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Automation Unplugged

Automation Unplugged is a Facebook Live show recorded weekly with our host Ron Callis, Owner and CEO of the digital marketing agency, One Firefly. In each Automation Unplugged episode, Ron speaks with leading industry personalities and technology professionals to discuss all things business development, technology trends, and more. These interviews are designed to help our clients and members of the custom integration industry keep up-to-date with the latest news as well as learn from experts in the field.

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Home Automation Podcast Episode #141: An Industry Q&A With Harshul Parikh

In this weeks home automation show of Automation Unplugged, Harshul Parikh of Trescent Lifestyles shares thoughts on the potential boom that will come from the increased interest in smart home automation.

Home Automation Podcast Episode #141: An Industry Q&A With Harshul Parikh

This week's home automation podcast features our host Ron Callis interviewing Harshul Parikh. Recorded live on Wednesday, October 21st at 9:30 a.m. EST.

About Harshul Parikh

Harshul founded Trescent Lifestyles in 2006 after he returned to India following a career stint in Silicon Valley. Back in India he observed the growing demand for smart technology in the home and the shortage of integration firms available while he was renovating his own home in Mumbai.

Harshul understood that India needed World Class System Integrators with the growing demand for Smart Homes and Home Theatres and he decided to be part of the solution.

Harshul is a founding member of CEDIA India and has been instrumental in bringing CEDIA into the country. Since its founding, Trescent has grown to a team size of 35 employees and completed residential projects over 100,000 sq. ft with budgets of $2.5+ million USD.

Interview Recap

  • Harshul’s role in bringing a CEDIA chapter to India
  • How the custom integration space has been impacted due to COVID
  • Harshul’s thoughts on the potential boom that will come from the increased interest in smart home automation
  • An exciting AI software Harshul and his team are working on to make projects more seamless for Integrators and the design-build community

SEE ALSO: Home Automation Podcast Episode #140: A Custom Integration Industry Q&A With Jesse Silva

Transcript:


Ron:  Harshul, how are you sir?

Harshul: Hey Ron I'm doing excellent. Good morning. Good to see you.

Ron:  Yeah, it's not morning for you though right? What time is it there it's the end of your work.

Harshul: Just about ten past 7:00 in the evening.

Ron:  OK. Yeah, that's a pretty good time difference. Tell our audience where you're coming to us from.

Harshul: We're coming from Mumbai India. I'm in my office just towards the end of my workday and I'm happy to join you today to talk about some excellent different things on Automation Unplugged.

Ron:  I see we've got some folks starting to comment. I'm going to show you how this works Harshful. If I put that on the screen, then we get to see who is commenting on the live Facebook feeds. If you're out there watching or listening, then don't forget to comment if you have questions for Harshul. Wes says "Good morning Ron. Welcome to Automation Unplugged Harshul.".

Harshul: Thank you Wes.

Ron:  We have Bekah. She says, "Good Morning or Good Evening everyone." She's taking care of both of us. Harshul, tell our audience a little bit about your business just so we can understand the basics here. Who and what is Trescent Lifestyles?

Harshul: Ron, we started our business in 2006 when I moved back to India from Silicon Valley. I was living in Mountain View, working for a startup technology company. When I moved to India, I was building my home and I was so used to having my 5.1 home theater system that I at that time bought from Best Buy in Mountain View. I remember it was a Klipsch surround sound system with my first paycheck. I think I went and bought out a flat-screen Sony Vega television and a surround sound system.

Back in the day, I don't know if you remember RadioShack sold these extended smart plugs which had these silver antennas and you could press a button and you would be able to switch on and off your lights and it was probably the coolest thing I had in my house. Everybody who came to my house in California was like, "Man this place! Everything's controlled while you're sitting on your couch. How do you do it? When I moved back to India, I wanted some of those gadgets in my house and I went out in the market and tried to source a home theater and source lighting control system. This is in 2006 and in that process, I really got totally interested in the subject and I said well I have to find something to do once I move back. And it looked like there was a big gap in the market.

There were very few people who were importing electronics who understood lighting control systems who had ever even heard of a company called Lutron back then. That's how I sat in the same office that I am today and came up with the name Trescent. There was a calendar on top of my monitor which said Crescent Chemicals and I said hey if I put a T in front of it let's Google it. There was nothing that showed up, no results. I went to go Daddy I searched for the domain. No results. That's how Trescent Lifestyles was formed. Did a few jobs for a few friends and family members and I realized well this is something that I could end up doing as a full-blown business. Now we are 13 years sitting in the same office and you and me are talking it's quite surreal.

Ron:  You showed some really interesting marketing acumen way back when to know the uniqueness of the company name would be an attribute it would be a benefit to you. How did you know that? Because I'm going to say not many integrators starting a business know that a unique name matters. And that's demonstrated by everyone listening or watching. If you look at your own company name it probably has the word audio video automation integration and I can name about five or ten more words in that name. Those names comprise 90 percent of the names in our global industry. How did you know to have a unique name was a good thing?

Harshul: The roots of that probably came up from the time I spent in Silicon Valley because we were surrounded by startups. A simple story but I walked by the Facebook office every day after I got off my car. There were exactly six people in that office with a tiny 10-inch name tag on the window. But I was surrounded by all these great people from Stanford and M.I.T. and I think during my time that I realized that the name is important and if somebody could come up with a company name called Google, I could come up with something that was unique in a couple of days.

Ron:  That's good. When you were in Silicon Valley. What were you doing? How long were you there?

Harshul: I was there for about six years and I started off as a programmer in a company that was developing a voice recognition engine. A lot of that engine is today part of the Alexa technology Google Home and lots of the other voice applications which are there. And the funny part is that the last title that I actually had in that company before I moved to India I was called an integration architect.

Ron:  Wow! What an irony.

Harshul: The irony there is that we were working towards how we would integrate maybe Domino's back end into a voice interface or Wells Fargo into a voice interface. My job was to design the integration between the clients premise system and our on premise cloud-based telephony system. Here I am today in an industry where the word integration on the word architect both are very important in our day to day lives.

Ron:  That couldn't be more accurate. I am curious our listeners are listening or watching live here from around the world. I'm looking at your bio it looks like you started in '06. What was the world of integration and I want to say it from the landscape as a business operator? You started this business, what resources were available to you? Were all the normal brands that everyone watching and listening know today, where they easily available or were you having to figure this out?

Harshul: We had to totally figure things out. The first time I wrote to Lutron. They had a team of two full-time people in India. I have nothing wrong to say about the integrator but he came to me with a graphic eye which I purchased for probably close to about five thousand dollars at that time even though the product retail price was about a thousand dollars because the duties were high. He was sitting in my house opening the manual and figuring out what switches he had to press to get this thing up and running.

Lutron today 13 years from where I started now has about 300 employees in India. The landscape has completely changed. I remember going into the Definitive Technologies distributors office and I had a very small office in the suburbs of Mumbai and we were talking heart to heart about all of this technology and he was like, "Well you seem to know so much about audio. You're one of those bios that that seems to have read up a lot about the product before he walks into the office. That's really what the days back then were. Automation was really not known. Home theater and audio was still very popular. There were a handful of specialists that were in the industry that were doing projects in audio and video and I think people were very afraid to even touch automation. The first job that I landed was a significantly large project with a very prominent interior designer in Mumbai. The fact that I was willing to do audio and automation they just said, "Well you're the right guy for this job because the customer really wants automation and he needs audio but we found a single company in Mumbai that's been willing to do both. And you seem to be savvy in both of these topics and the customers happy you're not talking to one person."

The business model just made sense and a lot of the first few jobs we got because we wrote on our business card that we do lighting control and automation as well as audio. That was a winning edge in 2006 all the way up to 2011. It's still one of the winning edges today in a lot of the jobs that we go in to present ourselves as a prospective integrator. I think the word integrator didn't exist in 2006-2007.

Ron:  That makes sense. I'm going to give a quick shout out to a couple of folks. We have Sanjay. You'll have to tell me what that means.

Harshul: It's like Namaste in India. Thanks, Sanjay. Thanks for your best wishes.

Ron:  You have Vivek.

Harshul: I'm sure Vishal Milani a dear friend of mine who is Sanjay's brother is listening to this podcast from somewhere around the universe at this point.

Ron:  Absolutely. And we have Vivek he says, "Namaste Harshul.".

Harshul: Hi Vivek.

Ron:  How do I say I butchered your last name when I was introducing you. Can you help me out?

Harshul: You got it absolutely right. Parikh is the right way to say it. You got it right.

Ron:  I always say Harshul and Monica my wife and I both know you guys and love to see you guys whenever we travel around the world to industry shows. And I felt actually embarrassed that I didn't get that clarification before I went live.

Harshul: But you did a good job.

Ron:  Such is life. What is the product mix look like for you today? If you don't mind sharing what is your line card look like? What type of products do you sell?

Harshul: In terms of brands or in terms of maybe category?

Ron:  Categories and brands. And by the way, I just mentioned I invoked Monica's name. She commented so I have to put that on the screen. "Hey, I'm right here. "I know you're right here Monica.

Harshul: Awesome. The product mix is of course you've got home automation which is lighting control, you've got motorization and drapes automated drapes skylights. We've got security systems which include access control, biometric fingerprint door sensors, and then you've got audio-video which covers everything from background pipe or multi-zone music to 2.1, 5.1 systems, dedicated home theaters and very recently networking which has started becoming so very much important. It has become part of our lineup. We've been distributors for Steinway Lindorff and Lindorff Audio for nine years. That's been a fantastic partner for us in India. We represent Control4 and Lutron from the smart home and integration perspective. Of course, Definitive Technologies, Triad, Morantz, Denon. Your everyday audio video brands are part of the lineup as well.

Ron:  Got it makes sense. Well, thank you for sharing. When you arrived back home in India and you were running your integration business the concept of CEDIA, the International Trade Organization did not exist in India was not operational in India and you changed that. Can you tell our audience the story of how that change came about?

Harshul: Sure absolutely. When I moved here from the US and having spent a lot of my time in the United States I witnessed that people when they were building their homes everything was very methodical. I kept hearing stories from friends who were building their homes or family members about all of these various approvals that were required at different stages. Without which the house could not progress to the next stage. You couldn't close your ceilings until you had an inspection from the government-approved inspector who would come and check things. When I came to India I said there must be somebody or organization that sets these standards that are used in the United States. And while talking to people I did hear the name CEDIA because there were one or two people in India who had visited the CEDIAshow before 2006 but I didn't really know at that point how big the organization was or what they really covered under their mandate.

During one of my visits back to the US I was at Grimani System's office which was at that point MSR Acoustics and I was with Tony Grimani in his office and we were talking about India and how I was so impressed by looking at all of the things in his office how methodical they were in designing home cinemas and acoustics. He educated me more about CEDIA. He went five steps deeper into the topic saying "Harsul, I'd love to you know have you understand more about CEDIA." And at that point he introduced me to Wendy who was heading CEDIA UK and said, "You probably want to talk to her about the fact that India has a growing market and you have a lot of friends who are running integration businesses audiovisual businesses and all of you guys could benefit from having your CEDIA be localized within India." I remember right after that meeting I wrote an email while I was in the car from outside Tony's office off to India and the next day I had a prompt reply from her saying "Wow, it's great to hear that you want to open a CEDIA chapter in India. And how many guys do you have?" I said probably three or four or five people. She said well we can always start small the minimum quantity should be maybe 20-25 members. Monica and me hosted the CEDIA party at our office and we had about 15 people come to that party. It just educated everybody about CEDIA. We got a CEDIA India cake and we sent the pictures back to Wendy saying listen we've got 15-20 people let's get this thing going. And Wendy said well you guys are really enthusiastic. I've got to talk to my team internally and figured out how we can support you.

Ron today we have got about a hundred members in India who are members. We have a full time dedicated resource who's employed directly on the CEDIA UK. His name is Rupesh and he manages the CEDIA India chapter. It's been fantastic and I think all of us have been exposed to some fantastic standards on how we can improve the projects that we are engineering whether they be small or large. And that's honestly what's allowed us the confidence to do a 5000 square feet house or currently execute a house which is a hundred and fifty thousand square feet.

Ron:  Alright. You went there. We're gonna go there now. I know this is back when we were doing engineering we worked together many many moons ago. Since then your projects have only gotten larger and more intricate and you are working on some projects that may be the biggest projects in the world residentially certainly in the top 10 in the world. Tell us about these projects or this project.

Harshul: The last three years we have been designing and executing one of the largest if not the largest residence in the eastern part of India. We have the West Coast and the East Coast. So on the East Coast, this would be I think currently the largest residence that's being built. It is 10 stories tall. It's a multi-family residence even though the beauty of the residence is that there is an internal staircase within the residence that actually has no doors and the resident on the 10th floor which is a family member can walk down to the resident on the fourth floor which is also another family member. And this is where the tradition of India where if you're going to your brother's house you don't really need to ring the doorbell to enter his house.

They have carried that tradition into this modern home in this very unique way just from an emotional and a bonding perspective that the doors within the family members or the floors are always open to each other so otherwise this is a 10 story house where each floor is about fifteen thousand square feet. The largest floor has about seven bedrooms we have forty-five television zones across the home. We have 450 motorized blinds which are going into the residence.

Ron:  What technology did you use there?

Harshul: After doing a lot of due diligence we have chosen the Lutron system for the motors all of the 450 motors are being produced custom-built for us in the Luton factory in the United States and in fact. All of the material is now in India. We have begun our installation process. When I would be able to share the engineering behind the installation at a future maybe a CEDIA opportunity or some other opportunity. We have really incorporated the best practices that are possible or which I've been exposed to in the last 13 years within this home. We have modifications that will come to our office when something is not working. We have smart electric meters which are monitoring how much power is being consumed in the house. This is definitely a next-generation home.

It is one of India's first LEED Platinum energy certified home and there were various parameters that we had to adhere to to make the LEED certification happen. And it's a very exciting project. One which has taken us nearly a thousand days in design and now within the next six months. We plan to hand over that project to the homeowners. We see them moving into the house somewhere between August and September and 2021.

Ron:  What did you learn? And I'm assuming it's a long list. I can only imagine. What have you learned taking on such a large project?

Harshul: I think the single most important skill is to be extremely detail-oriented and be transparent because when you have a customer that is so large you have to act as their consultant and as their integrator to present rightfully all the correct technical solutions in front of them. Be able to explain to them the differences for every maybe five or ten thousand dollars which get incremental in the budget in terms of how is this really going to benefit me. And when you go through those steps, very meticulously on paper you are able to design the home without necessarily choosing the hardware. On day one, I think the hardware was probably chosen somewhere close to after the 500 or 600th days so close to two years into the project. We were pre-wiring so that we could have Crestron in there we could have Control4 in there we could have Lutron in there. We could have KNX in there and a lot of that has to do with the fact that the technology evolves so quickly that by the time you come closer to when the customer is going to move in, you need to have the flexibility to be able to give him the best solution then.

One year ago we had Airplay we never had Airplay 2. Now you suddenly have Airplay 2 and your entire multi-zone design, it's modified overnight. We put in all of those provisions from day one and we took the decisions in a very transparent and confident way because we had delivered a previous house for a very close relative of this owner which was about 60,000 square feet in the same city. And after he saw the way we executed that house and the testimonial we had received from that family, he had built that trust with us from day one and he gave us that trust to let us present the options without looking at the commercial angle overriding the decision. We tried to put in the right technology first and then work backwards with the manufacturer to negotiate a fair price since the volume was so high on every single SKU that is going into that house.

Ron:  Do you see the rate of demand for technology in India increasing? Is it flat is it increasing? And what does it look like?

"We're at that pivot point in the industry in India today where wifi smart plugs, smart appliances are being bought off the shelf and people do want to be able to control their entire home from their smartphone."

Harshul: Absolutely. I would be happy to share that I think over the last 10 years our business has grown 30 to 35 percent year on year with some years having a surge of 100 percent growth in revenue and the smart home industry in India which of course includes audio and all these various verticals. It's now front and center. I almost feel that in 2020 it's very similar to when I bought maybe the x10 Amador from RadioShack in California. We're at that pivot point in the industry in India today where wifi smart plugs, smart appliances are being bought off the shelf and people do want to be able to control their entire home from their smartphone. The smartphone industry has so widely penetrated that all the various part of population are on a smartphone today. Having the house where you can change the color of the light or you can switch on your favorite channel or play your favorite radio station in the morning without getting up from the bed is front and center. I think that's going to be an explosion in the next decade to come here in the U.S.

"What I see happening and I'll tie it to COVID is the consumer the homeowner isn't traveling right now isn't planning to travel right now. What they're doing is they're investing in their homes."

Ron:  I'm going to switch topics a little bit. Here in the U.S. say North America my limited knowledge and exposure is to what I see happening in the market here. What I see happening and I'll tie it to COVID is the consumer the homeowner isn't traveling right now isn't planning to travel right now. What they're doing is they're investing in their homes. And so we're seeing really a boom for the residential technology integrator. Many of them maybe all of them are busier right now than they actually can handle. There's actually an abundance of demand that they're not able to convert into work because there's a manpower shortage. It's a bottleneck within their company. What are you seeing in India? What is the status of COVID there and what is the status of the market?

Harshul: Coincidently Ron, we're seeing a very similar situation in the luxury residential sector at least. The government has provided some incentives for customers who are maybe delaying the purchase of their luxury home by reducing some of the various taxations over the last six months especially after COVID which has seen a surge in the number of bookings in the residential sector and also in the number of possessions that have gone through the roof. We see an increase in demand for everything related to the home whether it be home appliances. A friend of mine runs a large retail home appliance store and people are buying dishwashers. People are buying vacuum cleaners, new air conditioners, new televisions, all throughout COVID. They were seeing some of the best numbers from a month over month sales and from our high-end residential technology sector. I've seen that the customer is now more confident when he comes in for his fourth discussion.

He has made the house so much more of a priority as compared to a year ago where he might be like, "Well do I really need this? Maybe lighting control is not that important. The audio is more important." Every aspect within every room is being very precisely being talked about. And that's because the customer has ended up spending the last nine months 24 hours a day locked down in the house and they realized the benefit of having good Wi-Fi. What's the benefit of having an automated drip where they could just switch off open or close the blinds in the morning or in the night and having a peaceful entertainment experience with the close family members watching their favorite movies. I see that home has become front and center in our business. We don't need to sell anymore. I think we just need to provide the right solution after understanding the requirements. The demand is just organic and natural at this stage.

Ron:  Do you have a feeling on how long this state of business or high levels of demand will persist? I know that you're heavily involved with the other integrators throughout India. Is there a consensus as is this gonna end in January? Is this going to begin? Is this going to continue for the next year or two? Do you have any feelings?

Harshul: I think Ron, the construction industry around the world is fairly cyclical where you know a typical high-end luxury home takes about 18 to 24 months to construct sometimes up to 36 months. Every project that began 12 or 24 months ago is coming to an end and people are speeding up the existing projects because they want to move into their new home and they're waiting to move into this awesome house that they had designed for the last two years. And similarly, with the new homes which are being bought they're freshly starting their new cycle of designing their residence and telling you what their requirements are.

"I don't see it as a one-time boom which is suddenly going to slow down in January or February or March. I think you're just going to have new homeowners coming in with new requirements. And it's up to every business whether they want to diversify their target audience from being ultra-premium to some of the projects which might have shorter life cycles."

I think even though there's a boost in sales right now post COVID, I think we're just making up for the delayed purchases over the last six months because people were at home and offices were shot but I think the year on year growth is going to continue and that's going to be steady. I don't see it as a one-time boom which is suddenly going to slow down in January or February or March. I think you're just going to have new homeowners coming in with new requirements. And it's up to every business whether they want to diversify their target audience from being ultra-premium to some of the projects which might have shorter life cycles. I'm getting a lot of inquiries where somebody wants to move into a house within three to six months has a smaller budget and is able to make decisions between three to four days of meeting you. And I think that's great for business too. We're sort of diversifying our target audience a little bit so that we can also jump on to that demand-side which is generating very fast.

Ron:  I'm going to give a quick shoutout to some of our folks that are watching and then I want to dive into the people side of your business and how you're scaling because you are scaling your business at a rapid pace. And I think there's going to be some interesting maybe takeaways or learnings that you've had to enable that and maybe some mistakes you've made along the way. And I'd love to get into that. Let me give some shout outs here. "Commendable." I think when you were talking about some of your cool stuff going on there. Ted says, "Great advice Harshul." Ted thanks for watching and listening sir. Aconcha, "Hello all. Namaste from India.".

Harshul: Namaste.

Ron:  Rajeev, "Congratulations. Going great Harshul." They're coming in now they see we're giving them credit so they're starting to flow in here. Sean J. He says, "I love you determination talent and confidence. Let all those assets of yours help you achieve your goal. I'm hoping to hear good news soon." Harshul you are growing at a rapid pace and I'm gonna make an assumption correct me if I'm wrong that there's not a great talent pool of integration trained staff that you're able to simply bring in and put them on a course for success. I'm imagining that you're growing them. You're hiring people and you're training them. How do you manage that or how have you been managing that?

Harshul: I think recruiting in India has always been generally challenging in this particular industry because we have few people that are getting trained in this space. And that challenge will continue. But on the flip side Ron, we have been very actively recruiting all through COVID on Linked In. We've had about 10 open requisitions that we've been filling since the last six months and we've had some fantastic hires over COVID because of the whole situation where certain people were either laid off by their employer or they were asked to work from home on heavy salary pay cuts and that wasn't really working out for them. We have been able to acquire some fantastic talent that was not available previously before the pandemic happened. But one of the biggest challenges that we face is that even after you recruit people are training them to be a specialist within our space is difficult.

When you go and meet a client and you're trying to do a requirements gathering exercise, you really need to know your subject extremely well. During COVID, we took a decision that the only way for us to really make this work was to make a significant investment in technology. We have decided to work with a leading software company who is among the top five in the world where maybe a small business like us would not naturally go and approach them. You would think of using you know smaller software house solutions but after vetting all of that and coming from the software industry myself, I felt going with somebody who really knows their subject at the top level seems to be the right thing to do at this point. We've invested in a platform which will be available to our team in the next three months where we've completely automated the sales process. Typically you would meet a customer or gather the requirements and spend two or three days in getting back to them with a proposal that would have multiple different options for comparison. Once we go live with this system within the organization our benchmark time for a 10,000 square feet house is that you would have not more than one hour's time in front of the software to push out four or five different proposals. Through all of the automation that we've embedded so we have literally taken 10 years of knowledge and written algorithms that say that if the room size the viewing distance is 15 feet from the viewing wall, the system automatically picks the television size and depending on where the architect of the client says, "I want one wall in wall floor standing speakers.

It automatically picks what speakers you need to put into that room. It's doing all of this by running various calculations and permutations and combinations behind and not an experienced engineer would be able to choose from the library. We used to use D Tools up till now and you would go to D Tools and say, okay floor-standing speaker. Here are five different options that we select one two and three. Well, this is going to visually show you those options and based on what you're listening to from the customer as well as the interior designer saying I want this to be in gloss white. Or this particular property is important for me. It will just make all the other options and present only the top three options. And then with artificial intelligence which is built into our platform will start recognizing that this interior designer typically likes metal keypads. It will automatically put in metal keypads on the next project.

Ron:  Wow. Does this software have a life beyond Trescent or does this software enable Trescent to simply scale faster more efficiently?

Harshul: It's an extremely good question. I think the initial line is that it will be used in-house until we've got all the bells and whistles totally figured out. Stage two would be that we would put it in the hands of our partners who are representing our brands and being part of our distribution platform and stage 3 Ron, which is probably very controversial but something that I believe is going to allow us to go into triple x growth is to put the software directly in front of the architect and let him give us the initial budget and selection without spending a single engineering hour on that project.

Ron:  I'm assuming you've vetted this concept by your architects clients and friends and they love the idea.

Harshul: My architects are asking are eagerly waiting for their log in I.D. because they're saying we could be sitting in front of the customer picking certain parameters and a budget pops up. We're talking to the client. Let them tell us OK. Ten thousand dollars for lighting control seems OK. Five thousand dollars for pipe music seems reasonable. Two thousand for securities OK. I give you that initial call and then you refine it. Today we spend so much time just trying to get that initial cut out there.

Ron:  I'm in awe. I had no idea that you were doing this. You did not tell me in advance. This is like a secret skunk.

Harshul: It is actually a secret and now it's out there in the market thanks to Automation Unplugged but I think that's the type of innovation that COVID really inspired when you're sitting at home and you're not busy with your customers. You really have an opportunity to pivot your business. And the only way to do a massive pivot is to come up with something from an engineering perspective which is a game-changer. I think we have that and everybody at Trescnet is extremely excited to see this rollout.

"The opportunities in India are unlimited in terms of growth potential. You're certainly innovating around your operations and the overall management of the company."

Ron:  It sounds like the opportunities in India are unlimited in terms of growth potential. You're certainly innovating around your operations and the overall management of the company. What if we look at the other side what are the challenges? What are the limits or what are the obstacles that you see that you need to overcome to continue to scale? .

Harshul: I think customer support will always be a big challenge. The customer is becoming more demanding. The customer is expecting the system to almost have a 99.49 SLA and the money that's being spent whether it be small or large they are not immediately willing to accept that there may be a certain hardware at a certain price can only give you so much horsepower. Everything needs to run literally at whatever your benchmark in engineering standard is. I think the challenge on customer expectation and customer support will continue to grow. Being able to provide 24/7 support where if your HDMI is not able to give you picture at 11 p.m. when most people might be asleep. That's a problem because a client at that point wants to watch that show on Netflix or Disney and so do it yourself debugging I think is an area that we're investing our time in. As part of this platform we were exposed to something very interesting which is WhatsApp chatbot so WhatsApp is a messenger in India which is very popular. You could build a chat bot with AI that could tell you the first few steps of self debugging and that that solves your problem. You don't need to be transferred to a call center or an engineer or you may just want to reboot a particular product and all your problems solved. Similarly, we're investing very highly on the world of maybe what was popular worldwide today as Domotz and other remote monitoring systems.

Ron:  I have a Domotz unit in my rack right over here.

Harshul: Absolutely. We had a power outage in Mumbai a couple of days ago which was India. I think last 10 years it was the single largest power outage the entire city was gone and all of the customers that we were remotely monitoring we immediately got alerts when the power in different areas started coming back up and we could see that the network was back up the processors were back up and that gave the customer confidence. We were also able to give the customer those alerts of switching off their power until the surge in the grid was stabilized.

I think that's what the client's looking for. How were you safeguarding that investment? How are you giving them proactive support and services? You're only as good as your last customer. If you have an unhappy customer, it's bad for your business. Technology such as HDMI, wifi, and networking are still prone to having odd behaviors which are out of control from the integrator side. You still are facing the brunt of an unhappy customer so investing in that level of customer service is I think going to be the single largest challenge right now. Seeing that customers are actually willing to pay for it. I'd like to share on that post COVID, we had the largest amount of annual customer maintenance agreement signed.

Before people didn't take it seriously they said well it's okay you will come in a couple of days and you'll solve it. Now the thought is I want it fixed right away. If you want it fixed right away there's an SLA whether you want to fix it in six hours 24 hours 72 hours or five working days and you can pay different levels of price for that. And the largest number of contracts was signed in the last two months. Then honestly what we've seen in the last 10 years because people are understanding that technology is here to stay. We're always going to be in our house using it. We need to be able to enable our service provider to give us the right level of service. And I'm very happy to see that change within the consumer mindset.

Ron:  I want to peel the layers back on that. When is the consumer made aware that you have service agreements? Does that happen upfront in the beginning of the sales process or is it only at the end? And I'm going to get a little bit more specific. Is there a free option that tells them they can't call you past 6:00 on a Friday night? In other words, you're not going to serve that particular demand or that need? Yeah, I guess that's a number of questions.

Harshul: No absolutely. We sort of overhauled our customer support program right after the lockdown was relaxed a little bit and we had our team together. We've recently hired a very senior customer service head who comes with 25 years of experience in providing customer service and now we've got just like you said we have different levels. We have our VIP program that gives you standby equipment. If some of your equipment is not functioning, it gives you the ability to provide live support if you have an event. Let's say you have a big family gathering which is important or an anniversary and you're not sure if your systems are always going to be fully operational because you want that 100 percent uptime.

We would have an engineer be there onsite supporting you throughout that event and then we have a standard program where the SLA goes all the way up to five working days for a resolution surprisingly mostly everybody is signing up for VIP and Gold plan because what we can see is nobody wants the resolution to be beyond 24 hours. And I'm happy to see that because that allows us to invest even more in terms of tools for customer service. Very recently, as part of the software overhaul, we've now got a system that shows you that the engineer is on the way to your house on real-time on G.P.S. You're not waiting for 25 minutes when is the engineer actually going to arrive and when can I debrief that person face to face? We've gone the extra mile to bring in this technology and I think 2021 is gonna be extremely exciting when all of this goes live.

Ron:  No doubt. We definitely are going to have you back on to talk about that maybe Monica can join us as well. We'll have you both. That'll be great. Let's give a few of the folks again that have chatted here or provided comments. Let's give them a little acknowledgment here. How do I say this name?

Harshul: This is Jaya Giuliani.

Ron:  Jaya Giuliani says, "Super proud of the work Harsul and Monica are doing in the home technology for the luxury residential in India." I couldn't agree more. And Jaleel Saber, "Really interested in the software Harshul." I think you get your first sale right there. Jaleel's ready to buy. He says, "I started this exercise two years ago and I'm still to arrive." Sounds like he's excited to see that.

Harshul: Sure Jaleel. We will definitely share all our learnings with you because that's how we grow as an industry together.

Ron:  Awesome. We'll give one more here Vivek says "This is a very informative podcast." Thank you Vivek. Thanks for listening. Don't forget to subscribe go to your podcast software on your phone and subscribe so you can get the audio versions of our show where we're right there at the end of our time. I know you have commitments and actually it's the end of your day so you need to get back to Monica and home life and to the puppies. How can those that are watching or listening, get in touch with you or if they want to learn more about Trescent Lifestyles or if they want to reach you directly?

Harshul: I think anybody who wants to get in touch with us can reach us through our website which is www.Trescent.com. The various phone numbers on that as well as an ability to WhatsApp us from the website. And that would be the best way to reach us. Otherwise, I'm on Linkedin. Very active. There you can drop me a connect a message on LinkedIn and I'm happy to share my mobile and have a chat over the phone with anybody from around the world who is interested in luxury residential technology.

Ron:  Awesome. And I'm scrolling across the screen your website. I got that correct?

Harshul: That's absolutely correct.

Ron:  Awesome. Harshul, it's been a pleasure man. We don't talk often enough. I know it's the time zone. I think the time issue is what makes it challenging there sometimes. But I see Monica just posted the phone number there in the comments section. For those that are listening, it was a pleasure to have you on the podcast sir and love to have you back soon.

Harshul: My pleasure. Thank you for accommodating us in the time zone. I know this is an early start for you today and it's definitely been nice chatting. I'm very happy to see the way your podcast and your Automation Unplugged channel has taken off 141 shows today. It's truly commendable the information which is available through One Firefly for the last decade that I have known you is industry top-notch standard and you keep inspiring us so thank you for all of the great work that you're doing for the smartphone industry as well as the residential technology space.

Ron:  Thank you sir greatly appreciate it.

SHOW NOTES:

Harshul founded Trescent Lifestyles in 2006 after he returned to India following a career stint in Silicon Valley. Harshul is a founding member of CEDIA India and has been instrumental in bringing CEDIA into the country. Since its founding, Trescent has grown to a team size of 35 employees and completed residential projects over 100,000 sq. ft with budgets of $2.5+ million USD.

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 within 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:

To keep up with Harshul at Trescent Lifestyles, check out their website at trescent. Be sure to follow them on social media on Instagram.

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