Home Automation Podcast Episode #66: An Industry Q&A With Sean Weiner
Scaling a Custom Integration Business
This week's home automation podcast features our host Ron Callis interviewing Sean Weiner. Recorded live on Wednesday, February 27th, 2019 at 12:30 p.m. EST.
About Sean Weiner
Sean Weiner is currently the president of Starr Systems Design, an electronic systems and electrical contracting firm located in Baltimore, Maryland. He is also currently serving as the Chief Technology Officer at Bravas.
After graduating from the University of Delaware in 1990 with a degree in Economics, Sean spent two years as an installation technician at a Baltimore area audio/video and lighting systems contractor. He then spent another two years in sales with a Washington DC area custom retailer, and ultimately founded Starr Systems Design in the summer of 1994.
Since that time, Starr Systems Design has grown from a three employee audio and video systems contractor to a 50 employee firm specializing in electronic systems, electrical contracting, and security systems.
Here are some of the topics Ron had the opportunity to discuss with Sean Weiner
- Integration of the electrical business with the CI business (lighting, controls, energy management, etc.)
- Service programs and opportunities for the CI business
- Using software for CI
- Why scaling a CI business is hard
Ron: Hello everybody. Ron Callis here with another episode of Automation Unplugged. We're here for show number 66. Today is Wednesday, February 27th. It is one day before my wife's birthday, so that's a very important day tomorrow. And it is about 12:30, a little bit after 12:30. And I hope all of you folks are having a great day and a great week. Let me go ahead and as I usually do, let me go over to Facebook and make sure that everything is working correctly and that we are live streaming. If you are watching this recording thank you for watching. Many of you, the majority of you will be watching after the fact after we've already gone live. So appreciate you watching and listening. And all right. So for today's show we are going to be talking with Sean Weiner of Starr Systems Design or SAR System Designs. And Sean is not only running a powerhouse integration firm there out of the mid-Atlantic, but Sean also is the CTO of the group that you may have heard of called Bravas, which is a collaboration of a number of integrators pulling together under one brand and operation. So we'll talk to Sean a little bit about that. But without further ado, let me go ahead and bring in Shawn. Let me see if the technology gods are going to cooperate. All right. And there he is. Sean. How's it going sir?
Sean: Hey Ron. How are you?
Ron: I am good. So here in Florida, here in Fort Lauderdale, it's a sunny day with blue skies and it's in the, maybe the mid to upper eighties, or at least that's what it feels like outside. Where are you coming to us from? Just so everyone knows. And how's the weather outside?
Sean: Well, we're in Baltimore. It's not awful, could be worse. It's about 40 degrees, little Greg. And it was, he quite through the window right now, but I hope the weather's improving a little bit. Any, any snow on the ground and not much left. There's a couple of piles in the parking lot and most melted from last week.
Ron: Got it. All right. And then we just had Liz, she just jumped in here. She says, hi, she's coming to us from Vero Beach, Florida. Vero Beach. Liz, what are you doing in Vero Beach? Excited to hear from Sean. Liz, you have to tell us what you're doing in Vero beach. Liz lives in San Diego, so curious why she's in Florida. And for those of you that are not aware, Automation Unplugged is brought to you by my day job at One Firefly. Just wanted to get that boost in there. Forgot to mention that on the intro. Sean, lots of fun things to talk about today. I want to pick your brain and get your, your thoughts on a number of subjects. But to Starrt off with, I was like my guests kind of tell the audience who you are and kind of your Liz says she's visiting her grandma. Okay. Thanks Liz. Appreciate that. And Sean, let's tell the audience who you are and let's go into the way, way back machine now. Let's talk about how you actually landed in this industry, the customer integration industry, and then kind of some of the trials and tribulations and paths you've taken along the way that it's always fun to learn.
Sean: Make me go way back. Yeah. Got into the industry by accident actually. Oh, no, not entirely by accident. I was a student at The University of Delaware and needed like most college students are a little bit of an extra cash. So I got a job working for a company that's now unfortunately, no longer around, Wall to Wall Sound and Video as a retail audio video sales guy because he's the only guy that paid more than minimum wage based on missions. So I signed up for a career there that lasted me a, a booming year and a half. Let that with a degree in economics from Delaware and accepted a job in an investment banking firm. I had never made it to day one, because I stumbled on a magazine called OB Video. Back then it had a cover story about a company in Maryland. And I went to visit them and was really impressed with what they did and thought the AB industry was a great opportunity for me and I accepted a job with them. I came to find out that they weren't quite as the chops weren't what I expected initially. So moved on to another DC area company as a customer installation sales guy. Lasted about two years there before I opened Starr Systems in 1994. It was two of us with myself and a partner back then. And we started with just an audio video company TVs, VCRs. Surprisingly, and not surprisingly,
Ron: I just heard somewhere that there was some like pop stores selling these relics VHS tapes for $50 a piece. Like you could buy this and put it in your home and decorate it with a old school VCR tape. Isn't that crazy?
Sean: I wish I still had mine.
Ron: Yeah, no kidding.
Sean: So did that for a little while. Grew the company for about four or five years. And so we became the big enough to start buying some trucks and hired some people. Like most integrators start. I think I started in much the same fashion. We had some fantastic clients and some great partners to work with and we were very fortunate that we had some great employees who did some awesome work and a reputation helped us grow. And in the early two thousands I guess about in 2004, 2005 we brought on like when contracting with part of our business and that sort of set our trajectory a little bit steeper slope. We've grown quite a bit since then and it's been a real boom for our business and a really good opportunity for us. To
Ron: What did your parents think about your career path of going and becoming an AV guy versus a possible vector of an investment banker?
Sean: It's hard to remember exactly how that felt then, cause it's been a few years, but I do know that my mother still had no idea what I do. And no matter how many times I try and explain the complexities of what our degree works on. She thinks I sell TVs.
Ron: That's funny. What at a college. You graduated in '90. I graduated in 2000 as we're 10 years apart there. And after college I went to work for Lutron and my dad to this day still thinks I sell light bulbs. I never sold light bulbs. Just for clarity. I sold dimmers, dammit. But just I think just to mess with me now, he still asks me how the light bulb business is going, you know, what are you going to do? So who just stopped in? We have J J he just stopped in. Okay, thank JJ. And then Maggie or Magnolia, she just stopped in and said that she's coming to us from Lexington, Kentucky. By the way, if you're out there and watching and if you have questions for Sean, type those into the chat and I will try to be diligent and follow the chat string here and pose those questions to Sean directly. But you know, Sean, in terms of Starr Systems, the Starr Systems Design as we know it, that business entity has been around since '94?
Sean: That's correct. 25 years in August. Yeah.
Ron: That's gotta be one of the more longer-tenured AV integration businesses in North America, I'm imagining. And it's gotta be a top 100?
Sean: It feels like it. I never thought I'd be the old guy, but apparently now I am.
Ron: Yeah. That's just kind of what happens when you last long enough. That's funny. So tell the audience what a typical project is for you to like what type of projects, cause you can do big jobs, you could do little jobs, you could do volume, you could do fewer kind of what is the DNA of the typical types of projects that your firm takes on?
Sean: There's really three main buckets we fall into. We do both small and large integration projects and we have done some, you know, I think what you'd expect from the CI industry. Large single-family custom homes with big integrated system with that include shading and temperature and integration. We've also done some smaller projects, so small media rooms and small one room systems or multi-room systems for music shading only systems, lighting control only systems. But we also have a crossover and delightful worlds. So we do a lot of lighting in both of those styles of projects as well as in life for broker fits and things and backup generators if you relate to a typical electrical contractor. And we also have a big foot in the multifamily market, so some single-family homes, but mostly high rent townhomes and high end condominum projects where we work for not just the building and the condo necessarily in the common area spaces, but we'll also do the resident unit systems as well. So integration for the common areas of the building with their theaters, the media rooms, their gyms, their meeting rooms communication and wifi for the front desk and the property managers, but also the systems inside the units themselves.
Ron: Got it. Understood. I am going to drop in here. I just had a request to show your website URL. So I'm just gonna throw that across the bottom of the screen. That is a Starr systems.net. And for those listening, that is S T A R R systems S Y S T E M S. Dot net. You want to check out Sean's website. So there we go. So Sean, you mentioned specifically on the electrical division or component of your business. At what point in the evolution of Starr systems did you add an electrical division and how did you do that? Did you hire an electrician that had the right certifications? Did you buy or merge with another company? Like how did you land there?
Sean: So we've been doing lighting control systems for about five or six years at the time. And, and anyone who sells lighting controls knows that there's a high level of integration required with the electrical contractor. Which sometimes goes really well if you've got a, a solid line for partner or contract you've worked with before. It can be an almost seamless process. You build relationships over time and you can do some great things together. The, the, the process breaks down a little bit when the electrical contractor is not necessarily burst in the process and procedure that's around lighting controls. And there will be times where they just didn't go quite as well as we'd expected. And I'd worked with one of those electricians for a long time who'd been fantastic, who left the residential world and, and sort of dove into some commercial life old business for about three or four years. And we had lunch one day and we met for lunch. We were good friends from, from a few years back. And I mentioned some frustrations I had with electricians who didn't quite understand the process of why had parole or didn't necessarily follow the the path of the protocol that we'd laid out. And we talking a lot. It would be like to partner together to work on systems as well as the voltage, the content and the discussion that was, that should have been a half hour lunch into about three hours worth of talking about all the, all the great benefits that could come by rolling life. We're contracting into, we currently do. Everything from the lighting control and lighting fixture side all the way down to, you know, who puts the TV or they left the receptical behind the television that we're going to mount on the wall. So we had some more conversations and we decided it would probably be a great idea to work together. So we came on board as an employee and we recruited a couple electrical employees, electricians. We had some people who were versed in both the technical electrical side was the the low voltage side of things as well. So, programming integration with third parties, control systems and it Starrted to grow from there. So we wanted to Starrt, we didn't have an intention necessarily going into the full blown like, contracting firm. I think what we thought was we would take on the lead school portions of the larger projects that really were a good fit for us. But because of his relationships and our building relationships, we get a lot of requests to provide the full electrical service, not just a higher level of lighting, full system integration. And that turned into electrical bids for projects and doing a few electrical projects. And apparently we've been done well enough in terms of our ability to design and deliver systems that we've gotten a lot of requests for more. And we grew into a full blown contracting business where I think we have upwards of 20 staff now.
Ron: Wow. Well, you know, I'm getting a little bit of an odd, do you hear an echo?
Sean: Sounds okay.
Ron: Okay. do you take on projects where you'll do electrical and not do a lighting control system or is it you're exclusively deploying your electrical people and capabilities on CI projects?
Sean: Initially we did not. We wanted to have the low voltage lighting control portion as well as the electrical portion. But now absolutely we do, we take on electrical projects and in fact, we work with other integrators sometimes where we're handling the electrical side of the installation and they'll take care of the lighting controls.
Ron: Got it. And then what is what's your current mix of resi projects versus commercial? Do you focus on one or the other or do you take on both?
Sean: The only commercial projects? Well, there's some small restaurant business, but most of the commercial products we undertake are the common areas of these multifamily condominium projects. But virtually all of our businesses residential or has residential elements. Even the kind of many projects that have residential clients in them. So I would say that we're 100% listening for what that's probably overstating. They go 90% residential.
Ron: Sure, sure. You put yourself out there as a residential focused entity, but you pick up some commercial, you know, along the way.
Ron: And in your business today, cause I like to keep these what I can keep, because I want to ask you so many questions, but I like to keep it about people. What is your day to day look like in Starr systems today? Like what's your job? What are the needs of the company as they relate to you, the person, Sean Weiner, like what do you, what role do you play for the company?
Sean: That's an interesting question because it's changed a little bit in the last several months. So as you mentioned earlier, I accepted a role with Bravas as their CTO which takes on some responsibilities right now, that pull my time away from the day to day at Starr. I've been very fortunate to find some, some people to help take over some of the responsibilities that I'm leaving behind. So I was primarily in, I oversaw operations primarily in the sales role. So I have operations staff that take care of the day to day scheduling and installation and service and those type of developments. My role with our primarily right now is in business development and more CEO type responsibilities, the thriving vision looking at financial driving goals setting parameter for the company looking at new markets, looking at new opportunities. And then the rest of my time is spent with the Bravas initiatives right now.
Ron: And what can you, for those that are watching and listening and they've heard this name, Bravas mentioned, I've of course had Paul Starkey and I've had a number of other Bravas members on the show over the last year and a half. I think Paul's been on maybe the most, I think I've had him on three times or so on, onto the show. But for those that are new to this, the subject, what can you tell them and where could they go to learn more about Bravas?
"The intent was really to share best practices amongst industry peers so people could do what we do for a living."
Sean: We do have a website. It's Bravas.com. Bravas is an interesting entity group of people. So the intent was really to share best practices amongst industry peers so people could do what we do for a living. And it's grown into something much, much more than that. We're building a, a national network of dealers. It's a great a national presence as an integration company. We're standardizing on practices and procedures beyond we've gone way beyond sharing ideas. We're actually implementing those ideas and building systems around everyone's best practices. So it's amazing what you can learn when you get together with a group of other dealers and start cherry-picking the best methods of doing things from week one of those locations. Some are strong and operations, some are strong in marketing, some are strong in engineering and design, some are strong in sales. Some are throwing in networking events. And I think as a group we've all improved and each one of those categories just by being associated with one another.
Ron: Oh, well that's awesome. As you know, I've been a fan and an advocate of what you guys are doing. You're certainly innovating and trying to act differently as opposed to the status quo. So I think that's can be scary and at the same quite admirable. And you know, I'm rooting for you guys.
Sean: Thanks. It's been, it's been an exciting process and I think the future is very bright for this group.
Ron: No. Amen. I appreciate that. Now this is divergent. I have a topic that's divergent. I don't even see it on my show notes here, but I know you've cooked up some software, so I'm want to know where the status of that thing is. What is it called? I'll pull up a website if that's appropriate or do you want to talk about that?
Sean: Sure. It's a product called Spexi. Spexi was designed to help with our multifamily business. So one of the things we found was there is a lack of ability for sales teams in multiple.
Ron: What is the URL, if you don't mind showing us Sean?
Sean: Oh, I'm sorry. I should know right? Spexihomes.com
Ron: I wasn't getting the other one to pull up. I was like, wait a second here. I think I must've misspelled that. Alright, You can keep going. I'll splash it up on the screen here in just a second.
Sean: So the intent was really to do a better job of selling systems that are, I mean, I hate to use the word cookie cutter, but there are systems that are built within a particular sandbox. So we decide the parameters under which these systems live so that the builder or developer can sell packages based upon those specifications. And we built a bit of a Trojan horse around it for the AV industry to get their foot in the door with building community. By installing, by including things that aren't just technology related. So if a builder wants to import all different plumbing fixtures or cabinet options or flooring off into the apartment that they're going to include in their properties and the products, they can use this tool in their sales center for the sales reps to make those options selections with the buyer of that property. So instead of sitting in the basement of the model home with the salesperson looking at carpet samples and looking at me fingers attached to the wall you can get Started on your own in the comfort of your own home, looking at all the options the builder provides. Keep a running tally of where we're spending and see a fully configure your home. I guess the best analogy I can give you is if you've been to a car manufacturers website where they, where you build your own BMW we're giving you the ability to build your own home inside this tool. And I think it's going to be solid for the industry to have the ability to let the consumer play with the proposal. One was building your own proposal and build your own system based on their preferences and then get a sales person involved at the end. But the ultimate goal being a, there's so much of an online presence for purchasing and design now that you may not even do the person in the process.
Ron: Well I was curious well I am curious. I was just having a conversation with an integrator out of upper Midwest just this week, I think it was out of Wisconsin and he was asking me, and I'm not sure this is the answer, but you just, you said something that struck a chord. He had made the comment that he wanted his visitors on his website to be able to, as if they were ordering a car, he wanted them to be able to make selections. And so I'm just curious, I had to say that that's not what we do here at One Firefly. So I wasn't able to provide help. I'm just curious is is there a web embedding concept where integrators that did want to present themselves natively on their site? Is there a play there for Spexi or is it purely sales center with builders and developers?
Sean: Ah, there could be, we could customize it for that purpose. The hardest thing for us to do in that scenario we do a lot of floor plan based design tools. So you're looking at the floor plan that a builder, a production builder offers. They might be three or four, maybe five or six floor plans in a community. With a custom home, the number of floor plans is definite. So you'd have to lay your floor plan into the tool and then design around that. So you have to build the guardrails for the client to work with them. Right. They can't go too far down the road and make mistakes.
Ron: No, that makes sense. I appreciate you enlightening me. I know I didn't prep you in advance that I was going to go down the Spexi path and sometimes you work with my staff on all the show notes and then I come on and go sideways or the opposite direction. So I appreciate you bearing with me there. What are your thoughts? Again, just kind of another topic that's out there in the ether. Around service and maintenance. You have all of these different software slash service companies. You have Parasol you have OneVision, you have there's another one that's name's escaping me that you probably can, I think it Starrts with a M, but you have different software tools out there and I know you have some thoughts and opinions around maybe how you operate at Starr systems or how the industry could be operating. What are your thoughts?
"I love the idea of the idea that the industry is evolving to become a service industry. If I looked at our numbers, it's the most profitable thing that we do."
Sean: I love the idea of the idea that the industry is evolving to become a service industry. If I looked at our numbers, it's the most profitable thing that we do. It's one of the few things we can do that we can almost bill for every single minute that we're at work. The capability or the I guess the ability for this to grow and there's something that's profitable and driving the business is huge. It's hard to administer and it's hard to maintain. And the call center concept is a great step in the right direction. I love what one business doing. I love what Parasol is doing. I don't think that as an industry with a bunch of small companies around the country, we could do this on our own. I think it's going to evolve. It has to, we've got to do a little bit better job. Not everybody wants to communicate via phone, phone that every client wants a couple through their system by standing in front of it. But it is definitely better what we can do individually. So I do think that we're going to evolve to a model in the future where you might see a service app that reaches out to to your dealer that allows you to do some remote troubleshooting on your own instead of having to have a, a certified technician involved in the process. Just the way for a client to enact or not an act to interact, I guess with their system, without having another human being from the dealership involved. Much like you do with a lot of other products and services in your life. What we do is very complex. Every system is custom. There's very little standardization from job to job, but makes this tricky.
Ron: Well that was going to be my question is every Tom, Dick and Harry custom installer is doing their own thing, their own way and at varying levels of complexity and at varying levels of installation and quality, frankly. Right. Some are great, some are not. And you know, everyone's probably between those two ends. So how do you in scale serve the consumer who know their technology must be serviced there? There's no avoiding it, it must happen. So how do we cross that chasm as an industry?
Sean: So from a selfish perspective, I can talk about Bravas because we have dealers around the country and we're going to have scale because of that. We have the ability to do things that we wouldn't be able to do individually. So we can standardize some of the processes. We can have access to a database of information about each one of those clients. And we can do a better job of knowing what buckets that information into so we know where to find it. We can do a better job of communicating with the finance because we will have more information about them. We know how that dealer in Florida does business and what types of products they use and what type of systems they enable and their login for oversee or whatever modern service they use. We have technicians who we can train to respond to those systems across the group. I think it's a little tougher for an industry with companies who are technically competitors with one another to consolidate like that. But we have that benefit because of our scale.
Ron: So I'm assuming that's where the CTO role, you're involved in software selection and process development within the Bravas group. Am I hitting that straight up the middle. Is that accurate?
Sean: Yup. Yup. That's correct.
Ron: What are your thoughts that you're willing to share with those listening? Remember there's a lot of, you know, guys and gals have varying, you know, size, operations and years of experience that many of them. And I can tell you this is a question I get at least every week, many times, multiple times a week. And it's been that way for many years. I've been running this business for 11 years and I know that my prior seven years on the manufacturer's side, I also got this question. And that is what software are people using for their accounting? What software are they using for project management, for work orders, for this or that? What are you willing to share or divulge in terms of opinions around software solutions that you, either you use or your condone or you think people should consider?
Sean: So I've been working on this for a long time. I put a slide up in a presentation I did about two weeks ago with a list of all the software product and evaluated in the last six months. And I can barely fit them all on one screen. There are dozens of different pieces of software. I was very hopeful and optimistic early on and I'd find one tool that would put everything into and I think even the manufacturers of those tools would admit that they're probably not great at everything that they do. Every one of the industry based tools is really good at a number of things. And some of these, there's one thing and some days it's 10 thing. But I got some sage advice from the people I worked with in the, in the software business who said you'd be foolish to think that one company can do all the things that you need to do because we're looking at everything from maintaining a CRM to marketing to service ticketing product databases to proposal, writing to product management tools to, you know, tools for installers and technicians to use on site to resource libraries, inventory control, accounting, invoicing, change orders. I can you know go on and on.
Ron: Sean, we are just having some bandwidth issues. You were coming through loud and clear and just now we're Starrting to get some backup or we're losing you. So ladies and gentlemen, let me verify that I am still alive and then we'll see if we can get Sean back here. So bear with me here. Oh goodness. Let's see what happened to Mr Sean. Oh, Sean there I hear you. All right, let's see if we get you back. Can you hear me? Sean? Sean, can you hear me? Watch out audience I'm going to Starrt singing. Sean, can you hear me? No, we're going to bring back in. There he is. He's reconnecting. All right. There we go. All right.
Sean: I'm back.
Ron: You're back. Hey, I, I appreciate that. Thanks for for knowing to reconnect. That was great. Sometimes I get the panic text. Oh shit. Ron, what do I do? I can't see you. I'm like reconnect man. So anyway, thank you. You are in the middle of a, a very, a wonderful answer. And we lost you about maybe a minute ago. So if you don't mind addressing that again.
Sean: Yeah. So the, the gist of it is that there's a lot of good software products in the industry, but the job at hand for me is to pick the best in each category. So we want to find the best CRM, the best proposal tool the best product management tool and we'll find ways to integrate the tools with each other. But trying to find one solution that fits everybody's needs is probably going to be impossible. It's not very close to impossible and no disrespect to the companies that are doing all these things. Cause they've done amazing work and I can't even imagine what it takes to undertake something like like one of these software tools that, you know, between D tools and I point and, and their competitors in the, in the, in the marketplace, how much time and energy and effort it takes to make a tool that works for the group and then to customize it for each of their dealer customers. It's, it's a tremendous amount of work because everybody processes different as, you know.
"In some cases when you adopt a tool, you have to acclimate your processes a bit so that it works within the structure, the methods defined for that software."
Ron: Yeah. You almost have to, in some cases when you adopt a tool, you have to acclimate your processes a bit so that it works within the structure, the methods defined for that software. And so it's yeah, no, and, and I would just say vice versa, you know, selecting the software as hard as that is, onboarding the software and then actually dialing it in for your own use. Most people. And I can just tell you from my own big decisions around software deployment at One Firefly, I don't think we have ever estimated correctly how much work it takes to actually get something fully deployed across an organization. It's a big project. So do you mind sharing at Starr Systems, what some of the software stuff you use just to kind of name what you use and maybe some why's if you're willing to do that. I know some people listening probably will find that helpful.
Sean: We're an iPoint customer right now and we use them for a lot of different things, mostly primarily as a proposal tool. So contract documents, proposals it's where item database stored, our product database is stored. We use it for inventory management, so all the ins and outs change orders associated with that. Service returns are amazed to vendors tracking those. It's an incredibly powerful tool. It does a lot of things and I'm embarrassed to admit that we don't use all of them. We use as many as we can. I'm sure we'll use some other project management tools. We use them all. Most of our operational data is stored in Basecamp, which is where all of our technicians communicate with our operations team.
Ron: Our customers know Basecamp well. We use Basecamp here at One Firefly as well.
Sean: So it's a great tool for us to use. We also use Slack for some internal communication. We do have that linked to our Basecamp account. We Starrted with Slack before you've ever Basecamp is why we're still, we're still haven't quite wean ourselves off of that yet. So we do have them integrated with one another. And QuickBooks is our accounting platform. And we integrate iPoint with QuickBooks. So all the accounting, all the invoicing and accounting and inquiry processes we implement are pushed from iPoint into Quickbooks.
"There's almost like before Slack and after Slack in terms of how much we communicate in that environment."
Ron: Okay. We use three out of those four here at One Firefly. We use QuickBooks. We're actually just about to transition to the cloud version of QuickBooks. And I think there are some savings. I had that information presented to me. There's some benefits of doing that. And then we're, we went from zero to hero with Slack. Oh my God. It's, there's almost like before Slack and after Slack in terms of how much we communicate in that environment. I get those emails every was it every week or every month? I don't know. But they tell me how much we use it. Our team sends about 10,000 messages a week.
Sean: I think you've got us beat.
Ron: And Slack, it's nuts. Well I know we're having so much fun. We've actually already gone 36 minutes, so I want to try to touch one more topic. I told you, you, you'd blink and 30 to 40 minutes would go by. At least if I'm doing my job well and that is moving things along, it should be comfortable. All right, last question is can you talk to those in the audience that are curious about your feelings or beliefs around how to scale? And that is, you know, there are I was just on the phone with not on the phone, was on a conference this morning with an integrator that is kind of you know, at this certain size, less than 10 employees for a long time, call it over 10 years. And you know, they, you have to want to grow. So scaling is not automatically good or bad, but if you have a desire to grow and ultimately and theoretically I have an opinion that maybe should be so that you grow your net, your, your profit, that would be a good reason to grow. How do you think about that and how have you, why is it so darn hard for an integration firm to scale?
Sean: It's probably easiest for me to speak on the mistakes that I've made over the years and there've been many, I'm sure it's the first thing that comes to mind when you think about scale and growth and sales, right? So what do you want to do is increase your sales volume to, to grow your business. And I think everyone understands that there is an operational process that needs to follow the growth in sales. I don't think anyone or not anyone, I think everyone understands and I certainly did not understand how difficult that process. So what I didn't understand when we Starrted to grow significantly is that I had great people doing great work and, and touching my clients, not inappropriately. It's that to my clients all the time. And having these, these these relationships where the client knows the first name and made probably the last name and the kid or the people that are working in their home. And the project manager knows every single job and the accounting people know every single client's name. When you grow that, that can't continue to happen on a regular basis. The scale makes it impossible to have those relationships. And when those relationships go away, communication for to break down. And when we Starrted growing, there weren't tools like Slack or Basecamp. We keep those communications in line. And we, we lost touch with one another with our clients. Not completely, but to it, to enough of an extent that it changed the way that our business operated. And it creates stresses inside of an organization. People don't know what the intent behind the product is or what the communication with the client has been, or even what the client address should be where the street addresses, where they're going today. Because the information wasn't shared in the same fashion. It used to be with this conversation, you know, when there were 10 people in this building that the guys would drive up in the morning and pull up and park their cars in the back. They'd come in, they'd have a cup of coffee and talk about the day to get in their van and go out through their work. They come back at the end of the day, regroup, had the conversation, get back in their cars, would go home. And that's a great process for a small company. It's very effective. Because communication is fantastic. There's nothing better than face to face communication.
Ron: Yeah. All the documentation could almost seem burdensome to the smaller company.
Speaker 3: Exactly, and then as you grow, if you don't keep up with that process to try and keep that level of communication, the same height things Starrt to slip through the cracks and it's painful and you make return visits to clients, make apologies to clients for missing items that you shouldn't miss. You know, product orders move, drop. Something as simple as knowing when a new contract was signed, when there's not just one sales person in the office anymore. That's a big deal. You know, the check comes in and there's a positive credit, the deposit check along with the contract and the accounting department has it. And they don't share that information. No one knows. They find signs to do. So no product gets ordered. No labor gets good. Well it can be challenging very challenging. Which is why I think our industry struggles with it. We've grown by, you know, increasing our sales but spreading the breadth of product offerings and services that we offer. The one thing we haven't done very successfully is growth geographically. That's very hard to do cause now you're building new relationships with apartments or relationships with home builders. You can't lean on your past clients to send you business in another state. They may not have relationships in another state. So growing geographically is a very long and slow process. So it's not the easiest industry to scale. And I think that's why you see very few integrators in this country that have a national presence or more than two or three locations. And the biggest, I think in our industry have two or three locations.
Ron: No, that makes a lot of sense. Well, I think that makes what you've been able to do, Sean, at Starr Systems that much more impressive because you've been able to, to grow and scale and might sound straightforward, but simply be in business in this industry for 25 years. That's, that's, that's no small feat. And for everyone listening, they're nodding their heads right now going, Holy cow. That's pretty cool. That's pretty impressive. So Sean, I want to thank you for coming on and being my guest on episode number 66 of Automation Unplugged. Hopefully you had fun.
Sean: It was great. I really appreciate it. Appreciate inviting me to do this. That was fun.
Ron: Awesome. And for those that want a reminder on how to get to Sean or learn more about Sean's business, I'm going to strap up here on the screen one more time. The Starr Systems website. So that is Starr Systems. And Sean, if people want to reach out to you directly, what is what is the best way for them to do that?
Sean: Yeah, I'd probably email and my email address is
Ron: Awesome. Perfect. Well, and we did have one more comment here. I'm pretty confident Matt was talking about Starr Systems. He said great business to see grow from the beginning.
Sean: That was one of the original employees here a long a while back.
Ron: Oh, is he still there now?
Sean: No, no. Matt's had a couple of careers that I'm aware of since he left, but that was probably 15 years ago since he's been here.
Ron: Oh, that's got to put a smile on your face to see a face like that. Yeah, that's very cool. Very cool. All right. Let me try to figure out how to, huh. Oh, they changed where it is there. I had to figure out how to hide that comment. They moved the button on me, on my UI. I'm like, Oh no. Where's that button at? So anyway, Sean, thank you, sir. Thanks for being my guest. I'm gonna sign off here and it was a pleasure to have you on the show and congrats on your continued success and the success with Bravas. Very cool to watch
Sean: Appreciate it. Good to you see you again.
Ron: Hey, likewise. Likewise. All right folks, so there you have it. That was Sean Weiner from Starr Systems Design. Yup. Matt. He is a great guy here. I'll throw that up on the screen just so you can see that, Sean. So Matt's throwing some love your way, Seanm well-deserved. For sure. And so what I am going to do folks I am going to throw up on the screen just to reminder for those of you that have been watching since mid last year, we started our own Instagram page here at One Firefly and we're now at over 500 people following us on Instagram and we just Starrted that in September at CEDIA. So that's a pretty good growth. So definitely go and check us out if you're listening. That is at one Firefly LLC on Instagram. And and on that note I will see you guys soon. I will, we will have our next lineup published on our Facebook page very soon. And I actually don't have the date of the next recordings to just stay, you know, what you can do actually is subscribed to the events on our Facebook page. So that is forward slash One Firefly LLC on Facebook. And then you'll get all the notices about upcoming shows. But I know my team, Elizabeth and Stephanie and gang, they've done a book and a great lineup for us, and we'll announce it very soon. And on that note I hope you guys have a great rest of the week and a great weekend, and we will see you soon.
Sean Weiner is currently the president of Starr Systems Design, an electronic systems and electrical contracting firm located in Baltimore, Maryland. After graduating from the University of Delaware, Sean spent two years as an installation technician at a Baltimore area audio/video and lighting systems contractor, another two years in sales with a Washington DC area custom retailer, and ultimately founded Starr Systems Design in the summer of 1994. Sean is currently focused on business development within Starr Systems Design and his role as the Chief Technology Office for Bravas.
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.