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An AV and integration-focused podcast broadcast live weekly
Join Ron Callis, Owner & CEO of One Firefly and industry veteran, as he talks business development, technology trends, and more with leading personalities in the tech industry. Automation Unplugged (AU) is produced and broadcast live every week.
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Home Automation Unplugged Episode #243: An Industry Q&A with Cameron Howitt

Automation Unplugged #243 features Cameron Howitt, Manager of Project Management and IT at One Firefly. Join us for an exciting show that dives deep into the role of client onboarding, maintaining client trust post-sale, and more!

This week's episode of Automation Unplugged features our host Ron Callis interviewing Cameron Howitt. Recorded live on Wednesday, May 17th, 2023, at 12:30 pm EST.

About Cameron Howitt

Cameron is a process and data expert who joined the One Firefly team in 2016 as the Traffic Manager overseeing the organization’s project management platform. Since then, he’s advanced to become the Project Management & IT Manager, and currently leads a team of Project Coordinators, Client Onboarding Specialists, and administrative support staff who keep client projects on track and running smoothly. Cameron is always looking for new ways to help clients succeed and drive One Firefly forward through more efficient processes and project management.

Before joining the One Firefly team, Cameron held positions at the US Census Bureau, the Department of Defense, and a 3D holographic imaging studio, where he held the role of Production Manager. He earned his Bachelor of Science degree from Texas State University in 2009. When he’s not working, Cameron enjoys spending time with his family, as well as training for ultra-distance road and gravel cycling events.

Interview Recap

  • Cameron’s career journey leading up to joining One Firefly 7 years ago
  • The role of continuous improvement in life and business
  • How to leverage tools and resources to support internal employee success
  • The role of client onboarding and maintaining your client's trust after the sale

SEE ALSO: Home Automation Podcast Episode #242 An Industry Q&A with Tom Manna

Transcript

Ron: Hello, Hello. Ron Callis here with another episode of automation unplugged. You know what? I realized that I got going here with my smaller microphone. Look at that. So I'm going to do a live on-air mic change, see if I can see if I can not break the system here. And I realize we're starting to get some people signed in. Thank you all for tuning in here for show two 43. And I'm going to change Mike's real quick. So let's give this a shot. Let's see how quick and smooth I can do it. Cameron, you're down there on my screen. You can hear me okay? I hear a thumbs-up . That's a good sign. Hopefully, I sound a little better now. Maybe a richer, deeper voice, and good microphone will do that. On occasion. I know I'm not giving it much to work with here, but it's doing the best it can. So it's May 17th. It is Wednesday. It's a little bit after 1230. What's going on in my life, personally, I just went to my son's awards banquet or award ceremony last night at his school. And I'm going to parent brag here. He came home with some hardware. And he came home with what's called the patriot award, which was the Pinnacle Award for the 8th grade for academic excellence. And so my wife and I were very proud parents. And I appreciate that, Eddie. Thanks for tuning in. And so that was pretty cool. And then what else happened? If you follow me on Instagram, you would know, because I always post about on my Ron Callis Instagram, I post personal stuff and family stuff. And my son just a week or two ago actually got second place in the state history competition, and he's gonna be headed to nationals here in a few weeks. So that's happening. So I'll be headed to D.C. the first or second week there of June. And we'll be rooting him on. And in firefly land, show season is over ish, although we do have Infocom, and I know that's a big show. But we have Infocom happening here in June. And one firefly will be there. But a lot of the activities of the fall or not the fall, but the spring season are now behind us. And it was awesome. It was awesome to see all of our clients. And our Friends and we got to speak. I personally was able to speak on a number of occasions at different events. And it was a lot of fun. And of course, the elephant in the room for everyone in society unless you've been living under a rock is I see Eddie's comment here. Max is the man. Eddie, I will. I'm coming to D.C. I want to say June 7th, but I'll get you some dates. But what was I going to say? The elephant in the room, unless you've been living under a rock, is artificial intelligence. Oh my gosh, is there's so much amazing stuff happening out there. So, you know, you can expect to hear more from one firefly. We're actually going to help lead the charge and we are researching daily all the different AI tools. There are literally hundreds of tools coming out weekly right now. It's like you know an exponential growth curve. It's a parabolic curve. And it's just amazing and terrifying and riddled with anxiety and fear and opportunity and excitement with all of these software changes that are happening and I mean, before you know it, all your Microsoft apps are going to have their AI embedded. I guess that would chat GBT or derivative thereof from OpenAI. And you have Google and all of their search is going to be updated. I heard they're even beta-testing search updates with Bard. And all of the Google apps are going to have a variation of the Google AI embedded. On top of that, at this point, thousands of different pieces of software that you can plug into your Chrome or that you can use a stand-alone, and it's really going to run the gamut of A to Z of our lives, right? So I listened to a lot of content for those that know me. I listened to a lot of podcasts. And I try to read as diligently as I can. I watch YouTube videos. And you know the comparison is that AI is the biggest invention since fire. That's a very bold statement, by the way. But maybe the biggest invention since the wheel. Maybe the biggest invention since the Internet. But it's a big deal. And it's changing everything in some cases for the better. In some cases, for the worse, but regardless, it's like gravity. You can't fight it. Gravity wins. So it's a matter of what do you do with it. And I can tell you, here at one firefly, we are ten toes down. Figuring out not only what are we doing with it in our products and processes, I'll be chatting with our guests here, a little bit about this. But we're also positioning ourselves to help all of you in our industry understand what's out there and what might be valuable or helpful to your business. And so you can expect more from us here very soon. And we're going to try to keep a regular cadence of this thought leadership educational content. And really help you curate from marketing to sales, to project management, to you know all aspects of your business, really up and down the chain from service to programming, to accounting, to finance, to planning, to events, there are applications for AI everywhere. So you can't hide from it. We're not going to hide from it. We're embracing it. We're running towards it. And you can expect more from us soon. And if you just want to chat nerd out on all things AI, for those of you that know me, one of my favorite hobbies is blockchain. And AI is now quickly becoming my second favorite hobby. And hell, might even overtake my first hobby with the amount of content that I'm out there consuming about it. And in fact, I've just learned this week. I've been invited to participate in a panel discussion on AI at CDA. So in September, I'll be on a panel. I'll be on the stage talking to you. And I promise you all that I'm taking that opportunity seriously. And I'm going to share and give anything and everything that I've learned with all of you. We'll be doing that ongoing here starting this summer and we'll certainly do that live in person at CDA and I have a feeling at various industry events where you see me all likely be talking about AI because everything's different now. And it's exciting and it does make us better. When you use it the right way. And so we'll be talking about some of those right ways. Let's bring it to the guest today. So today is show two 43 and my guest is one of our very own here at one firefly. This is Cameron Howitt. He's a manager of project management and IT at one firefly. And so let me go ahead and bring Cameron in. And we'll have a fun conversation. Cameron, how are you?

Cameron: Hey, you're on doing great. Thanks for having me.

Ron: Are you a longtime listener, or a first-time caller?

Cameron: Yeah, long a time listener, and a first-time caller. Exactly. Exactly.

Ron: Awesome. So Cameron, tell our audience, where are you coming to us from?

Cameron: Yeah, I'm coming to my home. Coming to you from my home office here in Austin, Texas.

Ron: Awesome.

Cameron: I've been based for about 12 years now.

Ron: How do you like living in Austin?

Cameron: I love it. I love it. It's got the things I like about Texas and less of the things I don't like about Texas.

Ron: That's awesome. What's that big, I've never been to this thing, but what's that big technology conference that always happens in Austin, south by southwest? Yep. Have you ever been to that?

Cameron: I've been to the music component. I've never been to what they call the interactive component where they bring out all the new hot, spicy tech.

Ron: Yeah, we'll have to make a point to go to that. Yeah, that's sooner than later. Yeah. So, Cameron, we got lots of fun things that we're going to talk about, you know, some of them are going to relate to the experience and the things that you're noodling and working on here at one Firefly. And some of them outside of that outside of those bounds. But take us back in time, help us understand your background. You joined us, by the way, what year?

Cameron: I joined in December 2016.

Ron: Woohoo.

Cameron: We're on year 7 now with one firefly.

Ron: Oh my goodness, that's amazing. You've been with us through really that hockey stick growth.

Cameron: Absolutely. Yeah, I think I was number 15 when I joined and now we're over 80 people. So it's been pretty substantial growth in this.

Ron: And it's always been easy and smooth sailing, right?

Cameron: Every day. Every day is better than the last, and the seas are calm. Always. There is no stress, no strain that we face as a business.

Ron: Now, the comedy there, anyone tuned in, knows, growing a business is hard yeah. And there are trials and tribulations and it takes a tremendous amount of grit and perseverance and hard work and focus and patience. And Cameron regularly practices all of those. So that's one of many reasons I was happy to have you on the show and I want to share some of that experience with our audience. But take us back in time. As far as you want to take us and tell us what your background looks like.

Cameron: Sure. Yeah. So I went to college just down the road from Austin and San Marcos, Texas at Texas state university. And I studied very marketing-specific topics like geographic information systems and anthropology and environmental studies.

Ron: What's a natural fit right there?

Cameron: Yeah, directly applicable to what I do here with one firefly on a daily basis. So I was there from about 2005 to 2009 and when I was there, I met a very lovely woman named Emma, who has now become my wife, but shortly after graduating, she was in grad school at New York City. So I moved there for about a year and a half and put my collegiate work collegiate education to work working for the U.S. Census Bureau. This was back in 2010, so the decennial census at that time I worked at the regional field office in midtown Manhattan in the 13th floor of an office building. It was very not great. A very long commute for me, but I really enjoyed the work and it was cool to be a part of that project. And so I was doing data quality assurance, creating maps for the federal government, for the state government, and reports and stuff like that.

Ron: Like, what do you mean by making maps? Like literally like you're in Adobe Illustrator, drawing lines?

Cameron: No, no. So not Illustrator, but programs like GIS programs like ArcGIS from Esri or I can't even remember some of the other ones now. But that was the big one at the time. So my job at that time was to take little dots on the map that sat right on the border of census blocks and determine, is this household in this block or in this walk? And I would use publicly available street view information. Really, any data that we could get our hands on to determine where should these people be attributed? Because then, as you know, that information feeds up to the census tract, and then the region, and all of those numbers have an effect on how people are represented in their state and federal government. So it is important. And in New York City and in that region in particular, you start to deal with the urban canyon effect. So that's an issue that affects GPS, at least it did 13 years ago. When you're in the middle of a city, sometimes the satellites have trouble pinpointing your exact location. So when these locations were surveyed, they're kind of in this gray area. So my role was to take a look at those gray area data points and make the determination. Is it block A or block B? And then all the data that was captured through the census would be going to the correct census block.

Ron: Sounds very meticulous.

Cameron: Yes, kind of boring.

Ron: I wasn't going to go there. I was just saying meticulous.

Cameron: Yeah, that's meticulous. It was fun. It's like being an investigator a little bit. So really enjoyed that work, but the census happens once every ten years and that work came to an end.

Ron: So by the way, Kim, we had a number of comments here, but I was put on the screen, our very own CFO, Mr.

Ron: T, also known as Taylor Whipple, says welcome Cameron.

Cameron: Hey, Taylor.

Ron: Keep going.

Cameron: Yeah, so when the census in 2010 ended, I was looking for my next big break. And I got it by going to the lovely town of red bank, New Jersey, which was about an hour away from New York City. And I went to work at Fort Monmouth and at that time, they were shutting down that army base. So it was a big project to move all of the people from that base that were remaining on active duty to another base. And then also like sun setting the location and preparing it for sale. So I worked in the environmental division and I was doing surveying of underground heating oil storage tanks. Where they're located, taking soil samples, and then again producing maps and reporting for local, state, and federal government. And that facility has now been sold, I understand. There's a very large building there that I've recently looked and it's populated by a financial tech firm, I believe, and they've put a curly slide from the top to the bottom, and it's a very different place now. But I was there for about a year and a half, and we completed the project. Fun fact, about Fort Monmouth, it's where carrier pigeons were trained. So my office that I had was maybe like 300 meters or 300 yards from the chicken coop or the bird.

Ron: The pigeon coop.

Cameron: Yeah. The aviary where those carrier pigeons from back in World War II were trained before they were sent across the pond and put to use those messengers in the war.

Ron: That's amazing. I'm not even sure in fact, I'm pretty sure I didn't even remember they used carrier pigeons in war.

Cameron: Yeah.

Ron: Would that have been in replace of Morse code? Or radio communication?

Cameron: I guess so. Yeah.

Ron: I need you to know more about these pigeons, Cameron.

Cameron: I'm going to read the Wiki after this podcast. And I'll report back in our next meeting.

Ron: Yeah.

Cameron: Yeah. So we shut down the base. That was another successful project. And at that time, we decided that Texas was home. And where we wanted to lay down roots. So this was in the end of 2011, I moved back here to Austin, Texas, and got married. And my next job from that was working at a company called zebra imaging. Which was a 3D holographic imaging studio. That was primarily supporting the Department of Defense in operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. So I was hired to, again, produce mapping products for the warfighter in the field. So it was a pretty neat job. Dealing with a very different customer base. I would get emails from people in the field with a set of coordinates and a date when they needed a hologram shipped across the world to them. And I would pull satellite imagery and elevation data that was available to us. And overlaid the two and make some recommendations on how we could produce the product, and then we would have these images. So what we called them, produced a holographic image. So when you used a single point source illumination on the map itself, it would create a light field that was full parallax, and you could walk around that.

Ron: I thought that was in the movies only.

Cameron: I know, this is very real, very real.

Ron: So let me see this. So the battle, the soldier, like I'm trying to think of like, I saw this in Avatar. Like where they light this up and they see the tribology and they see the living tree and they see so you're saying that's real?

Cameron: Oh, it's adjacent to what you saw in Avatar, I would say.

Ron: If you were maybe a little more 3D rendering.

Cameron: Yeah, if you paired what you saw in Avatar with a topographic map, it's kind of like that. Yeah. It was really cool. It was we used green light, so the soldiers always used what we called a monochromatic hologram.

Ron: And it would pop up in three dimensions in front of them.

Cameron: Yeah. To your eyes, it looked like it was in 3D. If you were off to the side out of the viewing cone is what we called it. If you're outside the viewing cone, you wouldn't see anything. But if you're inside that viewing cone, you would see all the terrain, the buildings, the urban atmosphere, that the urban environment, everything. So it was used for determining helicopter landing zones, ingress, and egress routes, and situational awareness before going into dangerous environments.

Ron: That's amazing. I do. I do remember talking to you about that when you back when we interviewed you 7 years ago and I probably asked even more questions then. Just tell me more about this tech. That sounds so cool.

Cameron: I wish I had held on to one so that I could show you guys at our team events or something, but you know the tech is long gone, actually, the company shut down as zebra imaging. There's now like an offshoot that's doing research, some really amazing research into the future of holography and how it can be used. But the print side of that business is no more. And that was I lost that job probably four months before my daughter was born. So I was a little nervous, rightfully, about welcoming a child into the world and having a mortgage to pay for and luckily came across the role here at one firefly. And that's when I joined in 2016 as a traffic manager.

Ron: That's interesting. I decided you talk about you know not having a job or losing a job right as a little one's on the way. I went up that and I said, you know, let me start this business and let me do it right at the middle of the Great Recession. So let me just really time it so it's miserably difficult. And then my wife and I was like, you know what? Let's have a baby.

Cameron: Good time.

Ron: Let's do that. I was like, I need a little more stress and anxiety in my life. And fortunately, it's all worked out quite well, but.

Cameron: Sometimes you just gotta take the leap, right?

Ron: You just gotta you know jump the cliff, jump off the cliff, and have the parachute in your hand and throw the shoot and hope it opens before you hit the bottom. And you know sometimes it does, and sometimes it doesn't. But it sounds like for you, it did because you joined us. And you joined us originally Cameron as a traffic manager.

Cameron: Yeah.

Ron: What was your journey like over that time from traffic manager to your current role? And what is your current role in tail here at one firefly?

Cameron: Sure. Yeah. So as traffic manager, my primary focus was monitoring the sales traffic. So the deals at that time, I think I can safely say it was just you, Ron.

Ron: In sales?

Cameron: Yeah.

Ron: Maybe me or maybe we had just brought Josh on. Maybe it was just before we brought Josh on.

Cameron: Yeah. Yeah, I think it was just you at that time. But keeping an eye on the deals that you were working on, those that were closing, and making sure that we had the appropriate resources, content writers, and web designers, properly mobilized to support that client and get those projects through to completion. So that's really the role of the traffic manager is looking at all the demands, comparing it to the supply, and identifying risks as it relates to your ability to meet the requirements of what you've sold to a customer. So I did that. For a few years, actually, and in that project management tool was kind of new to the organization. So it took over the administration of that. It was work front at the time. And really started thinking about the way we planned our work, the way we scheduled work. And just tried to provide a bit more visibility and clarity to the organization on the work that we're doing for our customers. So we started developing out new project templates for how we deploy digital marketing campaigns, and websites, when we have clients doing multiple services, how do we plan that work so that it's all happening at the right cadence for that customer? And in doing that, just kind of started putting my finger into different applications that the team was using. So bringing Slack into the organization for better communication at the time, I think we were using Skype. Upgrading.

Ron: The dark ages when you mentioned that our skypes texting each other.

Cameron: Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. You know, we upgraded base camp. So the role that I have now is the manager of project management and IT. And in the intermediate time, I was the internal product manager. So there was a period there where another individual had come in to run project management for the organization and a little bit over a year ago or maybe a little bit less than a year ago. They stepped away from the company. And I was asked to come back to this part of the business and run the team. And we've since really built out the team with a lot of great people. So now we have project coordinators who are kind of like the traffic manager, but more in the project itself and monitoring what's going on, deploying those projects for new sales, we do have traffic managers that are keeping an eye on the resources and various parts of the organization like our content team and our web team and graphics and making sure that we're properly staffed to support the demand, not overstaffed and not understaffed at any time. We have our administrative support team that's working with our production staff for deploying the content that we create for our customers.

Ron: Cam, I have to put this on the screen because you just referenced this gentleman. And there he is.

Cameron: Hey, Reynaldo. Good to hear from you, Ray.

Ron: That's awesome. Ray was with us. Great guy, great passionate member of our team. And Cameron was just talking about him. That's the universe at work right there.

Cameron: That's right. Yeah. So Ray's been, he was a great part of the team. And wish him all the best. Absolutely. So in addition to that, I also am working still in the IT side. So that's kind of that internal product manager role that I held onto and what we're doing there is integrating applications, trying to, again, just make work easy for our team and help them be successful in the job that we're asking them to do.

Ron: So at a high level, there's this idea and I'll speak meta here for a moment. Sales, you know, we now have a nice sales team, Kendall, from our team. She's been with us 9 years. As you know, and she's just now moved over from digital media and she's now running our sales organization. You know, with Taylor and my support. And when we interact with clients, we do a lot of teaching and a lot of educating just about marketing and about business, sometimes we act as emotional support for our clients if they need it. I say that's a comically or, gosh, I forgot the word I was trying to say, facetiously or not. But the reality is, a client commits to us and we commit to them. And there's, you know, call it a peak level of happiness there. Like, they're excited about the future. And we are excited to work with them. And fortunately, or unfortunately, but it's just the objective truth. That there's now work that has to happen before we can actually do the actual work, right? There's the, we have to get their website logins, or we have to get their Google Analytics access, or we have to get there, any number of onboarding activities that have to happen in order for us to provide the service that they've engaged us for. And in many businesses, and I think honestly speaking, you could say maybe in our past at one firefly the same, like moving from that peak level of happiness into that hard work can be hard and the handoffs or the baton from sales to onboarding and from onboarding into production, those if those handoffs if treated well, and managed well and designed strategically and handled with care can engage and keep not engaged, but keep our clients happy and satisfied through that process. And we can keep the momentum. But to do that, it takes work. And I know you had recently, in fact, I grabbed a piece of artwork here. So I'll put it on the screen for my people that are watching live. You'll see this picture for those that are listening. I'll tell you what it is. But I've got the artwork for a book called onboarding matters, how successful companies transform new companies into loyal champions by Donna Weber. You and your team have actually read this book and you've gotten some nuggets out of this that you're mobilizing here. Do you want to kind of maybe describe how did you come about deciding to even read a book? What did you observe was the current state and then where are you at on that journey to try to further implement change or improvements?

Cameron: Yeah. So this book was actually brought to my attention by a member of our team, Justin, who's an onboarding specialist with us. And the reason that we're reading this book and the reason we're using it to kind of spark some conversation is that it's just what you said you know. We enter a partnership with our clients when they become one firefly customers. And they're transitioning many of them for the first time, making an investment in marketing when they join as a client of one Firefly. And they're putting a lot of trust in us to deliver success for them. But we also need to do a better job. And I think any company under the sun could say this, that there's always room to improve that handoff from the buyer journey to the customer journey. And as a salesperson, and as our sales team, they work really hard on building trust with that client. And the reason that we're able to have clients at all is because they're successful at building that trust. So part of this book is about discussing how can you transfer that trust from the buyer journey to the customer journey to keep that peak level of happiness going. And to help your customers not go down the path of buyer's remorse and finding reasons to believe that they made a mistake and engaging you as a service provider. So we're learning a lot by reading it. The book is primarily written through the lens of deploying software as a service and how you onboard customers into a custom software solution. But there's a lot to be gleaned from that. It's not organizations and industries don't exist in a vacuum. People are people, customers, or customers. They have to make the same kind of decisions and investments in their business. To be successful. So yeah, the book is really about the different phases of onboarding a client. So embarking on onboarding. That happens even before you close the deal. So that includes setting expectations with your customer about what's going to happen next. Then you have the handoff. So that's where that transfer of trust needs to happen between sales and whoever takes the baton. And then there's many other phases, then it actually goes a bit further than what we classify as onboarding right now. So I would even venture to say that what we're classifying is onboarding is really just pre-production. And the onboarding is what's happening until your clients are feeling value from the service that you're providing. So these are areas that we're looking at as a department, how can we better track, how can we get better at setting the expectation for our customer and really leaning on the fact that this is a partnership and making sure that they know what's expected of them so that we can be successful on their behalf? How can we do a better job of handing off from the buyer journey to the customer journey? How can we do a better job of documenting those expectations and what makes that client unique and what challenges are we looking to solve for them? So that everyone who works on that project at various stages knows what success looks like for that client. And then lastly, how can we identify that moment of first value for each of the services that we're offering to our customers? And only then, once we've identified that they are experiencing a value, then we consider that client out of onboarding. So we're very early in the stages of it, but it's a real reshaping of the way we viewed that first engagement with our customers that we've historically called onboarding.

Ron: How did you I'm going to get a bit tactical here just with actually the fact that there's a book and the book has good ideas. How did you bring this book to your team? Did you read this book and you took all the cliff notes and you brought that to your team? Did you have your whole team read the book? How did you go about actually getting everyone kind of on the same sheet of singing off the same sheet of music?

Cameron: Yeah, so like I mentioned, it was actually a member of my team that brought it to my attention and I like to read when I have a topic that really jives with something I'm interested in, and joining taking over this team in this part of the company that I wasn't historically deeply involved in. I really wanted a resource to show the best way to manage this part of the organization. So I read it in a weekend. And it was very excited because I saw a lot of one firefly. In the book, both good and bad, right? Like we're doing we're doing a lot of what's in that book and we're doing some of that well, and we're doing some of it not so well. So once I read it, I encouraged the other members of our onboarding team to read through it. And over the last few weeks, we've been talking about various parts just in sequence. We talked about part one, which kind of sets the stage. Of what onboarding is and up until really just like the intro and then part two is where you go into the 7 phases of onboarding. So I think we're on phase three now in our book club. And we'll continue to meet every other week and talk about what we see in one firefly that's going well. What we see in one firefly where we can improve. We'll come up with our ideas, but then in addition to that, I want to start having targeted discussions with other parts of the organization that are a part of this process, right? Historically, like I said, we've looked at onboarding as this very siloed. Yeah, it's very siloed, very succinct period of time where we're gathering assets, credentials, and information from our client. But I think as an organization, it's time that we expand the lens of what that means to onboard a client and what is an onboarded client versus one that isn't onboarded. So that we can make sure that we are achieving the success that they came to one firefly for. So I want to start having some really targeted discussions with our sales team, our account management team, with the people in my part of the organization, and really anyone in the company that wants to be a part of that. I want them to be a part of that discussion. I can pretend to have the answers, but I don't walk in their shoes every day. I'm not on the client calls every day. I'm not the one who has to get the customer to say, yeah, here's my credit card. And this solution sounds great. So there's a lot that I don't know, and I'm very well aware of that. And I look forward to having those talks with our team and just kind of fine-tuning as we learn from that. And come up with a set of solutions that we think will just make us a better company. There's no secret that we're under economic uncertainty right now. Every business is facing that. And a huge part of being a successful business is retaining your customers. So going out and acquiring new clients all the time is expensive, and it doesn't lead to success for your business. And this is an area that at One Firefly, we want to do better. We want to serve our clients better from the beginning so that they become a champion for us and couldn't see their marketing going to anywhere else.

Ron: Now, I agree. We talk about internally and we'll do it here on the show. You know, this idea that there's a current state, which is what we do today, and there's a future state, and that future state is maybe the version of the company, the version of your department, the version of a process. That is more idealized. It's the aspirational goal for the company. And so one of our one of the ways we get to that aspirational future state is we continually focus on improvement. It's the idea that every single day in every single department in every single person, we can get incrementally better. And I was wondering if you could translate that to your management style or what your how your operating in the company camera and this idea of constant improvement, incremental improvement. In other words, if we're if we're climbing up a thousand stairs, the first step doesn't have to be to stare 50. The first step can be to start one. Yeah. And that's okay. As long as we're making sometimes it's two steps forward and one step back. But then you keep marching forward. So just what are your thoughts around that?

Cameron: Yeah. I mean, I fully believe in continuous improvement. It's something that I try to embody in my personal life as well as here at work. You know, in my role and in the roles of the people on my team, we're often faced with problems and challenges. And I choose to see those as opportunity rather than a setback. It is a setback. But when we approach these, when we're approached with challenges, it's an opportunity for us to determine what went wrong here and how can we make sure it doesn't happen again in the future. So that's the lens that I try to approach every time we have an issue. Every time we have a concern from a client or maybe we don't do our best to deploy a product or a service, of course. We're disappointed. That we didn't fully hit the mark there. We can choose to be disappointed this time and not change and then be disappointed again in the future. And then again in the future, or we can see that as the spotlight on an area where we can stand to improve. And it doesn't mean reshaping every process every time. It means defining little incremental improvements. A lot of time through automation, right? Human error is a big part of where things can go wrong. People make mistakes. It's totally natural. And I would never hold anyone personally responsible for that. I've made mistakes all the time. So if there are opportunities for us to automate different steps in our process to make sure that information is being properly tracked and transferred from during these handoffs, these are areas where I want to have an impact to help us improve. And I want the people on my team and the people that I work with to think about it in the same way.

Ron: We had a visitor viewer on LinkedIn and they just posted, I don't get to see their name. So for my team, if you know who this is on LinkedIn, drop their name in a message to me. But it says, LinkedIn users and they say 1% better every day. I'll tell you what, you do 1% better every day and you keep doing that. You look back a year, you've made monumental leaps and improvements in the company. So yeah, I fully agree with that. There's a lot I want to get into. We have a wonderful audience, by the way, tuned in. Appreciate you all. Don't be shy out there. If you're tuned in, say hello. Tell us where you're coming to us from. So drop into the chat and if you have a question for Cameron, I will do my best to read that question off and pose it to him. So don't be shy out there. Let Cameron know you are watching here.

Cameron: This is a friend of mine from college. I haven't seen it and gosh, at least ten years.

Ron: He's like Cameron?

Cameron: Let's go. Love to see it. Thanks, Javi.

Ron: That's pretty cool. See? I know people want to hate social media, but that was just a positive win in the positive side of things. Checkbox, social media just made that happen. Helping Cameron reconnect with a college buddy. I want to jump to a software, a software question, or a set of software conversations. And I know you've done a lot of different roles and responsibilities at One Firefly Kim. But there was a small window, but where you were exclusively focused on software and systems integration here. And now you still have that, but now you've got a team that's going to be growing and supporting you in that role and capacity. But we made a decision years ago, I say years, you can maybe put a fine point on. Maybe it was last year to fully move into a software environment called Zoho one. And we had been I remember this in detail. We moved into Zoho, CRM, in 2014. Okay, so we've used pieces of Zoho for a long time going on almost ten years. But there's this new, you know, vertical stack vertical integration that a Zoho one offers us and this is not a Zoho commercial. We have no skin in the game for Zoho for this conversation, but we found value in that. And I was wondering if you could just share kind of what your analysis led to and then how it's going.

Cameron: Yeah, absolutely. You're right. As an internal product manager, I did oversee quite a few system migration projects. So the first one was moving us into Google Workspace for email, files, calendaring, and all that. And then we also migrated away from work front as our project management tool into Zoho projects. And that was really the catalyst for us moving into the Zoho one subscription model. So Zoho is a software, I don't want to say conglomerate, but a software company for business. They have probably 50 different applications available. And when you're a Zoho one customer, you have access to over 40 of those at an enterprise level. For one cost per user per month or paid annually, however, you choose to do it. So for us, we have gained tremendous value from that. We were in the CRM and we still use that quite a bit. All of our sales account management work is happening there. But since then, we've gone into campaigns for email marketing. They have a business intelligence tool called Soho Analytics, which is kind of like a Tableau. Where you can visualize your data and run analysis and create dashboards and some members of our team have done some amazing things in there. Shout out JT. We have Zoho projects, which is directly integrated into the CRM. So now everyone who's viewing an account can view all the projects happening for that account that can go into the project and see what milestone we're working on, what's delayed, what's on time, who's working on what, and when really having that visibility. We've used Zoho forms to collect information from both our customers and internally. We're using Zoho recruit on the people, operations side. We just rolled out Zoho people internally. So that's kind of our HR management tool. We were able to submit time off, view calendars for each other. I'm able to see the calendar my entire team when they're in or out yeah. So there's really been a lot of growth happening in our implementation of Zoho. And it's been it's been great. I've really enjoyed working on that and yeah, and now that we're invested in this in this ecosystem, a lot of my IT time is now spent in developing automation and integrations between Soho applications and outside of Zoho. So when a certain action is occurring on an account or in a project, send a notification to Slack so that the appropriate team members are made aware that something has occurred. When we're closing a deal, you know, creating tasks in a project for the p.m. team to review that. And now we're even going down the path of when a task is completed, sending a notification to the client so that they know what's happened on their project automatically. Our team no longer would have to send that email manually and they can then take that 5 or ten minutes back and go on to the next task and be supporting more clients.

Ron: I mean, we primarily serve custom integration firms and residential and commercial and security firms and some HVAC firms, and a plethora of other types. Not to leave anyone out. Do you think there's a role for a Zoho one in their businesses or what is the threshold if you're speaking now, imagine business owners or leaders are listening and they're like, they're leaning into what you're saying about this software, and adding efficiencies to the business. How do you think about framing when does it make sense to look at something like that?

Cameron: I think when you have a tax ID record for your business when your business is recorded with your taxable entity, wherever that is, you should have a CRM. You should be able to track every lead that you're capturing on your website. You should have contact records for everyone that you talk to as a potential customer. You should be monitoring your deal flow for every single deal in a CRM at the least. I mean, even if you're a single-person operation, the insight and the automation that you can configure in any CRM you know, we'll speak about Zoho here, but most CRMs have this capability. It just depends on what other tools you're using and how they directly integrate with each other to help you decide what's the right one for you. And also what is your internal ability to create custom functions and develop that tool to be what it needs? But really just out of the box, anyone operating a business should be using a CRM, I believe.

Ron: And what about the step to a Zoho one, the full stack integration?

Cameron: Yeah. I mean, that's a tough one to answer. I think it's in the range of $40 per month per user. And there's plenty of Zoho customers who are not using Zoho one because it does, they've now changed this, but when it first came out, it required you to have everybody in your organization with as a whole one license. Now, of course, you can provision which apps each user has. Like in our workspace, we probably have 20 of the 40 apps running. But on average, a user has access to 6 of those. So they vary depending on the role. It just comes down to a discussion with your financial team and to decide what is the what is that threshold for you and your business, whether you want to go for a higher per-user tier package, like CRM plus, which has a lot of what you need from a sales and marketing side, it's going to cost you more as a bundle, but you do not have to have every single person on your payroll with a license to do that. So it really depends on your operation and your finances, what bundle you'd want to go with, and the Zoho world.

Ron: What led to our decision? I mean, because One Firefly had been running a CRM since 2014. And maybe CRM plus yeah. And I know I think I know we started to use like forms or some of the other tools. What led to you and Taylor and others deciding we zoho one is now the right move?

Cameron: Yeah, that was all about projects. So we were coming up on a contract term with Adobe work front, which was a huge amount of money every year. And we identified Zoho projects as having most of the capabilities that we needed. We certainly lost a little bit, but not much. We found workarounds for what we lost. In that platform. But the cost savings of going to Zoho one at 40 some odd dollars per user compared to the licensing fees for Adobe. And the lack of integration that existed between those two. Adobe wanted to charge us at least like $12,000 to integrate CRM with the work front using their fusion platform. And then we had Zoho one available, which offered direct integrations from CRM to Zoho projects at a lower per-user per month cost with the whole other suite of applications available. So really just came down to the dollars and cents. And also the capabilities there you know. I believe that we gain more by having these applications integrated. Even if the feature set is mildly limited from what we had and work front, we gain more by having those two applications talk to each other and having them exist for the users under one login directly integrating opportunities and companies to our projects so that we can see what's happening after the deal is closed.

Ron: Should our customers be using Slack in their businesses? Different pieces of software for those not familiar, maybe Cameron start with What is slack? And do you have an opinion that our customers should be using it? Or maybe it's something similar?

Cameron: Yeah, so Slack is an instant messaging platform. You can create workspaces. So there's workspaces for clubs. There's workspaces for buying groups in our industry. But we have O ne Firefly workspace. And within that, we have channels. Those are different message boards for each of our teams. We have channels for each of our clients, product development work we're doing, and management announcements. We have a litany of fun channels that really embody our corporate culture and the personalities within it. And yeah, I do believe that for every company that has a team of people, especially if you're distributed, the way that One Firefly operates, an instant messaging platform is a requirement. I wouldn't necessarily say Slack because again, it's all about like if you're an Office 365 shop, I saw someone mention in the comments teams has AI. So that's teams as Slack for Microsoft users. You're not paying anything extra to use that and it's a very similar workplace. Zoho One even has a Slack competitor called Click. Our team is very deeply embedded in Slack. So that's not a path we're walking down right now. But there's others out there. So I would definitely recommend an application like that that really enables the quick asynchronous communication on your team.

Ron: In your mind, how does Slack, which is our messaging environment? How does it contribute to one firefly's culture? And how therefore how might it might it be possible for it to contribute to those that are tuned in and listening to their culture?

Cameron: Yeah, I mean, slack is our hub. It's really where everyone starts their day. It's where people are checking in throughout the day. On the topic of our culture, it's where we share wins from members of our team. We share wins from our customers so that people can feel proud. Of the work, they're doing you know, our north stars for people to feel proud prosperous, and connected. So there's two of them right there. We're connected on slack and we feel proud because we get to see what's happening in the organization or what's happening in people's lives. We have people that are out doing amazing things. I think of pow and her rodeo work. She shared some photos and video yesterday of a recent competition. I certainly feel proud for her. And also connected to what she's doing outside of work. And there's a lot of different instances of things like that. Happening at one firefly on Slack and I see it as certainly a huge part of us staying connected as an organization.

Ron: So Eddie did make the comment here. I'll put it on the screen. Eddie says a team has some AI and you just referenced that as well. In your mind, Kim, just so that we touch on AI, how do you think about or maybe even how are you addressing it? So it's like maybe your opinions and then what are you doing about it to experiment with AI potentially helping resolve redundant tasks for you or your team, things that you know are burning time, but if you had an AI helping you, it's making you better? Is there anything that's top of mind for you?

Cameron: Yeah. So I use AI to collaborate with personally. Like when I have a new idea or a new project I'm working on, kind of like a research assistant. But I have recently started using AI as well in our I'm not sure how this happened exactly. But in our Gmail, there's like a trim box AI email writer. So it'll read the email thread and it can give some AI suggestions and how you could reply. And you know I'm just kind of playing around with it now. But I see a lot of areas like that where AI is reading the context of, say, an email thread with a client and that could help you summarize their sentiment so that you can respond more quickly. Or help you draft the message in a way that is going to respond in kind to that client. And then there's no doubt that AI is going to have an impact on project management and certainly in the IT world. AI is being used to identify potential phishing or malware on our IT security side. So that's already in place. Yeah, I definitely see these technologies taking bigger and bigger steps in our operation.

Ron: Do you think business businesses are better potentially better because of AI or are they worse because of AI?

Cameron: I think it still comes down to the user of the AI to answer that question. I view it as a collaboration tool. It's not a panacea. So again, you have to know how to prompt it to give you the information you need. And you also need to be judicious about the information it's providing you because we know these large language models can speak very grandiose ways about things that they do not know. They can purport truth where it doesn't exist. So you know you have to be aware of that. But like any tool that has become available, whether it's technology in the Internet level technology, the technology that our clients are dealing with are technology like a jackhammer. People who used to do sidewalks or create roads didn't have jackhammers. And then the companies that started using the jackhammer started winning the contracts to lay new roads because they could get it done more quickly with greater efficiency and fewer people. So AI is going to be the same type of revelation in a variety of industries where you need to be ready to adopt that and to move yourself forward.

Ron: 00:58:11.160 An example, Cameron, I'm in a marketing mastermind, and a friend of mine, rich Brooks, also runs a wonderful podcast. He's in that podcast, and he made a comment that back in the day, you know, going back a couple of decades, he was a web developer, and there was a point where he had won a contract and it's like two or $3000. And he ended up using this thing called dream weaver to create the website. And the customer learned about this, and then came back to him and said, I want a discount on the website you just did for me. And rich is like, why do you want to discount? He's like, well, because you used this tool, and you didn't actually hand code it. I thought you were hand-coding it. And rich is reply is, well, did you hire me to hand code it? Or did you hire me for a website? And I think you could think about examples in construction. Are you going to pay the person that uses a screwdriver? More than the person that's going to use a power drill. If the person that's going to use a power drill is going to get the job done faster and better. And I think we're in this new evolution today of all of us in society, thinking about this. And I know we, you and I, Cameron, and our team have the philosophy, it's really a matter of taking these tools to make us better. How do we make the product better? How do we improve the customer experience? And how do we improve we're marketing agent? How do we improve results? How do we improve the results the clients receive? And then I'll use every tool in the toolbox to help me deliver a better product for the customer.

Cameron: Yeah. So I approach that Ron is please you know. Our team is doing a lot of tasks like. They're doing data. This isn't necessarily AI, but let's talk about automation and integration for a second. It's like you're doing all these tasks to pull data to prepare to meet with a client and present to them. That's cognitive load. You're burning mental energy to prepare for that. What if that data just fed to you? Now you could apply that mental energy to analyzing the data, providing recommendations of what to do next, to optimizing their campaign. These are the kinds of steps that become available when you're utilizing AI or automation integration to really enable you to think about things in a way that you weren't previously capable of. And you're not paying for the tools, you're paying for the expertise. So how can we apply that expertise in the best possible way to service the customer?

Ron: No, I agree. Kim, I have to admit something to you. I may have stalked your social media in advance of this knowing I was going to bring you on. This is where I embarrass you. So hopefully some of our team is still on here. Maybe not embarrass you, but make you proud as well. But here, I'm going to put this on the screen. All right, tell me what's going on in this picture.

Cameron: Yeah.

Ron: And let's describe it in detail for our listeners.

Cameron: Yeah, so this is me laying. You know feet up on a chaise lounge. And a dirty field outside of Lake McMurtry near Stillwater, Oklahoma. This picture was taken in early March. I participated in a bike event, a 101-mile gravel bike race called the mid-south . One of the coolest events I've ever been a part of, and this picture was probably 18 to 20 miles from the finish line. Salsa Bikes, which is a bike manufacturer, had this chaise lounge with a leopard print setup with a professional photo booth and this is the pose that I chose.

Ron: I love it. So you're clearly into biking. Tell me about your passion for biking.

Cameron: Yeah, absolutely Ron. I'd love to talk about this. It's one of my one of my favorite things. So in I think it was 2006, I participated in my first bike MS charity bike ride. And someone close to me in my life was diagnosed with MS and they invited me to participate in that event with them at the time I was very out of shape. Hadn't really ridden a bike more than maybe 8 miles as a kid. So I started training. And really just found a passion for cycling. I really love the feeling of flying without wings. That's what I like to describe the bike as. And so I raced through college you know. That was my sophomore year of college when I started on that journey. I started racing for the school and our club team at Texas State. I became president of the club for two years, hosted races, traveled with the team around the state, and competed representing our university. And then I just kept it up. So left college went off to New York and was biking there. There are some pretty funny stories about me when I first moved there, getting lost for 8 hours and not having cell phone reception, and my wife calling every bike shop under the sun, wondering where I was, but yeah. So I've had some adventures in my day, and.

Ron: You found your way home clearly.

Cameron: I did. I did. Thankfully.

Ron: Did last week come and find you?

Cameron: No, no. A very friendly bodega owner gave me some directions. This was literally like a week after moving to New York City. I decided to go find this club and then I got terribly lost. Ended up doing like 120 miles that day trying to find my way home to a new apartment I had just moved into. So that was a journey. But lately, over the last year or so, I've really gotten into ultra-distance events. So a lot on the gravel. And for those who don't know, gravel cycling is like road cycling, but on dirt roads. Sometimes you do go on the pavement, but primarily you're on unimproved roads like this picture that we're seeing now is also from the mid-south . There's even a part there where we went on some single-track trails connecting from the Lake back to Stillwater, which was really cool. So yeah, I like it when the ride gets hard. I like to go for races that are going to take me over 6 hours. I really thrive at that.

Ron: What's your secret? How do you, when you're 6 hours in and you know you still have hours to go and your body's telling you to quit? And it's super hot or super cold and you're it's raining, what do you tell yourself to keep going?

Cameron: There is no quit in my mind. It's the finish line is where it ends. Obviously, if there's like a mechanical issue and I'm unable to finish, then I'll get a ride, but. You know I go into these events and visioning a future version of myself that has already been completed it. So heading into the mid-south , I like to I envisioned finishing that event. I envisioned the feeling of being done with it. So then every moment of training, every moment at the race is where you're just manifesting that future version of yourself. And by not doing that, then I'm kind of letting myself down. So I like to just go for it. And take it as it comes, try to design a race plan and stick to that plan as much as you can and take whatever happens next.

Ron: Love it. Cameron, it's been a lot of fun having you on show Two 43 for those that are tuned in and they want to get in touch with you or follow you. How would you have them do that?

Cameron: Yeah, LinkedIn is probably the best place, not terribly active on social media. A lot of private accounts, but you can certainly find me on LinkedIn just by searching my name and I'm the one that's at one firefly. So yeah. And I look forward to connecting with any listener that has questions happy to provide any help I can.

Ron: Awesome. Cameron, thanks for joining me on the show.

Cameron: Thank you, Ron. This is a blast.

Ron: All right, folks. There you have it. Cameron Howitt. He's the manager of project management and IT at one firefly. And he's a great testament of the people that make up the team here at one firefly. There are a lot of passionate, hardworking, super smart. Folks that are very much focused on being there for each other and absolutely being there for our customers. So that we can really deliver an exceptional experience and deliver marketing that helps you grow. It's in our mission to help technology companies grow. And it's certainly our north star or our purpose to help people feel proud, prosperous, and connected. And we can achieve those things when we're doing great marketing for all of you. So a little bit of a different show today, but I wanted to have Cameron on and I'm glad you all were able to tune in. And I'm going to sign off by sending you all here. I'll put up the artwork. If you have not done so, please subscribe. To the podcast, the audio version. You can subscribe on Spotify or Apple podcast or whatever your preferred method is. And if you'd be willing to leave us a review, also be warmly welcome. And until then, it looks like I forgot to load my final show art. I'll leave you on that. I'll leave this show art up here at the end. And I will see you all soon. So Cameron, I see you down there, don't leave. You and I will check in here as soon as I sign off. But for all of you that are tuned in, I am signing off and I'll see you all later.

SHOW NOTES:

Cameron is a process and data expert who joined the One Firefly team in 2016 as the Traffic Manager overseeing the organization’s project management platform. Since then, he’s advanced to become the Project Management & IT Manager and currently leads a team of Project Coordinators, Client Onboarding Specialists, and administrative support staff who keep client projects on track and running smoothly. Cameron is always looking for new ways to help clients succeed and drive One Firefly forward through more efficient processes and project management.

Before joining the One Firefly team, Cameron held positions at the US Census Bureau, the Department of Defense, and a 3D holographic imaging studio, where he held the role of Production Manager. He earned his Bachelor of Science degree from Texas State University in 2009. When he’s not working, Cameron enjoys spending time with his family, as well as training for ultra-distance road and gravel cycling events.

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.

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