Five years ago, Automation Unplugged (AU) live streamed its first episode over Facebook Live. Since then, Ron Callis, CEO of One Firefly, has hosted over 200 guests on AU, which currently produces a new show every week. Unlike the majority of podcasts focused on the AV industry that discuss technology and new products, AU shines a light on the diverse set of individuals who make up the professional AV community.
Automation Unplugged doesn’t adhere to any agenda or formal interview format — every show is an off-the-cuff, live (and lively) discussion between Ron and his guests. This year, in honor of AU’s five-year anniversary, the One Firefly team sat down with Ron to learn about how AU started, what it means to people, and where it’s going. Keep reading to learn more.
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Automation Unplugged’s origin story started with Facebook. In 2016, Facebook added a brand-new capability to their platform: Facebook Live. Today, “going live” is possible for anyone on nearly all social platforms with the press of a button, but six years ago, live streaming was still a relatively new and unexplored concept. No one knew what to expect: was live streaming the next big way to grab consumers’ attention online? Would it flourish or flop in the coming years?
There was only one way to find out. Never one to sit on the sidelines in the face of a new and intriguing possibility, Ron decided to dive headfirst into the unknown territory of live streaming. “I knew that going live on social media would have a role to play for our customers and our dealers in the future,” Ron told us. “And so rather than sit on the sidelines, I decided One Firefly would jump in and start producing a show where we would go live and interview members of our industry.”
The launch of Facebook Live coincided with Ron’s observation that there was an unmet need in the AV industry in terms of media. “When I looked at the media and all the big publications that put out content for our industry,” he explained, “I realized they are not often publishing in-depth content about the individuals who make up our industry, and they are not always immediately up-to-date with industry trends and happenings.”
Ron concluded that live streaming an interview-style podcast would meet several needs. One, it would allow One Firefly to learn about going live and how live streaming would affect dealers in the future. And two, it would help our audience learn about the fun and fascinating integrators, entrepreneurs, consultants, reps, and manufacturers that make up the AV industry.
Ron asked well-known industry leader Paul Starkey to be the first guest. “I said to Paul: I have no idea how this is going to go and I have no idea if even one person will watch, but will you go on this adventure with me?” Ron told us. Paul didn’t hesitate: “Sure. Let’s go for it.”
And so Automation Unplugged was born. Episode one launched in 2017 — and five years later, more than 200 episodes featuring the fun and eclectic AV professionals that make our industry what it is have been produced.
Automation Unplugged offers Ron a unique opportunity to explore an untapped vein of knowledge in our industry: the wealth of stories, experiences, and wisdom of the individuals who dominate the AV market. The informal style of AU gives guests the chance to tell their stories, share their backgrounds and how they landed in the industry, and give their perspectives on current affairs and trends. “It’s fun for people in the industry to hear from their peers and learn how they think, as well as how they handle challenges and overcome hardships,” Ron told us.
As a business owner himself, Ron knows firsthand many of the hardships AV dealers face while building a business from the ground up. He respects that entrepreneurs have a grit and a tenacity that lead them to find solutions in circumstances where others might give up instead. By bringing their stories and struggles to light, Ron hopes other AV professionals can find wisdom and inspiration from those who have been there, done that, and seen it all. “I think those stories are generally undiscovered and untold in our industry, and I saw Automation Unplugged as a forum to get those stories out into the open,” he says.
In 2020, the need for peer-to-peer connection and sharing grew even more pressing. “In 2020, we took on the responsibility of increasing our AU content production because there was so much uncertainty during that time,” Ron explained. “We all needed to hear from each other more than at any other time before or after, simply because there was a lot of fear and anxiety in the world.” Starting in March 2020, Automation Unplugged went from airing a show every 2-3 weeks to consistently producing a weekly show, a schedule that continues to this day.
Over its five-year runtime, Automation Unplugged has made quite the impact on the AV industry. “The biggest surprise to me is people I never would have known or thought that they would listen to these shows have since informed me that they listen to every show,” Ron told us. “I’d say not a week or two goes by that someone doesn’t show up and let me know that a particular show impacted them. They really appreciate the type of content we produce”
Ron loves learning that someone in our industry made a new connection or explored a new business philosophy based on the guests and content featured on Automation Unplugged. One of his favorite truisms is that people do business with people — and that means we need podcasts like AU to shed light on all the wisdom and experiences our industry go-getters have collected. “There’s no harder job than running a business,” Ron says. “Lean on the expertise and lessons hard-fought and won from the people who have made it. That’s how you can improve the quality of your life and business.”
So what does Ron want for the future of AU? It’s simple: “I want Automation Unplugged to be heard by more people in our industry who I think would benefit from the conversations and content we’re producing.”
It takes a village to raise a weekly podcast into existence. Streaming the show live every week and then posting it as an audio podcast across multiple platforms makes Automation Unplugged a harder show to produce than most.
At One Firefly, we have an entire team behind Ron making AU possible. Between liaising and coordinating with guests, solving technology snafus, cutting the audio for use as a podcast, creating the show artwork, and deploying the show across the One Firefly website and multiple podcast environments, our team puts a lot of work and time into producing these shows.
Additionally, Ron spends anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour talking with his guests in advance, getting them ready to be on camera. Ron laughed when he told us about the pre-show prep: “Some people, as natural and comfortable as they are talking with me when we are not live, the moment I press live….somebody different shows up on camera. And they’re instantly fidgety or moving non-stop or talking at hyper-speed. It’s one of those tics of human nature — the anxiety and fear that comes with being recorded or being live.”
So what advice does Ron have for his guests to help overcome performance nerves? “Slow down. Breathe. We have an hour,” he says. “There’s no rush.”
Reflecting on the past five years, Ron says there’s no question that producing and hosting Automation Unplugged has been a rewarding experience. “I’m a lifelong learner — I love talking to people and I love learning new stories from them. I look forward to interviewing all the guests who have been on the show and the guests who will be on the show. It’s just fun. And that’s really the principle of life by design: do what you love.”
If you’re not following Automation Unplugged, you can watch the latest episodes and subscribe to upcoming shows here. We hope to catch you on our next episode!