Home Automation Podcast Episode #40: An Industry Q&A With Henry Clifford
Growing a sustainable, profitable business
About Henry Clifford
Henry Clifford founded Livewire of Richmond, Va., in 2001 after identifying a need for simple home technology in Central Virginia. He began his career in IT during the.com boom of the 90s, working as a web developer and information architect. His lifelong passion for technology made Livewire an easy choice.
Under Clifford’s leadership, Livewire has acquired 5 competitors since 2011, added 5,000 square feet of office/warehouse space, launched a commercial division (Livewire for Business) and is now the largest HTP in Central Virginia.
In 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016, Livewire made the Inc. 500|5000 (2013-2014), CEPro 100 and RVA 25 (2014) lists. Henry currently serves on the CEDIA Board of Directors through 2019. Henry is also a Co-Founder at Parasol, a nationwide 24/7 remote support agency whose motto is “for integrators, by integrators.”
Here are some of the topics Ron had the opportunity to discuss with Henry:
- The importance of corporate values
- What to look for in a business before acquiring it
- Comparisons of costs incurred from acquiring a security monitoring account versus building it yourself from scratch
- Henry’s methods of “stress testing” his business by annually taking time away each year
Ron: Hello everybody. Ron Callis bringing you another episode of Automation Unplugged. This is episode 40 brought to you by my day job over at One Firefly. Hope you're having a good day. If you're out there watching live. Thank you for joining us. I'm going to do what I do every week. I'm going to jump into Facebook real quick and see if the interwebs are cooperating and if I in fact have a live feed up on the page. So bear with me as I check that out. Also starting a little bit late, had a few technical difficulties, a few gremlins trying to do their thing, but we have fought them off and yeah, it looks like we're good. We're streaming live into the page. If you're out there, if you're watching either live or if you're watching post show, post taping, please like this. Please share this with your fans, your audience. That way we can get more people watching this cool content. And I am actually right now just going to close out a few more windows here just to make sure we don't have any distractions. Okay. There we go. All right, I'm going to bring our guest in. He has a hard stop at 1:30. So I'm gonna get you folks introduced to Mr. Henry Clifford. How are you Henry?
Henry: Hey Ron, how you doing? Thanks for having me.
Ron: Hey buddy. I am good. Thanks for taking time out of your busy schedule to join us and join my audience.
Henry: Oh, this is great. Look I love talking about our industry and yeah, just excited to be here.
Ron: Well, awesome. Well let me give a little bit, I'm going to toot your own horn just a little bit here Henry. Cause I know you may not be willing to do that on your own. You know, you're from Richmond, Virginia. You're actually from the same neck of the woods that I am. I'm from Newport News, Virginia.
Henry: That's great.
Ron: That's so, you know, for those of you that don't know Newport News in Richmond, they are about, I dunno, 60 miles apart or so.
Henry: Yeah. Yeah, a couple, yeah. Hour and a half away close by then the home of the Atlantic fleet and I guess what the largest naval ship yard on the planet. It's pretty, pretty impressive.
Ron: Yeah, the Newport News Shipyard. Actually my dad and my dad's dad and quite a few of our lineage have worked there. Still work at the Newport News Shipyard.
Ron: It's where a lot of the Navy's big boats and submarines are either worked on or built or serviced. So you're from Richmond, Virginia. You started Livewire back in 2001 and you've actually been doing quite a bit in recent years of acquisitions. So I want to talk a bit about that. You also sit on CEDIA Boards of Directors, so I definitely want to talk CEDIA with you. I always love when I get people that are familiar with the inner workings of CEDIA as to what's going on. And where you're taking CEDIA and you also have a very exciting new venture with Ted Bremencamp from ETC. And Greg from Eagle Century and you guys have cooked up Parasol and I know I was just out in Nashville at the pro source event and you guys had a booth and you guys were just packed. You were slammed busy. So lot of moving and shaking there my friend.
Henry: I, you know, we're, trying not to let any grass grow. As you know, our industry changes all the time and that's it. That's the only thing that stays the same. So I guess our philosophy is that we've just got to stay proactive and stay out in front of our industry. Because you mentioned the year 2001 feels like millennia ago and the types of businesses that we all operate now are so very different from where we began. And I feel like we pivot and reinvent ourselves probably every three, four or five years. And I think that's true in a lot of industries, but in home technology, business technology and custom electronics, I feel like that's even more so because of the ever-increasing accelerative curves and flows of information that we're all living in.
Ron: I agree. I would challenge that. If you want to stay out front, you pivot and you pivot as often as necessary. So many of the folks in this industry don't pivot and they talk about how things used to be and they pine for the past, whereas I agree with you things, you know, the past is gone, man, shit's changing. You better keep up. Yeah.
Henry: Yeah. There's a saying in aviation that all the air above you and all the fuel back at the airport, it's not going to do you a lick of good. So I feel like I couldn't agree more with what you just said.
Ron: So I like to always with all my guests. I would like to go back into the past a little bit if you don't mind, just to help my audience understand how did you land in this space again? I see 2001, you started Livewire what did you study in school or what were you doing prior to that that led you into the resi CI space? And, is that what you started? Or were you doing something else and it's evolved into what it is today?
Henry: I'd say the spark is, it goes back to my childhood, going to see my grandparents. My grandfather was a guy named Page Burr and he worked on a lot of the electronics that became a foundation of where a lot of the components are now. I think he was most proud of developing products like the Dax that still are in a lot of the high end AV gear now. So he had a company called Burr Brown and which was later acquired by Texas Instruments. So going to grandpa's house when I was a kid involved learning how to solder, work a multi meter learning, the difference between a diode and a capacitor and reading line diagrams and working on Heath kit projects. So that passion was instilled in me at an early age. And I've always loved electronics and watching systems come together and making technology behave. So that's always been fun. And then another interest just from an early age has always been around entrepreneurial activity. So I've always sold things from an early age on the school bus. I sold I think..
Ron: Were you selling candy? What my brother and I used to do is we used to go to 711 because it was near the bus stop and we'd go buy up all the taffy. Cause some reason taffy was the it thing when I was in elementary school and we'd go on the school bus and sell all the taffy.
Henry: Well, Ron, we're kindred spirits because I would go to the Safeway and they sold Juicy Fruit in like the 10 pack and for a dollar. And I'd turn around and sell the Juicy Fruit pack for 50 cents or Blow Pops or things like that, sell them on the school bus. So I quickly figured out if you're an environment where high demand and low supply, you're going to make a profit. Yeah you're going to be a good shape. So you know, all of a sudden I found myself a wash and tens of tens of dollars in at an early age. So that was fun. I like selling, I still enjoy the thrill of closing a sale. So I think taking that passion for technology and, and the passion I had for not only selling, but entrepreneurial activity, I think it was a natural sort of stream of consciousness into where I eventually ended up. But as I went through high school, I went away to a sort of dead poet's society, kind of all boys boarding school. And really just kept my head down and worked hard and then had to put myself through school through the University of Maryland where I was studying journalism. So while I wasn't singing in the acapella group there and, and I was working and working really hard as a student, a work-study student, and I just was frustrated with the weighed scale of doing some of the lower skill work. And at that point the Internet was brand new. So I was tasked with working on the school web page and building and fixing computers and building and fixing servers. All these things happen sort of one after another, but they were only because I sought out the opportunity and sort of made those things happen. And so I became sort of higher and higher paid as I went. And I saw technology really as a way to leverage my passion but also pay for school and pay the rent. And it was fun because the whole time I'm doing something that I love and getting paid for it. So I started my first consulting business. About a year into school, building webpages, building work, helping people specify and install computers, things like that. And then doing network administration. And then that kind of was great through the mid to late nineties. Meanwhile I'm getting a journalism degree, so principally writing and so I don't really have any formal training in the technology side, in fact I'd probably fail a computer science class if you put me put me in one. But I've always just understood how technology works. It's come easy to me, but in an academic sense, the theoretical side never really did. So the practical sides always been very appealing. So get out of school, got my journalism degree and continued my consulting career and then fast forward to 2001, the latest.com I worked for, went under. And I bought a house for the first time and looked around for somebody to come and wire up the house cause I really wanted all the technology in the new house. And all I found was a scary looking guy, missing a lot of teeth who candidly kind of freaked out my wife or another guy who was too cool for school and didn't want to talk to me unless I had $100,000 to spend. So I saw a gap in the middle of the market and nobody had taken a professional services approach to home technology. So that became Livewire. So we started off there was no we, it's just me and my dad's Neon tooling around the place with a rented generator from the Home Depot in the back of the car, ran into a builder at the workout group I was doing. And the builder starts complaining about how the electricians left him high and dry on a couple of his projects and that the electrician didn't understand how to do the low voltage cabling. And I said, well we do that. And so I met him at a job site, showed him a photo gallery of the work that I'd done on my own house and my brother and I saddled up in the Dodge Neon and went and spent like three or four days wiring a house that I'd expect one of our crews to do now in about four hours. And so that was our humble beginnings. And that grew from there into my quest to get the local builders to switch from using the electrician to using Livewire. And before you knew it, we went from doing one or two homes to doing 400 then 800 homes in the matter of a couple of years. So we grew very rapidly and then started hiring employees. I hired a sales guy with my first employee. The rest of the folks were subcontractors. And then in 2006, we acquired a building and built it out as a design center, which was, I feel like a really critical move for us. I feel like before when we were the proverbial trunk slammer, which it's fine.
Ron: You were making a good living as a trunk slammer.
Henry: Yeah. It was great. Right? I feel like we weren't taken seriously by our vendors. And then we moved into our design center and we started getting taken a little more seriously and so, and that enabled us to grow and that was my goal. I'm not by the way saying that that should be everybody's goal, that I wanted to grow the company beyond where it was was me out there doing the work because candidly, it's not my strength. So we started hiring more quality installation folks operations folks, financial folks, and built out our design center. And then in 2011 we started acquiring competitors. So the largest local competitor here was owned by Ray Leper, who was a former CEDIA president and we acquired his company, which I felt like was another great shot in the arm for us.
Ron: A big feather in your cap for sure.
Henry: Well yeah, it was an opportunity for us to really hockey stick things in Richmond and in Central Virginia and again, be seen as an emerging player in our market and in the subsequent years between 2011 and today seen us acquiring four or five more companies, each one of them with a different niche. And so the fundamental, I think sort of theme in all of this is we've tried not to get over our skis with the moves that we've made. My uncle bought me a book in when I was in undergrad and the book's called Buy Low, Sell High, Collect Early and Pay Late, and you don't really need to read the book.
Ron: That's kind of a pretty good message from the title for sure.
Henry: Yeah. That's really the summary. And since then we've expanded and added more square footage, more training facility and more employees. And then my own day to day has really shifted from where it was. I was doing everything from doing the installations to supervising additional crews to purchasing the bookkeeping. To, I've done every job here really badly. And so I transitioned into managing that effort and then slowly tried to transition into leading the effort as well. And that those transitions have been awkward and tough and fraught with sort of mistakes made along the way. We just try not to make the same ones twice. But you know, now my main focus I would say day to day is culture and making sure that Livewire and you know, you mentioned our new company Parasol you know, that we're creating you know, by selecting the right folks, great places to work, places where folks want to come in and they're excited to come.
Ron: How are you going about that cause that have you demystified that challenge yet or, or is that a work in progress?
Henry: It's always a work in progress. We started taking it really seriously in 2015 when I went to a conference and saw a guy named Cameron Harold present on mission, vision, values and the difference between somebody who's high performance, high values and high performance, low values. And how much as employers we will put up with a high performing, low values employee and not realize the damage that it does to the organization. So it's been three and a half years roughly, I guess since we started taking mission, vision, values and cultural change really seriously. And it began with sitting down and writing what Cameron calls a vivid vision, where I forecasted what Livewire would look like and in three years and just wrote a very sort of hairy, what'd they call it? Big, hairy, audacious goal. Right. So I speculated we would have offices all over the place and we would have colonize the moon and invented lasers and things like that. And some of it's come true, some of it hasn't. And then there were, there's been things we've done that weren't even on the vivid vision, but it's not meant to be a destination. It's meant to be a journey.
Ron: Is this part of the Rockefeller Habits School of Training or is this a part of top grading or is this something completely different?
Henry: I feel like the vivid vision is Cameron's, what do you call it? Double, double sort of philosophy but every time I've seen books by like Vern Harness wrote the Rockefeller Habits and other business books. After a while it feels like they all seem to coalesce around themes, around treating your people well and treating your customers fairly. And if you treat your employees well, then happy employees make happy customers and happy customers refer other happy customers and that's all go round and round. Then happiness is good for the bottom line.
Ron: So the fundamentals are rather repetitive and straightforward. The challenge as business owners is how do you get the honor and then leadership to zero in on those right moves and to have performed some consistency around them so that you get outcomes that you want and deserve.
Henry: So, for example, this year, at the end of 2017, we had an offsite retreat and sat down for two days and did strategic planning for 2018 never done that before. It felt sort of grown up. Let's do it.
Ron: Big britches for that meeting. Right?
Henry: Oh my gosh. So, and then we had an outside facilitator do it versus having tried to run it ourselves, which I feel like was, was meaningful. And then we've intentionally set aside time in our leadership meetings each week to hold ourselves accountable for our 2018 strategic planning goals. But I would say that it has not just been a matter of flipping a switch. It's been screwing up, getting a little bit right, screwing up some more, getting a little bit more. And so I'd say we're better than we've ever been, but we still have a long way to go. But now we're using things like Tiny Pulse, which measures employee engagement, which I have to thank Joey Kolczynski for the suggestion.
Ron: I was at a conference in January with Joey and he mentioned Tiny Pulse. And I wrote that down. And I forgot to actually follow up on that. So that's funny..
Henry: Well, we started using it after I read one of his articles and I said, Oh this is great. This is just what we need for employee engagement and it's fantastic cause you can measure change over time as far as employee happiness and allows your employees to give you an anonymous feedback. It enables you to cheer each other. We put a video sign up in our training area for what they call cheers for peers, which enables you to give people a shout out. It's kind of a little living breathing, sort of stick it post it note board that a lot of companies have. Snap AV they've got a great, if you've ever been in their place, they've got a great example of that in their lobby. So you know, probably, I know I'm not talking much about speakers and wire and things like that, which by the way, I love..
Ron: It sounds like you're talking about the right stuff though. If you want to grow a growing sustainable, you know, profitable business. It's conversations that a lot of integrators aren't willing to have. So no, I think it's the right conversation.
Henry: Well, and to your point, we were talking offline just about where we feel we're best served now. And I spent a lot of time talking to other folks in our industry or I run one of the CEDIA groups, which is a peer group where it's noncompeting integrators from around the country. We get together once a month, spend two, three hours and we work on problems in our own companies. And so where I love to spend time, is doing exactly what we're doing right now, which is just talking about large industry trends and doing my best to learn from others, but then also to share. And then at the end of the day, my belief is that the rising tide lifts all ships. So I love any opportunity I can to share information about whether it's how we do our financials, you know, how our chart of accounts is set up, how we measure labor utilization. You know, what our employee handbook looks like. Most of this stuff I've published on the CEDIA communities wall and job descriptions, things like that. Cause if I'm somebody starting a company today in our industry, if I could save them five years of screwing around with some documentation that might help them hit the fast forward button, then I'm just paying it forward because, you know, you and I, Ron, I'm sure are beneficiaries of other folks who took time out to help us along the way.
Ron: Well, there's no doubt there's a lot of value in mentoring having and coaches and then the few of us are willing to then also do that for the next group or our current peers and those that are up and coming. And that's why I do Automation Unplugged. You know, I want to interview the best and the brightest from our industry and just kind of talk shop and not be trying to have anyone necessarily promote any agenda, but just use the opportunity to learn from each other. And if you look at the knowledge, the group think right, that exists in this industry and if we all had a forum and were willing to regularly share that, such as what you're talking about in your circles there with CEDIA, I think we make ourselves better and we make the industry better and stronger. And you know, I'd love to talk to more and more integrators that would talk to me about how happy they were and how they were, had the right work life balance and they were pulling home the right amounts of net profit and they were investing in their future and they had their kids colleges paid off. And I unfortunately don't hear enough of that and that's why we do a lot of the things we do. It's why I do a lot of the things I do to try to help the industry. And it sounds like you're doing the same.
Henry: Yeah, absolutely. It's a mandate. Absolutely. my grandfather said that, you know, it's your job to leave this world, better than you found it. And for me it feels like that's helping others. And I saw there's a summer camp, like some kind of old timey, New England summer camp and I was on their website just looking around. Somebody had recommended it and their motto is the other fellow first. I thought, man, that's great. You know, the notion of sort of service is to help out others, not as, to your point, Ron, not with expectation of any kind of quick pro quo.
"If you just try to help others, so many ways and ramifications and impacts are having on people's lives that you may never even know, but ultimately good things happen when you do that."
Ron: I think the beauty of giving back, and this just takes maybe a bit of faith and belief to understand it. But it's my experience, you know, like I'm not here to preach to anybody, but my life experience has been that when you give of yourself, you get it back tenfold. And so you just have to operate on a bit of faith to think that that might happen. And then that's been my experience. So whether it's through things like this or you know, outside of work and play and doing things to help the community. If you just try to help others. So many ways and ramifications and impacts are having on people's lives that you may never even know, but ultimately good things happen when you do that.
Ron: Yeah. Couldn't agree more. I have a question for you, Henry and I've got, I know a bunch of, I'm going to, I'm willing to say ultimately we'll have a few thousand people watch this interview. And I'm betting there are a few people that would say, man, I'd love someone to come and buy my business. And if you'd be willing, I'd love, you know, what do you look for when you're talking to other businesses and they've maybe raised a hand and say they want to talk and they want to talk about acquisition. What are some of the characteristics that you're looking for in a business or that make them a good candidate for you in the way you analyze them for acquisition?
Henry: It's interesting because there's a two part answer. One would be how would you know, how would an integrator want to shape up their company for sale or to get off the bus at some point versus what do I typically see? So what I typically..
Ron: You see a lot of lack of preparation.
Henry: Yeah. So I'll start with what I've seen or what I do see or what I look for and I wouldn't advocate becoming what I'm looking for or what any buyer businesses looking for. Generally speaking, somebody acquiring a business, especially in the custom installation business is looking for a Glidepath essentially, a company essentially not trending upward, not at a maximum valuation sort of position, but somebody who probably wants to get off the bus, and maybe they haven't prepared too well to get off the bus. So for me, that's allowed us in some of these acquisitions to leverage our purchasing position because we've observed that the incentive is high for the seller to just do a deal quickly. And so in a company where the owner, for example, is the center of the universe and doing all the selling, there's really not much value once that deal is done for the day to day business because your key salesperson has walked out the door, generally speaking, the owners of those businesses don't do very well once acquired, that they're not very good employees in the new business. And that's okay. We don't expect that. The other pieces we look for are recurring revenue. So we look for recurring revenue streams, whether it's security monitoring or other types of recurring revenue. And we value those recurring revenue streams based on the degree to which they're papered up. Meaning if they have long term agreements, et cetera, those are going to fetch a higher multiple. Again, most of the time we're going to see, we're going to see recurring revenue that's not papered up very well and which enables us to offer a lower multiple and achieve a much higher rate return on our investment.
Ron: If they're not papered up just to zero in on that. You're meaning contracts aren't in place or they aren't recurring or annualized contracts. I'm assuming, are we primarily talking security or are we talking service?
Henry: It's early days still for the services.
Ron: That's what I figured. So it's mostly security monitoring.
Henry: Yeah. This is mainly security monitoring and we've determined that for the most part it's about twice as expensive to acquire an account as it is to build on our own.
Ron: Twice as expensive to acquire an account than building it from scratch.
Henry: Yup. And then as well, the change necessary to convert a plain old telephone service or pots dial up security account holder to a newer cellular subscription. Something like an alarm.com account for example, is tremendously expensive. And the creation multiple, which is the amount of time that it takes to make your money back goes through the roof. So there's an interesting point right now where, yeah, business owners, security dealers who have a ton of pots accounts on their books and they need to sell those accounts in order to retire. And the accounts have a sort of a sliding scale as far as valuation. So there's an interesting point in time, you know, for any integrators watching right now, evaluating security deals where as long as you're paying a lower multiple for a pots account there, there are deals which makes sense to do as long as those accounts could be converted to interactive services relatively inexpensively. And that produces a tremendous amount of cash on a monthly basis, which can help your company in slow times. We all just got through the winter. I'm sure some of us had a harder go of it than others, you know, I know we were a little slow this winter. So having that recurring revenue stream is really important and that's something we look for in an acquisition.
Ron: What makes for a pots account that's easier to transition to modern digital services versus a pots account that might be very expensive and thus doesn't have an ROI?
Henry: A pots account that might sit on a generic vanilla security platform like GE or Honeywell, et cetera. Some of the cellular interactive services providers actually make modules which can tie into those panels. So if you have a bunch of accounts and they all happened to be on the same kind of panel, you can price it in and say, okay, well it's going to cost me $200 per account to convert these over to interact with services cellular and then you can price that into the deal. Another thing we look for is deals where we can pay out net of attrition, meaning where the seller is going to share in the risk with us. And again, that's usually only going to come when you have somebody who's really incented to sell their accounts and really needs to get off..
Ron: Because they normally wouldn't want to take that deal. But if that's the only deal you're offering, then they got to take that deal.
Henry: Yeah. So loosely speaking, that's sort of what I'm looking for in a deal when I go, when I go and evaluate some of these deals. Where Livewire is heading as far as where we want to be. It call it lessons learned from sitting across the table from my future self essentially. Meaning I'm going to be sitting across the table from somebody at some point doing a deal to sell my company. So with that in mind, the owner at Livewire, am I still the center of the universe? I'm needed. I'm required.
Ron: You're trying to design yourself to be less critical to the day to day.
Henry: I am. That said I don't see myself as advocating my responsibilities here, but at the same time, if somebody comes in here and says, tell me about if you got hit by a bus, what happens to the company? And every day that I can't answer the question that the company would be fine and would carry on is an annoyance to me. Because my goal in doing all this from the beginning was to create something much larger than myself that that could sustain and provide employment and great solutions in the market. So these are the things that annoy me still day to day. We have pretty well-defined business processes and practices now that we didn't necessarily want to wait when we started. We don't we have a wide distribution curve of clientele, so no one client is making or breaking us. So those are sort of basics which I feel like are super critical for anyone contemplating selling at some point. And something that I will do on an annual basis is stress test the company. So I will take off significant time away from the business to see how the business fairs. I have a buddy of mine that takes off almost three months out of the year and doesn't communicate with this company at all. And all of us sit back and go, Oh my gosh, how do you do that?
Ron: I'm doing that inside. I'm just not saying it right.
Henry: So I love the notion of a stress testing one's company while while still there owning it, and pivoting and reorienting around the notion that maybe, you know, maybe we should try and not have me as the center of the universe and have a layer of management and leadership underneath, but at the same time recognize where I'm important to the organization, which is strategic leadership and setting the tone and doing a good job of mentoring and helping and coaching terms of the philosophies you're practicing. And you mentioned the speaker, Cameron Harold. Is there a book or a resource for anyone that's watching that wants to kind of, maybe try to follow this train of thought? They could go and do further research. So Cameron Harold's book is called Double Double. Michael Gerber's book. The E Myth is fantastic. So both, The Entrepreneurial Myth by Michael Gerber is fantastic because he sort of has this philosophy that statistically speaking that most entrepreneurs fail. And here's why. And so, from my perspective, I look at it and say, well that's great. You know I want to read about it so I don't become a statistic. Cameron Harold is again somebody who I just happened to twig onto because of the matrix that he preaches, which is this sort of performance values matrix. And we can plot every one of us on this Facebook live video right now. You can plot yourself and every one of your employees on this performance values matrix and it's no surprise that the top righ quadrant is, that's the high performance, high values. Well and he talks about strategies for the other three quadrants. You know, somebody who's high performance, you know high values, low performance, you can coach them and train them. Somebody who's high performance and low values. He says you need to fire them. And I just like having folks like that to react to because he'll say things like raise your hand if there's somebody in your company who if tomorrow they put in their notice you would secretly be relieved about and everybody in the room raises their hand. And this is a room full of business owners and he said, fire them. And again, this is three and a half years later, I'm still sort of a work in progress. I'm missing vision, values and building a great culture. But those books, those experiences, changing my thinking from sort of the tactical day to day to more culture based thinking I feel like that's allowed us to grow and empowered our employees through trust and just created a better Livewire. Whereas before, if I was trying to be the center of the universe and control everything or have a hand in everything, then, you know, it's a stifling environment, not conducive to growth. So I feel like the journey that I'm still on is as much about self-discovery and learning from others and trying to be humble, try hopefully convey that. Today I've tried to be as open and honest about..
"You've certainly figured some things out, but you're also going out there and through volunteering and teaching and education, you're trying to help others figure it out as well. And I think that's quite admirable."
Ron: You've certainly figured some things out, but you're also going out there and through volunteering and teaching and education, you're trying to help others figure it out as well. And I think that's quite admirable. So I commend you for doing that. We've been on, can you believe it 40 minutes as I hear the guy doing the yard work outside my window, so hopefully it's not too loud. I do want to touch on if you'll allow Henry, Parasol real quick or maybe not, I'll leave it up to you. We can talk about it. But what is it and why did you get together with these other fellows and why did you create it?
"We want it to provide a solution for our industry, which would allow all of us to generate recurring revenue for our businesses, to allow our employees and our dealers employees to be at home, spending family time without getting text messages from customers."
Henry: Sure. Parasol is 24/7 365 remote support for integrators by integrators and why parasol it's the old adage of that necessity is the mother of invention. So at Livewire we were frustrated with our inability to support our clients effectively after hours, everything was reactive and not proactive. And so a number of years ago we began using remote services platforms to deliver you know, remote support solutions to our clients. And at the end of the day, that meant that if we put an appliance in and this goes back over 10 years, we might've put an ITG appliance in 2007, 2008 and then we would reactively fix issues remotely if we could. And then endeavor not to roll a truck. We began then selling a recurring revenue product around that in 2011, 2012 where we started selling to our customers at $49.99 cents subscription plan included with every large project, which again included another remote managed services hub. But we were still only providing that service effectively during normal business hours. Well guess what, most of our clients come home when our office is closed. So you fast forward through our sales team being frustrated with that. Our customers being frustrated with that. We weren't really delivering on the picture that we painted. And in my brain, I always wanted to have 24/7, 365 sort of network operations center station kind of environment where our customers could call in, text, email, chat anytime day or night and get help with their problems. Meanwhile, I could be home and not getting a text message during dinner. So the beginning of last year Greg and Ted and I, we got together and started planning the solution together. And the way that came about was that Greg had been thinking about the same idea and we've known each other through our, through our buying group, through Pro Source for a lot of years. And so it just happened sort of organically. And fast forward again through that planning stage at the beginning of last year to June of last year, we started piloting each other's company. So Livewire in Richmond and Eagle Century in Vegas became the first to network operation centers, Las Vegas in Richmond. And we started monitoring ETC Livewire and Eagle century in June, staffing our network operations center, 24/7 building all the systems and infrastructure around it to make it work using integrators, folks who had been doing this for us anyway. And it's been awesome. We've learned so much. Our customers love it. Our sales team selling the Parasol subscriptions with all of our new projects where we're selling it through our service department. So our guys have oversee pro hubs on their trucks and they go in and run a service call and they'll offer to comp the service call if the client signs up on the spot and the service technician and the sales rep are making a commission. That's sort of a multiple, the monthly subscription. And so everybody's happy. Our clients are getting surveyed with each interaction. I get anecdotal comments from the client, all that. I love that new 24/7 service that you set up. It's great. And they're starting to get to know the folks by name and then they're not calling him that much. But it's just nice to have something like that, that you dreamed about. It's up and running. We obviously, our plan was always to scale it and launch it to the rest of the industry because we want it to provide a solution for our industry, which would allow all of us to generate recurring revenue for our businesses, to allow our employees and our dealers employees to be at home, spending family time without getting text messages from customers. And I will tell you it is doing exactly what we thought it would do. And we are very very optimistic about the future of the company. So our next steps are we've got a wave of 25 dealers right now on board in the next few months. We'll learn even more from having another 25 dealers and then look for us towards the middle to third quarter of the year, bringing on even more folks into Parasol more dealers. So we have a lot of demand, a lot of excitement around it. Anybody who's interested should just visit, get parasol.com and fill out our dealer interest form and we'd love to talk to you. And so it's necessities and the mother of invention, it's us doing it, it's integrators, we're living with it. And we're learning, you know, cause we're eating our own dog food. All any mistakes or issues that we uncover get fixed really quickly because it's right in our backyard. So we're super excited and the client's got an app that they can use to self medicate and put in support tickets and call or tax it. It's Ron. I can't tell you how excited I am about it.
Ron: Man. I'm excited for you. And what's coming top of mind here, Henry is, I'd like to have you back on and I'd like to do the show and learn just more about Parasol cause I'm not doing it justice. I've given it five minutes here and we're already running maybe much longer and I've got a meeting in 30 minutes with a pretty important person here. So if you'd be game, I'd love to have you. Maybe we'll do like a group thing. Have you, Ted and Greg all on and have a group discussion about it. I think that could be fun.
Henry: Yeah, we'd love that. We'd love that.
Ron: Right? I think that there's a neat opportunity for, you know, dealers to deliver better service as well as for them to build an RMR component. I mean, this is a legitimate way for them to get an RMR business at a price point that probably quite attainable. Would you agree?
"Anything that sits on the network, for the most part, can be managed in some way, shape or form by Parasol and the receipt platform."
Henry: Yeah, absolutely. And they're systems that most dealers are installing anyway. We're all installing networks. Anything that sits on the network for the most part can be managed in some way, shape or form by Parasol and the receipt platform.
Ron: So we've got a couple of comments here. I'm going to read to you Henry, then we're going to sign o. Melanie writes in, really enjoyed hearing Henry's journey through his business and pushing through challenges. Thanks for your insights. G Scott Shaw.
Henry: I know him.
Ron: You know him. He says nice listening in from afar. Henry Clifford. Glad to hear things are going so well.
Henry: That's great. What's up Scott? That's awesome.
Ron: And who else? Sean Jim Holland says Henry, my man.
Henry: Nice. I know that guy too. That's great. What's up doc? What's up doc?
Ron: Right now sometimes I know Sean Stermer had actually made a few comments as well. I can't see them. The view I'm in, sometimes Facebook doesn't cooperate, but everyone that's out there listening and liking and sharing this content. Thank you, Henry. Thank you, sir for being so generous with your time and sharing what's going on in your world. It's been a pleasure having you on Automation Unplugged.
Henry: Thanks for having me, Ron. Anytime. And you know, have a great rest of your day.
Ron: All right, buddy. Be well. All right, ladies and gentlemen, there you have it. The one and only Henry Clifford. He's just a wealth of knowledge and ideas. He's done a lot of really cool invention and discovery with his business. That's resulted in a nicely profitable scaling business that I know many of us out there in the industry would, would hope to have. So I hope you enjoyed this episode. I am going to have Henry back on. I want to learn more about Parasol as I'm sure a bunch of you guys do. I did link to get arasol in the comments on this video so you can, you know, get Parasol. It's not that hard, but if you don't know how to spell that, then just go to the comments and you'll see the link. And on that note, everyone have an awesome rest of your day. Rest of your week. I'm actually going to take off at the end of this week and take my son and my wife to Universal Studios in Orlando and we're going to go do a little spring break action. But I'll be back in action next week. By the way this was a bit nebulous maybe, but on our Facebook page One Firefly LLC we've just launched an event for Automation Unplugged. So if you go and you like that, I think the way it works is you like that event, then you will actually get notified when any updates come up regarding Automation Unplugged. If you want to be guaranteed that if we're going live that you know that, or if we have a change in time or date, if you know that, then go to the page and look for the Automation Unplugged event and we'll be updating that every week. So that's a new thing where we've just tried out. So on that note, I'm going to get outta here. You guys have a great day and a great week and we'll see you on the flip side.
Henry is currently leading Lirewire with accomplishments to include added 5,000 square feet of office/warehouse space, launching a commercial division (Livewire for Business) and is now the largest HTP in Central Virginia. Henry began his career in IT during the .com boom of the 90s, working as a Web developer and Information Architect. His lifelong passion for technology made Livewire an easy choice. He also currently serves on the CEDIA Board of Directors through 2019 and is a co-founder of Parasol, nationwide 24/7 remote support “for integrators, by integrators.”
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 in 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.
Resources and Links from the Interview:
You can also learn more about Livewire at https://www.livewireintegration.com/