Home Automation Podcast Episode #189: An Industry Q&A With Robert Burns
In this weeks home automation show of Automation Unplugged, Robert Burns, Chief Operations Officer at CO-DA, shares the importance of differentiating your brand.
This week's home automation podcast features our host Ron Callis interviewing Robert Burns. Recorded live on Wednesday, October 6th, 2021, at 12:30 p.m. EST.
About Robert Burns
Robert Burns is an integrator with over 20 years of audio-video experience and in his role as COO, he focuses on growing and improving their performance and efficiency across all departments. In 2010, Robert and Chris Wissa merged their companies and founded Audio Video Concepts & Design, Inc headquartered in Indian Trail, North Carolina. In 2019, Chris and Robert decided to rebrand their firm to what is now known as CO-DA and are focused on multiple verticals including House of Worship AV, Commercial AV, Residential AV, and their electrical division, CO-DA Power. Outside of the business, Robert is also on the Savant Advisory Council and was recently a Keynote Speaker at the Azione Unlimited Conference in 2021.
- The importance of differentiating your brand
- The importance of job descriptions and clarity in roles and responsibilities
- CO-DA, a training University, a training process for new hires and support for current employees
- Company culture and how it impacts all aspects of the business
Ron: Hello. Ron Callis is here with another episode of Automation Unplugged. Today is Wednesday, October 6th. It is just a little bit after 12:30 p.m. We're coming to you on our normal day and our normal time. I tell you what, you guys and gals, my friends and customers and peers worldwide for us. Oh my goodness, the floodgates have opened. I think you guys all went on vacation this summer, and it was hard to get any of you on the phone in late June and July and early August and maybe even into just the beginning of September. Lately, it's been kind of bananas around here. It's all hands on deck, and people are reaching out from all quarters all around the world, and it's very exciting. And I want to say thank you. Thank you for that. We've got our web development pipeline booked out at this point to the end of the year, and we're now booking jobs in 2022. Our digital marketing team is all hands on deck to get people brought on board and signed up. That's exciting. What else is going on tonight? I am taking my wife to the Inc 5000 celebration in Miami. It's on a rooftop. It's like one of these hip, cool hotel rooftop parties that you like. I'm aging myself that used to sound like MTV or something, some sort of cool, hip event. We're going to go to that. We're going to celebrate our second year making the big 5000, and should be some fun networking. I received a personal email from the senior editor of Inc Magazine saying "Ron you're a Florida native here, and can you please come to this event?" I had no intentions of attending, but then I got that emails like, OK, I think I'll go for nothing else, then I just think it's going to be pretty cool to attend. I'll let you guys know next time how that event goes. But you did not come here to hear me ramble. You came here to listen to my exciting guest. This is for Show 189.
This is Robert Burns. We call him Rob, Chief Operating Officer at CO-DA. I was actually at the Azione Unlimited conference just a couple of weeks ago, and I ran into Rob and Chris, his business partner there in Nashville. It was just awesome to see those guys. I've been following them on social media, and we were able to turn this around pretty quick and get Rob onto the show. I'm reading a stat here, C.E. Pro #44, on the C.E. Pro list. One of the top, largest, more successful integration firms in the country. I think after this interview, you'll know why because these guys have their heads on straight and are running a great business. So let me go ahead and bring in Rob, and we'll get this party started. Rob, how are you, sir?
Rob: What's up to Ron? How are you doing, buddy?
Ron: Well, first of all, I have to compliment your studio. It is as good or maybe better than mine. So let's just start there. Where are you coming from?
Rob: We are in CO-DA Studio. We have a new division where we do podcasts and videocasts and do media content ourselves, that type of stuff.
Ron: Yeah, that is awesome. Alright. High level. What is your what does COO mean at your business? And tell us about CO-DA. What is CO-DA?
Rob: Well, what's going on, you all? I'm Rob, the COO of CO-DA. I am the Chief Operations Officer. I oversee the efficiency of the company. I oversee programming for all the tech geeks out there, right.
Ron: I think you just defined everyone in our audience. If they're listening or watching this, they're a geek of some kind, and they're my people. I love it. I love this industry. I love what I do. I'm the operations officer, Chief Operations Officer. I care about the efficiency of our company. I care about how we're doing things out in the field down into the office and doing things such as defining roles for our company, creating company structure, stuff like that.
Ron: Physically, where's the business?
Rob: Well, we are based out in Indian Trail, which is in North Carolina, which is right outside of Charlotte. Most of the time, when people get to know us or meet us or anything like that, we just say, "Yeah, we're from Charlotte, North Carolina." It's the easiest way to explain that.
Ron: I'm going to admit I relate. I know where Charlotte is on my map. The other city you mentioned, as I'm not sure where that is. No, Charlotte, man. It's the upcoming Austin of the south or southeast, right?
Rob: We're on the eastern seaboard. Man, technology's grown around here. It's a new up-and-coming city. It's been booming for quite a while. So yeah, we're just trying to make our mark in the area and nationwide at this point.
Ron: I love Charlotte. I've been there many times, and a few years ago, my wife and my son were in the seventh grade, so this would have been the fourth grade. Three years ago, three and a half years ago, we were reevaluating where we were going to live. We were contemplating leaving Florida. We landed in Charlotte. We were going to come to Charlotte. We had looked at all the cities.
Rob: You should have.
Ron: Yeah, you're probably right. We loved our research, landed us firmly on Charlotte, and it was my son. We had applied for him to get into a very special private school here in South Florida, and it was if he got into that, then we were going to stay. Otherwise, we would relocate, and he got into the school, so there it is, game over. So we decided to stay, and now we travel to Charlotte, and that's how we get to enjoy it now.
Rob: Charlotte's a great city, man. Great people, as I said, it's for the most part, as you said earlier, kind of high level, it's new tech. We say just a lot of banking around here. We also have plenty of professional teams as well. It's the home of NASCAR, man. There's so much going on. It's nuts because I was born and raised here, right? I've seen the city of Charlotte grow from being just a couple of buildings downtown to now being blocks, and blocks have a pretty decent-sized skyline. It's pretty cool, man, just to kind of see that grow as it has for sure.
Ron: Oh man, you're in a great city, and I'm sure there are lots of great business opportunities at a high level. Let's talk about the business, and then I want to go back into your origin story if you will. Yeah, but your business, what type of projects does CO-DA do?
Rob: Well, CO-DA, we have a couple of different divisions. That's basically how we have broken our company apart. We have CO-DA Home, which handles the residential market. We have CO-DA com, which handles the commercial A.V. And we have CO-DA worship, which is AVL, which, if anybody out there is listening, knows that it really can be a completely different industry. A lot of pro audio, pro gear, a lot of those things. Recently, we started a new division, a full-blown electrical division, so that's CO-DA power. Those are the four high and low voltage markets that we're part of, that we deal in. We do a lot of large commercial jobs down to smaller residences as well, but there are some areas where we thrive. Of course, I love personally doing home theaters, but you don't get a ton of those in our area.
We do a lot of home automation projects. We're a large Savant dealer, as well as a pretty decent-sized Control4 dealer here for residences. We do a lot of Creston and Savant for commercial projects. But again, in the House of Worship World, we're dealing a lot in QSC and Crestron and stuff. So we're kind of a mixed bag here.
Rob: Yeah, that sounds like an interesting mix. If it was a pie, what's the split? What percentage? And I'll make it specific. We'll say 2021. What percentage might be resi commercial and your other divisions? I would say it's pretty close if I were to break them all out. You're looking at between residential commercial. It's how we measure things a little bit differently here because the house of worship is a lot different kind of animal. When we typically talk about how we're split, we usually say residential, commercial. We're 60/40, 60 percent more commercial. OK, we have contracts with commercial companies across the country now at this point. Our house of worship is spread out as well. If you were to take all three, you would probably say, in that instance, 30 percent to 40 percent commercial. I hope there are no mathematicians out there.
Ron: Alright. Well, no one's going to judge us. They're going to let us slip.
Rob: 30 percent rise and then 40 percent house of worship. We do quite a bit in every single one there at this point in our industry or in our company's history. We're pretty much all even at this point. We started as a residential company, only house when Chris and I first started. That's what we did. It was residential. We did a couple of commercial jobs as the CI industries coined resi-mercial. Right. So we did a couple of bars and restaurants and stuff like that, and we would dabble in that. Then just as our influence and growth started happening, now we're into doing full-blown conference rooms and boardrooms and brought in a guy too that leads the house of worship side.
Ron: We got Paul tuned in. Hey, Paul, thanks for showing up here. He says, "Yeah. Rob Burns CO-DA for life."
Rob: I think Paul's got a shirt. Maybe or needs a shirt. He needs a sweater. I need a shirt. That's what I'm saying. I think Paul and I need shirts. We will barter. And then Paul says, "100 percent awesome. I love these guys. Amazing watching them grow." Paul's a fan.
Ron: Man. I'll tell you, Paul is my buddy from when we started doing Savant back in the day. We were balancing between a few different systems. And Paul was at a training that we had down in Florida, and that's where Chris and I got to meet them or become Savant certified. And then ever since then, man, he helped us program our first Savant system. He's a stand-out guy. Paul is a badass motorcycle racer.
Rob: Yeah, he is.
Ron: Oh my gosh. If you don't follow Paul Bochner on social media, people follow that man. Go to his YouTube.
Rob: He's a cool dude, man.
Ron: I watch his videos, and I get nervous.
Rob: I don't understand it. You are getting your knee that close to the ground.
Ron: You've got to have some level of bravery. Well, let's go, Rob, back in time. What's your origin story? How did you get into all this?
Rob: There's a short version, a medium version, a long version.
Ron: We want to hear whatever version you're willing to give us.
Rob: Man, I'll tell you, my dad was about 40 years ago. It ends up stemming that my dad has been in the low voltage industry. That was his first job. He owned an alarm company in Charlotte that got bought started another one called United Security of America, and that was about 40 years ago now. So I kind of grew up in the industry scene. I used to ride with my dad in the truck, and I would sit in the passenger seat, and he said, "OK, shift gears, you know?" I remember doing that as a little boy, like shifting gears with my dad, and he's just awesome. What's so cool is that quite a few companies in the Charlotte area came from working from my dad. A couple of guys worked with them. They went off and started their own thing and so on, right? But what's crazy is my business partner, Chris.
His parents are one of my dad's first customers, so he remembers little Chris sitting on the dryer while my dads putting in the security panel and saying, "What's that? What are you doing there? What are you doing there?" My dad remembers that like it was yesterday. Fast forward a couple of years. I'll kind of give you a little bit back the history of Chris as well. He was in college and getting out of school, and his mom said, You need to work for Brian, which is my dad's name. So that's what Chris did. He went and worked for my dad as an alarm tech for a while. Then over that period, basically because my dad's already in the home's pre-wiring alarm systems, these builders were coming back to my dad's and saying, "Hey, audio-video systems, things like that. That's all low voltage, too. Do you mind doing that?" Because my dad's just such a likable character, man.
Ron: I'm going to have your dad on the show next. We do need to have Brian on.
Rob: Yeah, he's awesome. He said yes. He gave that to Chris and let Chris kind of run with that, right? Just in Chris's nature, he's just the ultimate sales dude. People gravitate towards him. Well, fast forward a couple more years. I was coming up in college, and Chris was like, "Well, I'm ready to go off and do my own thing." My dad was like, "Oh, I have my son coming up? Good luck, godspeed. Chris started doing his own thing, and I came out of school actually when I was in school, in college. I would go and knock on the doors of builders. I went to school up the app, and there's a lot of house building and many second homes up there. I'd go talk to them and say, "Hey, do you need anybody doing low voltage for you? Audio-video is what I love, but I can do alarms too. Working underneath my dad, he would come up, drive up vehicles and vans up with some guys, and I would help him pull wire saw use that as a way to make money in college. Then I graduated and started working for my dad, doing exactly what Chris was doing or had done before. I ran the low voltage side, and then 2008 happened, right? I think for everybody in the industry '07-'08 where it was a dead spot.
Ron: Did that harm your dad's business?
Rob: It did. It hurt pretty, pretty good to a point where I couldn't work for him anymore. It wasn't what I'm sure any father wants to tell their son. But, Lord willing, I'm thankful I got through that, and there was a project that came along, and these people are some of the by far their family now at this point, but also one of our best clients that we could have. Unfortunately for them, fortunately for us, I know that sounds crazy, but they had a fire, and my dad's alarm system protected their dogs.
Ron: I tell you what, for many people, I'm close to their dogs are their children.
Rob: Right. That's how it was the monitoring station. My dad's monitoring station told the fire department where to find their dogs. When they were rebuilding their house, they came to my dad and me because I had the audio system there. My dad had the security, said, "Y'all just tell us what you want to do. We'll go back and forth. You don't have to bid on the project necessarily, but we're going to give it to you." And so I looked at my dad, and I said, "Dad, we need to bring Chris back. We need to partner with him because he's quite possibly one of the badass technicians I know." And I didn't feel comfortable with giving somebody that size of a project. We didn't have many people working at the time. So he brought on his crew, and that's the partnership between Chris and me. My dad just was like, OK, come on, you all do your thing, and I'll do mine. So he stuck to the alarm, and we did the audio-video and off to the races. Man, that's how it all started.
Ron: I'm looking at my notes over here that business. It was not called CODA. What did you launch as what was your brand?
Rob: Audio-Video Concepts. That was Chris's thing that he started Audio Video Concepts, and I had American Media. Then when we merged, I stuck with Audio Video Concepts because that was the more established brand. He had been doing it way longer than I was. Yeah, so we ran with Audio Video Concepts. And that's what we were for quite a while until January last year. We rebranded as CO-DA.
Ron: Alright. Let's dig into that. Why did you rebrand? What was the goal or the outcome desired running under a new name?
Rob: Well, to kind of back up a little bit. I'm a little bit more of the type that's I'm going to be more relevant like I care more about relevancy like in the marketplace, and Chris is just the steadfast guy, it's hard for things to kind of change at times, right? Audio Video Concepts being his baby and me being his brother, basically from another mother. I understood that, and I had gone to him a couple of years prior. It's like, "Dude, why don't we just refresh the logo or even possibly rebrand the name or something?" But let's just change it from just a normal 2D logo of Audio Video Concepts. That got pushed out of the rug, and I respectfully understood that, and it started happening, really when our commercial division started growing and when our House of Worship division started growing where we were going in and bidding on projects, and we were only doing like the audio-video side because that's what the architects or what the people were doing. They came to us and said, "Please bid on all this stuff here." Our sales guys or one of us would be talking to them. It all came about at a medical project, came to a head the medical scheme. And it was a big system. But they had also included door access controls and security cameras and alarms and all this other stuff and so on.
Our sales guy went back to them. I said, "Well, you know, we can bid on this." They said, "We've already given that project over to another company. We've awarded it, but we didn't know that you guys did that because I thought you just had audio-video ." We were thinking, and we're just like something's got to change because actually, that same story happened a handful of times to us. It doesn't even say, for instance, home theater in our name—your name on the internet and in different places that matters a lot. We were doing some marketing and stuff. But, Audio Video Concepts, you type in audio-video Charlotte, we would pop up just like this, but you type in, camera system, store access, huddle spaces, things like that. It was a difficult thing for us to be found. It would happen, but it was a lot more work on the back end. And we just said, you know what? Let's just be different. Let's find something.
We partnered with a quick story. My business partner, Chris, went to church with this marketing guru, a lady from the Long Island area, and she kind of started putting some names together, and she was remotely working at the time before. We're all accustomed to the remote work, right? And it got to a point where she was giving us some great names, really cool logos like some really neat stuff, but it had a tech in the title or had audio in the word, and we just really wanted to stay away from that. So we settled on CO-DA because we just thought it was cool how CO-DA rang when you paired it with other divisions and other things like CO-DA home CO-DA com CO-DA worship CO-DA Studio? It tolls for us, and it was different enough for us too. So we're building our definition.
Ron: I have to ask you because I know everyone listening is wondering, what does CO-DA mean? What is it stand for? Or does it stand for anything?
Rob: No, it does. It was a musical term that our marketing person changed for us to do. It means the final culmination of a multifaceted event or plan that integrates strategies to create a unique or grand experience. OK, that's CO-DA. That's what we do. That's what every company out there is listening to. That's what we do. We come in. In the end, we're typically heroes, right? We generally with the clients and in the back end, where if you're building a house and you have lighting, and you have shades, and you have all this stuff going on in the home or the companies right that tie it all in together. CODA is the musical term in which it takes all these different instruments and stuff and ties it all in. It's a Led Zeppelin album as well. Right?
Ron: It's a Netflix movie, right? Apple.
Rob: Apple TV+. Yeah. But we look at CO-DA. This really might sound not very humble, and please forgive me if it does. So many people didn't know what Google meant, right, what Google was 15 years ago, so our idea here is that we're creating our definition of what CO-DA means.
Ron: We just had a comment. Mario just commented I'll put it on the screen. He says, "Great website Rob." Mario, just before we went live, I was telling Rob the same thing. I thought it was a beautiful website.
Rob: Thank you.
Ron: Talk us through a little bit of your vision for the website, and it's a unique website. There's a beautiful video imagery layout. It's differentiated from A to Z. Talk to us about it.
Rob: Well, the goal was again when we started branding. Our company was that CO-DA would be the top level, as we've said before. Right. And then underneath, because I am the Operations Officer, is we care about how the efficiency of company and dividing lines and things like that. Well, we wanted to give credit to the individual divisions of our company properly. So anything else that we create will be CO-DA, which is that the very first page is that hyphen. It's the dash because that's CO-DA that's in our logo, right? But then everything else has its mark inside of that because if you're interested in a residential home theater, interested in home automation, Savant, Control4, things like that. We want you to be stuck in that area. We want you to like it to be an experience inside of that website, right? And not necessarily be difficult to get back out. But just a way so that if you have information, you have more questions about our process, which might vary per division, especially when we start spreading it out, even more, it keeps you in that world.
If you're a commercial person, you don't have your residence or your home stuff showing up in a post that pops up and says, "Hey, interested in home theaters?" We don't want that. We wanted someone if they came to our website specifically for a church geared towards that church and so on. That's the overall vision for CO-DA is to keep you there in those individual sections so that you can learn more and more about what we do. It doesn't confuse you, right, and the people who go to our website to listen to the podcast. What I'm sharing on the screen is the website. Rob, why don't you go ahead and give our audience the URL so that they know if they want to type it in and check it out? Yeah, simply, it's www.co-da.com.
"There are many tens of thousands of websites, and I would venture, I'm going to say maybe less than two percent have any video on that in your site is full of beautiful video."
Ron: What I've been as you've been talking, Rob, I'm having fun. I'm playing your videos. Yeah, you guys throughout this site are you're demonstrating just beautiful video. Most pages have gorgeous content. Talk to us about that because that's not common on most integrator websites. If we say, there's between residential and commercial integrators and security contractors. My goodness, there are many tens of thousands of people in North America, and I know I have a global audience, but I'm just going to look at North America. There are many tens of thousands of websites, and I would venture; I'm going to say maybe less than two percent have any video on that in your site is full of beautiful video.
Rob: Yes. Video sells way easier. It's easier to tell a story than pictures. We want our clients or potential clients to be able to see and also hear our passions. In the About Us section, you can see videos and what is CO-DA? Because what's funny is that's a question. It's not who is CO-DA, right? We get often asked, What is CO-DA? We'll be driving. A part of our marketing was that we wanted it to be as we're driving down the road, people are asking us or wondering, what does that mean? Lifestyle technologies that simplify and inspire? What is that? It's just a simple logo, and you drive. We get pulled over a lot of times. People will ask us a lot of times.
Ron: Not the police pulling you over.
"I think that for the most part right now, me being able to communicate to you through this technology, Ron is helpful for so many other people, but it's cool, right? You get to hear the inflection in my voice. You get to hear the passion and what drives me and what drives my business partner Chris and what drives CO-DA to be a better company."
Rob: No, at a stoplight, right? What is CO-DA? We're like, "Just go to the website, and you'll see." It's about that mystery or intrigue, things like that, right? But yeah, I think that for the most part right now, me being able to communicate to you through this technology, Ron is helpful for so many other people, but it's cool, right? You get to hear the inflection in my voice. You get to listen to the passion and what drives me, my business partner Chris, and what goes CO-DA to be a better company. That is what video does for you, right? That's what we want to portray. We know that it's different than just static images that just show because everybody's got those. You can take those on your phone. You have an iPhone that takes beautiful videos now. Man, we've just found that it's easy to portray how we care about CO-DA, what we do here, our divisions. We have videos on that on the about us. We have videos of us going through projects. We have testimonials from, clients and you can hear that this is not a paid advertisement for them. That they like the process that they had with us, things like that.
Ron: Where do you leverage video beyond your site? I had up on the screen a moment ago your website. How else do you deploy or utilize video to get the word out?
Rob: Man, through emails, we've created splash pages. When a client signs up for our client care plan, our CO-DA Shield Manager gives them a welcome video. We are using video right now and our new CO-DA University that we've built for our internal employees, not just technicians, but everybody. Once again, I've just seen the reaction from our own internally, how much more video like helps when you're doing training and when you're doing an intro video, you're trying to get your message across when we're telling them that they now have to be certified by their field ops manager even to terminate CAT5s or CAT6 wire, right? We have this CO-DA university that we've built with different tracks tech level one, two, three internal, all this type of stuff. What are we doing? We're talking to them about that, right? It's so funny that I've even found that if we give the requirements for certifying our technicians in a video makes them have to watch the video, right? Because if you sit there and you type it out, even in that instance, you can have people just read it and skim through and go through the test. How to do it is even brought to us through the video, and so we found multiple different avenues. The hope and goal are also to be able to give that video back to our clients. When we go in to do a testimonial, we offer like them. We do all these cool media, and it's geared for us, but then we all turn right back around and give it back to them and say, "Hey, use this as promotional. Maybe not the test site, I'm sure."
Ron: But you better bet they're going to put that video on social media. Share it with their friends, their families. So residentially, there has to be, I think I'm stating the obvious some component of your customers that buy it because the stuff's just cool and they want to tell their neighbors about it or their friends.
Rob: If you just even think about being that company out there that eventually customizes the tutorials for your client, maybe not every client, but like a client that's spent a lot of time with you. They're an older client, perhaps an age. They're an older client. They need a video manual. Things like that man video are huge. If you sat there and explained it and often like the videos you have on that, we have on our website too, in how-to videos, those are so powerful because there's your manual on how to operate your system. Yeah.
Ron: I want to pull a thread. You just mentioned your CO-DA University. Can you tell us more? What is that?
"The way that we operate here is about scaling. How do you replicate because, like everybody else, we have big plans? I would want to be able to replicate our model. The ability for us to keep standards the same. How do you do that better than pouring into your employees that are already here?"
Rob: That is our training application in which we use and again branded CO-DA. We talked about it in Azione this past week. I think that we can all agree in our industry and in our time right now. There is a lot of job shortages, right? I believe that I saw numbers back in the day or a couple of weeks ago. Back in the day, we got a couple of weeks ago. I said that there were millions of job openings compared to millions, many millions of fewer people looking for a job. That's something that's an uphill battle that I think so many companies are going through right now. And often, we even do it. We're looking for top talent. We want awesome technicians. We want guys that know their stuff. But you might find a couple of these or plenty of guys and girls who know it, like want to work for you, right? So how do you train them? The most exhausting thing that you can do is to repeat that training process for every new employee.
The way we operate here is about scaling. How do you replicate because, like everybody else, we have big plans? I would want to be able to replicate our model. The ability for us to keep standards the same. How do you do that better than pouring into your employees that are already here? We've created a CO-DA university where we have tracks per whatever job position that they're in. Even down to our new CO-DA studio who our CO-DA studio director Noah, who's helping me broadcast this today. How do you do things? How do you do that? So it's replicable. That's basically what CO-DA university is, and everybody's got to take welcome courses. A lot of the same. Then, they split up, and we give them a track in which they do where they get certified to do cat wire and tech level one and tech level two. We worry about their basic certifications and Crestron, Control4, Savant, networking, Lutron, and things like that. Then Level3 is what we call more installation-based. Level two is the guys that are starting to learn a bit of programming. Level three is the guys that can do that. But that's the thing in our industry. We concern ourselves so much with the people on the field. What about people in the office? We do it for them as well.
Ron: Now I love that. Do you have any data around you talking to candidates that you're trying to hire, and you tell them about this university, you know, resource that you have? What's their response rate? Not numbers, but like, generally, are you finding that potential new candidates think this is cool? Maybe the comparison?
Rob: Oh, no question. No question. To be fair, like this, launch the beginning. Now, this is a thing that I've been working on for a couple of months. I've been talking about this for years, but I would have to tell you that. It's only been active since September and every time and new hires because we've had a couple of even since September that we talk about this even for sales and business development man, their excitement goes up dramatically. I think it automatically puts us on a different level because of the clients or the people you want to work for you. It does. It sets you apart, makes you different. I don't know anybody who doesn't want to know when they go and work for a company, like what their goals are, what you want them to do, and their path. That's one of the things that I work on here. I can't stress that enough and talked about it as you own, and I talk about knowing your job role with you. What's expected of you is huge to employees.
Ron: Well, let's go through that. What does that mean? I was not in that session where you stood on stage at Azione, but I understand that you talked about and I think I had written it down here. Why don't you just help me? What did you talk about on stage at Azione? I want to say it is a corporate structure. Org chart roles and responsibilities, correct?
Rob: Absolutely. It's about it. You know, as we say, stay in your lanes. One being an admin, you can measure success in a much easier way. Now, we didn't just come across this information. This is years of experience, feet to the fire type thing that we've realized. But you want to know what type of impact the people are working for you as an admin. You want to see the type of impact they have on your company, create roles and responsibilities, create those dividing lines. If somebody crosses them, it's not the end of the world, but it's something that you can easily steer them back to. I think that when you go work for someone you want to know like, and sometimes that self-assessment is stronger and bigger than having someone constantly knocking and pushing them behind them, saying, "Keep going, keep going." And I heard it once said that one of the ideas is as a boss, sitting down an employee and telling them, "Hey, what is your goal for the next quarter or month or so and so forth?"
Going back to the CO-DA University, this gets rid of some of that, right? They have this driving factor, their responsibilities, and if they want to grow in their company and move from tech. Have a one to two or move from an Administrative Assistant to a Project Coordinator or moving from sales to business development or a Sales Manager, things like that, like what does that entail? That's kind of helped us overall. I talked a lot about structure. I talked about how our companies ran. It doesn't mean that we get it all right and that it's a one size fits all model, of course, right? Every company's different, every owner's different, every employee is different. What fits in your culture? But we do take this type of role. This is a unique one about the team's unique perspective because I often hear in meetings in our industry. Techs, techs, techs. Then you have a couple of people in the office handling the backend stuff, right? Well, I'll talk to my brother in law who is a military man. He said that most people assume that you're automatically a soldier in combat when you join the army. But in reality, it's a four to one ratio. It takes four people in the office to support that one soldier. Now we don't have a four to one balance here, but we have more of a two to three to one ratio to technicians, OK? That helps in client communication. That helps when you're talking to clients, you're talking to project managers from the construction company.
Often, we put a lot on our technicians, and then we're like your technician, or you're a better installer but not as good a programmer. Well, maybe it's because they have so many hats that they have to wear that they've never really been able to focus on the programming side or vice versa. Right. Maybe we want a really good technician, right? Who can program? He's got that covered. But when it comes to doing racks, he's kind of so-so. He'll take pictures, and the finish does the little finishing touches over here. But in the rack, he doesn't do as well. So I think our perspective is the supportive roles, and that's what we do. We have job openings right now for technicians.
Ron: Do they go to your website right now, if there? Do you have them posted on your website?
Rob: Right now, we today have a handful more. We turn on and off that because we'll get bombarded, to be honest with you. That's going to get turned on at the end of today. Once again, that page shows many other positions that we're looking for right now just because of growth. Thank the Lord. But for the most part, yeah, we find them on Indeed. We use some headhunters, some guys that are awesome in our industry as well. Yeah.
Ron: I'm going to get a little specific and very tactical here regarding hiring and recruiting. Do you have people openly submit resumes to you, or do you use recruiting software of some type or fill out a job application?
Rob: No, we do in-house. They submit a job application and so on. We use a lot indeed as well. We do have some great partnerships with people in the CI industry. Some recruiters that kind of filter out based on culture, what we're specifically looking for, and I'm always looking for that diamond in the rough as well, right? Not everybody's going to fit that checkbox and so on, so forth. We have people that are doing who've been working for us for a while. For the most part, some recruiters are like, "Man, I don't think that was going to work out." And we're like, Hey, it's because we were able to find where they fit and where they work out. But, again, so it's not always specific. That's where the recruiters, in my opinion, really do a fine job that is trying to help us. But not every time is, you're going to find that perfect candidate on paper, right? Yeah, we still use Indeed and stuff like that. We go through what we have in-house but try to keep as much in-house as possible because they know what we're specifically looking for. That's one of them where we have in-house H.R. We go through and set up interviews and interview them and that whole process.
Ron: No, that's great. I think we and listening to you have inferred some of this, but I'd pointedly like you to address culture company culture. What's the role of company culture, and what is your company culture?
Rob: Culture matters so much now, too, I would say, the emerging job of seekers recently. We have another conversation later today with potentially an awesome person that could come on board. It's always now boiling down to culture. Hmm. Right. As your company grows, everybody says it's not about the money.
Ron: The money matters. Let's be honest.
Rob: It's the foundation. The money's got to be there. It is. You have to be there financially has to make sense too. But I've had now the past three people that we've interviewed. Had talked to and hired have specifically asked about company culture, and it matters. It matters to employees. It matters for them. Again how they're going to grow, where they're going to grow. What motivates you as a business to continue to grow? Are you comfortable with just being a mom and pop, which is awesome? So many of us have started that way. But, yes, it matters how you know the success rate of your employees, and success is always driven differently for them keeping them. There's a new thing called giftology that my business partner and I got turned on to. I talked about that at Azione as well. It's an awesome philosophy, man. Sometimes if I'm speaking to the business owners, it's not always about the handshake and a $500 check. It's about that you care about them. It's about that you care for their spouse, giving them something a way to go, make memories instead of just spending 500 bucks on a bill that they have coming through. I know that sounds so silly, but transferring that also into your clients is caring more and showing people that you care about their well-being, their mental health, and in my company's philosophy, also their spiritual health as well.
"For many of the residentially focused integrators across the country, there may be at peak levels of busyness, peak levels of busyness that they've seen in maybe their entire careers."
Ron: I couldn't agree more. And actually, we have one of our One Firefly's commenting. We have Jessica Weiss. She says, "I couldn't agree with you more. Rob, company culture is everything." Yes. So I have a question, Rob. You are not going to speculate and clarify as needed. But you're busy. You're very busy. You're growing. I know for many of the residentially focused integrators across the country, there may be at peak levels of busyness, peak levels of busyness that they've seen in maybe their entire careers. I talked to integrators all day long every day, and I have for many years. What I'm hearing is that people are working longer hours. You're asking more of your people. They have to come in early, stay late, work weekends. I don't know how you're managing that, but how are you? What's your philosophy on maintaining a strong culture in that environment of peak demand on services?
Rob: All business models show that it's not going to peak out anytime soon, so you've got to be able to, as a company, be able to adapt and again show that you care about their family hours, that they're family time, things like that where they could even pour into this is also where, man, that speaks volumes for me. Even when the CO-DA University they have this track and they have this thing that they can do at home, and they can do it on their own time for the most part. Always regardless, you get out what you put into something, right? But think about that also in the company culture side of stuff, right? If you show your employees that you even care about the time they're spinning away from their families and that you notice that and appreciate that. There are very few companies that will be listening to this, very few that are so big that they have no idea who their newest technicians are to tell them that you care. Even in our CO-DA University, in the videos that we've posted, it's a personal message from me saying, 'I recognize this and thank you for your time and spending and working with us to become successful.' I was talking to a couple of guys a couple of weeks ago about this as well. Success is starting to translate into this term of busyness. And I don't know if that's fair, right? Because so many times now when you say, so, how are you doing? People respond as men. I'm just busy. I'm busy and busy. But if you're busy and you're not efficient, then you're not successful. You've got to help the working employees understand and see that they might be working. Still, they're working towards the goal of your company, increasing efficiency, and productivity.
If an employee feels like they're just tires spinning in the mud, that they're working that much faster, not just themselves, but their companies going nowhere, that affects mentality. You have two owners like Chris and me, who are constantly behind the wheel saying, "No, no, no, we'll push that car out of the mud with you. We're going to get up this hill, and we're going to fight with you so that you become successful." Maybe you're not the grunt worker, right? Or so on, so forth. Not five years down the road.
Ron: Wire monkey.
Rob: Yeah. They want to know that they're going somewhere wrong. How are the owners passionately telling them that they care and that the time you put in is not going unseen and that you stick with us through this? The potential is limitless.
Ron: You and Chris have been in business since 2010 together. This belief system, which by the way, I'm buying and everything you're saying, I think it's very aligned with how we think and operate here at One Firefly. It's music to my ears.
Rob: Congratulations, by the way, on INC5000, man, that's awesome.
Ron: Wow. It sounds like if you applied, you'd probably be right there as well, or you're well on your way. Thank you. I appreciate that. How long did it take you to figure this out? Did you know this from 2010 forward? Or is this through some challenges along the way that have helped you realize this?
Rob: It's so funny because talking to one of our employees today, you think you know everything at a younger age, right? I was 11 years younger than I am today, but in the 11 years, I've also learned a lot. When I first started, I'm like, OK, well, this is what I would like to do. These are some things that I would like to pour into my company the type of company culture that I have, how we want to grow and grow for the long term, not just the short term type feel mentality, right? I knew all those things. But it did still take the feet to the firing mentality where you had to learn through failure, right? And through making mistakes. It assumes that a lot of time—the blood, sweat, and tears. Not everybody's given a silver spoon in their mouth. Not everybody gets stock because your grandfather bought a hundred shares of Coca-Cola when they were 30 years old. Do you know what I'm saying? Now you're set for life. It takes a lot of failure and blood, sweat, and tears in a company to see what works and what doesn't. I'm not calling myself wise by any means, but a wise or successful person sees what works and what doesn't over time. I think people pick up on that when they come and they apply here, or they talk to us, or they ask my business partner and me questions like, Man, like, we have failed multiple times, and I can't guarantee my team that we won't fail in other areas as well.
But we're going to pick ourselves back up. We're going to keep fighting. We're going to keep pushing to be successful and be something that you often don't see in our industry. But I think, and I believe, that many companies are capable of doing.
Ron: I was in an interview yesterday. I was interviewing a candidate. We're hiring a Director of Digital Marketing, and this individual asked me the question. We're at the stage of the interview where they could ask me questions. The question was something to the respect. What's led to your company's success? And my answer was something similar to not giving up. Every time I fall, picking myself up and trying to get a little bit better. Yeah. And if you do that long enough, at some point people go, Rob, I think you have a lot figured out, how did you do it? It's usually, yeah, because there's a lot of history and experience under your belt that you've been able to learn lessons, and you didn't quit. That's the thing. It's not listening to the naysayers, right? I remember being young in the industry, OK? I've been doing this for quite a while. For my age specifically, I'm going to be thirty-nine this year, but I've been doing this for well over 20 years.
I might have that, so growing up, I'm like, "Oh, you could do this, and you can do that." You have all this energy, and you want to direct that towards building a company, and you think you're going to have this massive mega empire and all of this stuff. What you realize over time is that there are people that are where they are. That's why you respect those older companies, why you respect those, those elders, those leaders in front of you, right, is because you start concluding that they had to do exactly what you had to do and you had to you didn't listen to the older crowd telling, "Rob, You're too young, be quiet." "Ron, your idea is never going to work, man." Look at you. Our industry needs someone to take that load off of many integrators of marketing, and you found the hole, and you filled it. And that is literally what we're trying to do now. There's a lot of A.V. guys out there and plenty, I'm sure, listening or watching, and that can be you too. I'm not specifically saying anything else other than that's what we're trying to find. We're trying to see here at CO-DA and unpack that daily, right? We're trying to get to a point where. We are filling a gap of void where people are very capable of doing that also. But maybe we're the first one on the show.
Maybe we just do it better, and I don't know that, but that's our goal here, right? I think that that's where success comes is where you just don't give up, and you keep fighting, and you keep driving and having passion behind you. When people say, "Hey, it's a stupid idea, Rob, to rebrand us CO-DA." What is CO-DA, right? I mean, I got that so many times. Do something else? It's actually been a great thing for us.
Ron: Yeah, it's highly memorable, and marketing is about differentiation. 10 points out of 10 for me because I love it. I know I talked to you guys back when you were conceiving the idea. I'm not even willing to say maybe what I would have told you that I'm not sure if I was a fan of it or not, but I can tell you, I've watched and observed what you and Chris have done, and it's nothing short of spectacular. Appreciative and mindful of time. But I did want to get into one topic here. We can maybe jump into it quickly here, and I'm going to speculate that this is because of your dad. But you guys and I know this because I've known you for a while, and you've shared this with me. But at the inception of your business, you made a point to make recurring contracts and armor type of revenue stream you've built. You've built your business with that in mind from day one. Can you talk about how you did that and how you think about recurring revenue in your business?
Rob: I think it's fair to say that that was kind of in my blood and my business partner's blood, Chris's blood. Because we came from the alarm industry and we didn't come out as an alarm company doing A.V. We just went to A.V. Shortly after we started Audio Video Concepts. We were spending as many people listening to this or watching spending a lot of time troubleshooting systems that we weren't getting paid for. I know that if you're a client listening, that might sound harsh, but it was getting to a point where we wanted to fix the systems that much faster for you. We couldn't. We tried. We had to figure out something where it's mutually beneficial because I don't care if anybody tells you this or not, but if you are constantly calling your A.V. guy and because maybe it's a problem that they did or that they didn't do it, it's hard sometimes to pick up that phone when your family's around, and you know it's out of ours. It's hard.
Ron: It's nine o'clock Friday night. You're curled up watching a Disney movie with the family. Do you really want to go and deal with it, even if you love the customer? Do you really want to take that?
Rob: It's a hard thing now that's not in all situations. But it got to a point for us where we realized we're missing out a lot. We're doing a lot of this legwork, but we need to get better at it, right? We need to sell these to our clients. Not so we can skip along and be all fat and happy to get their systems better up and running and keep efficiency. In our company and happiness at an all-time high. OK. Maximize happiness. Minimize downtime. Maximize satisfaction is what we say in CO-DA Shield, which is our protection plan for our clients. Minimize the downtime, maximize the experience, and that's what we want to do. We're looking for software to do that, and that costs money. So we offset that. And yes, there's growth potential and opportunity. And so frankly, like now, every system we sell, comes with that, and most of the time talking to the integrators. Now, most of the time, we don't really get pushback. If you go to a client and you seem unsure about what you're selling them, they're going to be unsure and wanting it right, and there's no matter what it is. You've got to believe it.
Rob: A lot of times what we're finding, we're spending all this time explaining to our clients what our what we now call CO-DA Shield protection right on when all this time explaining to an O. If we just straight up told them this helps you help us or helps us help you type mentality, we can now go in and reboot, and we've refined all the terminology over time, but we were the fastest and the largest adopters of Ihiji at the time, and then they got bought. That moved us to another brand package and, at the same time, are putting over CNN. And so now we used to come up with a compilation of OVRC, Wattbox to reboot, and other things. We have this system in place where our clients that they have issues we can remote in. We don't take a poll of ours like a lot of MSPs do. We don't take a poll of ours and say, "Oh, you're coming up on needing to buy more?"
No, as a matter of fact, it helps us like literally, I want the client to feel that that that we're not walking away and happy that we're literally just there to make sure that their systems are up and working. If you're getting to a point where you're they're utilizing, you know, seventy-five percent and then you've got they're going to buy another pool of ours. A lot of times, that makes them feel like it seems like minuscule things that you're now coming back to me. Yes, we found the need, and we offer it all of our with all of our clients. We strongly suggest, as a matter of fact, I mean, it's not absolute. If the client wants to back out, it's going to cost them. It's going to cost us the contract. Sure. But I think, for the most part, the client understands the importance of being able to help them remotely reboot things, remotely troubleshoot with them remotely. You have to get that figured out. That's what we've done.
Ron: Rob, I think the audience can agree. I guess they could listen to you for hours on end because clearly, you have some things figured out. There's a lot of wisdom there in what you have experienced and what you're able to effectively communicate. I want to thank you on behalf of everyone listening.
Rob: I can be a little long-winded. Thank you.
Ron: No, no, this is great stuff, but we are going to we're going to sign off here because we're a little bit over the hour for those that are listening and they want, they want more, and they want to learn more about you or get in touch or learn more about CO-DA. Where would you send them?
Rob: Go to our website www.co-da.com.
Ron: Awesome. Rob, thank you for coming on. This was show 189 of Automation Unplugged. Thanks for coming to the show.
Rob: Thanks, buddy. It's been fun.
Ron: Alright, folks. There you have it, and I'm imagining I'm going to get some messages saying you had to bring that guy back on. Let's keep him talking. He also has a podcast, so I actually just had it pulled up the CO-DA Bits podcast. If you go to your favorite podcast app, you can listen to Rob and Chris, and they've got a lot of wisdom to share, and it's definitely worth a listen. On that note, if you are watching and you don't download this, or you don't listen to podcasts, these shows are all of our interviews are available in your favorite podcast app. You just search for Automation Unplugged, and you can subscribe, at least on Apple. They change the U.I., so you got to do a little checkmark. You just tap it. It's not very intuitive. At least that's my read on it if you want to follow a show, so I'm sure you guys will figure that out, and I am excited to see you on our next show. We've got a strong slate of shows for the balance of the year. My team of Jessica and Jessica and Carlos and Miguel. There's a whole army behind me that helps me put these shows out. And I'm sure Rob would it test the same. It takes a village to do this type of content, and we have a strong village here at One Firefly, and it's our pleasure to do so. Until then, I hope you all have a great week and a great weekend, and I'll see you next week. Thanks, everyone.
Robert Burns is COO at CO-DA with over 20 years of audio-video experience. He focuses on growing and improving their performance and efficiency across all departments. In 2010, Robert and Chris Wissa merged their companies and founded Audio Video Concepts & Design, Inc headquartered in Indian Trail, North Carolina. In 2019, Chris and Robert decided to rebrand their firm to what is now known as CO-DA. Robert is also on the Savant Advisory Council and was recently a Keynote Speaker at the Azione Unlimited Conference in 2021.
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. The One Firefly team works hard to create innovative solutions to help Integrators boost their online presence, such as the elite website solution Mercury Pro.
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