and document, you had to modify that just because you don't always have that luxury and electrical side.

Matt: Yeah. To preplan would be the right way to do it. It would be the best way for the client.

"I’d like to think the super big house has a lighting designer and they're thinking about these things in advance."

Ron: Is their style of project or size or classification where that does happen? I’d like to think the super big house has a lighting designer and they're thinking about these things in advance or no?

Matt: I think it really has more to do with the builder that they choose to work with. Different builders like to do it in different ways. We work with a few and some of them are very much kind of figured out as we go along and they still manage to have a fantastic result at the end. It's not like their process is broken. We've we worked with a couple of builders who they are very much like us when it comes that thinking, where the more that we figure out on the front end the better off we are. The nice thing about figuring on the front end is that the budget is more accurate than it typically is the other way.

Ron: Matt asks one more question, “Are you guys selling fixtures?”

Matt: Yes. Have been for a while.

Ron: Would that be a recommendation if you're going to do the electrical thing, to also do the fixture thing?

Matt: Absolutely. I mean it's where a lot of the money is and quite frankly the better fixtures, the ones that actually are not the junky contractor-grade stuff that's going into a lot of houses big and small, those distributors are hoping for somebody like us to go in and specify their stuff.

Ron: They need someone that knows how to sell better gear.

Matt: Yeah. The one thing, when people think about it, lighting makes all the difference in how everything else in the house is presented. The architecture of the interior design, all of it. If the lighting is garbage, then all of those things suffer. But if you get a great lighting design and you get fixtures that allow you to achieve it makes all the difference.

It's the difference between the cinematography of a Martin Scorsese film versus sitcom lighting. Far and away, the vast majority of homes have sitcom lighting. They don't really have that layered, artistic lighting that really complements the space. But I think that's changing. I think it's becoming more asked for.

Ron: What's your position as a company on really two nuanced components that are maybe tied together, and that is the LED lighting and tunable lighting, the idea of the other light in your room matching the light of the sun, the circadian rhythm lighting. Are those resonating within your company and or to your customer base?

Matt: The tunable lighting, yes. The tunable white, I mean scientifically, we know that there are real benefits to that. And I think that once somebody understands the science and if they have the budget to accommodate it's really kind of a no brainer because there is a massive effect on how you feel.

The RGB stuff, I think it's gimmicky. I think people occasionally want to do it in the media room or a game room or something like that. But I think it's one of those things if somebody does it in their old house like with a Philips Hue or something like that it’s one of those things that it's cool for like a week.

"Tunable light and the science of the light in your house matching the position of the sun and the effect of blue light causing you to be alert and you probably want to reduce that at night so that it's more calming."

Ron: I'm in a role here, marketing for many companies out there and I've personally just been kind of scratching my head like, who wants a purple room? I don't get it. But I mean, clearly, people do I'm not knocking anybody out there listening that's delivering purple rooms for their clients. I just found it a bit curious as to, is that a fad? Or is there something more that I'm just not grasping yet?

Whereas tunable light and the science of the light in your house matching the position of the sun and the effect of blue light causing you to be alert and you probably want to reduce that at night so that it's more calming. I guess the engineer in me, the left brain is going, “Yeah, I dig that. That makes sense.” I buy that. I was curious though, is the customer buying that?

Matt: I think so. I can't think of anybody who's come in and said, “I want to do RGB lighting,” except we've seen some people ask for it for exterior lighting, game days and maybe for Christmas. Yeah, when we've had customer requests for that it's really been more exterior lighting that has been interior lighting.

Ron: Theme based tied to a holiday or some team that they support. Got it. That makes sense. To take the conversation a completely different direction here, Matt. What are some of your hobbies? You or your family's hobbies. How are you guys spending this quarantine time?

Matt: Well, I like what I do for a living. There's a lot of that –

Ron: There’s a lot of work.

Matt: We've used the theater quite a bit. My wife and I have motorcycles we like to ride, so we get our social distancing in on the weekends by getting out on the bikes and getting out as long as it's not raining. Really that's kind of it.

Ron: Are you reading the books or are you watching more movies, are you listening to more podcasts?

Matt: Lots of podcasts. Lots of books. Really for the last few years I've been listening to podcasts much more so than I do watch the news or listen to news programs or something like that. Sports radio I haven't listened to in quite a while but 9 times out of 10 if I'm in my vehicle or if I'm exercising or whatever, it's probably a podcast. It's probably not music. Sometimes an audiobook, not fiction audiobooks but more the business stuff and that kind of thing.

Ron: When did you discover podcasts, do you remember the year?

Matt: I think it was about four years ago, five years ago. I knew about them before then, but I saw them as sort of this weird sort of thing that like Kevin Smith and his buddy were doing. I didn't see a lot of value in it. Where I really started to latch onto it as it is there was a Joe Rogan podcast that I just happened to stumble on and he had a guest that was very far right and a guest that was very far left. They had the most intelligent, civil, nuanced two and a half-hour conversation about their positions on things where at the end of it everybody can kind of agree that agreed on 90% of the issues out there, they just you know felt kind of strongly a little bit about this thing or about that thing. I was like, “Wow, this is this never happens.”

Ron: I was going to say, that's such the opposite of Fox News or MSNBC or CNN right now. Everybody's fighting for that five-second sound bite. It's right you know it's about scoring points versus actually having an intelligent conversation.

Matt: And there's no nuance. I mean, you're not getting any information about what people really think or what they believe. Somebody will say, “I introduced this bill,” and they will give it a title that makes it sound like a very benign thing and there they're counting on the fact that nobody is actually going to dive in and read the 300, 400, 500 pages of that bill to find out what's actually in it. They just they'll call it something like, we love Americans Act. How could you vote against that? We love Americans. And both sides do it.

Ron: Yeah, it’s politics.

Matt: Podcasts are really the only place where I think you get long-form conversations where people can't hide behind a soundbite. They actually have to explain their position and they have to do it in a way that will get you to listen to him for forty-five minutes or however long it is. Yeah, I love podcasts.

Ron: Do you have some favorites that you’d be willing to share?

Matt: Yeah, definitely. Joe Rogan, it amazes me that the Fear Factor/UFC guy is the leading voice on for civil conversation these days. There's a podcast called Masters of Scale that I really like. There's one called Business Wars that I listen to occasionally, especially when they've got a couple of businesses that you know I'm interested in. Blockbuster versus Netflix, that kind of thing. How I Built This, also.

Ron: I just started listening to that one recently, where they go through different businesses. They just not too long ago had the founder of Slack and how Slack was really a science project on the side in between his failed video game businesses. He cranked out the Slack that we all use, like what was it in six weeks?

Matt: Yeah. It's something like that. I heard that one as well and it's just ridiculous that it's so not the thing, it's a tool that he built just to use internally. He didn't see any value for it outside of that, it’s is just like, “Well, it’d to be nice if we had this thing internally.”

Ron: Yeah, where they are all working remotely and need to talk and collaborate but the tool doesn't exist, let's build it. And literally, he had to close one video game business because it just wasn't working and he was planning to open a new one and he built this in his downtime so he didn't have to let his team off.

Matt: I love those kinds of podcasts, especially when we are struggling with things within our own business because so often when you read certain books or you hear certain stories or what have you, it's the highlight reel. And it makes it feel like it was just all predestined and that it all worked. Podcasts like How I Built this and some of the books, like I read Shoe Dog by Phil Knight.

You start to realize that everybody who has built something great really got their teeth kicked in for a really long time before they got to the point where everybody was like, “Look at that overnight sensation!” It would be so easy if we were Nike or Apple or whoever. And then you get the history and get to understand that they went through the same stuff that we go through. Where there are things that don't go your way or things that you thought would go one way and they go a completely different way. I think those are fantastic.

Ron: I would say my personal experience, I discovered podcasts about four years ago and for me it was nothing short of a turning point for my personal mental health because I was so busy being busy for so many years that I had this hunger for education and learning but it just it was hard for me to find a format that I could commit to on an ongoing basis. I'll read a book, and I read books regularly, but I'm not an avid reader. I watch YouTube videos on occasion but I feel guilty sitting there staring at YouTube. I try to walk five to six days a week every morning and I can listen to history, economics, science, marketing, cryptocurrency - whatever my cup of tea is at that moment sure I can consume it. And it's I don't know it's game-changing.

Matt: It's easy to get very insular with our businesses and our family lives and all that kind of thing and not do a great job of letting those outside influences help shape your thought. Almost everything we're going through, somebody else has already gone down that road. Somewhere, somehow. 

It's amazing how many times you'll pick up a book or you listen to a podcast where they'll just be one snippet. And you might read 300 pages just for that one snippet where it's just like, “OK that crystallizes this issue for me. Now I understand why I'm struggling with this thing or now I understand why that guy is this way or whatever.” It's the same thing, mental health. Totally. It's kind of a breather.

Ron: Amen, I agree. We are we're about 45 minutes in, believe it or not. I like to close out with some words of advice or wisdom. You've been around the block. You've been to an actual war, with your military background and you have you've been in this industry on different sides of the equation for a number of decades.

We have a lot of listeners and folks watching and listening that are at various stages or positions of leadership within their company and many people are going through some very challenging times right now. What words of wisdom, what comes top of mind for you? If people were to have that say one or two nuggets of gold that they were able to implement. What would that be for you?

Matt: Well, anybody who's worked with me at all over the last 15-20 years, they've heard me talk about the two goals speech all the time. I'll share this with our teammates, I'll share this with our customers, too. When it comes to projects, if we want to take on a project, the project has to meet two criteria. We have two goals. Goal number one is that know we have to be able to do it profitably. Goal number two is that we have to be allowed to do it in such a way that we would be happy to put our name on it and that the client will hopefully evangelize us when it's all done.

Too often, and I've been guilty of it myself even over these last several years, you'll be chasing work or something like that and you'll go, “OK, well as long as we make a profit, I'm willing to do the work this way even though I know I'm not going to be proud to have my name on it,” or vice versa, “We need to get some exposure so let's discount us heavily to get it, but we'll have our name on it.” If a project can get you those two things, you probably shouldn't be doing it. I guess the only other nugget of wisdom, very often when I see people trying to solve problems, they keep trying to find the one thing, that one thing that is the crux of the problem. And it's never one thing. It's always a bunch of things.

Ron: Often a bunch of little things.

Matt: Yeah, absolutely. It's kind of like troubleshooting. If you're out of the field, you're troubleshooting. If it's just one thing, somebody didn't hook up a wire correctly or something like that, it's fairly easy to solve. If you have two things going on, then the troubleshooting becomes that much more difficult because it's hard to isolate.

Same thing with problems in your business. It's very rarely one thing, it's usually a series of things. And all of them have to be addressed to some degree. You may prioritize one over the others but it's naive to think, “OK if I just do this one thing everything will be better and everything will work now.” It never works that way.

Ron: No, that's awesome, sound advice from Matt Lien. Well, Matt. It was a pleasure to have you on episode #111. Wasn't too hard, right? Thank you, brother. Stay safe and stay healthy and tell Kevin and team that the team at One Firefly say hello.

Matt: Sounds good. Thanks, guys.


Industry innovator, Matt Lien, VP of Sales at DES, got his start as an installer before joining Crestron Electronics as a Regional Sales Manager for Residential Products for seven years. His industry experience allows him to provide helpful insight for smart home integrators during these uncertain times.

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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