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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.
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 Podcast Episode #59: An Industry Q&A With Joe Whitaker

Latest trends in the industry to keep an eye on

This week's home automation podcast features our host Ron Callis interviewing Joe Whitaker. Recorded live on Wednesday, November 14th, 2018 at 12:30 p.m. EST.

About Joe Whitaker

Joe Whitaker has 20 years of experience in Custom Systems Integration and Design Industry. As one of the most proactive members of the CEDIA Comunity and Control4 tech community Joe continues to design and implement amazing solutions while contributing to the consumer knowledgebase. Writing for CePro, Electronic House, and TecHome. Joe has also helped in product development, creation, and preproduction testing with top manufacturers like Origin Acoustics, Sony, Platinum Tools, Sanus, Nyne, Stealth Acoustics, Simply Reliable, VANCO and many more. Beyond developing many custom tools to assist in custom installations and custom rack building, video and audio products that benefit the integrator, and network gear for the CI Industry, he is a regular contributor of news, product reviews and tutorials at EH Publishing CE Pro Magazine, Electronic House Magazine, and Commercial Integrator Magazine, and TecHome.

Interview Recap

Here are some of the topics Ron had the opportunity to discuss with Joe

  • The importance of participating and contributing to the CI community
  • CEDIA’s recent Tech Summit acquisition
  • “Voice SEO” digital marketing strategies that The Thoughtful Home is utilizing
  • Evolution of the integration consumer experience and expectations in recent years

SEE ALSO: Home Automation Podcast Episode #58: A Custom Integration Industry Q&A With Brad Whitehead



Ron:  Hello everybody. Ron Callis here with another episode of Automation Unplugged. We are here for episode 59. It is Wednesday, November 14th. Just almost I'll say approximately 12:30. Got a big week. Next week we have Thanksgiving. We're actually going to get a show in next week, so stay tuned next week as well. That's going to be a lot of fun. But we have a great guest. We have Mr. Joe Whitaker. This man, if you're just paying attention to the, the CI space, the CEDIA universe, then you can't help but see this guy, he's almost everywhere. It seems like maybe at the same time. And so you're always seeing him in Facebook live content or YouTube content or from CE Pro or resi systems or tech integrator. He's featured all over the place and he's an entrepreneur. He's an inventor and he's a CEDIA board member and he's lots of other things, but I'll let him tell you about all those things. So let me go ahead and bring in Mr. Joe Whitaker. Let me work my little software here and let's see if we can get him in.

Joe: Hey, I'm here.

Ron:  Hey, what's up Joe? How are you digging this new software?

Joe: Software is amazing. I mean, all the things you can do. I'm just like so impressed.

Ron:  It's fun. Well, we're gonna have some fun today. Well, Joe, thank you for taking time to join my audience and I, and actually let me address the audience. So if you're out there, if you're watching live, thank you. Please like, and comment, actually write us a comment and let us know where you're coming to us from. And do the same if you're watching on replay. That's always fun. In fact, Joe and I will be monitoring these videos post show and if there's any questions there, we're gonna make sure to get those questions answered and get you pointed in the right direction. And even if you're watching on replay, post in the comments and let us know where you're coming from and share of course, share this. That's how this content gets out there to a larger audience. Believe it or not, right now we're averaging anywhere from 1000 to 3000 views on this content on these shows. Not live, we're not quite there yet, but over the next few weeks we generally get a pretty good push and that happens cause you guys like and comment and you share the content. So thank you for doing that. And Hey, there's Bobby Dodge. See, let me show you this. Look at that. Bobby Dodge for Pro Source. Bobby, by the way, I know I owe you a phone call and I promise you and I are going to travel in the Northeast. And you texted me and emailed me and I owe you a call. So thank you for watching the show and I'm going to get to you very shortly. All right, Joe, I always like to start with you, man. Can you tell my audience who you are and where you come from and don't say from your mom and dad?

Joe: Well Joe Whitaker from The Thoughtful Home. Right now I'm in St Louis, Missouri and happened to be on one of our job sites actually. We also operate in Dallas, Texas and do some remote work all around the country. I had originally come from, you know, the technology community and a little different aspect and totally got into this industry on 100% accident. As I was moving back to my home city of San Antonio, decided I wanted to try something different in technology and a buddy of mine was like Hey, you know, we're doing this home theater multi-room audio stuff and starting to talk about like network and servers and things of that nature. Would you be interested in helping us out? And I was like, yeah, I'll help you grow your company. So did a year of that and then realized at that time, keep in mind, this was before the housing market crash of course that there was a lot of potential well down the road coming. So I dived in headfirst, ramped up the first company I ever started, which is still an operation a day in San Antonio, ran by my cousin.

Ron:  What was the name of that business?

Joe: Right now originally it was Revolution IT. Right now I think it's called Evolution IT same company, just a little like most people do over over years. Do a little rebranding.

Ron:  Sure.

Joe: And then I just kind of, you know, when that company launched right around the time of the housing market crash started doing a lot of consultation. But I keep getting dragged back into, you know, the role of the home technology professional no matter how far I get out there into, you know, manufacturer consultation or design or any of these other things. I just always keep coming back. A lot of people do that. We've seen, you know, Rick Johnson do that. We've seen other people do that. But I think a lot of it has to do with the passion, but also the inspiration when you're actually involved in seeing those last nuts and bolts occur. And that, you know, when you're a manufacturer, you don't necessarily always get to see that smile on the face of a client at the end of that, at the end of that project or at the end of that experience. So you lose a lot of that that emotional connection when you're just building boxes. You know, somebody else gets that emotional reward. And I think that's one of the things that keeps, you know, dragging me back in and has kept me on, you know, the CEDIA board for like, this is my seventh or eighth year in a row. Is just that, you know, being able to be in touch with home technology professionals in end users that consumers and now we're aware that I don't like anymore. I don't really like convergence anymore. I'm really enjoying this confluence with the design and architecture community, which we kind of, we spearheaded and kicked off the last CEDIA. So, you know, I think it's those relationships and that joy and that passion that keep me around.

Ron:  So I've got up here on the screen the article that just what was this published a week ago that you are recently voted back into the board. So what, did you just finish a two year stint on the board and now this is another two years, or how does that work?

Joe: Yeah, so every two years some seats will become vacant. And they run an election for those incumbents that want to kind of continue. And then any newcomers that have been nominated on it's every two years. And since CEDIA has become a global organization that allowed CEDIA to stagger the nominations in the election process a little better so that not so many seats vacated. One time when I came on the board, the first time was a huge turnover. I mean, in one shot you got me, Hagai, Terrance Murray, Michael Pope and you know, a handful of others all at one time. So when the global alignment occurred, there was a thought to stagger it a little better, so you would only have, you know, 40% or less of seats revolving at one time.

Ron:  Okay.

Joe: So this is going to be a really interesting one this year. Because you as, as you see in the photo right there, you've got, you know, Peter from the UK comes on the board, somebody who's been involved in the industry for 30 some odd years, amazing volunteer instructor, content developer, and just all around good guy. Of course, I'm all the way down to Mike Cogbill, you know a somewhat legend in our industry and someone who is I mean, you know, how often do you get to say there's a guy on the board that has done stuff with NASA. So I mean, you know, that those steps of all the different personalities people this year it looks to be a really, really amazing board.

Ron:  Yeah. That's awesome. Yeah. ETC. Mark Michael comes from ETC. Down here in Palm Beach, Florida. You always know Michael, you'll see him with his cowboy hat.

Joe: Cowboy hat, boots, and usually a white button up shirt. Hey. Exactly.

Ron:  That is awesome. Now, how did you end up transitioning Joe from being an integrator? I would say how and why? How did this evolve? Just for our audience in case they're curious. And you are also a significant content creator in terms of, I mean, you're writing for many of the industry's publications, you're frequently on stage, you know, and so that's you're giving back. I mean, at least that's my perception. You're really sharing your thoughts, ideas and opinions with the industry and some folks just kind of keep to themselves and do their thing and they don't really go out there and try to help others. But that seems to be part of your DNA that you're really have gone out of your way in many cases to give back. You know, where does that come from?

Joe: Well, that, you know, it's, some people like to pay it forward, but as you go, you still got to pay it backwards too. You know, as things come about and you continue to grow. One of the big reasons why I do and kind of what got me into that is years and years ago, you know, certain people I started working with certain people doing certain things. CE Pro was one of the first with Julie Jacobson who kind of took me under her wings so to speak. People like, you know, Jeremy Burkhart Sony, just some people at Sony who are, well, they're still there but they're in different positions. John Lan, Jason Savage, who is still there, you know, with all of these people being involved in me growing and showing success and all that, I feel I have to do the same thing. I have to turn around and revolve that and give that same thing back. Cause maybe I'll be able to help somebody or I'll be able to give somebody that spark or that little piece of information they do need to make a business decision, make a marketing decision, make even a product decision. And then, you know, touch each one of those things as I go as I can. Because I mean, before I was on the board, I was doing a lot with CE Pro and that kind of public exposure is what dragged me into the first few times I was ever nominated for the board, which I didn't win. I didn't make elections in those times before when I was probably a little too young and unseasoned I was still in my twenties. But you know, just that progression of things are happening in our industry and some people step up then, you know, take the torch and run with it, you know, create mass, bring people in. And the same goes for products, you know, I've done that where I've seen gaps or missing holes or, or just something and nobody's filling it. So pick up the phone and you know, call Burkhart or call Mark over at Vanko and say, Hey look, there's this one thing that could be fixed. We can create this product right now. It'll fix that gap. And now there'll be more products that work together and so on and so on. So it's just one of those why I always come back to being an HTP. I walk around these projects, I see products. I've talked to other integrators and team up with them on products.

Ron:  And I got Gordon here, Joe. Hey, what's up?

Joe: Oh, it's Gordon. Hey Gordon!

Ron:  Thanks for watching Gordon. Sorry to interrupt, Joe.

Joe: Another great guy, by the way, who..

Ron:  Speaking of great guys, we've got Mr. Kris.

Joe: And there's Gamble.

Ron:  There's Gamble coming to us from the UK.

Joe: Exactly Gamble just said, we've got 24 hours every day and we have to make those hours count. But the thing is if you only make those hours count for yourself, you're going to enjoy success alone. And that's a big deal. It's better to have a bunch of people around you successful and all enjoy it together.

Ron:  Amen. So Joe, you're on the board, you've been on the board for a long time. There is a chance, maybe a slight chance, but a chance that we have some people watching that are in the CI community and they are not members of CEDIA. What do you say? Why? What do you say to them to convince them to become part of the family or does it work? Does it matter?

Joe: Sure. The first thing I'll say is also that pay it back thing. You're in the industry, you're not a CEDIA member. Well guess what you're enjoying the fruits of the labor of CEDIA already right now and one of the biggest spots to see that is in legislation. I mean you've got the 10 volt thing going on in New Jersey right now. Darren is fighting that tooth and nail to get that exemption and it doesn't only benefit CEDIA members. That exemption and all that policy is going through right now and they're working on that to stop that because there's a new POE law coming up that's going to say, if CEDIA doesn't fight it, it's going to say if you run anything over POE, you have a POE switch, camera, wifi access point. Guess what? A licensed electrician has to install that. So you're already enjoying the fruits of their labor, paying zero dues, paying zero respect and not being a part of CEDIA. But then there's all the other benefits. The community, the future education that's coming out. I mean the stuff that has been going on in the last five years is huge. And now we're actually starting to see those outputs of new education, of workforce development. Global outreach. I mean, come on, join it while its hot.

Ron:  Now what is the latest, I know that CEDIA just acquired the tech summits Mark Koski and team over there, they've been going around the country for years doing these rep and local, I think it's local rep sponsored events and now, and they had even started to weave in CEDIA education and I know years ago there used to be this thing called the CEDIA Road Show or regional shows. And now CEDIA's just acquired this new thing, this regional-based show. Can you provide an update? What does that mean for how that event or all of those events, cause they're all over the country throughout the year, how those are going to change or evolve based on that acquisition?

Joe: Well, I think CEDIA has learned over the, we're coming up 30 year anniversary this coming year. I think they learned that field of dreams doesn't work in trade associations. You can't just build it and they'll come. They built expo some came. But the education was one of the most, the biggest key components. So take the education to the masses, you know, because you've got people in, you know, the outskirts of Chicago, rural Texas. Believe it or not, there's integrators in Idaho Falls, Idaho. I didn't even know there was buildings out there, but you know, it's that point of taking this education on a regional basis and when you go regional, who are the, who's the where, where, excuse me, where's the trust? Where's the earn trust within a regional location? What's with distributors, reps, et cetera. It's not necessarily what the manufacturers at that point, although the manufacturers will sponsor and will show up, the trust is the guys that are at the local shop and they go to these distributors and they talk to these reps. They have a one on one basis with them. They know each other's kid's names or what areas each other lives in. That's what Koski built. He built this really amazing thought of. It's not just about the training or the community or any of that. It's about all of the things that you get when you go local. And that is you're in it in a familiar place and familiar surroundings, talking about amazing things with familiar people in commuter brands. You know, you put those together, sprinkling some amazing CEDIA education. Now you have a big win. And that's the thought is, is use using kind of that platform to really do a regional CEDIA thing. Kind of like the old road show, which we all loved. But you know, bringing that back with more and making it better and yes, and making it better because that platform is just, it's so well done the way it's put together.

Ron:  So when you and I were talking just before going live, you kind of blew my mind, rocked my world, and I've got a lot more questions on a particular subject. And I'm going to preface this and prepare the audience. I might sound really uninformed here, maybe I always sound uninformed, but I'm going to sound particularly uninformed right now. So you've got something that's pretty exciting and you, you'd said, Ron, there's, you know, how you're doing marketing and SEO and websites and whatnot for your customers. He's like, well, I took that and I've taken it a different direction and we're doing voice SEO. And I was like, what in the world is that? So there you go. Teed up. What is this? And I know I'm all pixelated, but hopefully everyone can hear me. I don't know what's going on there.

Joe: The company is called VoiceDocent. And it was a concept that kinda has been around for a bit for me in a different form factor with my business partner, Steve Siegel down in Dallas, who runs the Dallas and Kohner thoughtful home. Well that concept grew through one of my closest friends Danner Phillips who posts she's she might be watching. And they created this platform where an integrator can have their own skill, a skill on Alexa. So far I can say, you know, we've got JJ Canon digital, the delight has a skill. Amanda Wildman with true media as her should be like launching in a week or so. If you'll send me the rest of the questions, Amanda, I need more FAQs. And then you know, you've got Rob Sutherland who is the current treasurer of CEDIA. He has like the first international skill. If you get it on the U S. Dot. It talks to you in the English. I'm talking to you and if you get it in the UK talks in UK accident. So what we've done is built a platform for, for integrators to have representation in voice because very shortly Amazon is gonna launch what's called voice SEO, the ability to search through. I'm saying, Alexa, find me this or Alexa, find me that. And actually be able to find people in your local region, in your service area who are integrators, home theater installers, and that list goes on and on. If you are listening or you listen later, check out some of the skills that are out there. You can go right to your Amazon Alexa skill on your phone and up in the search bar. Just type the word. Here's how SEO works. By the way, just type in the word CEDIA. You'll see CEDIA's skill, CEDIA's flash update, JJ's skill, and a host of inspired dwellings. A host of others where we're already starting to implement keyword terms, search algorithms, other things so that when you type in one of these terms, you can actually start getting back this information right inside Alexa's app. Amazon's plan is to have that also discover while during direct voice questions here in the very near future. But before we go further, a shocker for Ron. So what me and Steve had come up with was a virtual tour. You're a builder and you have a showroom or your lighting designer, you have a showroom, you have a model home and you have Origin Acoustics, Valet in there. And you walk in and you say, Alexa, tell me about this. Kitchen starts telling you about the countertops, starts telling you about the faucet, starts telling you about the ceiling treatment starts telling you about all the coolest stuff. Maybe some lights will light up on the countertop when it's talking about the countertop. Maybe it'll do some other things and then it'll prompt you to go to the master bedroom next. So this service is about builders, it's about lighting designers, about all those shows, spaces. But VoiceDocent doesn't show it, doesn't sell it. Excuse me, to the home builder. When you sign on with VoiceDocent and you get your company's skill, you are now the sales arm to the builder where you make 50 points of margin, you sell them to skill. All of that is implemented and you now are able to sell something as well.

Ron:  So this is an RMR play for the integrator when they partner with VoiceDocent.

Joe: For the builder, yes. You know, our original concept was in a residential systems two years ago in a model home. It was a little clergy, a little difficult because it took a ton of programming on site. So you know, Steve came in with his ideas. I came up with my ideas our amazing tech. I call him the nerds and VoiceDocent all came together and said, you know, if we're going to do this, we're going to build a platform from bottom to top. And I mean, I mean we're going to cover the whole thing, the builders, the lighting designers, and we're going to do stuff for the integrators that we're going to do the stuff for the trade association itself. We're going to cover every single space or that ever. Every confluence, every diverging market as well. So don't be surprised if by February you see an in KBA skill and stuff like this for interior designers, one for cables. Don't, you know, don't think that that's where we're stopping because the one thing that skills developers have not done is hit the people that need certain service providers. They're hitting the, you know, Century Links and the, and the gray bars and the people that really need representation besides Pizza Hut, cause you can order a pizza right up. Is people who provide services. We don't need to have it.

Ron:  What is it Joe, that keeps people from going directly to Amazon? Help me understand the architecture. Do they, if I'm an interior designer and I want to have what you're, what's called a skill that's identifiable and searchable through voice off of someone's dot. What today needs to happen for them to be on that to be found in that search? Do they need to go to a VoiceDocent or how exactly does VoiceDocent fit into that versus going directly to Amazon?

Joe: So right now we have. Well you can't go directly to Amazon is the problem. Amazon doesn't. Yes or a company like ours, there are some others out there, but there's none that are really concentrating on our industry and what we're doing there. There's really none that are doing that. You have some marketing ones out there, you have some other ones out there, but nobody's concentrating on what we're concentrating on. And that's our members, the association and all of those who kind of touch and come around it. So you know, what we do is we have a kind of generic form out there right now which we can take and get the initial certification process done on the screen. What's that?

Ron:  Do you see that? The little scroller on the screen?

Joe: Fancy. So, the certification process is initially the hardest part and we've started to get more approval with Amazon to do new things like CEDIA's flash update. The news update was just launched two weeks ago. There's a lot of loopholes and stuff you have to jump through with Amazon to add these new features. And right now we're adding things like RSS feed conversion to voice conversion. We're going to be adding features to have podcasts right inside Alexa where you can bring up podcasts. Like say One Firefly had a voice skill and you got all your podcasts listed and whether you're using a show you can see it or using a doc can hear it. You can call up the most recent podcasts and listen to it. And then we're going into what we're calling live editor where a marketing department or JJ over there at Digital Delight's marketing department can live edit the answers to the questions. No longer having to get the developer to say we now have a different special, or we changed the brand. We're no longer supporting office. Now we're supporting pulks. We need that. No. Now they can go right on there and edit that, which has been a heavy and hard approval from Amazon to kind of go down that route. But that's kind of where the technology is leading anyway. So why not be one of the innovators in the space, but offer it to people like me or friends of mine like JJ and KRis and Amanda and Stro Tech down in Dallas and actually grow innovation with innovators?

Ron:  Well, what percentage of your projects, Joe get voice and your, your primary control system is Control4, is that correct?

Joe: Correct. We also do Crestron as well. And residential, I would honestly say we are probably about 85 to 90% voice.

Ron:  Wow. Have you seen the consumer experience evolve over the last several years for maybe when you were first introducing it to what the consumers are, what your customers are expecting now? Has it changed at all?

Joe: You know, well, I think it has a lot because I started watching voice back in '08 with a company called AVOCA or VOCA. They're not around anymore. And they did the first voice touch screen for control for, they're out of Canada. And then Ted Chad from Voice Pod, you know, I was in early in with that. I've been watching this for a long time, but I don't think the reason why those companies failed is we didn't have mass adoption at the consumer level, which Google with the Google Assistant and Amazon with Alexa has brought us to the point to and now Josh on the luxury side. Those companies have really gained us consumer acceptance. So consumer, which doesn't happen a lot our industry where consumer acceptance happens first before industry acceptance because then it was one of those things we were all scared of. You know, when at first, you had customers asking about voice and you're like, Whoa, wait a minute. Now I have bad experiences with this in the past.

Ron:  Dirty secret, Joe, I don't have voice in my house. Oh, I know, I know you. I don't know if you could think less of me, but I just made it more easy to do that.

"Voice is a big fear of the unknown for the integrator."

Joe: Well, you need to make the dive. You need to make the job because whether there's going to be some things that are going to be very important for that in the next and the next few years. The integrator fear goes all the way back to a decade or so ago when we first were told we needed to start installing switches and wifi access points and the fear of the unknown. Well, voice is a big fear of the unknown for the integrator.

"I'm an observer of what's going on around me and what's going on in the marketplace."

Ron:  I'm going to make that leap in 2019 I'm going to do it. I'm going to you know, I've been a believer in it as a trend, right? I'm an observer of what's going on around me and what's going on in the marketplace. And I mean, I wanna say, I don't even know the year that Amazon Alexa came out, but I'd say the current house I'm in, I moved here in 2013 and I remember my neighbor is a pilot and he is, you know, in the gadgets, and he had this thing called Amazon Alexa. And he started talking to it and it was it around in '13 or '14 or when, when did Alexa come out?

Joe: I think somewhere around there was, the initial launch may have been ''14 but it was around there because we saw, so '15 or '16 was Amazon's first presence on the CEDIA trade show floor. So I think it was the year before that.

Ron:  Got it. Got it. And how do you see in terms of your, well, what you're seeing around the marketplace? Actually Shawn, just Shawn Stermer just posted a comment. He said I had the trend opinion as well. Living with it has changed my opinion. Oh, interesting. So yeah, give us a little more there. Tell us, Shawn, do you, is it a positive experience now that you've lived with it or is it a negative experience? I'm curious what he's going to say. I might pull back from being willing to put it in my house next year. I don't know. I was going to say, most people I've talked had positive experiences. I mean, I can't think of anyone other than maybe just fear of the unknown. I, there's nothing negative that comes top of mind that I've heard from anyone.

Joe: That's one of the biggest ones. And people do have security concerns, but there's ways to deal with that. It's not as bad as you would think it is.

Ron:  So what I wanted to, before I got distracted for, I saw a comment and I wanted to post it. What's your opinion? Okay, so he answered, he says it's very positive and has helped my sales. There you go. I think Joe's going to send you 20 bucks. How does Alexa fit into the dynamic versus say a Josh? And when do you put in one versus the other or how do you see that evolving?

"That is what's going to keep them successful is not diverging into the things that the consumer market does with very cheap products. Not cheap, inexpensive, but very huge development budgets."

Joe: So I've had this conversation with Alex at Josh for many years already. Josh has a very specific focus and a very specific line that they go down. They are specific marketing to luxury. So obviously you don't have the trickle down like we're an Alexa can be in any. It doesn't matter. And they're also very specific on this is for high end control. This is for natural speech recognition. This is for machine learning and AI. It is not for content delivery. It is not for a lot that Alexa does, which is one of its pros and its drawbacks. Because I've already heard of hybrids where you know, you might have a Josh hand and a Dot that you can get both portions of the equation. In the same token, I do think that's what's going to make them successful is not straying too far from their core competencies and their vision. You know, their strategic vision is very clear cut. It is for control, natural speech learning, those kinds of things in the luxury market. That is what's going to keep them successful is not diverging into the things that the consumer market does with very cheap products. Not cheap, inexpensive, but very huge development budgets.

Ron:  Right. No, that makes sense. Joe, I just got a couple more questions. Actually. You and I could, I think I have a feeling we could talk for hours and not run out of topics, but I know you have things to do and our audience has things to do, so I won't do that. I did want to just bring on the screen here, your website for your integration business. Can you tell the audience just a little bit about that integration business? What type of projects do you do? Where do you do those projects?

Joe: Yeah, we're all over the place in a very strategic way though, which is interesting. So, I mean, we do stuff in coast to coast if they come up. Our primary focus is st Louis, Missouri and surrounding areas. Dallas and surrounding areas. We've done stuff in Austin. We've done stuff all over the place. But we also have a hospitality division where we do, you know, bars and restaurants. We do stuff here in St Louis, Salt Grass in Dallas, Shula Burgers down in Florida. They're our clients as well. All the way to in between. Then Louisiana, not Louisiana. Louisville. We do things in Louisville. So, but our focus isn't product focused. Our focus is very solution focused. It's why kind of up in the corner, this is a brand new install, but you see at 1080P, Sony projector. And the reason why is we got to know our clients before we tried to sell boxes. They're not big video people, but they're wanting to go a little theater. They could just sit down and watch something on a big screen. They're more audio people. So yeah, they might've only wanted to do $3,000 and a projector, but upstairs shortly above me are speakers that are 10 grand a piece. So it's, you know, getting to know those clients so that the solution is based to them. Same thing in restaurants and hospitality, catered to their expectations and the solution they need, not just the little black boxes that you may want to push down their throat because of margin or a VIR from a manufacturer or whatever the case may be. We're very solutions focused and that's why, you know, our projects could go anywhere from the $15,000 standalone theater and it's just a theater and no automation to, you know, the $250K automation project. It's all about scaling those solutions and making them move quick enough where you still see that they are profitable, they do move, they do have all those things behind them that make that when you break it down into hourly, you're still seeing the same hourly amount of money where the 15K one as you do a 250K one. I'm taking a down to that last dime.

Ron:  Question, what has you excited for 2019 and what has you concerned for 2019?

Joe: Excitement and concern are very close to the same though. It's funny. So for me, and it's something a lot of us struggle with is I need more people their work for me, I need more hands. I need more of those. That's a concern for me as a business owner going into into '19.

Ron:  Where do they go Joe, if they want to work for you, what do you want them to do?

Joe: I'll tell you what, I need everything from base level to programmers and high level installers. You name it. I've got a spot except for marketing. We're pretty good there. And back-office. You know, more people in there that are in the office. The less money we make. So because those guys are smart, we just need more people to deploy those solutions. But in the same token, the thing that excites me is what CEDIA is doing with workforce. I know CEDIA brought on a workforce, a director, and now, you know, a coordinator and it's put together a whole working group to globally build the workforce. So it's like I'm involved with that. So, so I get to see a solution to one of my biggest pain points today coming down the pipeline where CEDIA, you know, getting educational approval in state of Indiana and it's going to grow that into Texas, into the East coast and the West coast and building a whole entry level training program. That will be like a 12 week, a 12 week course that you can put, you know, somebody with zero about who we are and what we do and bring them in, give them a clear pathway to success and build the building blocks, not only for the individual but for a company to really fill those ranks without wasting their hard dollars on training, upskilling, teaching somebody how to use a screwdriver, whatever the case may be. Making that launch pad for that.

Ron:  In closing, there are people watching Joe that are just getting started or they're earlier in their careers. Can you offer a piece of advice or two or three for that newer business owner that's hungry for knowledge, hungry for guidance, and for the feedback from those that have already walked these paths. Can you give them anything here in closing?

Joe: As a business owner, you know, I always look at pathway to success in three tiers. You know, there's your district strategic, there's your operational and then there's your outreach. Strategic. Find your core competency, but find the one that you actually enjoy. Because not only are you going to have to do it as you're growing your business, but you're going to have to bring people on to do that job. For them to do that job well, they need to hear you be able to talk about it to them with excitement, with passion. Don't pick things that you don't like. If you don't like HVAC, don't touch a thermostat. Ever let the HVAC guys do it. You know, find the portions in our industry that you enjoy. Stick with them. Stay focused. Don't get blindsided by fancy looking things like star ceilings in theaters. You might sell one, but you're not going to grow a company that way. Stay focused on your core competencies and the operation side. Don't take on more than you can in your early years. Do not do that. It will make you fold faster than you know, overextend. How many hours do you think you have to do for a job? Put more in there. You're growing, you're going to run into things you've never seen before, you haven't experienced in construction. Make sure to pad yourself so that you're ready for success. And the last portion is for a lot of us it's entirely new for some of it's old hat, but the outreach portion, the marketing portion. Follow me wherever you can follow me within CEDIA, talk about those things all the time. Follow Ron and what he does with Automation Unplugged in the things that happened in One Firefly. Follow JJ Canon and Ramble. Cause those people are very visual, very outspoken to not only our industry but also to consumers. But make sure you don't blow a bunch of money on useless things. Look at where your audience is, your consumers. Same thing. We have the same talk in CEDIA marketing. Look at where the people that you were talking to get their information. If you're dealing with millennials, don't write a freaking blog. Don't write a press release. Don't write a some ad tribe of whatever, hit them where they pay attention. If your core people, if they only use Twitter, don't invested any money on LinkedIn. However, if you're dealing with a lot of C class people, CEO's executives steer away from Twitter a little bit. Do a lot of your stuff on LinkedIn. Look at the most powerful point of those who consume your products and where they consume their information. That's one of the most important things I can ever say is don't waste your money or time on that. Find out where they're getting all of their content and have fun. That's okay to say. Have fun with what you're doing.

"Focus on your core strengths and circle and surround yourself with others that make you better."

Ron:  Amen. I live that and practice that. Have fun. Focus on your core strengths and circle and surround yourself with others that make you better. And when you do that you know, things get easier. Joe, it was an honor and a pleasure, sir, to have you on my little show here.

Joe: Well, it's, you know, besides the show, it's always fun chatting with you, hanging out with you. I wish we had thought of snagging that picture of all of us at CEDIA with me, you and Jay and Bjorn and you know, I was thinking about that earlier. I was like, man, you know, over the years, you know, we'd had a lot of good times with a lot of good people and that's why like, you know, this show is so close that people you get involved with and there are people that a lot of us have known for a long time. So yes. I thank you for having me on. We've been talking about doing this for months. So I'm glad we finally made it happen.

Ron:  Yeah, I think certainly we've been trying to get this, the logistics dialed in for about six months or so and you're a busy man and a long time, but we made it happen. So, Hey, virtual high five. We made it happen.

Joe: Yes, that's right. So all of you guys, if you're not a CEDIA member, join CEDIA now. Get on board, get the education. There's new education rolling out on a weekly basis. I hate to say anything and be wrong, but I think it might be 72 something new courses in the next 12 months. That's how much education is growing with content experts and all that stuff out there. But you know, hop in now before you get overwhelmed, learn, up, skill up, cause that's gonna make you more money at the end of the day.

Ron:  Amen. Well on that note I'm going to throw up again your email address. I'm going to assume, Joe, that people want to reach out. Putting your email address out there to the public is appropriate.

Joe: Absoutely.

Ron:  And for those of you that are listening cause you're driving and not watching your phone and you're being responsible is This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. That's how you can get a hold of Mr Joe. All right, let me hide that. Well Joe, it was an honor to have you on the show. Sir. Thank you so much for taking time out of your busy schedule and thank your customer on our behalf for letting you carve out a little bit of time for us. And it was, it was great having you on.

Joe: Hey, thank you for having me.

Ron:  All right folks, there you have it. Episode number 59 of Automation Unplugged. Had the one and only Joe Whitaker on. And stay tuned next week for episode 60, have a special guest for you. I am going to throw this up here on the screen. Let me do this and let me do this. There we go. Don't forget One Firefly is now on Instagram. So please go over to the gram and follow us. We'll be posting all sorts of fun content. So definitely keep an eye out for that. And on that note, thank you very much. This is where you can find more about One Firefly and I will see you next time..

Show Notes

Joe Whitaker has 20 years of experience in Custom Systems Integration and Design Industry. As one of the most proactive members of the CEDIA Comunity and Control4 tech community Joe continues to design and implement amazing solutions while contributing to the consumer knowledgebase. Writing for CePro, Electronic House, and TecHome. Joe has also helped in product development, creation, and preproduction testing with top manufacturers like Origin Acoustics, Sony, Platinum Tools, Sanus, Nyne, Stealth Acoustics, Simply Reliable, VANCO and many more. Joe has started various businesses in the industry and is currently with The Thoughtful Home in St Louis, Missouri.

Ron Callis is the CEO of One Firefly, LLC, a digital marketing agency based out of South Florida and creator of Automation Unplugged. Founded in 2007, One Firefly has quickly became the leading marketing firm specializing in the integrated technology and security space. The One Firefly team work hard to create innovative solutions to help Integrators boost their online presence, such as the elite website solution, Mercury Pro.

Resources and Links from the Interview:

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