Home Automation Podcast Episode #157: An Industry Q&A With Jeff Galea
In this weeks home automation show of Automation Unplugged, Jeff Galea, Founder and President at Boca Tech and Automation shares the importance behind educating consumers to improve sales and communication.
This week's home automation podcast features our host Ron Callis interviewing Jeff Galea. Recorded live on Wednesday, February 10th, 2021 at 12:30 p.m. EST.
About Jeff Galea
Jeff’s work experience includes positions with General Motors and a Silicon Valley Startup prior to taking his passion for high-end electronics and launching Boca Theater and Automation, now Boca Teach and Automation, in 2003 out of South Florida.
Today, Jeff’s team focuses exclusively on integrating luxury A/V and control systems into homes, yachts, and businesses in some of the most prestigious spaces in the United States.
Boca Tech and Automation continue to rank among the CEPro Top 100 Integrators of the U.S., and two of their projects were even featured in HGTV’s Top Ten Luxury Home Theaters.
- How a COVID inspired look behind-the-scenes for the design community turned into a successful weekly seminar series
- The importance behind educating consumers to improve sales and communication
- Jeff's showroom powered by Rosewater Energy and his take on battery storage technologies
- Jeff's business outlook for 2021 and why he will still be focusing on recurring revenue
Ron: Hello, Ron Callis here with another episode of Automation Unplugged, brought to you by my day job over at One Firefly. Let's go ahead and bring in for show #157 Jeff Galea, Founder and President at Boca Tech and Automation. Jeff, how are you, sir?
Jeff: I'm good. I'm very well, thanks, Ron.
Ron: I appreciate you. I know you're a super busy guy, and you have a beautiful showroom and all of these awesome outreach courses that you and your team are doing. You guys are running fast and furious. And I appreciate you taking some time for our audience for this interview.
Ron: You're very welcome. Jeff, those who may not know Boca Tech and Automation can get first off give us a little bit of a summary? Tell us about the business.
Jeff: Sure. We started the company in 2003 after two years of R&D. We incorporated in 2003. We've got 20 direct employees and a good network of partners that we work with. And we do all forms of automation, everything from lighting and shading and control. Some unique things that we do that perhaps other integrators haven't gotten into yet are outdoor entertainment systems that include motorized pergolas, as well as the traditional outdoor audio, video pool control, irrigation control, things like that. We are also big into clean energy and various products coming out of the market. And we could talk more about that later. But all of that kind of put together over the years. We've created a fairly comprehensive inside, outside, and in between. We even also do security doors, which is our in-between: access control systems and ballistic entries.
Ron: Holy moly. That's like a safe room type stuff. If a high-value target wants to keep their family safe from the gunman, that's what doors you buy?
Jeff: Yeah, it could be anything from a motorized hurricane screen all the way to a motorized door that you might put on a theater or a bedroom. It's not like a Jodie Foster run-up in a room and closes the door.
Ron: That's the visual that I imagined when you said that. I appreciate the clarification. That's cool. Are you doing mostly resi work, commercial work?
Jeff: Yeah, almost exclusively residential. We have done conference rooms, a couple of marine things, and a large yacht: two hundred footers, six decks. We've done some of that stuff, and some of our projects are large enough. I would say they're commercial, but we focus on luxury residential and what geographic territory.
Ron: You mentioned a yacht, or do you have to go to Monaco to service that yacht or go to the Caribbean to service it? Or do you try to keep most of your stuff to South Florida?
Jeff: We've gone all over for a client. Usually, we have to go up to steamboat up an Atlanta area, we drive up there for that, or they'll be down here in Palm Beach. Primarily, we're in South Florida, Palm Beach County, Broward County area. We go south as Fisher Island. We do have a client in Chicago. If people have multiple homes, we tend to get out of our county, if you will. But mostly, we're local.
Ron: In terms of soliciting new business, you're soliciting business close to home.
Jeff: Absolutely. Yes.
Ron: Jeff, you're an engineer by education, is that correct?
Ron: How did your career start? I want to say that you're an electrical engineer and walk us through studying electrical engineering, and you've taken a pretty fun path to get where you're at today.
Jeff: Yeah, it's a little, perhaps a little bit unusual. I joke with everyone, I tell them, I was sort of born with a battery in my pocket. Right. I've always known what I wanted to do from the very beginning. I've been a tinker when I was in college at General Motors Institute, which is a five-year college with a fifth-year thesis year. My nickname there is Gadget's Galea. I was always the guy that had some sort of electronic thing. I was tinkering with soldering, making PCB boards, doing whatever. I built my first pair of speakers myself—that geek thing.
Ron: The visual is in the '80 they had that movie Weird Science, where I want to say those kids went to MIT. Am I getting the movie right?
Jeff: You're right. And we used to joke at General Motors Institute is the guys that flunked out of GMI. They went to MIT and were on the dean's list. How about that?
Ron: Nice dig. If I have any MIT graduates, I want you to comment for sure. Back when you were studying engineering, did you even know of this residential integration universe yet, or was that even a twinkle in your eye?
Jeff: No. That's the thing. I always thought that this was just me and my gadget, and no one else would ever care. And at some point, I stopped caring that no one cared about what I cared about. But just to give you an idea, because I went to General Motors, that's in Flint, Michigan. The way that school works, it's a co-op. You have to have a sponsoring General Motors facility. Mine was Syracuse, New York. I would go between Flint, Michigan and Syracuse, New York, every semester, 90 days here, 90 days there for five years. Did my thesis in Syracuse. Well, what this did is it got me moving around to where I ended up moving for General Motors, which then became electronic data systems.
As I went house to house to house, when my wife and I were first married, we actually, in a 15 year period, moved 11 times and bought and sold 11 different homes during that point. From Syracuse, New York, to Boca Herndon, Virginia, Research Triangle Park, San Francisco, Alameda Island, San Jose, like we were all over the place. Every time I got to a house, I would do my thing, which would usually involve a motorized screen and projection, a built-in rack networking. I hosted my own mail server, my own website. I was just into that kind of thing. I built my automation systems on an X 10 backbone for lighting back in the day. That's what we had available to us. Right.
Ron: That's one step away from duct tape and paper clips.
Jeff: It was. That was the extreme hobby that I always wished I could get out of the corporate world and do that legit and make a living on it. By then, we had three small children. To your question, did I know that this world existed? Absolutely not. When we were in California, and I was in a startup, I founded this company, and we were on track to go public, and I had various people come to the house, and they'd look at the toys that I had, touch panels, lighting control projection systems and so on. They're like, "Have you ever thought about doing this as a business?" No one cares about this is just my thing. Right? No, I actually think it's a thing. When I came back, I had an opportunity to come back to Boca Raton. That is when I made the leap. I sold the company that I had found to a company called Blue Martini. And at that time, I thought, I've got enough cash that I can live without a paycheck long enough to make something work and rolled the dice.
Little did I know that it was actually a thing. And I started to get plugged in. That's when I met you the first time. I was trying to figure out which technologies to use. And I was interviewing everyone because I was coming from an I'm a CTO for a corporate trying to figure out what to do. I really had a completely different view of the planet. Now, from the other side looking in, I was probably that asshole that you didn't like to talk to.
Ron: I'm going to plead the fifth. No, I'm just joking. I remember you were a super swell guy. I remember you asked me a lot of questions that I did not have the answer to. I think that's what I remember from 20 years ago. That wasn't too hard to do. But that's neat. What happened next? You decided to launch the business. Did it take off? Did you burn a lot of money because you self-funded? Correct?
Jeff: Self-funded. I learned one thing. I've done a number of companies in my lifetime, and the Silicon Valley one was extremely frustrating to me because it was successful. We got patents, we had all the right juice, and we were VC capitalized. Even though I was a founder, I got like zero. I love the work. Don't get me wrong; I don't regret any of it. But when I did this one, I'm going to do this myself. I contacted family members honestly. My dad, who is also an engineer, he's a NEE graduate. He was retired and bored. My brother was the finance guy, the MBA. And then I had another relation, a brother-in-law, and he was a mechanical engineer. Just imagine if all of us put our heads together and put this thing together. They actually relocated all of them to South Florida to be part of the business originally. And the operating agreement, when we all put a certain amount of money in, obviously, I funded the majority of it. And then we're going without paychecks for three years. Nine months later, there's an amendment to our operating agreement. We could actually start paying salaries after nine months. The trust me, that was lucky because we happened to be in the right place at the right time, and there was a lot of construction. It was what I call unconscious competence.
Ron: '03 to '07 in South Florida was a boom.
Jeff: It was a boom. And I happened to get in the right place at the right time. Another provider was overwhelmed with the amount of business and crumbled. I came from a different organization, was looking like I would run a corporate engineering department. I used to have one hundred and fifty engineers reporting to the organization project planning things that are not really natural in our industry now were the way it was done.
When you work for large companies, IBM, Transocean, like all of these Netscape, I work for all these companies. You definitely have to think of it differently. This isn't like the seat of the pants email planning. This is actually a project plan. And by doing that, I was able to manage a number of projects simultaneously, and we ended up with a pretty good following there. We got lucky. I would say good luck is the intersection of being prepared and having an opportunity. That was our luck at that time.
Ron: That's brilliant. How did you guys weather the '08? I guess it was maybe '08''10 recession period. Did you have enough momentum coming from your startup to carry you guys through that, or what happened?
Jeff: Those were some dark days. We did have momentum. But we were worried. We planned to buy or build a company that would use our infrastructure as an incubator, so we happen to have a data center. Obviously, I have an I.T. background. I had a client that was in his 80s and wanted to sell a company, and it was called Microwave Distributors. It was a radio frequency electronics manufacturer and distributor. And I ended up buying the company the idea and relocating it from New York, Long Island down to Boca.
The idea was to create an online web presence to sell cable assemblies and other high-frequency radio electronics from this company that was actually 50 years old. And anyway, I ended up kind of focusing, if you will, and working on something that was that could also bring revenue in. It turned out it was probably one of the biggest mistakes I ever made in my life.
Ron: We have to buy lessons along the way, right?
Jeff: Yeah. I'm still getting educated to this day. I bought that company, and we ended up doing that seven years after the fact. But that was part of the strategy, and it was good for a little while, but it was not sustainable the way that I wanted it. And besides, my passion is what we're doing now. I could not hire Presidents and other people that could run it properly. I had to do something. I had to real it back in.
Ron: We've got some folks that are saying hi over here, Jeff, so I just want to acknowledge them real quick here we've got Ted. He says, "Howdy from Colorado. Thanks for doing this." And we got Angel, who says, "Welcome, Jeff Saludos from Mexico." Thank you, ANGEL. And we got Cameron. Cameron says, "Hello, Jeff and Ron from Austin.".
Ron: Don't forget, folks, if you're out there watching or listening, even in the replay, drop your questions or comments. And we always track that. We'll be sure to reply, or I'll do it. Now, I'll actually pose those questions to Jeff live here over the next bit. Jeff, I want to get into 2020 and some of that stuff and kind of what you guys have planned. I know some things, but I don't know the exact timing. I want you to talk through it for our audience. I was chatting with you in advance that a couple of years ago, you went to an Azione event. Which location was that? Do you remember?
Jeff: Yeah, it was Bonita Springs, it was here in Florida on the west coast of Florida.
Ron: And you and your CFO attended, and you walked away from that event, you said with a bit of an epiphany. What was that epiphany you had?
Jeff: Yeah, prior to that, the websites that BTA had, Jeff coded by hand and notepad with HTML. That was our marketing effort. I did have someone whose part-time job was to pay attention to marketing. We had nice logos and business cards and a little trifold brochure. But we weren't really serious about marketing in one of the things that I wanted to do at the Azione conference. And by the way, I hated doing those things, so I actually sent somebody else right.
This one was right in our backyard. What the heck, let's go, and I had my aha moment. We are out in the weeds. We're leaving. I got a website, and it's an encyclopedia with an index because that's me. I don't read books. If it doesn't have a table of contents and an index, I'm not really interested in it. Right. That's kind of the way I approached marketing. It was very analytical, and I just realized it was not me. This is not me. This is not my skill set. I interviewed the people there at Azione. There was a breakout session, and they said you really need to have marketing. I think you might have even been at that event, and I always thought, well, my website's better than whatever. Right. We don't really need that stuff.
I got inspired, and I came back, and that was my number one mission, which is to find a full-time resource that could show me how it's done and lead us. That's how we found Marcia. It was a little bit serendipitous where everything sort of came together at the same time, this high-end guy that I really don't even know what marketing was. He taught me that and created things called a mind map, which I would think of as a Vulcan mind merge. But it's really more of a map. He put that whole thing together. And I looked at this big picture view and the strategy. It's like having a mission statement for a company. And really, I would say, and the rest is history. Because without his leadership and guidance, I don't think I would have I would have been able to see the value in it because guys like us, what did you sell today? This stuff is an investment. And it takes all this effort and works to keep it going and keep it going. Then you start getting a following and people to listen and so forth. But it's not instantaneous. It's hard to measure. It's hard to know if you're doing it right.
Ron: An engineer or a scientist type or engineer type that wants to know exact inputs equaling exact outputs. It can be very frustrating. You guys worked on many different aspects of your marketing. And I'm going to share your website here with our audience. I'm going to put it on the screen. And for those that are listening, the domain is a very cool domain. It's bocatech.com. I've navigated over here, Jeff, to this learn more section of your website. Specifically, I'm on the "Get Started" page. For those that are listening and want to navigate there and you have this really cool graphic, and this page is loaded with information, but it's visual. It's not dense blocks of text, which would be scary or intimidating. Can you talk us through what are we looking at here?
Jeff: Yes, the interesting thing there is that infographic as we've come to refer to it. That was a 3D scan of a real live house. Actually, my house. Believe it or not, it was an experiment. Yes, nobody knows this. It's a private audience.
Ron: Now everyone knows it's going to be the front page of CE Pro next month.
Jeff: Yeah. Definitely not that. But I wanted to figure out how to do large scale 3-D imaging for both inside a house because I have the same thing for the inside as well as outside. And I was interested in doing a VR headset look around. Let's model this. That was where I was going. This was an experiment, an expensive experiment to create this 3-D model, Revit, AutoCAD, all that other stuff. But as we started to build it and look at it, one of the problems we have in our industry is to have any conversation with anyone on any topic. And I don't care whether you're talking about lighting. Oh, we have panels, we have a hybrid, we have RF, we have this. We have that.
You go to wiring, or you go to audio or go to video distribution, distributed, centralized. You end up in this mode where you have to explain everything you've learned over a 20 year period just to get to the point where we can have a rational conversation about what you need. This thing focuses on me. It's something where I don't have to tell you everything that we ever do. You can click on it if you're interested. You can read about that topic as you click on each little icon. It'll bring up the webinars that we did on it, any background information. It can be that way of having this top-down approach to teaching people about what's possible because that's one of the reasons why we get in these long conversations. People don't know what they don't know. At the same time, you don't want to sit there and have chapter one infrastructure, right?
Ron: Do you find yourself sending clients to this page to study in advance of a kickoff meeting?
Jeff: Constantly. It is our go-to page. I've taken the infographic and put it in our professional services agreements, and circled the technologies in the scope. We're doing this so that they know that I intentionally didn't do the other ones, which is another big problem. We talk about 50 things, and everybody forgets what they actually bought by the time they go to do it. I thought we were doing that. This is a really good way of just honing in these complex topics, which you could spend a week on each icon if you were interested and focus on what is important to that client?
Ron: That's brilliant. And if you're listening to the podcast, folks, you need to go over to bocatech.com and go to their menu, learn more and go to the get started page, and you'll see visually what Jeff is describing. Now, Jeff, one thing that I know you guys have had a lot of success. I want to call it a recent success, but correct me if that's not accurate; it is around the outreach to the design community the idea that if you do marketing and you secure a homeowner, then great, you have a job, and maybe they'll tell somebody about you, and you'll get their friends job. But if you build a relationship with an architect or designer or other members of the design community, they can feed you with lots of jobs, lots of relationships, and opportunities. You guys have run with that. Tell us about what you've done.
Jeff: Right. When the pandemic hit, and we all of a sudden found ourselves all sitting in here without a lot of interaction with clients, it was a little introspective where we could look in and think about the business of running a business and talk about working on the company for a minute rather than working in the company exclusively. You can get into those details and suck you into a hole that you'll never come out of. Marcia had the idea to create a behind the scenes view, not unlike this Automation Unplugged. We did our first one, and it was, how does BTA run its company? And we showed that. We're a Cisco house. We are software as a service or Cisco SAS certified. We thought they could talk to our business partners about all the technologies we were using. We were already doing video teleconferencing routinely in the company for more than a year and business class networking with Cisco, Meraki, and then SharePoint and KPIs and some of these other things.
We thought we would just create a seminar to help our business colleagues understand how we did ours, to see if that was something that that they could learn from us and then it sort of evolved into the other technologies. Whether it be led lighting, circadian rhythms, those kinds of thought-provoking technologies, battery technologies, lighting control, video distribution, audio design elements, and Marcia put together the set of courses, and it started to take off where we were getting attendees coming and listening every Wednesday when we started to call it to season one and season two. And now we're going to be doing season three, where we're part of the ASID South Florida chapter. And so we're communicating to the ASID colleagues of ours. The idea was the more they knew about what we did and the possibilities, we could do better things together by integrating technology with design. We do realize that the design community has our client's ear typically before we do so.
By putting that together and then offering accredited courses for continuing education, we started to get 10 people, 15, 20, 30 that would go. Eventually, we invited clients, and clients started to join, and it just took on a life of its own. I don't think that we started out thinking after that one behind the scenes, take a look at Jeff's office thing would go into something that would go on for thirty-three hours every Wednesday for the better part of the year. It just kind of took a life of its own. We got a lot of good feedback. It turned out where now we have an audience, and we have a new partnership with a local interior designer here as a result of that. I'm talking about the whole company where we have an official partner program that was born out of that idea.
Ron: Yeah, I'm sure some of those that are listening was curious. Do you know that you've secured business, or do you think that you're investing clearly significant time into this? You and your staff and your partners. Right? Scrolling through all of this, there are so many different companies and groups that have been a part of this along the way. Do you find you're pretty clearly able to attribute growth or sales from these activities?
Jeff: Again, it's a hard thing to measure because we're influencing the influencer. Chris Smith asked a question in there just now says, "Are those behind the scenes AIA ASID or both? And the answer is both. I'm seeing leads come in from our business partners now that we did not enjoy before. I'm also seeing people sign up and downloading seminars on our website that we wouldn't have had that kind of visibility before. I've had people ask me about it. I know that there's sort of another level of conversation that maybe I'm not 100 percent locked into if people are talking about you. It's one of those things, if you if you're top of mind when they do have the need, they think of you. It's not like everybody that's watching these seminars has something they need from us today.
They're coming to them because they want to learn something, or they want to be clued in on something, or they're interested in the topic. First, the personal level, and then at some point they have a need and then they like, oh, I think I heard that. Let me go and contact them. It's not an A B kind of thing. It's more of this momentum thing. And I would absolutely say, given the number of leads we get in from the website in particular that come through our email connection there, fill out a form thing that the volume has picked up as a result of that, and they're higher quality. I think people are a little more educated when they come to us, and they know a little bit more about it, and they're asking questions to us as opposed to me having to pontificate. I'm a consultant, which is really the role I'm more comfortable in. I'd like to sell. I'd like to explain and answer.
Ron: Educate and solve problems. Question. I've been a fan of this type of strategy for a long time, and I'm sure some are listening and going, huh. This is maybe something I could do. What is some advice on how to get started, how to think about it? I'm going to put out there one of the concerns they may be thinking about, and that is the limitations on their time. Right. They may go, oh, my goodness, I don't have time to put together a course. I don't have time to figure out all of these logistics. Where would you point your peers around the world listening to this? Where could they get started, or how could they get started with such an effort?
Jeff: I think the first thing is you need a champion. It's like any project, whether it's an automation project for a client or a project you're doing internally. There has to be someone who you're not begging to do the job. They have to have the passion for doing it. They have to create a plan. They have to get a budget. They have to be serious about managing that budget. You have to figure out where you're going to place those bets. A number of companies, Lutron, for example, has NDF funds, Crestron, a lot of these companies, particularly the larger ones, will contribute if they see value in it. And they'll either contribute by doing the presentation that you organize and bring the audience or by contributing some marketing funds to it, some NDF funds of that point.
Start out with a plan. Make sure you have a champion and someone whose job it is to think about this. It's not like trying to sell on eBay. Right. We all tried that. That lasts about a week, and everyone gets bored with it. Then you just have a mess in your warehouse. You've got to find somebody who's going to do it and take it seriously and follow a plan and adjust that plan with feedback.
Ron: Jeff, I want to jump into a specific category only because I've been involved personally in this in some capacity the last few years, and I'm curious to see how it's going. I know our audience will be curious to see how it's going. The premise is around the whole home battery backup. And I know there's a number of different vendors. I'll just say two that are obvious to me. That's Rosewater and Sonnen. And you probably know maybe more. Savant is also in it. RacePoint, they're in that business. What inspired you to go down that path? I know you have. And how is it going? What's happening out there in the marketplace?
Jeff: Right. Great question. Well, I have been insanely interested in this topic since before there was a RoseWater to buy to the point when I finally got to a point where we can buy our own building. We bought this building, which used to be a Wachovia bank, and we knew we had to gut it and take all the bulletproof glass out and start all over from scratch.
Ron: Did you get to keep the safe?
Jeff: We kept the safe. It's a vault. We have our theater in there. Yeah, I like to tell people there's more money in that vault than when it was safety deposit boxes. But so I had initially thought that I would build this because of my background and my interest in it. I started to get educated on the panels and power and created all kinds of power factor spreadsheets to try and figure out how much juice, what I need, and blah, blah, blah. And I quickly learned that even though I have a background in this stuff, I really don't know enough to do it. I don't think I would know enough to be able to create a credible product to sell to someone else. I might be able to experiment on myself, but it would be back like 30 years ago when I was basically entertaining myself with my own gadgets instead of creating something of value that was sustainable and could be supported over a long period of time and that we'd all trust all of our electronics, too.
I talked to Joe Picorilli, and we became the very first building totally run on Rosewater. We were the first deployment. Yeah, believe it or not. This became a case study. We have a hub here, and we have two 8KW solar arrays on the roof that feed it. We're grid aware of FPL buyback, the net metering. We're a member of that. We designed this building with little outlets. You might see behind me in the picture the green outlets, and those are plugged right into the Rosewater system. All of our PCs, our AV systems, the IT room, and so forth are all running on Rosewater, and they're just differentiated by these green outlets. That was a big deal. Now, as we have now sold six Rosewater systems total. I don't know how many other people have done, I don't really keep track of that.
Ron: Those are big dollars. Those are big-ticket items. I'm imagining that's a lot of volumes for a dealer to be selling six of those units.
Jeff: Yeah, those are six-figure sales and they're important and they require a lot of planning and critical load panel and load calculations and things like that. The Rosewater engineers are top-notch. That came together beautifully. I trust it. And it's like when you get that product that, you know, no one will ever be dissatisfied with. The only complaint is maybe it's a lot of money. That's this one. It will never fail you. In fact, in my demo, I go over there and we have a big blade switch that kills the power feed to the entire building when I demo. We want to see what it does. And I flip the blade switch and nothing happens.
Ron: It's instantaneous. There's no transfer time.
Jeff: No transfer. It's perfect. And I've done it enough. I shock everyone. It's fun to do that. It's how I get my jollies.
Ron: But I imagine the first time you did it, you had to have been scared.
Jeff: A little bit. But we have so many outages, micro outages here, Florida flicker and flashes like are our deal. It happens so often, even on a sunny day that I know how it performs well. Yeah, there you go. There's a picture that doesn't have the solar grid on, which would be the green part, but there you go. Since then, we've learned about Sonnen and Ray's Point. We've done those in our seminars. They actually fill different needs. I'm very interested in that entire topic. I want to be both a thought leader and an integration leader in that area. I believe that that is the future. Our grid is failing and whether it be storms and other environmental kinds of things or just capacity like we have down here in Florida. Everybody's moving down here all at once. We don't have enough power generation or just the age of the grid. You put all that stuff together and we're in trouble as a nation. I think that this is an area that really is going to become a category that I would encourage everybody to start thinking about.
Ron: I'm going to get very maybe granular just on one little aspect of battery, backup, and storage. I'm curious how it's playing for you and your interactions with your clients right now. There's a compelling story when you have solar and solar is gathering the energy during the day and you're able to store that into a battery and use that battery at night or during the day. What is your experience, are all of your systems sales with solar, or is there a sale without solar?
Jeff: Yeah. Ironically, the only person I ever sold solar to is myself. All of our installations with Rosewater have been just on the grid or as a load on a generator, there has been no solar. Even though you think, OK, we live in South Florida, but between HOAs, roofs, hurricane codes, and all the other complications and the expense, because the ROI is not really there. It's really not.
Ron: I ran it for myself. I bought a new house. This is where I'm at right now. And I was like, I want to be green. I want to do the solar, I want to do the battery because that's hip. And then I did the math and I was like. I would be totally doing this to say I did it not because this thing's going to actually make me money. I think it depends on your energy rates and that is not true around the world.
Jeff: That's true because my brother lives in Tampa and he runs his entire house on solar and his power bills are in the negative numbers. And he's got a small house, a large solar array, no batteries. Actually, the math worked for him with all the credits and all this other stuff.
Ron: The beauty is its math, right? You can calculate it. You can look at energy rates. You can look at your ability to draw power from the sun depending on your panels and the square footage of your panels. But what I was curious about is if solar isn't the play, is it the play of protecting the expensive electronics in the home?
Jeff: That's absolutely the play with Rosewater. That is how I sell it. You're running on Rosewater and nothing is going to get past that firewall. OK, don't put inductive loads like large air conditioners, motor loads, and things like that on the output of the rosewater. Keep that isolated. Right. You have this little firewall of electricity and I even run a nice around a separate round. We have our own ground place. All the TVs in the house come back to a central switch in the closet. But they're all on the same ground. Right. As opposed to whatever outlet happened to be in the room that the TV was in. Think about outdoor TVs, think about indoor TVs, and so on. You bring all that together as well as your home office and other sorts of critical things. They are protected. One hundred percent. I really view it as the Rosewater is what you're running on, and then you're either charging the batteries from the grid. There's no renewable from the grid or from a generator.
If the generator takes 10 seconds to kick on, it sputters and gives you a really bad sine wave. When it's starting up, you're still on battery, you're fine. And it just kicks over when it's safe and now it's charging again. That is the Rosewater play, very different than Sonnen. Sonnen I would say is a silent generator. It is more of a generator augmentation for when you didn't design enough capacity on your generator or maybe you're in a condo and you can't do that, but you put a Sonnen battery in there. But it is really more about making sure you have power all the time for everything. There is a transfer delay. It's like three hundred milliseconds. It would kill electronics. Right? They actually say use a UPS to bridge that gap. It's very, very different. No lightning protection. It's not about that. It is about why people buy a generator. Just have to be very clean, silent and no fuel to put into it. You can put it on the wall inside your apartment in a condo. It's a different use case. Very interesting. Very exciting, really.
Ron: Is battery storage, a category? Is it a profit-maker is it a moneymaker for an integration firm? Should folks listening start to try to figure this out or is it ready for that yet or is it still too early?
Jeff: It's a good question. Rosewater is absolutely ready. And if you have a high-end client that wants everything to work all the time, one hundred percent, I have zero problems with the electronics behind it as well as the Rosewater itself. Go sell that now. They make it easy, they help you with the engineering, they come out and they assist you with the install, that you don't have to be an electrical engineer to do this. They have their own engineers and they will guide you. Sonnen, that's an emerging category that I haven't sold one of those yet. I'm insanely interested in it and I'm thinking of it more of wonder if I could do that for a community like a lot of homes selling to an HOA? Something where they feed off each other so that community has a power that lasts longer, indifferently through environmental and non-environmental outages. It's a reason to move into that community because you've got this like the way I would think Fiber. Some of our communities have Fiber, move there if you're interested in that. What if you had clean power with a battery, plus you had Fiber and so on? Well, now that that particular community is more valuable than other neighboring gated communities.
Ron: Love that topic, and I'm sure everyone listening and watching are gained a lot just from hearing you talk about how you see that. Want to jump to a different topic here, you purchased your building and you have built out a beautiful show space, maybe one of the best in your own mind's eye of what it means to have automation and technology. You're hearing me through what you said, a ten thousand dollar AMP speakers configuration right now? We got to geek out. How are you listening to me right now?
Jeff: Yeah, I know it's stupid, right? Because we have Cisco telepresence phones and you wanted to do this Facebook thing. I don't have a webcam. I don't have a mic. I have a four monitor PC for power computing. Right. Then I have a phone for communications and then we got on here and I could barely hear you. I'm Bluetooth streaming from my PC to a NAD M50.2 that is connected to an audio high-end audio digital speakers. Then I have the mic you sent me, the really nice blue mike. You sound great. Like you're right here, perfectly.
Ron: I have never sounded so good to them. That's funny. Tell me about your vision for the show space. It clearly is an investment but you've found it to be you have opinions on what's been done for you and your business. Can you talk us through that?
Jeff: Yeah, so one thing that irritates me is when you call a company that's supposed to be a technology leader and you get passed around five times and messages left and no one seems to really know what that company does except one guy or two guys or gals or whatever. The idea for this showroom is everything here is working the way it is our business and we live and use it every day. For example, when you ring the doorbell outside, which is actually a robotic SIP-enabled endpoint. It will ring on our Crestron touchscreens. I've got one right on my wall here and it'll ding dong through the ceiling speakers. If someone opened the door, that contact closure flips the camera on the front door and puts it on all of our TVs, we all can see that someone came in there because I don't have a receptionist up front. Whether it's the UPS guy and it rings and I open the garage door automatically, everyone's got a touch panel at their desk, whether it be an iPad or Crestron native panel. We have D.M. switching going on in here, audio, and so forth. But I wanted every single person from accounting all the way through dispatch inventory, marking everyone to live, use, breathe the technology every single minute of their working day in here so that if somebody would walk in or call and there's a question while everybody here knows what we're doing. They use it. It's not the, "I don't know anything. Go get Jeff." No, you should be able to do a demo and show people how this technology works. And if you don't believe it and understand how it works after using it all the time, then you're probably not the best person to be working in an automation company.
You don't have that passion. But between all of this, I think it made us better because we communicate. We also use it as our own lab to guarantee this stuff works because we use it. And if I couldn't receive the 5-10 shipments that come here every day and that video doorbell wasn't reliable and the control system wasn't fast enough to respond, I would know about it. I would absolutely know about it. We test things for our vendors in here, whether it be new video technology, audio or cameras, or whatever, and we use it.
Ron: I've seen showrooms over the years and I'm going to tell you an observation I have and then tell me if that's your case and if not, how you combat it. I've seen showrooms that on day one were stunning, but by year three, they are only fractionally up and running because they've been priced and parted. Spares were sent out to job sites and you name it. The original vision is hard. Maybe it was great in that first year when everyone was pumped and excited, but keeping it ongoing is a challenge. How do you manage that?
Jeff: Right. Good question. This is not a museum. This is not like there's your showroom. Go over there and then we go to the back office and work. This is what we use every day. I promise you, if a camera wasn't working or a touch panel wasn't working, somebody would be screaming that they don't have what they need to do their job. And I don't care whether what it is network related, camera-related, audio related, control-related, or whatever. It's very much in our interest in the fabric of the way we work that everything needs to work. And if it isn't working, it's actually problematic for us. The conference room wouldn't be available because the video isn't working on the TV or whatever. That would be a problem. We put a work order into our system. We have an internal customer internal and we create a work order, goes up to dispatch. Someone gets assigned to it. It's just like any other one of our so-called white-glove clients where we dispatch, we do it. We keep track of our turnaround time. We have loaner equipment. If something is broken, we put that in so that we keep working and then we get it repaired and change it out. We just take it seriously, just like we would any client.
"At One Firefly, there was at times in our past where some of our own marketing initiatives, maybe updating the website or making something, a brochure or sign, it was considered like we were the pauper's children or the shoemaker's children that weren't getting the shoes or didn't have shoes. We did what you just said. We made ourselves a client and we get prioritized and now those go in as work orders."
Ron: It's interesting to hear you say that. At One Firefly, there was at times in our past where some of our own marketing initiatives, maybe updating the website or making something, a brochure or sign, it was considered like we were the pauper's children or the shoemaker's children that weren't getting the shoes or didn't have shoes. We did what you just said. We made ourselves a client and we get prioritized and now those go in as work orders. They get done in the same way that we would address a client's work. It's amazing, everything now is flowing and smooth. I'm wondering if those listening treat themselves like clients or if they think of themselves in some way less than and therefore their showrooms fall apart?
Jeff: Well, there's nothing worse than the client walking through the door and you make an excuse about the very thing that you're selling. No, we've got the hood open. I hate that. And besides that, I enjoy this. It bothers me if it's not working, some of my stuff isn't working. It grinds on me. I don't like it. And I think I have other similar minded people working with me here that feel the same way. If it's not working, then fix it. That's what we're here for.
Ron: But I'm looking at the clock, mindful of time for everyone involved. What's your outlook for 2021?
Jeff: You mean financial or mission or what do you mean by that?
Ron: Sure, business outlook, what do you feel that 2021 is going to be better for you than 2020 and or what has you concerned and what are you doing about those concerns?
Jeff: Right. 2020 taught us a few things. On the one hand, we learned that we were essential. Right. Because for the longest time we all helped me all feel happy to learn that we were essential. Yeah, that was interesting to us because we thought, oh yeah, I need food, shelter, and social relationships. And then we'll go to the aid guy. Right. I didn't know Netflix was on the list of essentials.
We learned on the one hand that we are essential. On the other hand, we learn that there is another whole category of external forces that I cannot control that can take us down, whether it's the mortgage, a stock market crashing, hurricanes, this or that, and then now pandemic's right. We started another initiative and I would say inspired a bit about the marketing vision. We hired a full-time business analyst. We are going through we just revamped our own mission statement to include a higher focus on recurring revenue. And I don't mean just service contracts. I mean software as a service, like selling video conferencing systems, selling network systems with subscriptions, and that's just part of them.
"I want to not have to take jobs that I don't want to take because I have to make payroll. I don't want to be put in that situation again because you just end up shifting that problem months down the road and it's all about cash flow and this and that. I want to remove that burden from us and then and then be able to have more strategic jobs."
We're creating new OKR's which are objective-based key results where you set an objective. My objective that I want is for my payroll to be covered by recurring revenue this year. I want to not have to take jobs that I don't want to take because I have to make payroll. I don't want to be put in that situation again because you just end up shifting that problem months down the road and it's all about cash flow and this and that. I want to remove that burden from us and then and then be able to have more strategic jobs. The business analyst was tasked with that, started in November about analyzing every part of our business and trying to figure out a way to create everybody on this mission to get us off of this lumpy little what did you sell for me last week train that we're on.
"RMR is magic, especially when project-based revenue freezes up or is delayed."
Ron: I think you have at least a fan. Chris Smith dropped, "RMR as a core component and goal is spot on." Yeah, I can from personal experience, Jeff, here at One Firefly, in our early days, we were mostly project-based and for me, it was in 2015 that we took a pivot to focus on RMR, it really affects everything, right. It affects where do you spend your R&D money and time to invent new products and services. If you know that RMR is a focus and it was nothing short of what gave us the ability and confidence to pull through 2020 is that RMR is magic, especially when project-based revenue freezes up. Maybe it's not canceled, but just it's delayed.
Jeff: It's delayed. Right. Your payroll still goes on, your mortgage still goes on right now. Exactly. It's scary. I think that's genius. I want to close on this. Jeff, what's a piece of you've already given us a lot of advice and great ideas, but I'm going to ask you as a closing, what is something you've learned along the way that you think the integrators listening might find value in or something that if they considered it, might make their businesses a little bit better?
"You're as good as what you can measure. You've got to figure out what are the dials in your company and how to keep your eye on that and how to get everybody in the company knowing about those things, being aware of them, and contributing in a positive way."
Jeff: Well, I would say you're as good as what you can measure. You've got to figure out what are the dials in your company and how to keep your eye on that and how to get everybody in the company knowing about those things, being aware of them, and contributing in a positive way. Ignorance is not bliss. Transparency is bliss. Everyone's got to know what to do and how to contribute to that end goal. If you're having a rough time, don't go in a corner, shut the door and start pulling your hair out. How am I going to make payroll? You involve the team. There are real people there that can help solve problems if they understand them. Hopefully, you're not coming to them in the 13th hour that it's something that we see the tea leaves weeks, months in advance and we just make a few course corrections because we're driving a boat. It doesn't turn on a dime. We have to move it back and forth. Figure out how your company runs, figure out where you want to go, and start plotting a course.
Ron: Love it. Jeff, how can the folks listening or watching get in touch with you or learn more about Boca Tech?
Ron: Jeff, it was a pleasure to have you on show 157 of Automation Unplugged.
Jeff: It's a pleasure to be here. Thank you.
Jeff is Founder and President at Boca Tech and Automation. His team focuses exclusively on integrating luxury A/V and control systems into homes, yachts, and businesses in some of the most prestigious spaces in the United States.
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 become the leading marketing firm specializing in 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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